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The History of Angola  

Jeremy Ball

Angola’s contemporary political boundaries resulted from 20th-century colonialism. The roots of Angola, however, reach far into the past. When Portuguese caravels arrived in the Congo River estuary in the late 15th century, independent African polities dotted this vast region. Some people lived in populous, hierarchical states such as the Kingdom of Kongo, but most lived in smaller political entities centered on lineage-village settlements. The Portuguese colony of Angola grew out of a settlement established at Luanda Bay in 1576. From its inception, Portuguese Angola existed to profit from the transatlantic slave trade, which became the colony’s economic foundation for the next three centuries. A Luso-African population and a creole culture developed in the colonial nuclei of Luanda and Benguela (founded 1617). The expansion of the colonial state into the interior occurred intermittently until the end of the 19th century, when Portuguese authorities initiated a series of wars of conquest that lasted up until the end of the First World War. During the 20th century, the colonial state consolidated military control over the whole territory, instituted an infrastructure of administration, and developed an economy of resource extraction. A nationalist sentiment developed among Luso-African thinkers in the early 20th century, and by the 1950s these ideas coalesced into a nationalist movement aimed at independence. Simultaneously, anticolonial movements developed among mission-educated elites in the Kikongo-speaking north and in the Umbundu-speaking central highlands. Portugal’s authoritarian New State leaders brutally suppressed these disparate nationalist movements during more than a decade of guerrilla war. A revolution in Portugal in 1974 ushered in negotiations leading to Angolan independence on November 11, 1975. Competing nationalist movements, bolstered by foreign intervention, refused to share governance and as a result plunged Angola into a brutal civil war that lasted until 2002.


Luanda: An Atlantic Port City  

Vanessa Oliveira

The connections of west-central Africa with the Atlantic world were first established in the 15th century, when a Portuguese expedition arrived in the kingdom of Kongo. By 1520, Portuguese traders reached the Mbundu state of Ndongo to the south, and in 1575 Paulo Dias de Novais established the coastal settlement of Luanda, marking the beginning of a lucrative trade in enslaved Africans that connected Luanda to the wider Atlantic world. The trade in captives became the main economic activity of the Portuguese based in Angola, and Luanda became the single most important Atlantic slaving port. In Luanda and its hinterland, interactions between foreign and local peoples gave origin to a Luso-African society, which adopted elements of European and Mbundu cultures. Previous exposure to this Atlantic creole culture was crucial for the integration of enslaved Africans to societies in Latin America. Besides supplying captives to the transatlantic slave trade, Luanda was also a slave society. Elite men and women had numerous captives in their households and in agricultural properties located in rural suburbs and in the interior. With the abolition of the slave trade in the Portuguese territories in Africa in 1836, Luanda experienced the development of the so called legitimate commerce in tropical commodities, shifting its Atlantic connections from Brazil to Europe and the United States. Meanwhile, the city was reconnected to São Tomé through a traffic of forced laborers to work on cocoa and coffee plantations.