Ndongo Wars Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Queen Njinga of Ndongo and Matamba led an African resistance to Portuguese expansion into Angola that developed into the Battle of Ngolome and the start of the Ndongo Wars. The battle was lost by Njinga’s fighters, however, which led, ultimately, to the region’s domination by the Portuguese and their perpetuation of the slave trade.

Summary of Event

Seeking access to the African interior for slaves, Paulo Dias founded in 1576 the city of Luanda Luanda for Portugal, near the mouth of the Kwanza River on the west coast of Africa. This territory, named “Angola,” comes from the title “Ngola a kiluanje,” which named the ruler of the Ndongo kingdom, a kingdom that extended inland 250 miles. The Ndongo, along with the Matamba and Imbangala, make up the Mbundu people, one of the larger ethnic groups in Angola. [kw]Ndongo Wars (1644-1671) [kw]Wars, Ndongo (1644-1671) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1644-1671: Ndongo Wars[1530] Expansion and land acquisition;1644-1671: Ndongo Wars[1530] Colonization;1644-1671: Ndongo Wars[1530] Government and politics;1644-1671: Ndongo Wars[1530] Economics;1644-1671: Ndongo Wars[1530] Africa;1644-1671: Ndongo Wars[1530] Angola;1644-1671: Ndongo Wars[1530] Ndongo Wars (1644-1671)

Initially, the Mbundu were optimistic about Portuguese relations, hoping to diminish the influence of the rival Kongo Kingdom to the north. However, attitudes changed as Paulo Dias began a military conquest. Stiff resistance came from the Ndongo ruler Ngola Kiluanji Ngola Kiluanji , Njinga’s Njinga father, who opposed the Portuguese forces from his capital in Kabasa. By 1604, the conquista (the area conquered by Portugal) had expanded only about 100 miles inland to Massangano, where the Portuguese established a fortress. Not a single Mbundu chief had been paying tribute to the Portuguese. However, captives from these military campaigns were channeled into the growing slave market. Colonization;Portugal of Africa

In 1617, following the death of Kiluanji and four decades of his rule, the Portuguese met a measure of success against Kiluanji’s son Mbandi Mbandi . Kabasa was attacked and burned to the ground. After his mother and wife were killed Mbandi had to seek refuge at an island fortress on the Kwanza River.

A rather influential African ruler, Njinga, found herself center stage. Her name first appeared in Portuguese records (1622) in Luanda as the emissary of Mbandi, who was her half brother. When the Portuguese governor John Correia de Sousa Sousa, John Correia de left Njinga standing in his presence, one of the Ndongo soldiers kneeled behind her to form a human chair. With dignity she negotiated a peace treaty, recognized Mbandi as a legitimate and independent king, and returned a key fortress. In turn, the Portuguese gained trade rights. Njinga accepted Christian baptism and took the name Dona Ana de Sousa.

The following year, after Mbandi mysteriously died in 1623, Njinga emerged as ruler of the Ndongo. While a proven diplomat with the Portuguese, she was less successful with the Ndongo. In their matrilineal society, she was not in line to the throne. Many were suspicious of the new Christian missionaries within her kingdom. A greater problem was that a new governor neglected the promises made in Luanda. Njinga retreated inland for refuge on the Kindonga islands. There she began to build up a coalition against the Portuguese. Although she had earlier accepted the reality of the slave trade, she would soon welcome to her cause runaway slaves. In 1627, a new governor, Fernão de Sousa, Sousa, Fernão de appointed in her place a chieftain from Pungu as Portugal’s puppet king. Though a Ndongo himself, the new king, Ari Ari , saw continued popular support for Njinga.

The Imbangala Imbangala , who had lived south of the Kwanza River and had been migrating east, were made up of fugitives from the Portuguese, marginalized members of the Ndongo court, and mercenary warrior bands. Eventually, they established a new kingdom—Kasanje Kasanje —that offered large numbers of bowmen to Njinga. She would adopt some of the combat practices of the Imbangala warriors, which made her fighting force all the more fierce and threatening.

Sometime between 1630 and 1635, Njinga turned her eye on another Mbundu kingdom to the east. Following the death of the Matamba Matamba king, she took his daughter captive, which led to Njinga becoming ruler over both Ndongo and Matamba. She soon began her attacks on Ari near Mbaka fort.

During the 1640’, Njinga found another unexpected ally against Portugal. With Portugal drawn into inter-European wars, the Dutch made inroads upon Portuguese territory, first in Kongo and then Luanda. The Portuguese governor fled inland to Massangano to govern a conquista that had been reduced to the size of a tribal chiefdom. Njinga negotiated an alliance with the Dutch to provide prisoners of war from her battles with Ari, which would bolster the Dutch slave trade.

The Battle of Ngolome Ngolome, Battle of (1644) at Kweta (Kiata) in 1644 marked the start of the Ndongo Wars. Even though the Portuguese sent a significant force, Njinga and her general, Amona Amona , were successful in capturing Kanini Kanini , the chief of Mbaka, whom they converted to their side. The Portuguese were on the brink of total defeat, and outside reinforcements sailing from Bahia seemed pointless. The new troops were marched toward Massangano in the spring of 1645, only to be annihilated along the way. Only a second group of reinforcements arriving with a new governor, Francisco Sotomaior Sotomaior, Francisco , managed to reach Massangano safely.





Sotomaior made every effort to halt Njinga’s continued raids on Ndongo territory. At a confrontation near the Dande River in 1646, Njinga seemed to have strategic advantage, as Dutch soldiers supported her troops in battle and provided them with guns. However, her forces where overwhelmed by Ari and the Portuguese, who even managed to enter the queen’s compound to take her sister Mukambu Mukambu prisoner. They also recovered intelligence reports sent to Njinga from the Kongo and from another imprisoned sister, Kifunji Kifunji . Njinga retreated back to Matamba lands, while the Portuguese moved to break up the queen’s alliances. Among the first was the king of Kasanje, who agreed to support Portugal in return for promised economic benefits.

Njinga planned a raid to rescue her sister Kifunji. The Portuguese pulled back to the fortress Massangano and drowned Kifunji in the Kwanza River. Njinga made a tactical error by not launching an immediate attack. On August 24, 1648, Salvador Correia de Sá e Benevides Sá e Benevides, Salvador Correia de arrived with Brazilian troops and retook the city of Luanda, expelling the Dutch. The Portuguese began consolidating their own holdings, and they subjugated local Ndongo chiefdoms. The capture of warriors restarted the flow of slaves to Brazil. Portugal also turned its attention north in a long campaign against Kongo, which culminated in the successful Battle of Mbwila Mbwila, Battle of (1665) in 1665.

In the meantime, governor Luís Mendes de Sousa Chicorro Sousa Chicorro, Luís Mendes de was instructed to not attack Matamba and instead seek diplomatic ties with Njinga to reopen trade routes east. A key element was the release of Njinga’s imprisoned sister Mukambu. The peace treaty was finally signed on October 12, 1656, resulting in the establishment of trade and Christian missions in Matamba. Mukambu married Njinga’s chief military general, Amona. On December 17, 1663, Queen Njinga died, leaving her sister and husband as rulers. Mukambu died three years later.

Njinga always saw herself as legitimate ruler of Ndongo, yet she failed to remove from power the Portuguese puppet king Ari. Once Portugal reasserted itself, however, a period of neglect began, with many Ndongo reduced to slaves and with the ignoring of long-standing promises. Ari’s complaints went unheeded, and he died in 1664.

The new ruler of Matamba and of Ndongo attempted to reassert their independence from the Portuguese. Luís Lopes de Sequeira, Sequeira, Luís Lopes de fresh from successful campaigns against Kongo, responded by attacking the Ndongo capital fortress at Pungu a Ndongo. With reinforcements from Brazil, the fortress was sacked by the Portuguese on November 29, 1671, and the Ndongo ruler was killed. The Ndongo kingdom had been crushed, and Matamba’s demise soon followed.


The defeat of the Ndongo and Matamba changed the political landscape of central Africa. Portugal built a new fort at Pungu a Ndongo, instituting direct rule over the Mbundu. Previously, Ndongo had been a source for slaves, but after the Ndongo Wars, the region became a corridor to the interior of Africa. New kingdoms in the east, such as Kasanje and Lunda, emerged. By the eighteenth century, the number of slaves who were moved through Ndongo territory grew to more than ten thousand per year. Slavery;Portuguese of Africans

While the Portuguese emerged victorious over the interests of the Dutch, it was the economic stability of Brazil—and its maintenance—that would determine the Ndongo region’s fate. Some have thus described the Angola of this time period as a de facto Brazilian colony. Soon, other European interests joined the West African slave trade, and other routes were established to the interior.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bender, Gerald J. Angola Under the Portuguese: The Myth and the Reality. Trenton, N.J.: African World Press, 2004. Bender investigates the racism of Portuguese colonial policies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Birmingham, David. Trade and Conflict in Angola: The Mbundu and Their Neighbors Under the Influence of the Portuguese, 1483-1790. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1966. A scholarly analysis based on Portuguese documents, Mbundu historical traditions collected in the 1660’, and oral traditions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Broadhead, Susan H. Historical Dictionary of Angola. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1992. A compendium of helpful articles, including descriptions of proper names and a chronology, historic maps, a table comparing colonial and modern names, and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Collelo, Thomas. Angola: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1991. Collelo examines both modern and contemporary sources on the history of Angola.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McKissack, Pat. Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba. New York: Scholastic, 2000. A biographical sketch of Queen Njinga for general readers ages 9 to 13.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Joseph C. “Njinga of Matamba in a New Perspective.” Journal of African History 16, no. 2 (1975): 201-216. Original analysis of the objectives, assumptions, tactics, and effectiveness of Njinga in claiming and occupying the rulership of Ndongo and Matamba.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ogot, B. A., ed. Africa from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century. Vol. 5 in General History of Africa. Berkeley, Calif.: Heinemann, 1992. A comprehensive history of Africa.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schwarz-Bart, Simone. “Ana de Sousa Nzinga: The Queen Who Resisted the Portuguese Conquest.” In Ancient African Queens. Vol. 1 in In Praise of Black Women. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001. Reviews the life of Njinga as an early hero of anticolonialist resistance.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thorton, John K. “The Art of War in Angola, 1575-1680.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 30, no. 2 (1988): 360-378. Explores the military strategy of the period that includes the Ndongo Wars.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

John IV; Njinga; Philip IV. Ndongo Wars (1644-1671)

Categories: History