Njinga Of Angola: Africa’s Warrior Queen, by Linda M. Heywood
The fact that Njinga of Angola has become a heroine of freedom in Angola helps us to demonstrate the poisonous way in which the desire to oppose European imperialism leads people to talk up the importance of those whose behavior is far, far more wicked and evil than that of the imperialists they consider beneath contempt. This book is certainly competently written, but just as certainly the book is itself evidence of and a testament to the political interests of the contemporary world that can sometimes overwhelm the proper perspective of the writer. To be sure, the story is interesting, but Njinga is not only an interesting historical figure but is also an abhorrent example of African heathen religious thought whose failures as a leader and whose destructive political ambitions are themselves just as relevant to the troubles of contemporary Angola as her opposition to Portugal is an inspiration to contemporary imperiaphobes. In short, I do not think that the author is writing about someone who is as significant as the author thinks, nor do I think that the author has done enough to avoid the problem she complains about concerning the way that Njinga has served the interests of those who have written about her.
This book is about 250 pages or so and is divided into seven chapters. The introduction to this book reveals the author’s unfulfilled ambition to write the first “serious biography” of the subject in English-language historiography, an aim that is hindered by her desire to place the subject in a particular focus on questions of identity politics and feminism and colonialism. After that the author writes about the Ndgongo Kingdom and the rise of Portuguese interests in Southwestern Africa (1) as well as the crisis involving the problems of succession that led to the rise of Njinga (2). After that the author discusses Njinga as a defiant queen seeking to reject bowing to superior Portuguese military forces and their native allies (3), as well as the treacherous politics that involved the uncertainty of lords who did not find her a more compelling sovereign than the Portuguese (4). After that the author discusses the warfare and diplomacy that Njinga undertook during decades as a tribal ruler (5), the balancing act that involved appeasing bloodthirsty heathen cults while also inviting Capuchin missionaries to spread Catholicism (6), and the subject’s death and her efforts to pass her throne in order to later generations (7). After this the author writes about the literary afterlife of Njinga in European historiography (because there apparently wasn’t an African historiography to celebrate her during the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), after which there is a glossary, list of names, chronology, notes, acknowledgements, illustration credits, and an index.
Throughout history people have been written about because they have served the agendas of those who write, and that is certainly the case here. The author may think that she is superior on a moral basis than those writing biased broadsides about bloodthirsty heathen African rulers, but the story here is essentially the same, only the author praises the bloodthirstiness of Njinga because it came from a non-Christian religious worldview (which are apparently the only ones that a contemporary historian can praise or endorse) and because it shows a feminism that the author (but not the reader) considers admirable. As a result, the author comes off at times like a partisan hack who lacks the self-awareness to see that she is no better than the hacks of previous generations who wrote politically motivated screeds to support their own partisan agendas. This book has higher production values, to be sure, but not any greater insights into history, as it is limited most by the author’s lack of recognition of the way that an anti-European bias hinders the understanding of Portugal’s lengthy and frequently successful empirebuilding in Angola over the course of around four centuries. Had the author had even a tenth of the favor towards Portugal and European efforts to build empires that she does for bloodthirsty and ambitious heathen African chieftains, this would be a far better book.