The Kingdom of Kongo was an independent African kingdom that existed between 1390 and 1891, located in Central Africa in present-day Republic of the Congo, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. At its height, the Kingdom was one of the largest and most powerful states in sub-Saharan Africa, stretching from Gabon to Angola, spanning around 130,000 kilometers squared. It was a federation of conquered kingdoms and was ruled by a king known as Manikongo. According to oral traditions, the kingdom was founded by Lukeni lua Nimi.
Kongo’s power stemmed from its large population, which peaked at half a million people, while its capital city, Mbanza Kongo, had a population of 100,000 people. The kingdom’s structure allowed for centralization of power at the capital, and established Mbanza Kongo as a major center of trade. It profited off the production and trade of ivory, copperware, iron, raffia cloth, pottery and most notably, slaves. The trade of slaves significantly increased once the Portuguese established contact with the kingdom in the early 15th century.
Initially, the relationship between the Kingdom and Portugal was cordial, with the Manikongo embracing and creating a syncretic ‘cult’ of Christianity and building one of the oldest churches in sub-Saharan Africa: Nkulumbimbi (Cathedral of the Holy Saviour of Congo). However, over time, tensions with Portugal over the sharp increase in demand for slaves, combined with proxy wars between the Dutch and Portuguese to establish political and religious control over the region, led to a series of wars that destabilized the kingdom. Eventually, consistent civil strife in various sub-kingdoms, particularly opposition from Soyo – a powerful province within the Kingdom – led to the weakening and downfall of the Kongo Kingdom.
By Edel Were
(Image: About History)