Map of the Kingdom of Kongo


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 Congo 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 Kongo Kingdom is a regular Kingdom for more than half a millennium. The new rulers are not necessarily the oldest son; he is elected by a Royal Council, from amongst the descendants of the Kimpanzu or the Kimulazu clans; an infante [1]. The capital city is Mbanza Kongo.

Names in italics mean that we definitely know that the person did not originate from one of the two "canonical" clans. Data in italics indicate parallel rules, so probably pretenders. The numbers denote the place in the sequence of Manikongos, "rulers of Kongo".

The Kingdom of Kongo was composed of 6 provinces: Mpemba, Mbata, Nsundi, Mpangu, Mbemba and Soyo, plus 4 vassal Kingdoms: Loango, Cacongo and Ngoye, at the North of the N'Zari river, and Ndongo, at the South of the Congo river.

The Kongo Nation and Kingdom

By John Henrik Clarke

The people and nations of Central Africa have no records of their ancient and medieval history like the "Tarikh es Sudan" or the "Tarikh el Fettach" of the Western Sudan (West Africa). The early travelers to these areas are mostly unknown. In spite of the forest as an obstacle to the formation of empires comparable to those of the Western Sudan, notable kingdoms did rise in this part of Africa and some of them did achieve a high degree of civilization.

The Kongo Valley became the gathering place of various branches of the people we know now as Bantu. When the history of Central Africa is finally written, it will be a history of invasions and migrations. According to one account, between two and three thousand years ago a group of tribes began to move out of the region south or southwest of Lake Chad.

Sometime during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the center of Africa became crowded with pastoral tribes who needed more land for their larger flocks and herds. This condition started another migration that lasted for more than a hundred years. Tribes with the prefix Ba to their names spread far to the west into the Congo basin and southward through the central plains. The Nechuana and Basuto were among these tribes. Tribes with the prefix Ama—great warriors like the Ama-Xosa and Ama-Zulu—passed down the eastern side.

In the meantime some of the more stable tribes in the Congo region were bringing notable kingdoms into being. The Kingdom of Loango extended from Cape Lopez (Libreville) to near the Kongo; and the Kongo Empire was mentioned by Europeans historians as early as the fourteenth century. The Chief of Loango, Mani-Kongo, extended his Kingdom as far as the Kasai and Upper Zambesi Rivers. This Kingdom had been in existence for centuries when the Portuguese arrived in the fifteenth century. They spoke admiringly of its capital, Sette-Camo, which they called San Salvador. The Kingdom of Kongo dates back to the fourteenth century. At the height of its power it extended over modern Angola, as far east as the Kasai and Upper Zambesi Rivers.

Further inland the Kingdom of Ansika was comprised of the people of the Bateke and Bayoka, whose artistic talents were very remarkable. Near the center of the Kongo was the Bakuba Kingdom (or Bushongo), still noted for its unity, the excellence of its administration, its art, its craftsmanship and the beauty of its fabrics.

South of the Congo basin the whole Bechuana territory formed a vast state which actually ruled for a long time over the Basutos, the Zulus, the Hottentots and the Bushmen, including in a single empire the greater part of the black population of Southern and Central Africa. This was the era of Bushongo grandeur; the people we now know as Balubas.

Only the Bushongo culture kept its records and transmitted them almost intact to modern research. The Bakubas are an ancient people whose power and influence once extended over most of the Kongo. Their history can be traced to the fifth century. For many centuries the Bakubas have had a highly organized social system, an impressive artistic tradition and a secular form of government that expressed the will of the people through a democratic political system. Today, as for many generations in the past, the court of a Bakuba Chief is ruled by a protocol as rigid and complicated as that of Versailles under Louis XIV.

At the top of the Bakuba hierarchy is the royal court composed of six dignitaries responsible for cabinet-like matters such as military affairs, justice and administration. At one time there were in the royal entourage 143 other functionaries, including a master of the hunt, a master storyteller and a keeper of oral traditions. In the sixteenth century the Bakubas ruled over a great African empire. The memory of their glorious past is recalled in the tribe with historical exactitude. They can name the reigns of their kings for the past 235 years. The loyalty of the people to these rulers is expressed in a series of royal portrait-statues dating from the reign of Shamba Bolongongo, the greatest and best known of the Bakuba kings.

In the Bakuba system of government the king was above all a symbol, rather like the Mikado in the eyes of the Japanese. His ministers, the Kolomos, paid him great respect in public, even if they were his known enemies. In private they made no pretense of subservience. If the king wanted to see his ministers he had to go to their houses or meet them on neutral ground. The ordinary members of the tribe had representatives at the court on a political and professional basis. Some of these officials represented geographical areas, trades and professions. The weavers, the blacksmiths, the boat-builders, the net-makers, the musicians and the dancers all had their representatives at court. There was even a special representative of the fathers of twins. The representative of the sculptors was held in highest esteem. The Bakuba sculptors are considered to be the finest in Africa.

Shamba Bolongongo was a peaceful sovereign. He prohibited the use of the shongo, a throwing knife, the traditional weapon of the Bushongo. This wise African king used to say: "Kill neither man, woman nor child. Are they not the children of Chembe (God), and have they not the right to live?" Shamba likewise brought to his people some of the agreeable pastimes that alleviate the tediousness of life. The reign of Shamba Bolongongo was really the "Golden Age" of the Bushongo people of the Southern Kongo. After abolishing the cruder aspects of African warfare, Shamba Bolongongo introduced raffia weaving and other arts of peace. According to the legends of the Bushongo people, their history as a state goes back fifteen centuries. Legends notwithstanding, their magnificent sculpture and other artistic accomplishments are unmistakable, the embodiment of a long and fruitful social experience reflecting the life of a people who have been associated with a higher form of culture for more than a thousand years.

Early in the twentieth century when the European writer, Emil Torday, was traveling through the Kongo collecting material for his book On the Trail of the Bushongo, he found the Bakuba elders still singing the praises of Shamba Bolongonog. They also repeated the list of their kings, a list of one hundred twenty names, going back to the godlike King who founded their nation. From these Bakuba elders, Emil Torday learned of Bo Kama Bomanchala, the great King who reigned after Shamba Bolongongo. The elders recalled the most memorable event that had occurred during his reign. On March 30, 1680, there was a total eclipse of the sun, passing exactly over Bushongo.

Jose Fernandez, one of the first European explorers to visit Central Africa, went there in 1445. Any number of subsequent expeditions were carried out by such men as Diego Borges, Vincente Annes, Rebello de Araca, Francisco Baretto and Dom Christovao da Gama. The parts of Africa visited, explored and discovered by these men included the Kingdom of the Kongo, Timbuktu, the East Coast of Africa, Nubia, the Kingdom of N'Gola (Angola), Abyssinia and the Lake Tsana region.

Much of the history and civilization of Central Africa and East Africa was revealed by the study made by the Portuguese African explorer Duarte Lopez in his book History of the Kingdom of Kongo. Duarte Lopez went to the Congo in 1578 and stayed for many years.

According to Lopez, the Kingdom of the Kongo at the time measured 1,685 miles. The King, still reliving his past glory, styled himself Dom Alvarez, King of Kongo, and of Abundo, and of Natama, and of Quizama, and of N'Gola, and of Angri, and of Cacongo, and of the seven Kingdoms of Congere Amolza, and of the Pangelungos, and the Lord of the River Zaire (Kongo) and of the Anzigiros, and of Anziqvara, and of Doanga, etc. He also tells us that the Kingdom of N'Gola (Angola) was at one time a vassal state of the Kongo.

At the time of Lopez's twelve years stay in the country, the Kingdom of the Congo was divided into six provinces. The province of Bamba was the military stronghold of the kingdom, and was capable of putting 400,000 well-disciplined men in the field.

The rich gold mines at Sofala (now a port of Mozambique) attracted the Portuguese to the East Coast of Africa. They used intermarriage with the Africans as a means of gaining favor and pushing into the interior of Africa. In turn, the Africans gradually lost their anti-Christian hostilities and gave in to being converted to Christianity. And thus Christianity was introduced into the Kongo before 1491. The Mani Sogno was the first Kongo nobleman to embrace the Christian faith. The Moslems, coming into the Congo from the East Coast, prevailed upon the Africans to resist being converted to Christianity, telling them that Christianity was a subtle method used by the Portuguese to take over their country. This warning notwithstanding, Christianity continued to spread in the Kongo.

In 1513, Henrique, son of Dom Affonso, then King of the Congo, was sent to Lisbon and to Rome to study theology. In 1520, Pope Leo X appointed Henrique Bishop of Utica and Vicar-apostolic of the Congo. Unfortunately, Henrique died before he could return to the Congo. He was Rome's first Central African bishop. The royal archives of Portugal still hold the records reflecting the ceremonial respect that was paid to this Christian son of an African king and queen.

In the years that followed, Portuguese evangelization of the Congo continued. The Holy See received ambassadors from and sent legates to the Congo. In 1561, Father Dom Goncalo da Silvera baptized the Emperor of the Court of Monomotapa.

The peaceful relations between the Africans and the Portuguese were eventually disrupted by the rising European lust for slaves and gold. It was from N'Gola (Angola) and the Kongo that the Portuguese New World was to derive its greatest source of slaves. In 1647, Salvador Correia of Brazil organized an expedition of fifteen ships for the purpose of reconquering Angola, which had been under Dutch rule for eight years. This event might be considered go be one of the earliest political interventions of the New World in the Affairs of the Old.

Portuguese domination founded on the dire necessities of the slave trade persisted in Angola. After a period of relative splendor, the Christian Kingdom of the Congo began to weaken and was practically destroyed by European fortune hunters, pseudo-missionaries and other kinds of free-booters. By 1688, the entire Congo region was in chaos. By the end of the seventeenth century European priests had declared open war on the non-Christian population of the Kongo. They were attempting to dominate Congolese courts and had ordered the execution of Congolese ancestral priests and indigenous doctors. Now the Congolese Christians were pathetic pawns of the hands of unscrupulous European priests, soldiers, merchants and other renegade pretenders, mere parish priests from Europe were ordering Congolese kings from their thrones.

Soon treachery, robbery and executions compounded the chaos in the Kongo. Violence became the order of the day as various assortments of European mercenaries vied for control of this rich area of Africa. In the ensuing struggle many of the Christian churches built by the Portuguese were destroyed. The Dutch, still feeling the humiliation of the decline of their influence in N'Gola (Angola), came into the Congo and systematically removed all traces of the once prevailing Portuguese power.

By 1820 Arab slave traders had penetrated the Kongo from Zanzibar and through Tanganyika. Soon after their arrival their slave raids were decimating the population. The European rediscovery of the Kongo and neighboring territories began in the middle of the nineteenth century. In 1858, two Englishmen, Burton and Spoke, discovered Lakes Tanganyka and Victoria, approaching them from the shores of the Indian Ocean. The Scotch Protestant missionary, Livingstone, explored the regions of the big lakes and in 1871, Livingstone and Stanley met on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. From 1874 to 1877, Henry Morton Stanley crossed Africa from east to west and discovered the Kongo River.

In the meantime, King Leopold II of Belgium focused his attention on Central Africa and in 1876 founded the Association International Africaine. In 1878, King Leopold commissioned Stanley to establish connection between the Congo River and the ocean in the non-navigable part of the river. From 1879 to 1885, a handful of Belgian officers sent by the King set up posts along the Kongo River. They were followed by Catholic and Protestant missionaries.

King Leopold's undertakings gave rise to competition and greed. Other European nations had designs on the Kongo. The King's diplomatic successes at the Berlin Conference of 1884 settled this matter. The members of the Conference marked out spheres of influence in Africa and determined boundaries that are still in existence. The Kongo Free State came into being. The Belgian parliament agreed that Leopold should have "exclusive" personal ownership of the Kongo. The United States was the first power to ratify the arrangement, largely through the efforts of General Henry S. Stanford, who was American minister to Brussels at the time.

And thus began the tragedy of Belgian rule in the Kongo.


Head of the Family: HH The Mani Kongo (King of Kongo), Ntotila a Ntinu ne Kongo (this latter title according to Rulers). The Portuguese did not want to recognize the qualification of Alteza (HH) since this implied that the King was not a vassal of the king of Portugal but acceeded to the qualification of Senhor (Lord) (Mbanza Kongo).

Heir: The Nelumbo
Other members of the Family: Infante (for the descendants of King Afonso I)

SUCCESSION: The Mani Kongo (King of Kongo) was elected by a council of six, headed by the Marquess of Vunta (Mani Kabunga) who was an Infante i.e. a descendant of King Afonso I: generally he was not the son of the dead King and was already recognized as the Nelumbo. The new King had to be crowned by a Catholic priest. In fact, the succession was disputed among 2 lines of descendants of King Afonso I: the Kimulazu and the Kimpanzu.

Order of Christ conferred 16th-17th century by delegation of the king of Portugal by the King of Kongo to himself, to the heir and to a few dignitaries of his Court

KONGOLESE NOBILITY: The Portuguese titles of Duke, Marquess, etc were adopted c1590.

Fidalgo: free man
Infante: member of the Kongo Royal family (descendant from King Afonso I)
Kimpanzu: one of the 2 Royal clans pretending to the succession of the King
Kimulazu: one of the 2 Royal clans pretending to the succession of the King
Mani Kabunga: head of the Crown Council, an Infante with the title of Marquess of Vunta (Mani Vunta)
Mani Kongo: King of Kongo
Mani Pemba: Judge
Mani Vunta: Marquess of Vunta
Mbaji: capital city
Mbanza: village of 200 huts
Mushikongo: Tribe of the Mbamba province
Mussorongo: Tribe of the Sonyo county
Nelumbo: title of the Heir with the governorship of the capital city, Mbanza Kongo

HEAD OF THE FAMILY: José Henrique da Silva Meso Mankala, King of Kongo (Manikongo) since 19/11/2000

Ntinu Nimi a Lukeni, 1st King c.1380-1420
4 Kings

- c. 1420-1435
- c. 1435-1450
- c. 1450-1465
- c. 1465-1480

Nzinga a Kuwu, renamed Joâo I on his conversion to Christianity 3/5/1491, 6th King of Mbanza Congo before 1484-1506, +1506. Father of:
Mbemba a Nzinga, renamed Afonso I on his conversion to Christianity c1491, 7th King of Mbanza Congo 1506-1543, styled: by the grace of God, King of Kongo, of Loango, of Cacongo and of Ngoyo, below and beyond Zaïre, Lord of the Ambundo, of Aquisima, of Musunu, of Matamba, of Mulili, of Musuku and of the Anziques, of the Conquest, of Pangu Alumbu, etc., received a coat of arms from the King of Portugal, +1543. Father of:
Nkanga Mbemba, renamed Dom Pedro I on his conversion to Christianity, 8th King of Mbanza Kongo 1543-deposed 1545,
Dom Francisco I, 9th King of Mbanza Kongo 1545,
Dom Diego I, 10th King of Mbanza Kongo 1545-1561, +1561. Son of Nzinga Mbemba (1st daughter of 7th King Dom Afonso I) and brother of:
Dom Afonso II, 11th King of Mbanza Kongo 1561, +1561. Brother of:
Dom Bernado I, 12th King of Mbanza Kongo 1561-1566, +1566,
Dom Henrique I, 13th King of Mbanza Kongo 1566-1567, +1567,
Dom Alvaro I, 14th King of Kongo (Rex Congi) 1567-1576 or 1587, styled: by the grace of God, King of Congo, of Matamba, of Kisama, of Muyilu, of Muswalu, of Musuku, of the Anziques, of Sumba, of Mbengu, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms of Kongo, of Rio Mullaza, of Cacongo, of Ango, of Rio Zaïre and of the Conquest, +1587, X Catarina. Son of Dona Isabel Lukeni lua Mbemba (2nd daughter of 7th King Afonso I), son in law of 13th King Dom Henrique I and father of:
Dom Alvaro II, 15th King of Kongo (Rex Congi) 1576 or 1587-1614, Kt Military Order of Christ 10/3/1609, +1614.
Regency of the Duke of Mbamba 1614 (2 months only)
Dom Bernado II, 16th King of Kongo 1614-1615. Half-brother or son of 15th King Alvaro II, (Dutch in Mpinda)
Dom Alvaro III, 17th King of Kongo 1614 or 1615-5/1622, +5/1622. Son of 15th King Dom Alvaro II, son in law of the Duke of Mbamba and/or descendant of the 2nd daughter of 7th King Afonso I,
Dom Pedro II Afonso, 18th King of Kongo 5/1622-1624, Kt Military Order of Christ, +1624. Son of Nkanga Mbika ne Ntumba Mbemba, Duke of Nsundi (son of Dona Anna Ntumba Mbemba, 3rd daughter of 7th King Afonso I) and father of 3 sons among whom:
Ne Mbemba Nzinga a Nkuwu a Ntinu, ruled under the name of Dom Garcia I, 19th King of Kongo 1624-deposed 4/1626, Duke of Mbamba before 1624, °1604, +between 23 and 26/6/1626,,
Dom Ambrosio, 20th King of Kongo 4/1626-1631, previously named Ne Ntumba Mbemba
Dom Alvaro IV, 21st King of Kongo 1631-25/2/1636, °1618, +25/2/1636. Son of 17th King Dom Alvaro III and uncle of:
Dom Alvaro V, 22nd King of Kongo 25/2/1636-8/1636, +8/1636,

Don Alvaro VI, King of Kongo giving Audience to ye Dutch in 1642

Dom Alvaro VI , 23rd King of Kongo 8/1636-1642, lost the region of Makuta to the Count of Sonyo 1637 and Luanda to the Dutch 1641, +1642, (Expels Dutch from Mpinda, 1639. Portugal is independent, 1640)
Dom Garcia II Afonso, 24th King of Kongo 1642-1660 or 1661, previously named Garcia Okimbaku, Marquess of Kiowa, first King to be crowned, exchanged ambassadors with Portugal, +1663. Father of (2nd son): (Dutch take Luanda, Congolese-Dutch treaty, 1642. Spaniards plan to take Luanda with Congolese help. Portuguese take Luanda, 1648 )
Dom Antonio I, 25th King of Kongo 1660 or 1661-1665, +battle of Ambuila 1665,
Dom Alvaro VII , 26th King of Kongo 1665-1666, from the Nimi na Mpangu clan,
Dom Alvaro VIII , 27th King of Kongo 1666, from the Nimi na Mpangu clan,
Dom Afonso III, 28th King of Kongo 1666-1667,
Dom Pedro III, 29th King of Kongo 1667-1683, X Dona Anna, +Ngondo 1860, daughter of 24th King Dom Garcia II Afonso,
Dom Rafael, 30th King of Kongo 1669-1674,
Dom Alvaro IX , 31st King of Kongo 1669-...., from the Kinimi a Mbemba clan
Dom Daniel, 32nd King of Kongo 1674-1678, originally named Daniel de Guzman ne Miyala Mpangu. Descendant of 7th King Afonso I and brother of:
Dom Joâo II, 33rd King of Kongo 1683-1717, originally named Joâo ne Nsuki a Ntamba

A possible Map of the Kingdom of Kongo circa 1711

Dom Pedro IV, 34th King of Kongo 1709-1718, from the Nsanu Mbemba clan
Dom Pedro V, 35th King of Kongo 1718-....

Founder Lukeni seems historical, and came with a band of warriors from the northern bank of Kongo. Tradition did not conserve the names of the subsequent 4 kings (Manikongos), if they were really 4.
John I is baptized in 1491, but in that time his rule is already well established, so we can guess the start of his rule cca. 1480, just before Diogo Cão reached the estuary of River Congo. For the previous 4 Manikongos I, in the lack of information, assume direct succession with short generations. However the first Manikongo must have been founder, so perhaps he started to rule in youth. According to Hungarian tradition, I suggest a terminology. Without doubt the dynasty starts with Lukeni. However Lukeni was not a KING, or Rex, in European sense. We will consider the first 5 Manikongos, and also the 6th until baptization.

From Alvaro III Manikongos, Kings balance between Spain and Portugal. While the Spanish King rules in Portugal, the Far Eastern Portuguese sphere of interest is intact and Luanda is Portuguese; but Independent Congo seeks Spanish relations. With the start of Dutch liberation wars against Spain Holland considers Portuguese territories Spanish, and tries to take them. This is almost completely successful on Spice Islands (except for East Timor), partially in Brazil, and temporarily in Luanda.

After the 35th Manikongo (and 30th Rex) some disorder takes place within the dynasty; sequence is disturbed. From the traditional numbering, however, we must place into the "dark decades" at least an Andrew I, an Alvaro X, an Anthony II, Garcias III & IV, Henry II and Manuels I & II. In the same time, Peter V (or IV?) seems to be regarded by the recent royalty as usurper, and the 34th Peter IV is not only parallel with the 33rd John II, but also he is from an un-canonical clan. So the minimal correction is to insert 8 kings after John II from 1717. That would mean 8 Kings in 76 years, so 9.5 years per king. As we shall see, that is almost exactly the global average of the dynasty (51 kings between 1491 & 1962, i.e. 9.2 years/king), so the reconstruction is not impossible.

The dynasty reappears from the obscurity in 1793, and then we can continue the table approximately as:

Dom Henrique III Afonso Nlengi, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 1793-1802
Dom Alvaro XI Afonso Kafvasa, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 1802
Dom Garcia V Afonso Ne Nkanga a Nvembi, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 1802-1830
.... 1830-....
Dom Andre II Afonso, King of Kongo (Manikongo)
Dom Andre III Afonso Ndondele Beya, King of Kongo (Manikongo) ....-1842
Dom Henrique IV Afonso Lunga, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 1842-1858
Dom Alvaro XII Afonso, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 1858-1859
Dom Pedro V Afonso, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 7/8/1859-14/2/1891
Dom Alvaro XIII Afonso Mfutila, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 1891-1896
Dom Henrique Afonso Nteye Kpage, Regent 1896-1901
Dom Pedro VI Afonso Mvemba, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 1912-1915
Dom Manuel III Afonso Kiditu, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 1912-1915
Dom Alvaro XIV Afonso Nzinga, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 1915-1923

Dom Pedro VII and Dona Isabel

Dom Pedro VII Afonso, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 1923-17/4/1955, +1955
Dom Antonio III Afonso, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 16/8/1955-11/7/1957, +1957. Husband of:
Dona Isabel Maria da Gama, Regent 11/7/1957-9/9/1962 and since 10/1962
Dom Pedro VIII Afonso Mansala, King of Kongo (Manikongo) 9/9/1962-10/1962, +10/1962
Ne Kongo, Mbanza Congo, +19/11/2000
José Henrique da Silva Meso Mankala, King of Kongo (Manikongo) since 11/2000

The Portuguese recognized the Manikongo King, but not Alteza (Highness). (See the alternative attempt of Alvaro III.) So for them the King of Kongo was an inferior, client King. Other Europeans did not accept the title at all.

Surely the Portuguese were right to the letter. A sovereign Kingdom has got the Crown or the Title originally either from (the/an) Emperor, or from the Pope. In the first case the vassalage was tangible, in the second intangible. France was exceptional, but Louis I (Chlodwig), the Meroving, got the sacred balsam (crism) from the Pope, or rather, from Heaven.

The Manikongo did not get crown from the Emperor or from the Pope. A King cannot create a sovereign king. So the Portuguese considered the Manikongo a Senhor, i.e. a Lord, even if the greatest Senhor of Central Africa.

True, they called the state Kingdom, and the Manikongo King. Instead of complicated argumentations, read the classical geographic work: Duarte Lopes & Filippo Pigafetta: Relacao do Reino de Congo e das terras circumvizinhas (1591). The name of the country is always Kongo Kingdom, the title of the Manikongo is always King there. However, when the authors describe the history of the previous century, the relation of the 2 kings (the Portuguese and the Congolese) is always analogous with that of the Emperor and a King of the Empire.

And in the XIXth century, when European powers finally cut up the map of Africa among themselves, nobody takes seriously the virtual rights of a Christian King without troops.

But the royal family of Kongo retained its Lusitanian civilisation. The name of the latest Regent is Dona Isabel Maria da Gama. She is no kin of the Portuguese da Gamas.


King Alphonse I sends his brother Henrique to Rome for learning. Henrique is consecrated as Bishop in 1520. However he is Bishop of Utica, which is titulatory, and becomes the auxiliary to the Bishop of Funchal. So in 1520 the capitol São Salvador formally belongs to the Diocese Funchal (as does the Madeira Island), and of course is under the padrõado (patronatus) of the king of Portugal.

In 1533 the Diocese of Funchal is elevated to the rank Archdiocese, and one of its dioceses is the newly organized Diocese of São Tomé, of course under the padrõado of the king of portugal. However the diocese of São Tomé includes the non-portuguese territory of Congo as well.

In 1595 the new Diocese of São Salvador is separated from São Tomé; however it remains under the padrõado of the king of Portugal.

The Kings of Kongo try to make use of the troubles of the Portuguese-Spanish personal union, but the efforts are only half-hearted and rather hopeless. The diplomatic moves of Garcia II towards Holland were in principle not so hopeless; but Holland was unsuccessful in Central Africa.

MBANZA KONGO 1482- 1880

When in 1482 Europeans and Africans met at the mouth of the Kongo River, their first impression seems to have been one of mutual attraction. To Diego Cam and his fellow portuguese the Bakongo appeared less savage than many of the tribes on the west coast, while by comparison with the Negroes of Nubia and Guinea they seemed handsome.' As for the Africans, they showed no fear of their unusual visitors, but ventured close to the portuguese ships in their canoes, and were soon bartering ivory for cloth and other trade goods. Quickly the news of the arrival of the white men spread, and large numbers gathered to see the strangers; they came both from Ngoyo to the north, and from Songo to the south of the river.

It is recorded that when the Prince of Songo first met the portuguese, they 'were looked upon and reverenced by him almost like gods come down to live on the earth', and they had to protest forcibly that they were men like himself. This may have been European imagination. On the other hand it seems that the rare albinos of those parts were held in high honour by their neighbours because of their exceptional whiteness; they were thought to be divine beings and in the markets they were allowed to take whatever they liked without payment. So even before the arrival of the Portuguese a white skin appears to have been held in honour and to have conveyed certain privileges.

The early respect shown by the portuguese for the Africans whom they met on the Kongo coast provides a startling contrast to the attitude of Europeans in the later nineteenth century towards the peoples of the Kongo interior. The portuguese appeared to have no colour prejudice and at the very beginning their attitude to the Kongo citizens tended towards assimilation. They did not doubt that the Africans could become portuguese in externals, and the Kongo Authorities seemed ready enough to conform. Four hostages were taken to portugal by Diego Cam as surety for the men whom he had sent on a mission to Mbanza Kongo, the capital of the Kingdom of Kongo. During their year in Lisbon they were treated as honoured guests, they learned to speak and write portuguese, and the Christian faith was explained to them. When they returned to the Kongo they wore portuguese dress, but the Africans noticed at once that it differed from that of the crew of the boat which brought them home; the four hostages were members of the Kongo nobility, and in Portugal they had been treated as such.

Meanwhile, Diego Cam's messengers regaled the Kongo court with stories of life in portugal; they stressed the fact that King John II wished only to live in peace and friendship with the King of Kongo, and to trade with him to the mutual advantage of both portugal and the Kongo. So when the four hostages returned with glowing accounts of Lisbon and with the news that the King of portugal hoped that the Kongo would become a Christian country, the King of Kongo did not hesitate to send back Nsaka, one of the four, as his Ambassador to John II. He was to ask for priests to baptise King and people, and also for masons and carpenters to erect buildings in the portuguese manner.

A group of young Kongo nobles were sent with Nsaka; the King asked that they should learn to read and write, and speak Portuguese, and should become Christians. For nearly five years (1485-90) the Kongo group stayed in Lisbon. Nsaka received the same honours as those accorded to any other ambassador there, the King and Queen themselves became his godparents, and on his baptism he took a portuguese name, Joao da Silva. The young Kongo nobility were educated chiefly by the Canons of St. John the Evangelist, and various members of the Portuguese nobility adopted them as their godchildren.'

It was a primitive civilisation which the portuguese found in the Kongo, but the people were not savages. They used iron arms and tools, and practised the arts of pottery and weaving. The materials which they wove from raffia were fine enough to delight John II when he received some as a present from the King of Kongo, and to be compared by the Portuguese with silks and velvet. (Some of the best weaving, however, was done by inland peoples, who traded their work with the Bakongo in exchange for salt.) The people from Kongo kept sheep, goats and poultry, and in many regions cattle also, while they cultivated millet and sorghum in order to make bread.

As money they used cowrie shells in the cast, and cloth in the west. The Kongo natives were illiterate, but their political organisation was nevertheless efficient enough to control a population of perhaps two million, The King was an absolute monarch who received divine honours. He ruled through six provincial governors, whom he could appoint or dismiss at will. His direct administration was bounded roughly by the Kongo on the north, the Kwango on the east, and the Dande on the south. Beyond its range lay a circle of smaller Kingdoms, whose dynasties were descended from that of Kongo and who on this account acknowledged the primacy of the King of Kongo, although they were in practice far beyond the reach of his control.

From the very beginning the King of Kongo was treated with great respect by the Portuguese; the Ambassador who arrived in 1491 kissed his hand according to the custom of the portuguese court, and brought assurances of friendship from John II. But the Europeans never doubted that the Kongo Authorities would wish to remodel their way of living upon the pattern of that of their portuguese visitors as soon as possible. Masons, carpenters and artisans came out with the 1491 expedition; they arrived furnished with all the tools of their trade, and in many cases their wives accompanied them, bringing Portuguese cooking utensils.

The Kongo court was delighted, hastily a stone church was erected, and the King of Kongo was baptised. The King and Queen took the names of Joao and Leonora after the king and queen of portugal, the Kongo nobility followed suit with other Portuguese names, and it became the fashion to preface them by 'Dom'. The capital itself was renamed San Salvador. Later the portuguese trader Lopez reported that since the country had become Christian the court nobility had adopted portuguese dress; the men wore capes, cloaks, leather slippers, and rapiers at their sides, while the women had adopted veils and jewelled black velvet caps. The court was regulated exactly on the pattern of the portuguese court, even to the service at table, declared Lopez.

King Joao himself relapsed into pagan practices before his death in 1506, but the Reign of his son Dom Affonso seemed to crown the portuguese policy with success. Affonso was a devout Christian, a catechist and a preacher as well as a King. He sent his son Henry to portugal for fifteen years so that the young Kongo Prince might study the humanities and theology there; later Henry was to become the first Kongo Bishop.

In all Affonso sent more than twenty of his children, nephews and grandchildren to portugal to study, but he was also anxious to make provision for the children who remained in Africa, building schools and pleading for Portuguese missionaries and teachers. In 1515 a newly arrived missionary reported enthusiastically on the school at Mbanza Kongo, where over a thousand sons of the Kongo nobility were learning to read and write, and were studying grammar, the humanities, and the Christian faith. King Manuel of portugal sent both secular priests and Canons of St. John the Evangelist to the Kongo, although he was not able to send as many missionaries as Dom Affonso would have liked; clearly, however, the king of portugal was thinking not only in terms of an African clergy but also of the establishment of an African hierarchy, for it was he who first suggested that Dom Henry might well be consecrated Bishop.

It appears that the relationships between portuguese and Kongo People in the Reign of Dom Affonso usually continued to be those of mutual respect. When Simon da Silva went to the Kongo as portuguese Ambassador in 1513, he was ordered to treat Dom Affonso as a King, not as a tributary of the portuguese crown; he was not to govern but to aid and advise the King of Kongo; he was to model the Kongo court on the pattern of Lisbon but always at the wish and with the consent of Dom Affonso, for the King of Portugal did not wish to occupy and conquer the Kongo, but only to open the way for Portuguese trade and for Christian missionaries.' Europeans followed the same etiquette at the court of the King of Kongo as they would have done at Lisbon.

Dom Affonso wrote to Manuel as to his 'muito amado irmao' - his beloved brother; as an independent monarch, he sent ambassadors from among the Kongo evolues to Lisbon and to Rome; as a Christian Prince, he made his act of obedience to the Pope like the rest. There was also a darker side to the picture. Of some seventy Portuguese in the Kongo in the Reign of Affonso quite a number were lawless adventurers of whose behaviour the King of Kongo complained bitterly, as he did of that of some of the portuguese priests, those 'unworthy preachers of the Holy Catholic Faith', whose desire for power was causing scandal in the country. The Portuguese trade in slaves had already begun to cause havoc. But on the whole the Reign of Affonso had shown both achievement and promise. The King of Kongo willingly learned much from the portuguese but he also learned to discriminate; he could judge between Portuguese and Portuguese, and came to see that a mere slavish imitation of the laws and customs of Portugal was not the way forward for the Kingdom of Kongo.

This kingdom did not become dependent upon portugal; portuguese interest shifted southwards and there were never any Portuguese Governors in the Kongo, as there were in Loanda and Benguela. The Kongo Nation and Kingdom always preserved a strong sense of independence; when in 1561 the portuguese imprudently tried to influence the succession to the throne, there was a public uproar in which many portuguese were killed. Again, the 1649 peace treaty, made after the Kongo had supported the Dutch against portugal, declared that if the conditions of peace were not observed - and only then - the portuguese would have the right to depose the King of Kongo and to replace him by their own nominee who would then be a portuguese vassal." It was not, in fact, until the middle of the nineteenth century that a portuguese nominee became King at San Salvador.

In 1607 the Bishop of Kongo was firmly ordered not to mix himself in the government of the kingdom, nor to usurp jurisdiction, but always to address the King of Kongo with respect and to gain his affection. It was always the custom of the Holy See to use the title of 'Your Majesty' in communications with the King of Kongo, following the portuguese tradition, although for many other African Kings 'Your Highness' was regarded as sufficient. So the Kongo never became a colony of portugal but remained an independent kingdom; it was bound to portugal by ties of interest and friendship, but it never became a tributary state.

Christian Missionaries in the Kongo

The portuguese sent Christian missionaries to the Kingdom of Kongo, but they were not the only Europeans to set out to evangelise the Kongo. In the middle of the seventeenth century (during a period of Dutch presence) a first party of Capuchins arrived as missionaries; other groups of Capuchins (mainly Italians) followed. They were men full of zeal, given to asceticism and ready for martyrdom, but their missionary methods seem strange to a later age.

Although there were only eight secular priests and two Jesuits in the whole of the kingdom of Kongo in 1645, the new arrivals treated the Kongo as a Christian kingdom.

One Capuchin wrote of the many priests needed 'to maintain this country in its due obedience to the Christian faith'.'
Given their premisses, they were no doubt justified in thinking in terms of preservation rather than of conversion, for they were assuming the right of the ruler to command the religious faith of his subjects. It had been the King of Kongo himself who had earlier forbidden the worship of idols and ordered his people to embrace the Christian faith; thus the missionaries were relying upon the civil power in their attempts to seize and burn all the fetishes and idols, which they could find. But their attitude must have seemed extraordinarily unreasonable to the Kongo Authorities, and must have increased the difficulties of their contact with the people. Missionaries of a later day would not have proved so implacable as Jerome de Montesarchio:

On my way I found numbers of idols, which I threw into the fire. The owner of these idols, a Nganga Ngombo or sorcerer, seemed very annoyed. To calm him down by humiliating him, I let him know that if he persisted in his anger, I should see that he himself was burned with his idols.

Nor did later missionaries make so gloomy an estimate of the people to whom they came as did the Capuchin Antonio de Gaeta:

... Devils by the deformation of their features, devils by the blackness of their bodies, devils in their souls because their wills are always fixed on evil; devils in their thinking, by continually having in mind superstition, witchcraft and sorcery; devils in their speaking, by the great lies they utter; devils in their actions, by so many grave sins which they commit; and finally, devils and more than devils, damned and more than damned, by that bestial pride, that inhuman and barbarous cruelty, which they display all the time and in every action.

The Capuchin Missionary Practice of 1747 gives an indication of the behaviour required of Capuchin missionaries. It was customary for them to appoint an officer, a meijrinho, who would periodically round up the population and secure their attendance at church by force. In their dealings with the Kongo Authorities the

Capuchins were never to ask a service politely, but must give abrupt orders; for fear that the Kongo Authorities would take advantage of gentle treatment. They were not to speak of them selves in terms of humility nor to refer to themselves as sinners, and there was to be solidarity among the Europeans – a superior was never to rebuke his companion in the presence of Africans nor to allow him to kneel to receive his blessing, but always to give him honour.

The language requirements were not high; the Capuchins were to know portuguese well, and just enough of the local language to be able to catch out unfaithful interpreters and to teach the essentials of Christianity. All too often it seems that for the Capuchins the Kongo Authorities represented souls to be saved, passive recipients of the sacraments; possibly, too, they might be the instruments of a much-coveted martyrdom. They were not usually regarded as the men on whom would depend the future of the Church in the Kongo.

The French missionaries who worked north of the Kongo River between 1766 and 1776 had a different attitude from that of the Capuchins to the south. They were well liked by the people, and took care to learn the local language well, convinced that without this their work would lack stability. Often, indeed, Africans who on first meeting were frightened by the white faces and strange dress of the French were quickly won over by their knowledge of Kikongo. One missionary won such favour, indeed, that in spite of his protests he was promised a funeral similar to that given to the local Chiefs. The French were concerned to establish a local clergy and planned to open a seminary where African priests could be trained; their mission was short-lived, however, and all too soon illness and death forced them to abandon their work.

In the Kongo Kingdom itself Christianity failed to become truly indigenous, and gradually died out there after portuguese interest shifted southwards to Loanda; in the later nineteenth century there survived only the ruins of a cathedral at San Salvador, and a crucifix among the other fetishes of the King of Kongo. This lack of success was partly due to a failure in human relationships. Some of the portuguese priests who found their way to the Kongo were forced to flee from Portugal because of their misdemeanours and discharged their duties in the Kongo as mercenaries rather than as pastors. A rising against the portuguese was defended on the grounds of the vices and abuses practised by the clergy.' These were not the men to win the confidence of Africans.

Often portuguese priests were unable to speak Kikongo and so lacked real contact with the people, while mulatto priests who knew the local language had been given an insufficient theological grounding. In any case, the missionary force was too small. Christianity never took on African dress because the missionaries, too few in number, were unable to give intensive instruction to the large numbers of converts they baptised, let alone help them to work out for themselves an expression of Christianity which would be thoroughly African.

Too little was done towards the establishment of a native clergy, although in 1625 the Propaganda urged the portuguese Augustinian Canons to accept young Kongo citizens into their novitiate so that after their education they could return to the Kongo to exercise their ministry, and a little later a Jesuit seminary was established at San Salvador and a certain number of Africans were ordained. Not enough was done in this direction, however, and without native Kongo leadership the Church of necessity remained too closely tied to its European origins.

The Jesuits always took the education of the Kongo native youth seriously, and in 1624 a Jesuit produced a Catechism in Kikongo, but on the whole insufficient instruction was given to Africans in the vernacular, and a Latin liturgy remained foreign and only half understood. Even the Jesuits did not experiment, as they did in China and in India, with an interpretation of Christianity in native dress. It never seemed to occur to the early missionaries that this was desirable or even possible, and certainly not that it was essential, were African Christianity to survive if the Europeans left the Kongo. African values were never taken seriously; missionaries attempted to impose the European standards and forms with which they were familiar. And no women missionaries took part in the evangelisation of the Kongo before the late nineteenth century; these alone could have had real contact with African women and thus have influenced the building up of Christian homes.

The Slave Trade

Side by side with the missionaries, the slave traders also represented Europeans in the Kongo. For the portuguese, one of the main attractions of the African coast lay in the cheap labour, which it furnished for the plantations of the New World. Lisbon became a great slave market; at the beginning of the sixteenth century it was receiving African slaves at the rate of between ten and twenty thousand every year, and in the seventeenth century the Kingdom of Kongo alone was sending 15,000 slaves annually.' There was a constant stream of slave caravans between San Salvador and Loanda or Cabinda. If the missionaries did not always carry out in practice the implications of their proclamation that Africans, like themselves, were the children of God, the slave traders simply regarded the Kongo Authorities as units in a slave gang.

Not that the missionaries were unduly troubled by the contradiction, since they shared the current European conviction that it was better for an African to be a slave and a Christian than to be a free man and an infidel. They themselves kept slaves and were even in some cases responsible for their sale, for although the king of kortugal equipped and sent out missionaries to the Kongo, their upkeep sometimes depended upon the sale of slaves. There were differences of practice among the missionaries; the Capuchins kept slaves but never bought or sold them, and complained to Rome of other religious who carried on the slave trade.

Slavery was not, of course, introduced into the Kongo by Europeans, and although there were some cases of Europeans seizing free men, in general they respected the Kongo hierarchy and took only such slaves as were offered by the Africans themselves. It is estimated that in the middle of the seventeenth century, each of the hundred or so Europeans in San Salvador may have possessed anything between fifty and a thousand slaves." The slaves owned by the Europeans in the Kongo were not usually ill-treated; the 'slaves of the Church' received a certain instruction, learned to speak portuguese, and were nearer to Europeans in their style of living than were most Kongo natives,' while 'confidential slaves' or pombeiros were allowed a large amount of freedom and entrusted with distant trading missions.

But the Europeans regarded slaves destined for the trade almost as animals many were prisoners of war and it was taken for granted that the more intelligent Africans would either have fled or have been redeemed by relatives. As early as the reign of Affonso the King found it necessary to denounce the slave trade carried on from San Tome as cruel and inhuman; like all his contemporaries, Affonso was convinced that one man could be the property of another, and was therefore transferable, but in the Kongo domestic slaves were treated almost as members of the family, and the King was therefore shocked at the callous treatment received by the Africans shipped off to Lisbon and Brazil.

But for nearly four centuries the west coast slave trade dominated relations between Europeans and the Kongo Authorities. One estimate of the total number of slaves exported from the Kongo is given as thirteen and a quarter millions, and when this figure is translated in terms of human suffering it is not hard to see why the Kongo natives came to hate the portuguese slave traders, why they referred to the arrival of Europeans on their shores as 'that bitter event', or why they divided men into four classes white, black, Ba Ngandu (crocodiles classified as man because of a widespread belief that sorcerers disguised themselves as crocodiles for the sake of harming their fellows) and fourth and lowest, because of the slave trade, the Portuguese.

Indirectly, too, the slave trade was to lead to the break-up of the kingdom of Kongo, for in their own interests traders who installed themselves in the interior were liable to encourage vassals to revolt. Slowly the European slave traders destroyed the prestige of the King of Kongo, the cohesion of the African tribes under his rule, and the peace, which had extended throughout his domains. Through contact with Europeans the royal authority, which had been strong and respected in the sixteenth century, diminished until it became almost nominal; the armed interventions of the Portuguese Governors of Angola contributed to the decadence of the great Kingdom of Kongo and by the nineteenth century the King's dominion was restricted to the neighbourhood of San Salvador.

Europeans and Africans

The pre-nineteenth century contacts between Europeans and the Kongo Authorities raised some of the questions, which remain important today in relationships between black and white. The Portuguese seemed to have no colour prejudice but the question of colour interested them; since the children of portuguese fathers and Kongo mothers were fairer than the Africans, they realised that a black skin was not due to the heat of the sun in the tropics, but was an inherited characteristic.' An English trader who visited the Kongo in the seventeenth century noted that the Portuguese were pleased to have mulatto children; a Portuguese would be distressed if a child he had claimed as his own because of his white skin during the first two days of life then became black and proved himself the child of African parents.

At a period when any man with a white skin was ipso facto a Christian in the eyes of the Kongo citizens, the large number of Portuguese traders who kept African women slaves caused great annoyance to the missionaries; when the Africans were reproached for practising polygamy they had merely to point to the behaviour of the Portuguese. There were other abuses; European slave traders even toured African villages with the object of revisiting them a few years later to claim the children they had fathered to sell into slavery. The presence of single European men in the Kongo caused so much trouble that at the beginning of the seventeenth century Alvare II, eighth Christian King of Kongo, asked that a number of Portuguese women should be sent out to marry in the Kongo.

In spite of all the difficulties it brought, however, European settlement had obviously been appreciated, for Alvare also asked that more Portuguese should come to settle in the Kongo with their wives, and thus should propagate the Christian faith there. But the Portuguese Council objected to the suggestion, on the grounds that if the King of Kongo had numbers of white subjects in his realms he would become over powerful.' The Kingdom of Kongo was not, it should be remembered, a colony of Portugal. The Council evidently feared the establishment of too many settlers in the Kongo, for the artisans that Alvare II also requested had been refused.

The Council was anxious to establish some kind of separation between Portuguese and the Kongo Authorities, and was concerned because some Portuguese were living in native fashion, wearing loincloths and eating African food. A royal official was therefore to go out to establish a Portuguese quarter in San Salvador, and to group the Portuguese around him. Except for this, there seems to have been no trace of apartheid in the Kongo. Portuguese and Kongo worshipped together in the churches, and both Africans and mulattos were raised to the priesthood, although in insufficient numbers. Portuguese and African priests worked together at San Salvador cathedral at the end of the sixteenth century and twenty years later the Kongo Authorities and the portuguese were cooperating in the administration of a pious society, the Misericordia, attached to the cathedral.

In Loanda, on the other hand, there were two Confraternities of the Holy Rosary, one for Europeans and the other for Africans. This is perhaps explained by the fact that there were far more Europeans living at Loanda than at San Salvador; it was natural that in an area of European settlement there should be greater racial segregation.

Relations between black and white were not always smooth, and it was easy enough for misunderstandings to occur. The missionary insistence upon monogamy at times gave rise to the suspicion that it was European policy to depopulate the Kingdom of Kongo in order to be able to suppress it the more easily; this doctrine was proclaimed with fervour in the seventeenth century by an African preacher.' Sometimes the Kongo citizens feared deportation to Brazil as slaves because they were convinced that Europeans were taking them away only to use their fat in the preparation of butter and cheese; a similar kind of fear has arisen in recent years.

Europeans made the same kind of generalisations about the Kongo natives as they make today; Africans were described as vain, lazy, ungrateful, envious, untrustworthy. They were ridiculed as 'ignorant and stupid' because they had interpreted Western technical devices in terms of supernatural forces. Sometimes, on the other hand, a good quality such as their generosity was recognised and praised.

To a certain extent good relations between black and white were aided by the divisions among Europeans in the Kongo, since the various groups vied with each other for African favour. Both English and Dutch traders were in competition with the Portuguese. After the Dutch had captured Loanda in 1641 they sent an ambassador to San Salvador, and in return a Kongo embassy visited The Hague. The King of Kongo even sent a mission to Rome via Holland; this was an assertion of independence, for the portuguese had long insisted that any embassy to the Holy See should travel via Lisbon. The portuguese disliked having Italian Capuchins in the Kongo; since they were the official missionaries of the propaganda in the seventeenth century they could not be kept out, but Portuguese passport regulations involved them in endless delays and difficulties.

In the eighteenth century the Italian missionaries worked hard to secure the Kongo trade to French merchants rather than to the English, in order that baptised slaves should not be sold to heretics. The arrival of the Calvinist Dutch on the Kongo coast introduced the Africans to the fact that European Christians were divided amongst themselves. Again, the behaviour of many of the Portuguese traders was a practical contradiction of missionary teaching, and traders and missionaries were often on bad terms with one another. Thus, with so many white groups all struggling for their own advantage and seeking to turn the Kongo Authorities against their competitors, there was no question of a common European front against the Africans.

Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 to Divide Africa VIDEOS


Federation of the Free States of Africa



Secretary General
Mangovo Ngoyo

Email: [email protected]