Tall along the Kwanza
“What is it?”
“A note from the Portuguese. They wish me to speak with them regarding business with Angola.” Ngola Mbandi holds the note in his shaking hands. He looks up with uncertainty.
“Sister, you will go in my stead.”
The night was warm and the air damp with the rains to come, marking the end of the dry season. Correia de Sousa’s camp sat across the river, still as the night air. The river, too, was still. A sign of the talks to come? The boat ride across was easy, but surely the Portuguese would not be.
Inside the camp, negotiations waited to be made. João Correia de Sousa sat at the far end of the room, his subordinates standing around him. There were no other seats in the room. Correia de Sousa looked at his guest and gestured to a mat in the middle of the floor.
“You may sit there,” he said smugly.
She looked to the floor at the mat at her feet. She looked back up to the Portuguese governor, and then turned her head back to her company behind her. A servant girl ran to her and dropped to her hands and knees on the floor in front of her. The woman gathered the bottom of her skirt in her hand, and sat upon the servant girl’s back.
“I am Nzinga Mbandi, representing my brother, King of Ndongo, the land you call Angola. I will do fine to sit here,” she smiled back at him.
“Let us talk then, shall we?” he said, his jaw clenched.
“You have called to us with business for Ndongo.”
“Yes,” he spoke. “It is no secret Portugal seeks the continued expansion of our empire along the Kwanza.” Nizinga stared silently; her eyes squinting back at Correia de Sousa.
“My predecessor sought through violence, I seek through more peaceful means,” he continued. “Surely, your brother and yourself would like to end this war?”
“Surely,” Nzinga retorted.
“It would be in the best interest of both parties, particularly yours, to find peace amongst the strife that ravages this land.”
Nzinga waved her hand, stopping him as he spoke.
“What are these terms you have asked me to come here and discuss?”
Correia de Sousa sat forward in his chair, angered by Nzinga’s boldness. “We demand you acknowledge Portuguese sovereignty and relinquish the Kwanza to us.”
Laughing, Nzinga replied, “Is this all that you want? The lands that we have been fighting you off of and recognition of your power in a place you do not belong?”
“The Kwanza is only partly yours, and not even half of your kingdom. We are willing to cede you the rest of your Ndongo if you’ll cease the fighting and give us the river.”
“No?!” he raised his voice angrily.
“You will return to us the large number of ijiko you hold captive; you will withdraw your base from the Lukala; and you will take back with you the bands of Imbangala that you have plagued Ndongo with. Then you will have your river.” Nzinga sat still, studying the governor before her.
Correia de Sousa looked back at the African woman in front of him, sitting atop her servant, and deliberated her offer.
“Agreed. And in recognizing Portugal and her power, your king shall serve vassal to us, and pay one hundred slaves a year to our sovereignty.” He sat back assuredly.
Nzinga narrowed her eyes at him. “Agreed.”
She rose from her seat on top of the servant girl’s back and exited the camp, her company close behind. The night had cooled and the river now rocked back and forth impatiently.
“Cross me and there will be war greater than before,” she whispered on to the breeze.
“What is it?”
Ngola did not answer.
“Brother, what is it? Has the governor responded? What?”
Ngola turned to his sister, his face grave. “The Portuguese war with the Kongo has taken a turn for the worse.”
“For us all. They have driven the Portugese governor from the land. A new man comes soon, but it does not look good for them.”
“What then do we do Ngola?” He turned away from his sister, silently. “Do we fight with the Portuguese in accordance with our treaty?”
Her brother remained silent.
“Do we seize the opportunity, strike the Portuguese, and take back what they’ve yet to give as they promised?”
Still Ngola would not speak.
“Coward!” Nzinga screamed, charging at him. “Speak and save your kingdom!”
Ngola looked at Nzinga, tears in his eyes. She slapped him across the face.
“And what will you do when they come, Ngola, when they come expecting either a fight or our allegiance?” She stood tall and watched her brother whimper. “Coward,” she spit at him. “Do not see your kingdom fall around you for fear of it falling.”
Nzinga walked away from her brother and stole away to her private quarters. Furious, she paced the length of the room. She refused to let her Ndongo become their Angola. She wished her brother would follow the Kongo and fight for what was rightfully theirs.
From outside, she heard a servant girl scream. Nzinga ran from her quarters out to the screams. There she found one servant girl in the arms of another, lying faint from the scene in front of her. Lying, in a pool of his own blood, was her brother, Ngola of Ndongo.
“Ngola?” she whispered with stoicism.
“Our ngola, has taken his own life,” a sentry stated, stepping forward to catch the princess, should she fall out with grief.
Nzinga stared down at her brother’s body, unable to move to him.
“Gather him. Bury him.” She commanded, her voice barely above a whisper.
“What will we do now, mistress?” One of the servant girls asked.
Nzinga paused. What would they do? The Portuguese would come, and soon, looking for an answer, looking for Ngola. Nzinga watched as two sentries carried her brother’s body from the room. She stared after them as their shapes disappeared from her sight.
A war was coming, she hadn’t been wrong about that. Her people needed a warrior among them to lead. Ngola had proven himself coward in that respect. Nzinga would not be a coward to her people; she would be their queen.
Nzinga shed a single tear over her brother’s blood, as she picked up his sword. Shouts of a foreign tongue were heard outside as the sentries rushed back through the doors. She gripped the sword tightly in her hand.
“Go into the other room.” She said with a look to the servant girls. The returning sentries rushed to her side.
“The Portuguese have come?” A sentry nodded confirmation. “They will want allies. We will give them war. Their prior talks of peace bore us no fruit but a dead king.” The distant shouts grew nearer. “As the queen, I command victory.” Nzinga stood tall, sword in hand, and war at her doorstep.