- Njinga: Rainha de Angola (Njinga: Queen of Angola) by Sérgio Graciano
The Angolan historical epic film Njinga: Queen of Angola is the country’s most expensive production, as reported by the Portuguese daily Diário de Notícias. It memorializes one of Africa’s greatest women and the nation’s most important hero, who is also championed by the global African diaspora.
Njinga emerges at a time of renewed interest in the seventeenth-century historical figure and her symbolic meaning today as reflected by academic conferences and publications, including the critically acclaimed novel A rainha Ginga (2014) by José Eduardo Agualusa and the volume of essays, A rainha Nzinga Mbandi: história, memória e mito (2012). While a statue of Njinga has figured prominently since 2002 on one of Luanda’s main [End Page 324] squares (Kinaxixi), we may also argue that the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government is currently engaged in a cultural politics surrounding the figure of Njinga as it contemplates the succession of President José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been in power for more than thirty-five years and is now in his seventies. In fact, the production company Semba Comunicação, which has played a key role in the field of Angolan contemporary culture, is owned by Coreon Du (one of the president’s sons). Angola has become an audiovisual power house in Lusophone Africa through highly sophisticated telenovelas that have been exported to Brazil and Portugal such as Windeck (2013) and Jikulumessu (2014), both nominated for Emmy awards. The film Njinga: Queen of Angola, which also became a television series (2014–15), can be considered one of the crowning efforts by the powerful production company. However, as of 2016 it is uncertain whether the Angolan government is willing or able to continue investing in audiovisual production due to the severe economic crisis caused by declining oil prices. (Angola is almost entirely dependent upon oil export revenues.)
Njinga (as the name is spelled in Kimbundu) or Nzinga (in Kikongo) (1583–1663) was queen of Ndongo and Matamba, home to the Mbundu people of the north-central region of today’s Angola. She came to power through struggles over succession after the death of her father. Numerous wars took place between Queen Njinga and the Portuguese over who would control the slave trade between the hinterland and the coast before the slaves departed for their ultimate destination in the American continent. Queen Njinga’s reign coincided with a significant increase in the number of slaves who were taken across the Atlantic, especially to Brazil, from the Angola-Kongo region. Queen Njinga established an alliance with the Dutch against the Portuguese when the former occupied Luanda and Benguela between 1641 and 1648 in their attempt to wrest control from the Portuguese of the lucrative Angola–Brazil lifeline of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. After the Dutch expulsion from Angola by a Luso-Brazilian armada sent from Rio de Janeiro, Njinga was forced to retreat to her territories.
Njinga also converted to Christianity, and the first images that circulated of her in the seventeenth century were largely based on writings by two Italian Capuchin priests, Cavazzi da Montecuccolo and Gaetà da Napoli, as well as a Portuguese soldier named António de Oliveira Cadornega (see Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, O trato dos viventes: formação do Brasil no Atlântico sul, séculos XVI e XVII ). Cruelty, lasciviousness, and perversity were among the many negative attributes associated with Njinga in these writings, which later inflamed the imagination of European thinkers such as the Marquis de Sade and Hegel. To the former, Njinga belonged in his pantheon of tyrannical and libidinous women (Philosophy in the Bedroom, 1795), and the latter referred to Njinga in his disparaging generalizations about women, blacks, and sub-Saharan Africa (Reason in History, 1837).
The advent of African independence from European colonialism, the challenge to Eurocentrism, and the rise of black consciousness across the [End Page 325] globe have all...