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Kongo Kingdom

Posted by big mike M on April 6, 2013 at 9:25 AM

Not that many people bother to learn about the Kongo Kingdom, but the Kongo Kingdom was highly advanced kingdom, one can say as advanced as Ancient Egypt. But anyways this blog is to educate those on the Kongo Kingdom.

Now lets get started...

African Treasures
17th century painting of the dutch painter Albert Eckhout showing two emissaries of the Kingdom of Kongo in Brazil holding the two main sources of wealth in west africa, an ivory tusk and a jewel box.

African Nobleman
17th century painting of the dutch painter Albert Eckhout showing the nobleman Don Miguel de Castro from the Kingdom of Kongo during a commercial trip to the portuguese colony of Brazil.

African King
illustration showing the king Afonso I of Kongo, ruler of the Kingdom of Kongo in the first half of the 16th century. Afonso is best known for his vigorous attempt to convert Kongo to a Catholic country, by establishing the Roman Catholic Church in Kongo, providing for its financing from tax revenues, and creating schools. By 1516 there were over 1000 students in the royal school, and other schools were located in the provinces, eventually resulting in the development of a fully literate noble class.



M'banza-Kongo was once the home of the Manikongo, the ruler of the Kingdom of Kongo, which at its peak reached from southern Africa's Atlantic coast to the Nkisi River.


The earliest documented kings referred to their city in their correspondence as "the city of Congo" (cidade de Congo), and the name of the city as São Salvador appears for the first time in the letters of Álvaro I (1568–1587) and was carried on by his successors. The name was changed back to "City of Kongo" (Mbanza Kongo) after Angolan independence in 1975.



When the Portuguese arrived in Kongo, Mbanza Kongo was already a large town, perhaps the largest in sub-equatorial Africa, and an early visitor of 1491 compared it in size to the Portuguese town of Évora. During the reign of Afonso I, stone buildings were added, including a palace and several churches. The town grew substantially as the kingdom of Kongo expanded and grew, and an ecclesiastical statement of the 1630s related that 4,000-5,000 baptisms were performed in the city and its immediate hinterland (presumably the valleys that surround it), which is consistent with an overall population of 100,000 people. Of these, perhaps 30,000 lived on the mountain and the remainder in the valleys around the city. Among its important buildings were some twelve churches, including São Salvador, as well as private chapels and oratories and an impressive two-story royal palace, the only such building in all of Kongo, according to the visitor Giovanni Francesco da Roma (1648).


The city was sacked several times during the civil wars that followed the battle of Mbwila (or Ulanga) in 1665, and was abandoned in 1678. It was reoccupied in 1705 by Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita's followers and restored as Kongo's capital by King Pedro IV of Kongo in 1709. It was never again depopulated though its population fluctuated substantially during the eighteenth and nineteenth century.


M'banza Kongo is known for the ruins of its 16th century cathedral (built in 1549).

The capital of the Kingdom of Kongo

llustration of the ruler of Loango, from Dapper's Description of Africa (1668)

Earliest human settlement, in what is now the DRC, stretches back some 10 000 years. The earliest settlers were in all likelihood short statured hunter-gathers, now known (though controversially so) as pygmies. Some 1 300 years ago these Stone Age peoples were followed by Bantu and Nilotic speaking hunter-gatherer groups, who settled initially in the northern savannah areas. In time the new-comers adopted or developed the cultivation of tropical crops, cattle husbandry and iron working technology which enabled them to subdue and displace the original pygmy populations, gradually driving them into the mountains and the thicker parts of the rain forest.


In the Congo area a number of extensive and complex trading states emerged in the savannah; the Kongo kingdom, the Luba Empire, the Lunda kingdom, the Zande kingdoms, and the kingdom of Kuba. While chiefdoms did emerge within the rainforests, they never rivaled the savannah states for size and complexity.


The Kingdom of Kongo (1400– 1914)

The first of these, the Kongo kingdom, was founded by invaders from the north east who settled south of the Congo River in the late 1300s and grew to encompass the north of modern Angola and the western areas of the DRC (Library of Congress 1993)



Foundation of the Kingdom


The first king of the Kingdom of Kongo Dya Ntotila was Lukeni lua Nimi (circa 1280-1320).The name Nimi a Lukeni appeared in later oral traditions and some modern historians, notably Jean Cuvelier, popularized it. Lukeni lua Nimi or Nimi a Lukeni, became the founder of Kongo when he conquered the kingdom of the Mwene Kabunga (or Mwene Mpangala), which lay upon a mountain to his south. He transferred his rule to this mountain, the Mongo dia Kongo or "mountain of Kongo", and made Mbanza Kongo, the town there, his capital. Two centuries later the Mwene Kabunga's descendants still symbolically challenged the conquest in an annual celebration. The rulers that followed Lukeni all claimed some form of relation to his kanda or lineage and were known as the Kilukeni. The Kilukeni kanda or "house" as recorded in Portuguese documents would rule Kongo unopposed until 1567.


After the death of Nimi a Lukeni, his brother, Mbokani Mavinga, took over the throne and ruled until approximately 1367. He had two wives and nine children. His rule saw an expansion of the Kingdom of Kongo to include the neighbouring state of Loango and other areas now encompassed by the current Republic of Congo.


The Mwene Kongos often gave the governorships to members of their family or its clients. As this centralization increased, the allied provinces gradually lost influence until their powers were only symbolic, manifested in Mbata, once a co-kingdom, but by 1620 simply known by the title "Grandfather of the King of Kongo" (Nkaka'ndi a Mwene Kongo).


The high concentration of population around Mbanza Kongo and its outskirts played a critical role in the centralization of Kongo. The capital was a densely settled area in an otherwise sparsely populated region where rural population densities probably did not exceed 5 persons per square kilometer. Early Portuguese travelers described Mbanza Kongo as a large city, the size of the Portuguese town of Évora as it was in 1491. By the end of the sixteenth century, Kongo's population was probably close to half a million people in a core region of some 130,000 square kilometers. By the early seventeenth century the city and its hinterland had a population of around 100,000, or one out of every five inhabitants in the Kingdom (according to baptismal statistics compiled by Jesuit priests). This concentration allowed resources, soldiers and surplus foodstuffs to be readily available at the request of the king. This made the king overwhelmingly powerful and caused the kingdom to become highly centralized.


By the time of the first recorded contact with the Europeans, the Kingdom of Kongo was a highly developed state at the center of an extensive trading network. Apart from natural resources and ivory, the country manufactured and traded copperware, ferrous metal goods, raffia cloth, and pottery. The Kongo people spoke in the Kikongo language. The eastern regions, especially that part known as the Seven Kingdoms of Kongo dia Nlaza (or in Kikongo Mumbwadi or "the Seven", were particularly famous for the production of cloth.


The Luba state coalesced some 100 years after the Kongo and to the east of it, in the upper reaches of the Lualaba River, around lakes Upemba and Kisale. The Lunda kingdom emerged 15th century through the unification of its composite chiefdoms in the south west on the patterns laid down by their Luba neighbours. In the sixteenth century its territory was overrun by the expanding Luba empire, and, unable to resist the invaders, some of the Lunda migrated to Angola where they founded new states.


The kingdom of Kuba was founded to the north of the Kasai River, and of its tributary the Sankura, by invaders from the west in about 1600. The complex forest-river-savannah ecology of its territory enabled it to develop into a vigorous trading state that was able to maintain its integrity until it fell to the advance of Belgian colonial expansion (Giblin 1999)

Nzinga Mbemba (Afonso I), Letters to the King of Portugal (1526)

The Portuguese were the first European power to begin actively exploring the coastline of Africa. In their quest to reach the valuable trade routes of the Indian Ocean, they established a number of fortified bases and trading outposts southward along the western coast of Africa in the late 15th century. Contact between Portugal and the west African kingdom of Kongo began in 1483; for several decades ambassadors, trade goods, and ideas flowed in both directions between the two states. However, over time the increasing presence and eventual dominance of Europeans, their products, and their promotion of slavery severely disrupted Kongolese society. In 1526, the king of the Kongo, Nzinga Mbemba (who by this time had adopted the Christian name of Afonso I) began writing a series of letters to the Portuguese King Jo�o III, appealing for an end to the slave trade. Twenty-four letters were written in all -- three are reproduced here.


Sir, Your Highness should know how our Kingdom is being lost in so many ways that it is convenient to provide for the necessary remedy, since this is caused by the excessive freedom given by your agents and officials to the men and merchants who are allowed to come to this Kingdom to setup shops with goods and many things which have been prohibited by us, and which they spread throughout our Kingdoms and Domains in such an abundance that many of our vassals, whom we had in obedience, do not comply because they have the things in greater abundance than we ourselves; and it was with these things that we had them content and subjected under our vassalage and jurisdiction, so it is doing a great harm not only to the service of God, but the security and peace of our Kingdoms and State as well.


And we cannot reckon how great the damage is, since the mentioned merchants are taking every day our natives, sons of the land and the sons of our noblemen and vassals and our relatives, because the thieves and men of bad conscience grab them wishing to have the things and wares of this Kingdom which they are ambitious of, they grab them and get them to be sold; and so great, Sir, is the corruption and licentiousness that our country is being completely depopulated, and Your Highness should not agree with this nor accept it as in your service. And to avoid it we need from those Kingdoms no more than some priests and a few people to reach in schools, and no other goods except wine and flour for the holy sacrament, That is why we beg of Your Highness to help and assist us in this matter, commanding your factors that they should nor send here either merchants or wares, because it is our will that in these Kingdoms there should not be any trade of slaves nor outlet for them. Concerning what is referred to above, again we beg of Your Highness to agree with it, since otherwise we cannot remedy such an obvious damage, Pray Our Lord in His mercy to have Your Highness under His guard and let you do forever the things of His service, I kiss your hands many times.


At our town of Kongo, written on the sixth day of July; Jo�o Teixeira did it in 1526, The King, Dom Afonso.

{On the back of this letter the following can be read: To the most powerful and excellent prince Dow Jo�o, King our Brother.}


Moreover, Sir, in our Kingdoms there is another great inconvenience which is of little service to God, and this is that many of our people, keenly desirous as they are of the wares and things of your Kingdoms, which are brought here by your people, and in order to satisfy their voracious appetite, seize many of our people, freed and exempt men, and very often it happens that they kidnap even noblemen and the sons of noblemen, and our relatives, and take them to be sold to the white men who are in our Kingdoms; and for this purpose they have concealed them; and others are brought during the night so that they might not be recognized.


And as soon as they are taken by the white men they are immediately ironed and branded with fire, and when they are carried to be embarked, if they are caught by our guards' men the whites allege that they have bought them but they cannot say from whom, so that it is our duty to do justice and to restore to the freemen their freedom, but it cannot be done if your subjects feel offended, as they claim to be.


And to avoid such a great evil we passed a law so that any white man living in our Kingdoms and wanting to purchase goods in any way should first inform three of our noblemen and officials of our court whom we rely upon in this matter, and these are Dom Pedro Manipanza and Dom Manuel Manissaba, our chief usher, and Gon�alo Pires our chief freighter, who should investigate if the mentioned goods are captives or free men, and if cleared by them there will be no further doubt nor embargo for them to be taken and embarked, But if the white men do not comply with it they will lose the aforementioned goods. And if we do them this favor and concession it is for the part Your Highness has in it, since we know that it is in your service too that these goods are taken from our Kingdom, otherwise we should not consent to this�


Sir, Your Highness has been kind enough to write to us saying that we should ask in our letters for anything we need, and that we shall be provided with everything, and as the peace and the health of our Kingdom depend on us, and as there are among us old folks and people who have lived for many days, it happens that we have continuously many and different diseases which put us very often in such a weakness that we reach almost the last extreme; and the same happens to our children, relatives and natives owing to the lack in this country of physicians and surgeons who might know how to cure properly such diseases. And as we have got neither dispensaries nor drugs which might help us in this forlornness, many of those who had been already confirmed and instructed in the holy faith of Our Lord Jesus Christ perish and die; and the rest of the people in their majority cure themselves with herbs and breads and other ancient methods, so that they put all their faith in the mentioned herbs and ceremonies if they live, and believe that they are saved if they die; and this is not much in the service of God.


And to avoid such a great error and inconvenience, since it is from God in the first place and then from your Kingdoms and from Your Highness that all the good and drugs and medicines have come to save us, we beg of you to be agreeable and kind enough to send us two physicians and two apothecaries and one surgeon, so that they may come with their drugstores and all the necessary things to stay in our kingdoms, because we are in extreme need of them all and each of them. We shall do them all good and shall benefit them by all means, since they are sent by Your Highness, whom we thank for your work in their coming. We beg of Your Highness as a great favor to do this for us, because besides being good in itself it is in the service of God as we have said above.


From: Basil Davidson, trans., The African Past, London: Curtis Brown Ltd., 1964.

Emanuele Ne Vunda (died 1608), also Antonio Emanuele Ne Vunda, or Antonio Emmanuele Funta, the ambassador from Congo, sent by the king of Congo Alvaro II to Pope Paul V in 1604–1608Ne-Vunda traveled through Brazil and Spain and only reached Rome on 3 January 1608, but he died two days later of illness.

Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga (or "Francisco Felipe Faxicura", as he was baptized in Spain) (1571–1622)

In the years 1613 through 1620, Hasekura headed a diplomatic mission to the Vatican in Rome, traveling through New Spain (arriving in Acapulco and departing from Veracruz) and visiting various ports-of-call in Europe. This historic mission is called the Keichō Embassy


It is interesting given the wider world context and the eventual different out come of such visitations and contact for while the Japanese subsequently beheaded their Christians converts driving them under ground and throwing out all forigners for the next 200yrs ,the Kongolese allowed the Portuguese continued access and meddling to take root,resulting in the brake-up of their kingdom resulting in war with a very powerful freedom loving Queen named Nizinga.

Nzinga of the Ndongo and Matamba


Queen Nzingha was born to Ngola (King) Kiluanji and Kangela in 1583. According to tradition, she was named Nzingha because her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck (the Kimbundu verb kujinga means to twist or turn). It was said to be an indication that the person who had this characteristic would be proud and haughty, and a wise woman told her mother that Nzingha will become queen one day. According to her recollections later in life, she was greatly favoured by her father, who allowed her to witness as he governed his kingdom, and who carried her with him to war. She also had a brother, Mbandi and two sisters Kifunji and Mukambu. She lived during a period when the Atlantic slave trade and the consolidation of power by the Portuguese in the region were growing rapidly.


In the 16th century, the Portuguese position in the slave trade was threatened by England and France. As a result, the Portuguese shifted their slave-trading activities to The Congo and South West Africa. Mistaking the title of the ruler (ngola) for the name of the country, the Portuguese called the land of the Mbundu people "Angola"—the name by which it is still known today.

In 1662, at a conference with a governor of Portugal, he deliberately failed to provide a chair for her. Her loyal subjects knelt down before her and she sat upon their backs.

Nzinga first appears in historical records as the envoy of her brother, the ngiolssa Ngola Mbande, at a peace conference with the Portuguese governor João Correia de Sousa in Luanda in 1599.

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, states on the Central African coast found their economic power and territorial control threatened by Portuguese attempts to establish a colony at Luanda (in present-day Angola). Many of these states had become regional powers through trade in African slaves. It was the growing demand for this human labor in New World colonies such as Brazil that ultimately led Portugal to seek military and economic control of this region. Old trading partners came under military attack by Portuguese soldiers and indigenous African raiders in search of captives for the slave trade, and rulers were forced to adapt to these new circumstances or face certain destruction. One leader who proved to be adept at overcoming these difficulties was the queen of Ndongo, Ana Nzinga.


In 1624, Ana Nzinga inherited rule of Ndongo, a state to the east of Luanda populated primarily by Mbundu peoples. At that moment, the kingdom was under attack from both Portuguese as well as neighboring African aggressors. Nzinga realized that, to remain viable, Ndongo had to reposition itself as an intermediary rather than a supply zone in the slave trade. To achieve this, she allied Ndongo with Portugal, simultaneously acquiring a partner in its fight against its African enemies and ending Portuguese slave raiding in the kingdom. Ana Nzinga's baptism, with the Portuguese colonial governor serving as godfather, sealed this relationship. By 1626, however, Portugal had betrayed Ndongo, and Nzinga was forced to flee with her people further west, where they founded a new state at Matamba, well beyond the reach of the Portuguese. To bolster Matamba's martial power, Nzinga offered sanctuary to runaway slaves and Portuguese-trained African soldiers and adopted a form of military organization known as kilombo, in which youths renounced family ties and were raised communally in militias. She also fomented rebellion within Ndongo itself, which was now governed indirectly by the Portuguese through a puppet ruler. Nzinga found an ally in the Netherlands, which seized Luanda for its own mercantile purposes in 1641. Their combined forces were insufficient to drive the Portuguese out of Angola, however, and after Luanda was reclaimed by the Portuguese, Nzinga was again forced to retreat to Matamba. From this point on, Nzinga focused on developing Matamba as a trading power by capitalizing on its position as the gateway to the Central African interior. By the time of her death in 1661, Matamba was a formidable commercial state that dealt with the Portuguese colony on an equal footing. Nzinga, who reconverted to Christianity before her death at the age of eighty-one, became a sensation in Europe following the 1769 publication of Jean-Louis Castilhon's colorful "biography," Zingha, Reine d'Angola, in Paris.

Renaissance Lisbon was home to the highest percentage of blacks in Europe at the time, ranging in status from slaves to knights.


This reality is reflected in an unusual painting made by an unknown artist, probably from the Netherlands, of the Lisbon waterfront in the late 16th century, where blacks and whites from a variety of social strata co-exist in a public square.




I suspect the blacks on horse back of military baring are Kongolese upper classes who joined the Knighthood some of the others may well have been slaves and middle class trader types, the slaves were not necessarily Kongolese mind you, if this is from 1570-80..keeping in mind that very strong ties were made with the Kingdom of the Kongo and Portugal during that era.




You can follow this link if you want.

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Reply KiloEcho Mongo ya Congo
7:47 AM on June 7, 2013 
Congratulations on this wonderful site. I really enjoy it
Reply Francois Mavinga
7:37 PM on December 27, 2013 
a fascinated history
Reply Daniel Ngangasi II
5:03 PM on October 4, 2015 
Thank you for this great writing, it is believed that I am from the original clan that ruled the first Kongo empire. I am grateful the see that you have been able to document this record. I will be grateful hearing from you
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