The story of Don Nicolau I Misaki mia Nimi, prince of the ancient Kingdom of Kongo, which is now modern-day Angola, is an intriguing one that has been lost in time.
Perhaps the absence of his story is due to his tragic end at the hands of his own people, but whatever the case, Don Nicolau’s story deserves to be told and remembered for his pioneering actions in protesting Westernization and its influence on the Kingdom of Kongo and Africa in general.
In the early 1880s, Prince Don Nicolau I Misakai mia Nimi was born to King Henry II, King of the Kingdom of Kongo. At the time of his birth, the Portuguese had well-established relations with East Africa and had gained control of a large portion of Angola, including Luanda, through several invasions and wars, as well as the advantage of a strong military.
Luanda, now Angola’s capital, was the trading unit at the time. This made kingdoms like Kongo very dependent on the Portuguese for even food, wine, and education, and it weakened the Kings’ power. The Kingdom of Kongo, on the other hand, remained independent and had not been annexed by the Portuguese. It had taken control of a portion of Angola.
There are no records of Prince Don Nicolau’s actual birth year, but in 1845, when he was still a teenager nearing the age of 20, he made his first trip to Lisbon, Portugal. On October 31, 1845, Prince Nicolau arrived in Lisbon and was hosted at a reception by Queen Maria II, Queen of Portugal. The evidence of his visit can be found in an engraving of the prince in his royal robes by a Lisbon artist, who depicts the prince as young, tall, and dark.
Prince Nicolau was sent back to Portugal for an education shortly after his return to the Kingdom of Kongo in 1848. The Kingdom of Kongo and Portugal agreed that the heir to the throne and the king’s children would receive western education in Portugal.
Prince Nicolau adapted to the western way of life while pursuing his education. His education also enlightened him and made him aware of a variety of issues concerning the long-standing and close relationship between his people and the Portuguese. Despite his realization, Prince Nicolau was powerless to intervene because he was not heir to the throne due to Kongo Monarchy laws that made his cousins heirs.
Prince returned to the Kingdom but was unable to adjust to the way of life and sought employment in Luanda, where he settled in 1850. His distance from the affairs of the Kingdom and the people infuriated and hurt the people, who felt he looked down on them despite having the advantage of education.
When Prince Nicolau’s father, King Henry II, died in 1857, there was an internal conflict over who should succeed to the throne. This prompted a Portuguese intervention and the coronation of the new king by a chief priest. Following the announcement of the new king, he swore allegiance and loyalty to the King of Portugal.
Prince Nicolau was furious after reading about it in the newspaper. For one thing, he believed that the people were succumbing to the Portuguese because they were unaware of their true intentions. He also believed that language was causing a lot of miscommunication to the benefit of the Portuguese, and that the new king was working for his personal gain, with the Kingdom of Kongo and its people not being his priority.
Prince Nicolau began his subtle protest against westernization and Portuguese influence in 1859 by writing personal letters to the King of Portugal and the King of Brazil, but these letters received no response.
Later that year, on September 26, 1859, Prince Nicolau wrote a letter of protest and displeasure to a Portuguese daily newspaper. On December 1, 1859, the letter was published and became the first protest by any African leader against westernisation and colonisation. It also ushered in a new era of protest that was very different from the usual physical fights as a form of protest that Ugandans and Africans were used to.
Nicolau stated in the letter that he was the only person of royal blood from the kingdom who had an education and understanding of both the Kongo Kingdom and the Portuguese. These two characteristics enable him to rightfully lead and protect the kingdom rather than cower in fear for the sake of safety.
Unfortunately for the Prince, when the letter was published in the newspaper on February 11, 1860, it did not go down well with the people of the Kingdom of Kongo and Uganda. Because he could not be king, the prince was labeled a traitor to his people and a middleman working with the Portuguese to capture Kongo’s kingdom. Such rumors about the prince were false, but they spread throughout what is now Angola.
Despite warnings from friends, Prince Nicolau decided to leave the country and settle in Brazil by shipping and selling slaves to the French to fund his journey. The leak of information about the prince’s plans enraged the locals even more.
The prince was pursued by locals who had identified him while on his way to the Kissembo port. The prince sought refuge in the home of a British merchant, but this did not deter the people. While one account claims that Nicolau was dragged out of the house and beaten until he died, another claims that the prince was apprehended and shot dead while fleeing through the back door.
Finally, Prince Don Nicolau I Misaki mia Nimi of the Kingdom of Kongo was assassinated by his own people, sending shockwaves throughout Africa and the West.
Many saw the killing of the Prince as proof that the locals were fully supportive of colonisation and westernisation, but it is very possible that the prince’s death was simply a case of miscommunication due to the language barrier.
Prince Nicolau died young and is remembered as the first African leader to publicly criticize colonialism and its effects on Africa. He was also the first to use writing to express his displeasure.