Queen Njinga and the Road to Christianity in Central Africa, 1622–63

Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:30 AM
Grand Ballroom Salon C (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Linda M. Heywood , Boston University, Brookline, MA
The paper examines the religious strategies that Queen Njinga, the ruler of a seventeenth-century Angolan kingdom, adopted as she attempted to maintain her political and ideological autonomy. The paper relies on Njinga's own letters, biographies and numerous letters of Catholic missionaries, as well as military and political accounts by Portuguese officials to argue that Christianity was used as both a political tool and spiritual ideology for many of the early African rulers who became Christians. The paper argues that when Njinga converted to Christianity in 1622 she regarded her conversion as strategically important in order to obtain a peace between her brother and the Portuguese. When she took over power in 1624 after her brother's death, Njinga, frustrated by the reluctance of the Portuguese to maintain the terms of the agreement, adopted an indigenous religious ideology that directly opposed Catholic teachings and values. When Njinga did return to the Catholic religion in the last decade of her life, even though her re-conversion was still informed by politics in that she retained control of her state, she underwent for the first time a genuine religious conversion and died an exemplary Christian.
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