African Kingdoms/Empires of the week: The Kingdom of Kongo of Central Africa ((Kongo: Kongo dya Ntotila or Wene wa Kongo or
Portuguese: Reino do Congo)) - Languages spoken: Kikongo and Portuguese
The Kingdom of Kongo. This is not the present Democratic Republic of Congo but not the Republique de Congo (Brazzaville-Congo) either. These modern states are products of colonizing powers in the XIXth century. The dynasty of the Kingdom of Kongo goes back to more than 500 years, and its traditional territory is the Atlantic coast and moderate interior of the present Democratic Republic of Congo & Northern Angola. The origins of the Kongo lie in a number of small Iron Age communities lying just north of the Malebo Pool in the River Congo (formerly River Zaire). This strategic location provided fertile soil, iron and copper ore, a rich source of fish, and a river which was navigable for thousands of miles upstream.
By the early 15th century these communities had grown in wealth and size to form a loose federation centred on one kingdom, led by a Manikongo (King). Following the defeat of a branch of the Mbundu, the focus of power had shifted 200 kilometres south west, south of the River Kongo, where a capital was established called Mbanza Kongo
(Sao Salvador under Portuguese rule).
The first European contact came with the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão in 1483. Taking some Kongo hostages back with him he returned two years later and journeyed inland to the capital, Mbanza Kongo. There, in 1491, he baptised the king as João I and his son, Afonso, and began building a stone church. The six chief nobles of the kingdom also converted and adopted Portuguese names and titles.
Soyo and Mbata were the two most powerful provinces of the original federation; other provinces included Nsundi, Mpangu, Mbamba, and Mpemba. The capital of the kingdom was Mbanza Kongo. The capital and its surrounding area were densely settled—more so than other towns in and near the kingdom. This allowed the Manikongo (King) to keep close at hand the manpower and supplies necessary to wield impressive power and centralize the state.
Kongo-Portuguese War of 1622
The Kongo-Portuguese War of 1622 began initially because of a Portuguese campaign against the Kasanze Kingdom, which was conducted ruthlessly. From there, the army moved to Nambu a Ngongo, whose ruler, Pedro Afonso, was held to be sheltering runaway slaves as well. Although Pedro Afonso, facing an overwhelming army of over 20,000 agreed to return some runaways, the army attacked his country and killed him.
Following its success in Nambu a Ngongo, the Portuguese army advanced into Mbamba—in November. The Portuguese forces scored a victory at the Battle of Mbumbi. There they faced a quickly gathered local force led by the new Duke of Mbamba, and reinforced by forces from Mpemba led by its Marquis. Both the Duke of Mbamba and the Marquis of Mpemba were killed in the battle. However, Pedro II, the newly crowned king of Kongo brought the main army, including troops from Soyo down into Mbamba and decisively defeated the Portuguese driving them from the country at a battle waged somewhere near Mbanda Kasi. Portuguese residents of Kongo, frightened by the consequences for their business of the invasion, wrote a hostile letter to João Correia de Sousa, denouncing his invasion.
Following the defeat of the Portuguese at Mbandi Kasi, Pedro II declared Kongo an official enemy. The king then wrote letters denouncing João Correia de Sousa to the King of Spain and the Pope. Meanwhile, anti-Portuguese riots broke out all over the kingdom and threatened its long established merchant community. Portuguese throughout the country were humiliatingly disarmed and even forced to give up their clothes. Pedro, anxious not to alienate the Portuguese merchant community, and aware that they had generally remained loyal during the war, did as much as he could to preserve their lives and property, leading some of his detractors to call him “king of Portuguese”.
As a result of Kongo’s victory, the Portuguese merchant community of Luanda revolted against the governor hoping to preserve their ties with the king. Backed by the Jesuits, who had also just recommenced their mission there, they forced João Correia de Sousa to resign and flee the country. The interim government that followed the departure was led by the bishop of Angola. They were very conciliatory to Kongo and agreed to return some of the slaves captured by Correia de Sousa, especially the lesser nobles captured at the Battle of Mbumbi.
Increasing instability followed towards the end of the 16th century and later. This was not just down to the Portuguese presence, but more to do with problems over succession that afflicted many African societies. Primogeniture (the handing of the throne from father to son) was not an accepted principle and in Kongo, kingship was decided by an electoral college, which increased opportunities for intrigue and in-fighting.From 1575, the Portuguese established a colony in Luanda, Angola, just to the south of Kongo, and some governors used the position to launch raids into Kongo to gather slaves, or in an attempt to take tracts of territory. In 1622, a full-scale Portuguese invasion from Angola was eventually beaten off, but in 1665, Kongo suffered a serious defeat at the battle of Mbwila, resulting in the deaths of the Kongolese king Antonio I and many of his nobles. Kongo was plunged into half a century of civil war, which included the abandonment of the capital. Although Portugal did not effectively take over Kongo until 1857, its independence until then was severely reduced, and the power of the kings to control the whole country was broken…
(Don Alvaro, king of Kongo, giving audience to the Dutch in 1642)
(Kongo Capital City M’banza)
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