Nzingha: Warrior Of Matamba Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
For her first book in the Royal Diaries series, award-winning writer Patricia McKissack shines the spotlight on one of the great Queens of Africa — Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba. McKissack says, "Researching the life of Nzingha was a learning experience for me. I had never heard of this remarkable woman, but I am proud to know about Nzingha now. Her story is well worth telling."
Nzingha's story is filled with intrigue and adventure. The time is 1595. The place is Africa in what is now the country of Angola. The Portuguese are the enemy who have tried for years to capture the land and people ruled by Nzingha's father. In this world of male warrior leaders, Papa Kiluanji recognizes the courage and leadership qualities in his daughter.
The daughter rises to her father's expectations and becomes a talented hunter, wise negotiator, and savvy judge of people. Through her vivid prose, Patricia McKissack makes Angola, Africa of four centuries ago come alive with the smells and sounds of the market place, the drum beat and pageantry that accompany the triumphant return of the warrior king, and the daily life of an uncommon princess destined to become one of the greatest leaders of her people. McKissack writes, "I've always loved history - especially African and African-American history. Wanting to know about my own culture and wanting to share that knowledge with others is the motivation that keeps me writing." Young readers of all cultures will enjoy reading Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba.
Nzingha, first daughter of Kiluanji, the Ngola (leader) of the Mbundu people, is "almost thirteen and eligible to marry." But she would rather be hunting, especially with her father, although "he hardly notices that he has a daughter, and besides, the Mbundu elders would forbid it."
It is 1595 in Angola, Africa, and a time when Portuguese slave traders are shipping boatloads of Mbundu captives to Brazil to work on sugarcane and tobacco plantations. Although they have tried, the Portuguese have been unsuccessful in gaining control of the Angolan interior where Nzingha's people live. Now Nzingha's father is returning from a huge victory over the invading Portuguese. The Ngola's triumphant return is a happy one, full of color and excitement. Nzingha is overjoyed to have her father home again, and Papa Kiluanji is amazed at how his first born child has grown up in his absence. "Just yesterday, he says, "you were a baby. Now you are almost a woman."
When the next full moon comes, Nzingha has her coming of age ceremony and is presented to the court. He mother tells her, "You are ready, daughter. You are smart, brave, and strong." Nzingha's bravery and strength do not go unnoticed. Her father soon asks her to join him in the hunt. The two become closer as he gives her his zai (knowledge) and tells her that she must one day lead their people. He even asks her to go in his place to Luanda, the capital of Angola, to negotiate peace with the Portuguese governor. In Luanda, Nzingha learns the true motive of the Portuguese - to obtain large numbers of slaves and to slowly take over the land of her people. Nzingha delivers the message to her father and writes, "I am pleased that he has made me one of his trusted advisors, and happy that he is not going to make an agreement with the Portuguese to sell slaves." An offer of marriage also pleases Nzingha because is it from Prince Azeze whom she favors, and who sees her as a "perfect princess-hunter, strong and smart."
Thinking About the Book
- Why was the Warrior Queen of Matamba named Nzingha?
- Nzingha decides it is important for her to learn to speak and write in Portuguese — "the language that belongs to our worst enemy." Why?
- What is it that Nzingha does to shame herself in front of her family? Does this tell you anything about the princess?
- Papa Kiluanji asks Nzingha to promise him something. What is that promise and does she keep it? What are the things you admire most about Nzingha? What does the famous incident where the princess sits on the back of one of the guards tell you about her?
- Nzingha learns several important lessons from Father Giovanni? Discuss some of those lessons.
- Why is Nzingha so opposed to the Portuguese and especially to their slave trade?
- In your discussion group, debate this question: Who is the most important teacher in Nzingha's life? Is it Papa Kiluanji, Mother Kenjela, Njali, or Father Giovanni?
- The author of Nzingha's diary, Patricia McKissack, draws some very vivid word pictures of places and events such as the market place in Kabasa, or the Ngola's triumphant return from battle. Take a vote in your discussion group to decide what scene is the most memorable in this book. Discuss the choices.
- Nzingha records in her diary how much she loved searching for termites with Old Ajola. "By the time the sun was high in the sky, we had found a termite hill as tall as three warriors standing on one another's shoulders." That night they feasted on fried termites. See what you can find out about this strange food. Do people really eat termites?
- When Nzingha makes a shell bracelet for her mother, each shell represents an important even in Mother Kenjela's life. Make your own "life bracelet" using beads or shells. Write what each part of your bracelet represents in your life.
- Choose one of the following Mbundu proverbs and explain what it means.
"A mouse that insults the leopard should make sure she has a hole nearby."
"When the leopard's head is on a pole, his roar is no longer feared."
"Never let the right hand know what weapon the left hand is holding."
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston, and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Houston, Texas.