Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba – The Battle Against Portuguese Slave Traders and Colonial Forces In 17th Century Angola

Queen Nzinga Mbandi was an extremely important and defining figure in the history of the Kingdom of Ndongo (what is now modern-day Angola) in early 17th century Africa. She grew up in a period during which the Portuguese had felt their position in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was being threatened by increased mercantile activity from British and French forces, and thus aimed to move their focus to the Congo Basin and what is now recognised as Namibia. The Portuguese involvement in the region affected the stability of the Kingdom in a socio-economical, political and cultural manner. Portugal intended to turn Luanda (capital of modern-day Angola) into one of the largest slave trading ports on the continent, by aiming to control the Kwanza River and to push Ndongo territory even further back, so that they could supply Brazil with constant enslaved labourers to work on the plantations. Queen Nzinga’s steadfast presence as an outstanding African leader at the time shaped the struggle against European interference in the region unmistakably.

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19th century depiction of Queen Nzinga during her reign (1624-1663)

Nzinga was born at some time in 1581 to Ngola Kiluanji (Ngola being a title for a ruler of the Kingdom of Ndongo) and Kangela, in a region that would now be known as Angola. According to legend at the time, Nzinga was given her name because she was born with her umbilical cord around her neck; the name comes from the Kimbundu verb kujinga, meaning “to twist/turn”. In addition to this, it was Ndongo belief that being born in such a way signified that the baby would grow into a wise, powerful and proud individual; these were all traits that Nzinga proved to fulfil as she grew older. She had two sisters and a brother, but it is known that she was greatly favoured by her father. He allowed her to accompany him while he carried out his duties as ruler of the Kingdom, and he even allowed her to fight by his side while at war. This early exposure given to Nzinga was no doubt one of the contributors to her growing into a leader of admirable political and strategic acumen, as well as her being very intelligent and appreciative of various social circumstances. Continue reading

African Warrior Queen Muhumuza – The Legend of Nyabinghi and The Fight Against European Colonialism in East Africa

During the European colonial era, Africans from all across the continent fought back to expel these downpressive forces, in order to regain their rightful independence from exploitation and tyrannical rule. A notable anti-colonial resistance movement, led by a lady named Muhumuza (also spelled Muhumusa), took place in the early 20th century in south-western Uganda. Muhumuza is seen as one of the many fantastic Warrior Queens in African history.

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A rare picture of Muhumuza (centre)

However, the whole movement itself began with the Nyabinghi religion, or cult, which came about many centuries before Muhumuza’s birth. Nyabinghi was one of the several prominent religions in the Kigezi district of Uganda in pre-colonial Africa.

According to oral tradition, in the 1700s, a queen, named Nyabinghi, was sovereign over the Kingdom of Karagwe, a north-western region in what is now known as Tanzania; Karagwe was one of the Great Lakes Kingdoms of East Africa. The modern day district, of the same name, in Tanzania would have been a part of this large, ancient kingdom.

Queen Nyabinghi then married Ruhinda, a chief of the short-lived Mpororo Kingdom, which spanned the area we would now recognise as south-western Uganda. Ruhinda remained in Karagwe, and devised a plan to overthrow Nyabinghi in order to take complete control of her kingdom; he succeeded with his plan and had his wife killed. It is said that the spirit of Nyabinghi terrorised Ruhinda and his stolen kingdom years after her passing, as well as anybody who enabled him to conduct a coup d’état against her. Continue reading

Black British History: William Cuffey – 19th Century tailor turned Chartist revolutionary

“Ven this bad year began,

The nex man said saysee,

I vas a journeyman,

A taylor black and free;

And my wife went out and chaired about,

And my name’s the bold Cuffee.” – W.M. Thackeray

 

William Cuffey was born in 1788 in Kent. His father, an African man who was born in St. Kitts, came over to England as a chef for the British Navy and met his future wife, who was a white, English lady residing in Chatham. His surname likely comes from the Anglicisation of the name Kofi, which derives from the Twi and Akan languages of Ghana. Kofi is a name traditionally given to boys born on a Friday.

Cuffey spent his early life in England as a tailor, but became increasingly frustrated by the unacceptable working conditions and poor pay accorded to him. At the time, workers had very little say in how the country was operated; less than 3% of the 8 million population of Britain in the early 1800s had electoral rights, with all those eligible being men. The burden of tax encumbered the working class disproportionately and many had decided it was time for change, with uprisings breaking out in 1831 all across Britain. The People’s Charter was drawn up in 1838, inside which were six demands, including the comprehensive consideration of fairer pay and rights to vote (which, however, only considered men over the age of 21). This Charter gave birth to the Chartist movement, to which Cuffey was a follower from its conception. This petition was presented to Parliament in June 1839 with 1.25 million signatures (representing about 16% of the British population). The six demands were as follows:

  • All men to have the vote (universal manhood suffrage)
  • Voting should take place by secret ballot
  • Parliamentary elections every year, not once every five years
  • Constituencies should be of equal size
  • Members of Parliament should be paid
  • The property qualification for becoming a Member of Parliament should be abolished

Four years prior to the creation of the People’s Charter, Cuffey went on a strike with fellow tailors, demanding a change in working hours and equitable pay for their day’s work; this resulted in him being removed from his post and he was blacklisted from future employment as a result of his actions. Continue reading