Matamba and Kasanje Kingdoms

Angola Table of Contents

As Portugal became preoccupied with the Ndongo Kingdom as a source of slaves, two inland Mbundu states--Matamba and Kasanje-- prospered. Little is known of Matamba before the seventeenth century, but in 1621 Nzinga (called Jinga by the Portuguese), the sister of the ngola a kiluanje, convinced the Portuguese to recognize Ndongo as an independent monarchy and to help the kingdom expel the Imbangala people from its territory. Three years later, according to some sources, Nzinga poisoned her brother and succeeded him as monarch. Unable to negotiate successfully with a series of Portuguese governors, however, she was eventually removed. Nzinga and many of her followers traveled east and forged alliances with several groups. She finally ascended to the throne of the Matamba Kingdom. From this eastern state, she pursued good relations with the Dutch during their occupation of the area from 1641 to 1648 and attempted to reconquer Ndongo. After the Dutch expulsion, Nzinga again allied with the Portuguese. A dynamic and wily ruler, Nzinga dominated Mbundu politics until she died in 1663. Although she dealt with the Europeans, in modern times Nzinga has been remembered by nationalists as an Angolan leader who never accepted Portuguese sovereignty.

After Nzinga's death, a succession struggle ensued, and the new ruler tried to reduce Portuguese influence. Following their practice with the Ndongo, the Portuguese forced him out and placed their own candidate, Kanini, on the throne. Kanini coveted the nearby kingdom of Kasanje--peopled by Mbundu but ruled by Imbangala--for its role in the slave trade. Once he had consolidated power, in 1680 Kanini successfully moved against Kasanje, which was undergoing a succession crisis of its own. Kanini's defeat of the Kasanje state made his Portuguese benefactors realize that as his empire expanded, Kanini was increasingly threatening their own slaving interests. Subsequently, Kanini defeated a Portuguese military expedition sent against him, although he died soon after. In 1683 Portugal negotiated with the new Matamba queen to halt further attempts to conquer Kasanje territory and, because of mounting competition from other European powers, convinced her to trade exclusively with Portugal.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress