“African Queens: Njinga” is about a great leader, the spread of slave trade and the complicity of the Catholic Church

Omoleye Omoruyi
African Queens: Njinga
African Queens: Njinga
Njinga was the mother of a nation. But, she loved her country, and for that, she made great sacrifices. But, those sacrifices ensured the independence of her kingdom while the rest of Africa was swallowed by imperialism - Dr Edson Burton, for "African Queens: Njinga."

Many stories need to be retold by the hunted as hunters are usually the storytellers and are always keen on tilting the story to suit their narratives and validate their biases.

Indeed, Njinga’s story is one of them.

Ordinarily, you would argue that since we now have two stories of one great woman king – Njinga, there are possibilities that the two have been abridged just so either side telling the story is true to itself. But, we can also argue that for “African Queens: Njinga“, Nnenne Iwuji did her homework, resulting in a docu-drama series on Netflix.

No doubt, you may want to run to Google search to find out how much of the story really happened; only you don’t need to rely on questionable search results for reliable answers. The docu-drama weaves expert interviews with amazing scripted scenes.

African Queens: Njinga
African Queens: Njinga

“African Queens: Njinga” (2013)

“African Queens: Njinga” has one main narrator, Jada Pinkett Smith, and others telling the story of the great Njinga in between, including:

  • Queen Diambi Kabutusuila (Woman King of the Bakwa Luntu people)
  • Luke Pepera (Anthropologist/Writer)
  • Mary Hicks (Ass. Professor, University of Chicago)
  • Dr Edson Burton (Writer/Historian)
  • Dr Kellie Carter Johnson (Africana Studies, Wellesley College)
  • Cecile Fromont
  • Prof Olivette Otele (SOAS, University of London)
  • Rosa Cruz E Silva (Historian, Dir., National Archives of Angola)

The characterisation is obviously ‘foreign’ and questionable, especially because there was zero attempt to use the local language or local actors to tell the story. It reminds us of the many African stories that have been told by others from outside Africa who may have true intentions.

“African Queens: Njinga” is a story of sacrifices, for the freedom of a people. It is a story of slavery of the Ndongo people (now Angola), the spread of the idea of slavery, and the complicit nature of the Catholic Church in such diabolical eras of humanity.

African Queens: Njinga
African Queens: Njinga

The director, Sérgio Graciano, who is reported to have spent two years in Angola to direct the film, gives the audience a good show – even though light, especially in the battle scenes. However, we would credit Iwuji for the dialogue, which seems to be a Herculean task for many writers of African movies these days.

On a downside note of using a docu-drama to tell the story, the series doesn’t go as deep as one might expect, yet, this is just an attempt for Njinga’s name to be out there as a great African Queen and Executive Producer, Jada Pinkett Smith should be given her flowers.

It is assumed that the colon in the title “African Queens: Njinga” means this is just the first instalment in an ongoing series set to focus on different female rulers from Africa. So, like ‘The Woman King‘, serves as corrective measures to Eurocentric narratives that continue to abridge the continent’s history.

The main issue re-imagined

For long enough, the Catholic Church has been left out of conversations about the evils of the slave trade – and many other conversations, really – and “African Queens: Njinga” draws our attention to how complicit the church was in that era.

Njinga had to, literally, beg the church for peace to reign, knowing the church had the power to demand European leaders to stop the slave trade. Historically, the church watched as other white colonialists invaded Africa, pillaged, and took fellow human beings as slaves.

What we see in Njinga’s story is that she has to – even hypocritically or politically influenced – accept Christianity to bring peace to her people. She cannot beat the Portuguese, even with her alliance with Kasanga, the great leader of the Imbangala.

I believe it’s peace. Peace at last. Because even the greatest warriors have the day when they have to put their weapons down. In her case, on her throne, where she will die.

Queen Diambi Kabutusuila

By the time, Njinga is at the end of her life, the slave trade has exploded. There is basically not a country, very few countries not involved in the slave trade. She can’t fight against that, she can’t fight against the whole world,” Dr Kellie Carter Johnson (Africana Studies, Wellesley College)

African Queens: Njinga
African Queens: Njinga

So, even though Christianity brought peace to the people of Ndongo, the slime of the slave trade spread, and most of Africa eventually fell to its knees. Angola, who Njinga fought for most of her life, is also taken and only regains freedom in the 1970s.

Like in much of Africa, European forces eventually overwhelm the continent. Ndongo too fell to the Portuguese and became known as Angola. And, like most tales of hunting told solely by the hunter, Njinga’s prowess was diminished, her story buried,” as narrated by Jada Pinkett Smith.

Her story only comes up later when Angolans accept Njinga as theirs once again, and that is what most of Africa should be doing with her history.

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