III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > D. Africa, 500–1500 > 4. Regions, 1000–1500 > e. West Central Africa
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1000)
e. West Central Africa
Despite an expansion of population in the preceding half millennium, the region was still sparsely populated compared with West Africa and the interlacustrine region. Sanga, on the Lualaba River in the Katanga (Shaba) region of present-day Zaire, had by this time a rich metalworking tradition in an area that attracted Iron Age populations, due to a good supply of fish and game and good rainfall for agriculture. These populations worked copper mines on the upper Lualaba River, to the southeast. The presence of salt and minerals also favored the development of trade—with standardized copper ingots as currency—and towns, which facilitated political centralization. This area was the core region for the development of the political culture that evolved into the Luba and Lunda Empires.  1
The transition to later Iron Age culture in Lunda led to a centralization of power by territorial chiefdoms, in competition with lineage-based authority.  2
The Kongo kingdom developed out of a prosperous farming community near the mouth of the Congo River. This location, with access to both forest and grassland economies, stimulated growth and trade. Kings at the settlement of Mbanza Kongo centralized power based on a hierarchical system of tribute and trade. The kingdom slowly expanded south of the river, conquering other chiefdoms.  3
Lunda arrived at political stability based on the alliance of a central chief of real or putative foreign origin and the old lineages. A system of “perpetual kingship” developed, in which the new officeholder “becomes” his predecessor, ensuring continuation of alliances based on kinship, marriage, and conquest.  4
In Angola, this period saw the emergence of many small kingdoms or chiefdoms among the Ndongo peoples of the Luanda plateau. These small kingdoms coalesced around two types of cults: the malunga, associated with rainmaking, and the ngola, associated with iron. The ngola kings began to consolidate political and spiritual authority as well as control of trade and important resources, such as salt.  5
Portuguese arrived in Kongo with commercial, religious, and strategic interests. They found a distinct class of aristocrats at the urban center and slaves who performed agricultural labor to support the elite class. The king appointed provincial governors, often his relatives. The king was chosen by a group of electors, and his power was to some degree limited by a council. The capital was the focus of regional trade networks involving iron, pottery, salt, copper, and ivory. Imported European trade goods, along with teachers, priests, craftsmen, and Christianity created a distinctive court culture and had far-reaching effects on the development of Kongo.  6
Sometime before this date, the Luba state emerged, fusing several clans under one chief. By this time, Kongo was becoming a conquest state and a trading empire, with a separate aristocracy and middle class. Increasing commerce linked the forest zone to the interlacustrine region in the east and the emerging state systems to the west. (See West Central Africa)  7
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.