The Kingdom of Ndongo, situated in today’s Angola, emerged in the early 16th century and was home to the Mbundu people. Famously led by Queen Nzinga, who resisted Portuguese colonization, Ndongo played a pivotal role in regional history. Over time, external and internal challenges led to its decline.

Social & Political structure of the Kingdom of Ndongo

Known as the land of Mbundu, the Kimbundu-speaking region was divided into approximately 736 political units ruled by sobas. The sobas had territories known as murinda which were groupings of villages which surrounded a central town known as mbanza.

Known as the Kanda, political groups were part of large units and in some cases, provinces. There were probably larger kingdoms in the past but in the 16th century, these regions were united by the rulers of the Kingdom of Ndongo. The capital city of the Kingdom of Ndongo was known as Kabasa which was located near modern-day N’dalatando. This town held approximately 50,000 people in a densely populated district. The king of the Kingdom of Ndongo and the leaders of the provinces ruled with a council of nobles known as the macota, an administration headed by the tendala, a judicial figure and a military leader known as the ngolambole. The ruler in the Kingdom of Ndongo had a large group of bureaucrats with a quartermaster known as the kilunda with similar officials known as the mwene kudya.

The Rise of The Kingdom of Ndongo

A Portuguese mission occurred at the Cuanza River in 1560 which was spearheaded by Paulo Dias de Novais who was the grandson of Batolomeu Dias. He came with a few priests such as Francisco de Gouveia. This mission failed and Dias de Novais went back to Portugal in 1564, leaving Gouveia behind.

In 1571, Dias de Novais had another mission to take over what they called the “Kingdom of Angola” and to build forts, govern the region and bring in settlers. He couldn’t gain any territory of his own and Dias de Novais made alliances with Kongo and Ndongo to serve as a mercenary army.

By 1579, Njinga Ndambi Kilombo kia Kasenda was advised by Portuguese merchants who settled in Kongo that Portugal wanted to take over the country. Njinga went on to trick Portuguese forces into an ambush and killed them all at the capital. In 1590, the Portuguese attacked Ndongo and sent an army against Kabasa. Ndongo had an alliance with the Matamba and the Portuguese army was crushed. Building on defeating the Portuguese army, Ndongo made a counter-attack and the sobas who were pro-Portuguese returned to Ndongo.

Rise of Queen Nzinga

João Correia de Sousa wanted peace with the Kingdom of Ndongo, so Ngola Mandi sent his sister, Nzinga Mandi to Luanda to negotiate peace with the Portuguese on his behalf. The peace treaty Nzinga negotiated was ensuring Portugal would withdraw their troops from fort Ambaca as that was a base for the Portuguese invasion of Ndongo.

João Correia de Sousa was expelled from Kongo and the Kingdom of Ndongo after getting involved in a disastrous war against Kongo. The bishop, who was his temporary successor was unable to implement the treaty agreed with Nzinga and the responsibility was passed to Fernão de Sousa when he took control in 1624.

Portugal failed to implement the treaty which led Ngola Mandi to commit suicide out of desperation. This put the Kingdom of Ndongo in the hands of now Queen Nzinga. Queen Nzinga went on to capture the Kingdom of Matamba which became her base after having to flee the Kingdom of Ndongo from the war with the Portuguese in 1626.

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Encyclopedia Britannica. “Ndongo | historical kingdom, Africa.” Accessed July 1, 2022.

Samuel, Isaac. “The Kingdom of Ndongo and the Portuguese.” Substack, September 12, 2021.

U.S. Library of Congress. “Ndongo and Matamba.” Accessed July 10, 2022.