IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > G. Africa, 1500–1800 > 2. Regions > e. West Central Africa
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1500)
e. West Central Africa
Kongo kingdom dominated subregion south of lower Congo (Zaire) River as far as Luanda (modern-day Angola). From 1500 Kongo was becoming a conquest state and trading empire and was sharply influenced by the arrival of the Portuguese. It was ruled from a central capital by a monarchy and a class of urban nobles who presided over villagers and slaves. The political structure was centralized; officeholders, including provincial governors, were appointed by the king.  1
Social and cultural change in Kongo. Trade in north African cloth and European goods, along with the presence of Portuguese teachers and priests, helped to create a distinct court culture and enhanced royal power. Diminishing importance of matrilineality and of the village. Increasing exploitation of villagers led to rebellion and to Kimpasi cult, aimed at the elimination of suffering. Decline in the status of rural free women. Among nobles, growth in patrilineal descent patterns. Rapid expansion of the slave trade led to increased militarization of society and presence of two classes of slaves, those who were considered exportable and those who could not be sold.  2
Rund state, which was to become the wider Lunda Empire, emerged between Kasai and Bushimai Rivers in southern present-day Zaire. Luba Empire had come into existence somewhat earlier in Shaba between Bushimai and Lualaba Rivers. Luba had a royal ideology based on sacred kingship and rule by a secret association, the Bambudye, who promoted state ideology and control. Population clusters in subregion of poor soils and a long dry season were linked by trade in raffia cloth, palm oil, fish, copper, and salt. Copper crosses were used as standardized currency by 1500 but declined in size by 1600 and disappeared after 1700.  3
Reign of Alfonso I, who became king after succession dispute. He was a convert to Christianity under the influence of Portuguese missionaries, and his rule was pivotal in opening up to Portuguese influence. Increased Portuguese influence engendered internal crisis. Alfonso made the Catholic Church the official religion and his son Henrique was consecrated as a bishop in Rome and directed the Christianization of the country in 1518–36. Revenue from the trade in slaves, ivory, and raffia cloth was used to attract Portuguese craftsmen, traders, and missionaries. The growing wealth and Christianization of the nobility widened the gap between nobles and commoners during Alfonso's rule. The nobility became literate Christians, and the royalty was strengthened by a slave guard. The Portuguese played an important role in the capital and in succession disputes in the kingdom. The social structure changed from three strata (nobles, villagers, and slaves) to two (nobles and laborers/peasants). A tension emerged and grew between the nobility of Mbanza Kongo, the capital, and governors of outlying regions. In Angola, the Portuguese placed themselves above the other strata and there emerged a group of Afro-Portuguese mulatto traders of mixed culture and language.  4
Slave trade developed in Kongo from this date, under a royal monopoly. Increased demand for slaves encouraged outlying governors to deal directly with Portuguese traders, leading to political and military conflicts.  5
Kongo king Alfonso made a failed effort to abolish the slave trade.  6
Introduction of maize cultivation in Kongo. Other NEW WORLD PLANTS, including tobacco and manioc, along with pigs, were introduced in Kongo at about this time.  7
Smallpox epidemic in Kongo. Along with the slave trade, new DISEASES had a significant effect on population.  8
Kongo routed by nomadic Jaga warriors from the east during disarray following war with Tio kingdom.  9
Kongo kingdom regained with help of Portuguese troops, but Kongo's regional dominance was lost as Portuguese traders shifted focus to Loango, north of the Congo River.  10
Portuguese established colony of Angola as a slaving territory.  11
Paulo Dias founded Luanda in Angola colony and began to trade in slaves.  12
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.