|Angola Table of Contents
Shortly after Cão made his initial contact with the Kongo Kingdom of northern Angola in 1483, he established links farther south with Ndongo--an African state less advanced than Kongo that was made up of Kimbundu-speaking people. Their ruler, who was tributary to the manikongo, was called the ngola a kiluanje. It was the first part of the title, its pronunciation changed to "Angola," by which the Portuguese referred to the entire area.
Throughout most of the sixteenth century, Portugal's relations with Ndongo were overshadowed by its dealings with Kongo. Some historians, citing the disruptions the Portuguese caused in Kongo society, believe that Ndongo benefited from the lack of Portuguese interest. It was not until after the founding of Luanda in 1576 that Portugal's exploration into the area of present-day Angola rivaled its trade and commerce in Kongo. Furthermore, it was only in the early seventeenth century that the importance of the colony Portugal established came to exceed that of Kongo.
Although officially ignored by Lisbon, the Angolan colony was the center of disputes, usually concerning the slave trade, between local Portuguese traders and the Mbundu people, who inhabited Ndongo. But by mid-century, the favorable attention the ngola received from Portuguese trade or missionary groups angered the manikongo, who in 1556 sent an army against the Ndongo Kingdom. The forces of the ngola defeated the Kongo army, encouraging him to declare his independence from Kongo and appeal to Portugal for military support. In 1560 Lisbon responded by sending an expedition to Angola, but in the interim the ngola who had requested Portuguese support had died, and his successor took captive four members of the expedition. After the hostage taking, Lisbon routinely employed military force in dealing with the Ndongo Kingdom. This resulted in a major eastward migration of Mbundu people and the subsequent establishment of other kingdoms.
Following the founding of Luanda, Paulo Dias carried out a series of bloody military campaigns that contributed to Ndongo resentment of Europeans. Dias founded several forts east of Luanda, but--indicative of Portugal's declining status as a world power--he was unable to gain firm control of the land around them. Dias died in 1579 without having conquered the Ndongo Kingdom.
Dias's successors made slow progress up the Cuanza River, meeting constant African resistance. By 1604 they reached Cambambe, where they learned that the presumed silver mines did not exist. The failure of the Portuguese to find mineral wealth changed their outlook on the Angolan colony. Slave taking, which had been incidental to the quest for the mines, then became the major economic motivation for expansion and extension of Portuguese authority. In search of slaves, the Portuguese pushed farther into Ndongo country, establishing a fort a short distance from Massangano, itself about 175 kilometers east of Angola's Atlantic coast. The consequent fighting with the Ndongo generated a stream of slaves who were shipped to the coast. Following a period of Ndongo diplomatic initiatives toward Lisbon in the 1620s, relations degenerated into a state of war.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress