Book Reviews

9 June 2017: Review by Delinda J. Collier in The Times Literary Supplement

“… 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.”

19 May 2017: Review by David Gelber in The Literary Review

“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 pantheon of female renown. The tale da Gaeta narrated was a Pauline paradigm, involving the transformation of a pagan idolater – a practitioner of human sacrifice and cannibalism – into a devout Christian. The following century, the Marquis de Sade, more impressed by the heathen customs Njinga had renounced than the Christian piety she latterly discovered, characterised her as the ‘cruelest of women’, a queen who ‘killed her lovers as soon as they had their way with her’ and ‘to flatter her ferocious spirit … had every pregnant woman under the age of thirty ground in a mortar’. The contrasting portrayals of Njinga have persisted until modern times. In 20th-century Portugal, she was typecast as a ‘black savage’, the antithesis of the ‘civilised’ white colonists who had occupied her land. In contemporary Angola, the successor state to Ndongo, she is celebrated as an anti-imperialist freedom fighter and commemorated by a colossal statue in the centre of Luanda.”

10 May 2017: Review by Liz Bourke

“I want to write more about this biography of a 17th-century African queen who just did not quit and seems to have been immensely astute as a war-leader, as a diplomat, and as a politician overall (except possibly in arranging the inheritance of her kingdom, but one cannot blame someone for not keeping things in order after they’re dead). But in brief, it is a fascinating examination of a woman who the Portuguese colonisers saw as a “devil queen,” and of her context.”

16 Mar 2017: Review by Ana Lucia Araujo, author of Reparations for Slavery and the Slave Trade: A Transnational and Comparative History

“This book is the first scholarly biography of Queen Njinga (1582-1663), of one of the most controversial female figures in the history of Africa and the Atlantic world.  Anybody who had the opportunity to listen Heywood in conferences over the last years know that she has been working on this project for several years, if not more than a decade.”

12 Mar 2017: Review by Dr Barry Clayton, TOP 500 REVIEWER

A Queen Who Desired To Be King (5.0/5.0) 

“Over the centuries the reputation of Njinga has been very mixed. Sade said she was the cruelist of women. Others said she was a noble lady. In Portugal in the twentieth-century she was typecast as a savage. Today, in Angola, the successor state to Ndongo, she is celebrated as an anti-imperialist freedom fighter. Heywood’s biography is an attempt to give a balanced picture of a very fascinating woman.

Njinga died 350 years ago. During her life she challenged religious, gender and nationhood boundaries with immense courage. She never flinched from resisting Portuguese imperialism, yet in the end she betrayed her culture and subjects in order to survive.

Born into the Royal dynasty in 1582, she entered a world where the Portuguese had arrived some 20 years before. Relations between the native Mbundu and the Portuguese were deteriorating as a result of the latter seeking slaves to work in their Brazilian plantations. Heywood gives us a fascinating and detailed account of local practices such as polygamy, and politics. The latter was riddled with poisonings and murder. Njinga murdered a rival’s young son and threw his body into the river.

In 1622, she had been sent to Luanda to negotiate a peace treaty with the Portuguese governor. She agreed to be baptised and be given the Christian name Ana but she refused to send an annual tribute of slaves to Luanda. In 1624, she rose to power and reigned for 39 years. Shortly after becoming monarch she started to encourage slaves to rebel. This led to war two years later. By 1629 things were going so badly she agreed to become the wife of the leader of a band of warriors.

Over the next ten years she began to act like a man, leading her forces into battle on several occasions. She adopted the title of King. In 1631 her forces conquered Maramba a nearby Kingdom and this was used as a base for guerrilla operations. Heywood explains how this eventually took on global dimensions. In 1641, she forged an alliance with the Dutch who occupied Luanda. Her sister was murdered, and in 1648 the Dutch were expelled. This led to her seeking peace with the Portuguese.

The peace negotiations are described in detail. In 1556 she renounced Mbundu customs and readopted Christianity. In return she was recognised as Queen of Ndongo. Her marriage was sealed in a Christian ceremony and letters were exchanged with Pope Alexander V111. Human sacrifice was banned and local religious icons were destroyed.

This is a very remarkable book and story. It is one of the most stimulating biographies I have read.”

Review by Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me

“Queen Njinga of Angola has long been among the many heroes whom black diasporians have used to construct a pantheon and a usable past. Linda Heywood gives us a different Njinga–one brimming with all the qualities that made her the stuff of legend but also full of all the interests and inclinations that made her human. A thorough, serious, and long overdue study of a fascinating ruler, Njinga of Angola is an essential addition to the study of the black Atlantic world.”

Other Recent Reviews

20 March 2017: Reviewed in New Yorker magazine’s “Briefly Noted” column.

14 Mar 2017:  “the author humanises Njinga, turning her into a sympathetic figure… A great book for any history buff” – Library Journal.

9 Mar 2017: “…a detailed and engaging study with walk on parts for Vatican plotters, Dutch traders and Brazilian slavers…”- Times Higher Education Supplement

2 Mar 2017: “…Heywood’s book defies simple categorisation, mixing anthropology, gender studies and history…” David Gelber in Literary Review.