Text from ‘A History of South and Central Africa’ by Derek Wilson

Derek Wilson, A History of South and Central Africa (Cambridge University Press, 1975)

Excerpt: Preface, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2


This is a history of Africa south of the Congo Forest from about the year A.D. 1000 to the era of the establishment of independent modern states. In planning and writing this book I have had in the forefront of my mind the needs of secondary school students preparing for School Certificate and similar examinations in various parts of the continent and particularly of those studying for Paper 2 of the E.A.C.E. in East Africa where I had the pleasure of teaching for many years. Indeed, most of this book was written in Nairobi and if I am to dedicate it to anyone it must be to the young men of Kenya who taught me as much as ever I taught them during my stay in their exciting country.
Most textbooks on African history are too much dominated by modern political boundaries which, of course, have no ethnic or geographical validity. I have long felt that such limitations do a profound disservice to students of Southern Africa. Bantu, San and Khoikhoi migrations, long-distance trade routes, the Mfecane dispersal, the journeys of white adventurers — these and other important events make a nonsense of categories such as ‘South’ and ‘Central’ Africa. On the other hand, students preparing for public examinations are forced to take note of these artificial divisions. In this book I have tried to ‘have my cake and eat it’ – treating the whole of Southern Africa as a unit and yet following, fairly closely, in the chapter headings the subject divisions favoured by examiners. For example this book covers those parts of the E.A.C.E. syllabus referred to as ‘The History of Central Africa’ and ‘The History of South Africa.’
In the past there has been little detailed but readable information available for students on the earlier history of Central Africa. This is because this vast area has only in recent years been subjected to close examination by archaeologists and historians. Their findings have largely been available only in scholarly books and unpublished papers and theses. In A History of South and Central Africa I have tried to present, in a simple form, much of the work of contemporary researchers and to give as complete a picture as possible of the early history of Central Africa.
Acknowledgements for quotations are made in the text, and for illustrations, below, but I would like to thank here colleagues in Kenya who allowed me to use material from papers delivered at meetings of the Historical Association of Kenya and the authors of papers presented at the Workshop on the Teaching of Central and East African History in Lusaka in August 1970.



1. Iron Age states

(1) The Luba and Lunda Empire

By A.D. 1000 there were a large number of Iron Age settlements in the area south of the Congo forest and between Lake Tanganyika and the Kasai River. They were occupied by small communities each of which probably acknowledged the leadership of a chief. They moved quite frequently, sometimes conflicting with other communities, and in course of time some of them covered great distances.

Luba Empire

It is only from about 1500 that we can detect among this shifting pattern of Bantu movement events of greater political significance. Sometime in the fourteenth century a new group of people, the Songye, led by a chief called Kongolo came from the north, and entered the region between the Luembe and Lualaba rivers. They found the area occupied by a number of small chiefdoms of the Kalanga people. Kongolo managed to assert his authority over the Kalanga thus setting up what is usually called the first Luba Empire, with its capital at Mwibele near Lake Boya. The Kongolo dynasty ruled for several decades before being overthrown by fresh invaders.
Around the beginning of the sixteenth century there was considerable political turmoil in this area of Central Africa as population increased and bands of warriors led by chiefs roamed the country seeking new places to settle. One such Kunda group invaded the Songye Empire, overthrew the Kongolo dynasty and established a new dynasty, being careful to take over the ritual and political institutions of the old dynasty.
Luba expansion took place in two ways: through small migrations of chieftains’ clans, and by conquest. The system of succession to the throne and appointment of chiefs led many disappointed contestants to seek new lands to the south-east. These leaders established their control over other peoples either by conquest or because of their superior political and ritual skills. Thus the Luba system of government spread over a considerable area of what is now central and eastern Zambia (see the map at the beginning of this chapter).*
Very few of these states maintained any allegiance to the Luba Empire. It was as a result of a definite policy of territorial expansion
* It should be noted that some historians consider that the establishment of the second Luba Empire occurred as much as eighty years earlier than the date suggested here, which reflects the opinion of most scholars at the present time.
In the eighteenth century that that state grew to its greatest extent. Mwine Kadilo became king in about 1700, It was he who began, through warfare, to extend the boundaries of his empire. Chieftaincies east of the Lualaba, and the Songye rulers to the south were either incorporated into the Luba Empire or forced to pay tribute.
Territorial aggrandisement continued under Mwine Kadilo’s successors: Kekenya, Ilunga Sungu and Kumwimba Ngombe. By the end of the century the Luba Empire extended from Lakes Mweru and Tanganyika in the east to the Sankuru River and beyond in the west.
Southward expansion had brought it control over most of Katanga. It is difficult to assess the precise limits of the Empire because allegiance weakened with distance from the centre and beyond the boundaries of the Empire there existed, as we have seen, many ‘Lubaised’ societies whose political and religious traditions were very similar to those of the Luba.
By 1800 the Luba Empire had already begun to disintegrate, though it was to remain a powerful factor in Central African politics until the colonial era. There were two basic weaknesses which contributed to this collapse. One was the degree of power retained by the chiefs. As patrilineal descendants of Kongolo and Kalala Ilunga and possessors of bulopwe they felt themselves to have political and religious authority which entitled them to a certain degree of autonomy in local affairs. The other weakness was a lack of precise laws governing royal succession. This paved the way for quarrels between brothers and half-brothers. Towards the end ofthe eighteenth century succession disputes, civil wars and the breakdown of central authority had become prominent features of Luba life.

The Lunda Empire

The other great Central African empire of this period was the Lunda Empire. The story of the foundation of this empire only exists in the form of myth. The tale runs as follows: The Lunda originated in the northern part of the region, around the middle reaches of the River Kasai, from where they expanded southwards and westwards. The first king known by name is Mwaakw, who presumably reigned sometime in the fifteenth century. His successor, Nkond, had two sons, Kinguri-kya-Bangela and Chinyama Kakenge. These young men, being cruel and ambitious, tried to kill and overthrow their father in order to seize power for themselves. The king was only saved by his daughter, Rweej. So moved was he by the behaviour of his children that he named Rweej as his successor. These events occurred at the same time as the Kunda conquest of the Songye-Luba Empire and the story now goes that a son of Kalala Ilunga, the new Luba king, entered Lunda territory and married Rweej. This was Kibinda Ilunga, who became king on the death of his father-in-law. Rweej provided Kibinda Ilunga with no children, and it was from his marriage with Kamunga Lwaza that the royal line of Lunda sprang. After a few generations the Lunda kings took the title Mwata Yamvo. Their capital of Musumba on the Lulua River was sometimes also known as Mwata Yamvo. Kinguri and Chinyama tried to overthrow the usurper but when they failed they migrated westwards and southwards respectively and founded new kingdoms (we shall trace their history later).
The story of Rweej and her wicked brothers seems to have been invented to explain how the Lunda succession became matrilineal and to ascribe legitimacy to the dynasty founded by Kibinda Ilunga. Lunda territory was obviously invaded by Kunda warriors at about the same time as or a little later than the first Luba Empire. Probably Kalala Ilunga’s son, Kibinda Ilunga, realising that he would not inherit his father’s new kingdom, travelled further west to find a kingdom for himself. Probably he waited some years before making this move for he took many Luba traditions with him. These, combined with existing Lunda customs, resulted in a politically advanced and stable society.
The Lunda Empire did not suffer from the weakness of having semi-independent chiefs all of whom could claim descent from the founders of the state. Descent was matrilineal and the succession was not governed by such strict laws as controlled the Luba succession. The Mwata Yamvo appointed chiefs and in newly conquered areas local chiefs were given Lunda titles. As in the Luba Empire, chiefs sometimes migrated to set up kingdoms elsewhere. But they always maintained close ties with the central Lunda state, preserving the political and religious customs of their homeland and also maintaining allegiance to the Mwata Yamvo. For these reasons the Lunda Empire grew into the largest and most unified state in Central Africa during the eighteenth century.
Apart from these migrations there was deliberate imperial expansion on the part of succeeding Lunda rulers. The work was begun by Luseeng and Naweej in the sixteenth century and by 1600 the whole area around the upper and middle reaches of the Lulua and Kasai Rivers owed allegiance to the Mwata Yamvo. Steadily, successive rulers consolidated their power while Lunda chiefs migrated east, south and west with their supporters to establish states which retained a close alliance with Mwato Yamvo.
It was during the seventeenth century that the Portuguese occupation of the west coast began to have an effect further inland. Guns, ammunition and new vegetables, such as maize and cassava, reached Musumba along the trade routes. Better food probably resulted in a growth of population, which spurred on Lunda migration and expansion. New weapons made empire-building easier. Under Muteba, who became Mwata Yamvo in about 1690, a new surge of territorial aggrandisement began. He invaded Kaniok, to the north-east. He sent warriors to push the boundaries of the empire as far as the River Zambezi to the south.
The most spectacular series of conquests were those which carried the Mwata Yamvo’s authority right across the Congo basin to Katanga and beyond and established the powerful kingdom of the East Lunda, otherwise known as Kazembe. This began shortly after the accession of Muteba. He sent one of his chiefs, Mutanda, to attack the Kosa people to the east. The Kosa submitted and their leader, Cinyanta, became a firm ally. Meanwhile Lubanda, an ironworker, had left Musumba and set himself up as a chief along the upper reaches of the River Lualaba. The story goes that this smith had been responsible for starting a fire in the capital and that he had fled to avoid punishment. But Muteba determined that Lubanda should not escape and sent his ally, Cinyanta, to deal with him. Lubanda fled further, to the bank of the Luapula. Cinyanta, instead of pursuing him, led his army against other chiefs in the region until he had reduced all the land west of the Lualaba to allegiance to the Mwata Yamvo.
When Cinyata died (c.1710) his son, Nganda Bilanda, continued the work of conquest. Muteba gave him the title of Kazembe and entrusted to him the consolidation of his father’s gains and the further expansion of the empire. Having subdued the Lualaba region to his satisfaction he left one of his chiefs behind as ‘Kazembe of the Lualaba’ and crossed the river in search of fresh victories.
Before he could achieve very much Kazembe died and there followed a period of chaos as rival chiefs fought for the succession. At length the new Mwata Yamvo, Mukanza, appointed a man called Kaniembo as Kazembe II. Furthermore, realising how difficult it was to exercise firm control from the capital over Kazembe II’s territory the Emperor made Kazembe II virtually his equal, with considerable powers and freedom in the east. Kazembe immediately began to build up the East Lunda state into one which should rival Mwata Yamvo in size. He extended his control as far as the Luapula and established his capital south of Lake Mweru. However, while he was occupied in the east his son, Mukerji, seized power as ‘Kazembe of the Lualaba’ and declared himself independent of both his father and the Emperor.
Kazembe II died in about 1760 and was succeeded by Lukwesa (Kazembe III). The new king carried Lunda conquests still further east onto the plateau to the south of Lake Tanganyika. He invaded the Tabwa, the Lungu and the Mambwe. Further south still he carried out raids on the Bisa and the Chisinga. Only the powerful Bemba succeeded in halting the Lunda advance, but not before the kingdom of Kazembe (which had come to be known by the title of the ruler) had become the largest and strongest centralised state in Central Africa.

The Cokwe

The Cokwe, who now occupy large areas of Congo and Angola, trace their descent from Chinyama Kakenge, the Lunda prince who left home after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Kibinda Illunga. The Cokwe settled around the headwaters of the Kasai and Kwango Rivers. They were considered by the Mwato Yamvos to owe tribute to the Lunda rulers but they lived so far away from Musumba that their allegiance to their parent state can seldom have been enforced. They were farmers but this was not their main occupation. They lived the semi-nomadic life of hunters and traders. They were also skilled ironworkers. Because of their various skills they were welcomed by neighbouring people through whose lands they passed.
This, in fact, gave them the opportunity to increase their power and territory. Small Cokwe groups would settle in an area, living peacefully with the local people. Their numbers would gradually increase. Because of their special skills and knowledge their popularity with their hosts also increased. Then, when an opportunity presented itself, they would lead a rebellion against the local ruler and set up a new ruling dynasty. In this way Cokwe power had begun to increase before 1800.

The Lozi

The Lozi are also believed to be derived from the Lunda people. They came as conquerors into the fertile plains of the upper Zambezi region probably in the seventeenth century, and established their rule over the earlier inhabitants of the region. Soon after they arrived they split into various groups, led by members of the royal clan who wished to set up independent chiefdoms. It took several decades for the central Lozi government to bring all these groups under control. Another problem for the government was the immigrant groups which continued to enter the Empire from the north and west. One such group which proved very useful to the ruling regime was the Mbunda, who reached the Zambezi valley in the late eighteenth century. They introduced new crops to the region — cassava, millet and a type of yam. They also brought new weapons — bows and arrows and a superior kind of battle axe. With the aid of the Mbunda the Lozi were able to establish their power quite firmly and to strengthen their frontiers against raiders such as the Luvale and Nkoya.
The rule of the Lozi was efficient, though in some respects harsh. They organised the agriculture of the Zambezi flood plain to the best advantage. They regulated trade within the empire and with neighbouring states. They raided for cattle, especially among the Ha and the Tonga. They organised public works such as the building of fish dams. Under their guidance the empire enjoyed, either from home produce or trade, an abundance of grain, meat, fish, salt, iron implements, basketwork, pottery, woodwork and barkcloth. But all this could only be achieved by very firm control. Subject peoples did not enjoy the same privileges and freedoms as the true Lozi. They paid tribute and other taxes. They had to work on government projects. The Lozi raided for and used slaves. But for organisation and efficiency the Lozi Empire was one of the more advanced states in Central Africa.

2. Iron Age states

(2) West Coast states


The history of the kingdom of Kongo can be traced back to about the thirteenth century. At that time the plateau land to the south of the lower Congo River was occupied by Ambundu and Ambwela peoples. Then a conqueror called Were, who was the son of one of the chiefs of Burgo, north of the river, appeared. Within a few years he and his followers had made themselves masters of what came to be the Kongo kingdom. Were, who took the title Mani Kongo, allied himself with the ruling families of the conquered peoples and took over many of their traditions, beliefs and political concepts.
The first rulers of Kongo extended their rule over a wide area. The degree of conquest experienced by various peoples depended on a number of factors: their military strength, their political stability and their distance from the Kongo capital. Thus the kingdom of Mbata was incorporated in the empire but its kings continued to rule, though as governors under the control of the Mani Kongo. More distant states such as Ndongo and Matamba were occasionally forced to pay tribute to the Mani Kongo but were not effectively controlled from the capital, Mbanza. By the end of the fourteenth century the kingdom extended from the River Loje in the south to the River Congo in the north (it even included a stretch of land beyond the Congo in the region of Luozi). From the coast the Mani Kongo’s authority reached inland almost as far as the River Kwango.

Portuguese exploration

In 1483 a Portuguese expedition led by Diego Cao reached the mouth of the Congo. Cao left four of his men ashore to make contact with the Mani Kongo while he travelled on to explore the coast further south. Since the four Portuguese had not returned when Cao called back the Portuguese leader seized four Kongo citizens and carried them off with him as hostages. They were taken to the court of the Portuguese king, John II. As they learned to speak the white men’s language they told the king of the power and wealth of their own monarch. John II realised the importance of the Mani Kongo and his kingdom. He treated his African guests well and made every effort to impress them with the wealth of Portugal, the power of its king, and the Christian
faith. After a year at John IPs court the four Kongolese were returned to their homeland. The expedition was, once more, led by Diego Cao.
By the time that Cao reached Mbanza in 1485 the Mani Kongo, Nzinga Nkuwu, had realised by what he learned from his Portuguese visitors that close relations with the Europeans would be an advantage. He asked Cao to arrange for Christian missionaries, builders, farmers and tools to be sent from Portugal, and sent some of his own leading men back with Cao to learn European skills. Contact between the two countries remained on a friendly basis. In 1491 a party of Portuguese missionaries and skilled workers arrived in Kongo. Within a very short space of time Nzinga and a number of his people had been baptised as Christians. The Mani Kongo relied more and more on European advisers.
Between 1494 and 1506 there was very little direct contact between Lisbon and Mbanza. The Portuguese king was too absorbed in problems at home and overseas to spare much thought for Kongo. For Portugal the most exciting development of these years was the successful voyage of Vasco da Gama round Africa to India (1497—9). This laid the foundation for Portugal of a rich trading empire in the East and made her West African interests seem comparatively unimportant. The regular trading voyages to India which soon began did not hug the western coast but stood out into the Atlantic until making a landfall at the Cape of Good Hope. There was therefore no need for regular Portuguese visits to the Congo mouth and no trading post was established there.
Nzinga, who had taken the name John at his baptism, was disappointed at this lack of support from his Christian ‘brother monarch’. He also found the restrictions imposed by his new religion tiresome and before long he reverted to paganism. He now found himself on bad terms with the Christian missionaries. He made their work difficult for them and when they succeeded in converting his heir, Afonso, he exiled the young man and some of the missionaries to the province of Sundi.
Now there were disputes between Christian and non-Christian groups at court. When Nzinga died in 1506 the electors ignored his chosen heir, Afonso, and supported a younger brother, Mpanzu a Kitima, who led the pagan faction. Afonso marched towards the capital, met up with an army led by his brother, and, though his own force was smaller, won a great victory. This was seen by the Christians — and others — as a sign of the superiority of the white man’s god. Afonso now became a zealous Christian and pro-European. He asked for more missionaries from Portugal and for soldiers to help him spread Christianity to all parts of his kingdom.
At the end of the fifteenth century the Portuguese colonised the island of Sao Tome. The island attracted settlers of the worst type – adventurers, ex-criminals, greedy and unscrupulous men. Within a few years Sao Tome had developed two main economic activities: there were large sugar plantations, and the island became the leading slave trade depot for the Lower Guinea coast and the Congo region. The new ruler of Sao Tome, the donatario, wanted to maintain as much independence as possible from Lisbon in order to exploit the trade of the nearby parts of Africa to the full. The merchants wanted a good supply of slaves both for the Sao Tome plantation and for export. The donatario did all in his power to upset relations between Mbanza and Lisbon and to make sure that it was his agents and not the king of Portugal’s who went to Kongo.
By 1512 Sao Tome had gained almost complete control of trade between Kongo and Europe. Merchants and their agents were trading and raiding for slaves. Afonso was horrified. He sent letters to the king of Portugal but they were usually intercepted in Sao Tome and the messengers delayed, sent back or taken into slavery.
The behaviour of the missionaries and official agents sent from Lisbon came as a shock to Afonso. Some complained about conditions in the capital and demanded to be allowed to return home. Almost all of them treated the Africans with contempt. Afonso’s great plans for evangelising missions throughout the country came to nothing when the priests who did remain preferred to set up home with their mistresses in Mbanza or take an active part in the slave trade.
In 1512 King Emmanuel issued a regimento, a document promising support for Afonso and setting out a code to govern relations between African and European in Kongo. He also sent Simao da Silva as ambassador and adviser to the court of the Mani Kongo. But da Silva died shortly after his arrival and, in any case, lacked the power to control the Portuguese merchants and adventurers, who were stirring more and more of the Kongolese to defiance of their king. Several district chiefs were involved in slave raiding. Frequent expeditions set off from the coast led by Portuguese adventurers or their African or half-caste agents (known as pombeiros) and between 4,000 and 5,000 slaves were being shipped annually to Sao Tome.
When Afonso died (sometime between 1541 and 1545) his kingdom was hopelessly divided. His chosen heir, Pedro, was soon overthrown by a cousin, Diogo, who had the support of many Portuguese and African slave traders. Diogo attempted to limit the activities of the slave traders, but he too was plagued by African and foreign factions each urging different policies on him. In 1548 a Jesuit mission arrived in Mbanza. Thousands of converts were baptised and a number of churches was built. After one of them, the church of Sao Salvador, the capital was renamed. But within four years most of the Portuguese Jesuits had left and relations between Kongo and Portugal were all but broken off.
One result was that the Sao Tome traders turned their attention more to Ndongo in the south. Diogo regarded Ndongo as a vassal state which had no right to make private arrangements with the Europeans. Urged on by one of the Portuguese factions, he declared war on Ndongo. The results were a disastrous defeat for the Kongo and the final establishment of Ndongo independence (1556). Other misfortunes were still to come. When Diogo died in 1561 the nation was plunged into a bloody civil war. Scarcely had Kongo recovered from that when it was invaded by the Jaga.

The Jaga

The Jaga were migrants from the east and may have been related to the Lunda or Luba. They almost certainly moved westwards as a result of the invasions and disturbances in Central Africa referred to in the last chapter.
By the mid-sixteenth century the Jaga, under the leadership of their ruler, Kulemba, had reached the area between the upper Kwango and Kwanza Rivers. Here they encountered a people known as the Imbangala. These were none other than the followers of Kinguri kwa Bangela who had left Lunda in recent decades (see p. 5). Some sort of agreement seems to have been made between the two leaders and possibly their followers raided together for a time. Within a few years, however, the two groups went their separate ways; the Imbangala to attack Ndongo (see below, p. 20) and the Jaga to devastate Kongo.
They looted and killed throughout the south-eastern parts of the kingdom, defeated any army put into the field by the Governor of Mbata, and in 1568 attacked Sao Salvador. The Mani Kongo, Alvare I, and his people fled. Alvare turned for help to the Portuguese. It was 1571 before the Governor of Sao Tome, Francisco de Gouveia, arrived with 600 men. Together the Kongolese and Portuguese forces drove the Jaga southwards out of the country in 1572.

Decline of the Kongo kingdom

The royal authority had suffered a severe blow as a result of the Jaga invasion. The various regions threw off the control of the Mani Kongo
and his position became little more than honorary. It seemed that he could not maintain his authority without Portuguese power and the Portuguese were no longer prepared to come to his aid.
Portuguese traders and royal agents turned their attention further south, to Angola. In 1576 a fortified post was built at Luanda and thereafter there was little European activity in Kongo. Having entrenched themselves in Angola the Portuguese made a few attempts to conquer Kongo by force. An invasion in 1590 was driven off by the combined armies of Kongo and Ndongo and a great victory won at Ngoleme-Akitambo. In 1617 and 1623 fresh military expeditions were mounted but pressure was relaxed after the Mani Kongo had appealed to the Pope and the king of Spain. In 1665 yet another invasion took place as Portuguese soldiers and adventurers poured into Kongo in search of (non-existent) gold, silver and copper. They found nothing and destroyed much, killing the Mani Kongo and many of his leading men in various battles.
By 1700 the kingdom of Kongo had ceased to exist. It had split into small chieftaincies. Sao Salvador was a deserted city, its walls and buildings in ruins. Slave raiding, kidnapping, and petty warfare were rife.


Ndongo was founded in about 1500 as a tributary state of Kongo, and it was certainly regarded as such by successive Mani Kongo until 1556 when Ndongo established its independence. It was clear to the ruler (the Ngola) that he could not preserve his new-found freedom without the continued aid of the Europeans. He asked the Portuguese for missionaries and advisers. By this time the power of the Ngola was formidable: he controlled all the land bounded by the Cuanza, Lukala and Dande Rivers. When the requested Portuguese mission arrived at the capital, Kabasa, in 1560, its leaders found a new, confident Ngola on the throne who dismissed most of the Europeans and kept four as virtual hostages.
Unfortunately, Ngola Ndambi’s confidence was misplaced. His position was far from secure. Malcontents within Ndongo and powerful neighbours without threatened the stability of the state. In 1565 he was forced to release his hostages and seek Portuguese military aid. One of the freed hostages, Paulo Dias De Novais, returned in 1575 at the head of a military expedition to overrun the country and administer it on behalf of the king of Portugal.

War for the control of Angola

The conquest of Ndongo took the Portuguese over a hundred years to accomplish and many more decades after that were needed to secure the frontiers of the new colony of Angola (named, like other African states after the title of its king). The first phase of the conquest lasted from the re-arrival of Dias in 1575 to the establishment of a shaky peace in 1622. Dias had the responsibility of establishing permanent white settlement in the area granted to him as donatario* He took his task seriously. Within months he had begun the building of a permanent mainland settlement at Luanda and in 1578 he despatched other colonists to establish a similar base at Benguela Velha.
In 1579 Dias began the move inland towards the fabled silver mines of Cambambe. The Ngola retaliated by murdering Portuguese merchants at Kabasa and launching an attack on Luanda. Though the Portuguese suffered many setbacks Dias and his successors pushed on relentlessly with a policy of penetration and expansion. By 1583 a fort had been built a hundred miles up the Cuanza at Masangano. The Ngola was so alarmed by the advance of the white men that he managed to arrange an alliance between Ndongo, Kongo, Matamba and groups of the marauding Jaga. In 1589 their combined forces inflicted a heavy defeat on the Portuguese.
In 1603 the acting Portuguese governor, Manuel Cerveira Pereira, reached Cambambe and realised that the supposed mineral wealth of the area did not exist. The only Europeans who did like Angola were the slave traders whose numbers and activities grew as Portuguese armies forced their way further inland. Urged on by these traders the Portuguese leaders committed themselves to further conquest.
The European and African forces were well matched until 1614. In that year the Jaga were induced to make an alliance with the invaders. The result was devastating. The power of Ndongo crumbled. The Jaga raided and looted everywhere. Slave traders depopulated whole villages. Even the Portuguese leaders were frightened by the situation and were pleased to discuss peace terms with Ndongo representatives. Peace was eventually signed at Luanda in 1622.
The person who negotiated with the Portuguese on behalf of the Ngola was his sister Anna Nzinga. This remarkable woman was to dominate the next phase of Angola’s history from 1623 to 1663.
* A donatario was a gift of land from the crown, a common practice in European feudal societies and one which was extended to the colonial sphere as Europeans began to settle other lands. Dias was granted a large area of land in the south of what is now Angola and the right to administer an even larger area. The grant of a donatario carried conditions. In this case Dias had to settle at least 100 peasant families, explore the coastline to the south, establish Christian missionary work, build fortresses, and ensure ‘…that the kingdom of Angola be subjected and captured’.

Queen Nzinga

Having obtained very favourable terms under the treaty, Nzinga returned to her brother’s island fortress on the Cuanza. There the following year the Ngola died, under circumstances which suggest that he was poisoned, and Nzinga became queen. One of her first acts was to fling a challenge at the European conquerors who were ignoring the 1622 treaty; either they kept the terms of the treaty or she would renew the war.
Nzinga spent the next few years forging alliances with Jaga groups and other neighbouring rulers. She offered refuge to all who were fleeing from Portuguese oppression. She incited rebellion among Portuguese vassal chiefs. Later, when the Dutch appeared in Central Africa as commercial and colonial rivals of the Portuguese, she gained their support also.
Between 1626 and 1628 the Portuguese twice forced Nzinga to flee from her island stronghold, but twice the Portuguese, frightened by the prospect of Dutch attack from the sea, retreated without being able to capture the queen. They did, however, ‘depose’ her as ruler of Ndongo and set up a puppet king, Philip I, at Punga a Ndongo. But Nzinga made an alliance with the Imbangala of Kasanje and with his aid conquered a new kingdom for herself— Matamba (1630).
Now followed another period of consolidation and alliance-making with peoples in the region of the Lukala and Cambo Rivers. The ruler of Kasanje, preferring to remain independent so that, when the conflict was over, he could establish friendly relations with the victors, broke off the alliance with Queen Nzinga. But her party grew larger and stronger until in 1639 the Portuguese government in Lisbon, realising that she was not to be easily overthrown and fearful of Dutch intervention, ordered peace terms to be discussed.
This peace lasted no longer than that of 1622. By early 1641 the Portuguese had marched a large army eastwards once more. But now the Dutch menace became a reality. For years they had been inciting the Kongolese and the Dembos to rebel. In August 1641 they themselves invaded Luanda from the sea and captured the town. Dutch troops made their way inland while African leaders threw caution aside and joined forces with Nzinga. Portugal’s army suffered defeat after defeat. By 1648 there was little left to them but the fortress of Masangano and the surrounding land. When all seemed lost the Portuguese king sent to Brazil for an army to relieve his West African colony. In August 1648 this army arrived, under the leadership of General Salvador de Sa y Correa and within a few months the situation was reversed. The Dutch at Luanda surrendered without a struggle and soon there was not a Dutch soldier left in Angola. Without their European allies Queen Nzinga’s forces were unable to continue the siege of Masangano. De Sa turned defeat into victory and carried out savage reprisals on the rebels. The Kasanje hastened to make friends with the Portuguese. Soon Nzinga had few friends left.
Still she refused to give in to the Portuguese. In 1650 she began bargaining with the conquerors. The treaty making went on for six years. At the end of this period Nzinga was forced to recognise Philip I as Ngola, and Ndongo became a vassal state of Portugal, but Nzinga remained queen of Matamba and fully independent. She remained so for the rest of her life. Though she became a Christian and allowed European missionaries to work in her territory she never accepted Portuguese authority. She died in 1663, one of the most colourful and influential rulers of Central Africa.
1648 marked the end of effective African resistance to the Portuguese in western Central Africa. Ndongo remained firmly in the grasp of its white conquerors apart from an attempted rebellion in 1670-1. From there the Portuguese were able to extend their authority along the valley of the Cuanza, northwards to the River Dande and eastwards as far as the borders of Matamba and Kasanje. The colony was administered from Luanda, the capital, and other important towns were Benguela and Masangano.

The Jaga and the Imbangala

Throughout the history of Kongo and Angola groups of Jaga and Imbangala have appeared from time to time as invaders, allies or enemies. We must now try to trace the movements of the major Imbangala and Jaga groups during the years before 1800.
During the last quarter of the sixteenth century the Imbangala, under the leadership of Kinguri kwa Bangela, were moving westwards along the upper Kwanza. At a place called Bola Kasash they settled for a while and here it was that Kinguri was killed either in battle against the Ndongo or as a result of intrigue and treachery. The next important leader was Kasanje ka Imba. He led his people further west in the hope of linking up with the Portuguese, whose marvellous weapons and possessions he had heard of and perhaps even seen. He found his way blocked by the Ndongo and had to defeat them and the Mbundu of the coast before he could meet the European leaders. Kasanje formed an alliance with the Portuguese which he and his successors maintained with a few intervals until 1800 and after. It was to prove greatly to the advantage of his people as the Europeans made themselves more powerful in the land.
Kasanje’s Imbangala turned eastwards once more, fighting with the Portuguese against the Ndongo and their allies. At last they settled at Ambaca but were forced by famine to move on once more. Reaching the plains between the Lui and Kwango Rivers they drove out the Pende people and finally settled to a new kind of life in this new land. During their wanderings the Imbangala had mingled with groups of Jaga and learned much from their methods of warfare. The new state took the name of its great leader, Kasanje. The alliance with Portugal often stirred up the hostility of neighbouring states, particularly Matemba, but Kasanje benefited greatly from it. The capital, Cassange, became the main slave market of the interior and attracted European and African traders from a wide area. The importance of Kasanje as a slave trading state preserved it from attempts at Portuguese domination until well into the nineteenth century. During their travels the Imbangala had split into several marauding groups and it is important to remember that the Kasanje were just one (though probably the most important) of these groups which settled in what is now Angola.
Similarly there were many Jaga bands wandering in west Central Africa in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. After the invasion of Kongo in 1568-71 Jaga groups turned southwards and ravaged over a wide region. It may have been the development of trade with the coast which encouraged many of the Jaga to settle. During the first half of the eighteenth century a number of Jaga kingdoms were established on the plateau lands of southern Angola. The original inhabitants were conquered and new states established which had a detailed and complex political organisation. They remained militarily powerful — too powerful to be challenged by the Portuguese. From the beginning trade played an important part in their economy. The most important kingdoms were: Bihe, Kiyaka, Kakonda, Mbailundu, Ndulu, Ngalani and Wambu. Together they are known as the Ovimbundu, and the Ovimbundu have been called ‘the greatest traders of Bantu Africa’. We shall be examining their trading activities in a later chapter. It is enough to note that by 1800 Bailundu and Bihe had become important inland trading centres, that long-distance trade routes were well established, and that the Ovimbundu kingdoms dominated tens of thousands of square miles of western Central Africa.

wilson a history of south and central africa