Angola Table of Contents

The Demographic Situation

As the spheres of interest in the African interior became clarified, European nations turned to fulfilling the obligation imposed by the Berlin Conference of effectively occupying all territories claimed. For Portugal, meeting this obligation involved not only the conquest of the independent African kingdoms of the interior but also an attempt to settle Portuguese farmers.

Immigration in the late nineteenth century was discouraged by the same conditions that had deterred it earlier: a difficult climate and a lack of economic development. Although there were less than 10,000 whites in Angola in 1900 (most of whom were degredados), there was a substantial increase in white female immigration; the male-to-female ratio that year was a bit more than two to one. Concomitantly, there was a drop in the ratio of mestišos to whites; whereas mestišos had outnumbered whites in 1845 by more than three to one, in 1900 this ratio was reversed. Africans still constituted more than 99 percent of the population in 1900. Their numbers reportedly declined from an estimated 5.4 million in 1845 to about 4.8 million in 1900, although scholars dispute these figures. Whites were concentrated in the coastal cities of Luanda and Benguela. In addition to farming and fishing, Europeans engaged in merchant activities in the towns and trade in the bush. In the south, colonies of farmers who had settled earlier in the century had dwindled into small outposts, as many settlers returned to Luanda.

In the late nineteenth century, Africans controlled trade in the plateaus of the interior, despite Portuguese expansion. The Ovimbundu proved highly successful intermediaries on the southern trade route that ran from the BiÚ Plateau to Benguela. The Ovimbundu were more competitive than the sertanejos (people of the frontier, as Europeans and their representatives in the rural areas were called), who often had to pay tribute and fines to African chiefs through whose territory they traveled. By the mid1880s , the Ovimbundu by and large had replaced the sertanejos. The Chokwe and Imbangala also took advantage of their positions in the interior to extend their control over the region's trade. Nonetheless, by the late 1800s Portuguese encroachments and the imposition of European rule limited the political freedom of these Africans and diminished their prosperity.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress