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‘African Queen: Njinga’ Season 1, Episode 1: Recap And Ending: A Women Emperor In Making

The Netflix original docuseries “African Queen: Njinga,” filmed in central and west Africa, stars Adesuwa Oni as Njinga, the female warrior of a 17th-century African kingdom dominated by the Portuguese. The story of Njinga is just the beginning of the series that will also focus on various female fighters from the mainland, probably Cleopatra’s journey will be picked up in season two. Jada Koren Pinkett Smith, famous for her role in “Gotham,” served as the executive producer and narrator for the show. The fairly lofty “narration” at the start of each episode is going to be very impactful and bold to the viewers for better perception, along with the interviews of prominent figures, or call it a “blending of dramatization with documentation.”

Spoilers Ahead

Enslavement: An Epidemic For Ndongo

The first episode portrays the fall of a regime and the rise of a matriarch in a male-oriented society. In the early 17th century, Ndongo (currently renamed Angola) was ruled by King Ngola. The episode starts with the description of Ndongo by Queen Diambi Kabatusuila, the women’s King of the Bakwa Luntu community. The name Angola is relatively associated with the monarch Ngola. Mary Hicks, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, reveals why exactly the Portuguese wanted to invade the African communities. Their first strategy was to Christianize the tribal people and spread their territory by occupying the areas.

Around 1550, “Engenho,” or the sugarcane plantations and mills, became a major source of profit for the Portuguese, which started back in the colonies of Brazil. The peninsula provided the perfect environment and optimum temperature for sugar production. And for cultivation, the Dutch people were craving more and more slaves, especially from the east and western parts of Africa, which include the Ndongo region. Njinga shows up on the screen with her wooden sheath and spears, practicing how to resist the enemies in front of her father. She was followed by a female instructor, and she got some soldiers as her private trainers, which is very rare for a woman in a patriarchal society. You will see the crowd cheering and clapping for Njinga’s competence, with an ancient horn blowing in the background—a golden moment for sure.

Few African cultures allow women to have multiple partners, and one of them was Kia Ituxi, a concubine who not only shared a special connection with Njinga but also was the father of her son. In a nutshell, Njinga, the princess of Ndongo, is not just a responsible daughter but a loving mother too. The royal family, based in Kabasa, is blessed with two more daughters, named Kambu and Funji, apart from Njinga. The show depicts the rural life of people, styled in their traditional dress, centered on their crafting with ivory, marble, ceramics, wood, bronze, etc., in their signature patterns.

Are The Ancestors The Protectors?

Njingi, confident in her skin, says that analyzing a battlefield should be on the top in order to come to a decision, not just survival skills. That very day, the King arranged a community gathering where two more significant characters were introduced: Mbande, Njinga’s brother, and their half-brother Kiluanje. The King seems worried while two of his sons get into a heated debate. Soba is a position where a person is put into power, but not as much as the King possesses. In charge of the northern portion, Soba Kauulo is heading a rival team against Njinga’s father, holding hands with the Portuguese rulers. Sometimes the people you trust the most could be the ones backfiring on you, and that’s the exact scenario Ngola is facing: a threat to Ndongo.

Mbande is a convoluted character who separately wants to win the crown. When everyone is drowned in thoughts, Njinga, the smart negotiator, keeps her point that chasing the Soba is just like running behind your own shadow, which is not gonna help in the long run. Here enters the spiritual guide Nganga on the scene; the people of the indigenous tribe believe in placating and worshiping the spirits of their forefathers. Nganga, with her supernatural power, listens to the voice of the ancestors and says that the King will lead the throne until the end. How ironic is it that, on the contrary, the King of Ndongo remarks that nobody could outlive death? Does he actually catch the drift that was unsaid but consequential? But one thing is clear: the King is way too dedicated to the security, welfare, and elevation of his province and its inhabitants.

From Princess To Pacesetter: The Journey Begins

The next morning starts with the encounter between Ngola and Njinga, where he conveys a few things to his sensible daughter before going to visit the Soba general. He thinks that if a woman is fitted to the crown, there will be less bloodshed, while the male ego can be wild at times, which could lead to a massacre. But the brightest morning brought the darkest shades to their life as the King was brutally killed by the general, but as he already mentioned that Njinga is the last hope of Ndongo – that would be carried away further. How do you mourn someone’s death when they have been murdered? Well, for now, Njinga has no plan to take revenge; rather, she wants her nemesis to gain faith and feel safe around her. But what if your own blood is butchering the people you love the most? Njinga’s brother, Kiluanje, and two of his sons were mercilessly slaughtered by Mbande. The man becomes so selfish that his silly ambition forces him to take away the life of Njinga’s son. He erased all the obstructions and threats in his way that could have set him back from being the head of the state. Mganga reminded him that a steady throne always demands a stabilized king, not one as fragile as Mbande’s intentions.

On the other hand, the Portuguese, allied with Kasanje, hired new kids on the block who were called “Imbangala”—a group of cruel combatants that could bear arms against each other at any cost. Njinga, the fearless woman with a heavy heart, confronts Mbande, who has taken over all the power and owns the royal seat. The outrage is quite evident in her eyes, but with vulnerability, she shimmers with her irresistible urge to succeed. Njinga knew that the unquenchable thirst of the Portuguese would boost up; thus, forming her own Imbangala could be a solution to fight the demons back. She, with a few warriors, ventured out to find Kasanje and his team, where they bumped into piles of injured bodies and were attacked from behind. Stabbing from behind is an absolutely disrespectful technique in the African diaspora, but war is all about coffins and graveyards. In the final scene of the episode, the Imbangala attack Njinga, and she takes out her battle axe to resist; she offers Kasa and his military to join her. Kasa disagrees as Njinga has got nothing to offer him in return – this is where it climaxed with, just a dagger away.

Within just 45 minutes, the series follows Njinga’s upsurge from a cherished damsel to a legendary leader, revered for her intelligence both as a ranger and an envoy. This is just the beginning of her sacrifice, and soon the list will be longer than you’ve imagined—how a flesh-and-blood human could cope with hardships and a men-controlled culture for the freedom of her reign!


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