Though largely unknown in the Western world, the seventeenth-century African queen Njinga was one of the most multifaceted rulers in history, a woman who rivaled Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great in political cunning and military prowess. Linda Heywood offers the first full-length study in English of Queen Njinga’s long life and political influence, revealing how this Cleopatra of central Africa skillfully navigated―and ultimately transcended―the ruthless, male-dominated power struggles of her time. In 1626, after being deposed by the Portuguese, she transformed herself into a prolific slave trader and ferocious military leader, waging wars against the Portuguese colonizers and their African allies. Surviving multiple attempts to kill her, Njinga conquered the neighboring state of Matamba and ruled as queen of Ndongo-Matamba. At the height of her reign in the 1640s Njinga ruled almost one-quarter of modern-day northern Angola. Toward the end of her life, weary of war, she made peace with Portugal and converted to Christianity, though her devotion to the new faith was questioned. Who was Queen Njinga? There is no simple answer. In a world where women were subjugated by men, she repeatedly outmaneuvered her male competitors and flouted gender norms, taking both male and female lovers. Today, Njinga is revered in Angola as a national heroine and honored in folk religions, and her complex legacy continues to resonate, forming a crucial part of the collective memory of the Afro-Atlantic world.

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Critic Reviews (6)

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  1. Positive: 6 Out of 6
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Critical Consensus: Generally favorable.

Times Higher Education

09 Mar 2017
"Tactically pious and unhesitatingly murderous; a “subverter of gender norms”, in the inevitable formulation; a national heroine in today’s Angola; a commanding figure in velvet slippers and elephant hair ripe for big-screen treatment" ...

The Times Literary Sup ...

09 Jun 2017
"… Heywood preserves all of the complexity of Njinga and her politics in a book that provides the most complete and foundational history of Queen Njinga." ...

The New Yorker

20 Mar 2017
“Maintaining independence in the face of colonial encroachment, the seventeenth-century African queen Njinga fascinated Europeans… This fine biography attempts to reconcile her political acumen with the human sacrifices, infanticide, and slave tr ...

An Historian's Views 16 Mar 2017

"The book dismantles the idea of an Africa without history because of the alleged absence of written sources, an absurd idea that is still present in many circles, including among historians of Europe, who usually ignore the history of Africa in thei ...

12 Mar 2017
"This is a very remarkable book and story. It is one of the most stimulating biographies I have read." ...

Literary Review

12 Mar 2017
Half a dozen years after the death of Queen Njinga of Ndongo in 1663, a Capuchin priest called Antonio da Gaeta published an admiring biography in which he ranked this ‘highly noble lady’ alongside Minerva, Cleopatra and St Apollonia in the panth ...

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February 27, 2017


Harvard University Press





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