Angola and The Wiko

Migrants into our region from the west came from present-day Angola.  I am going to give you a short history of Angola so that you can understand a bit about the story of our migrants we named as Wiko – coming from the west.  They are the Luvale, the Chokwe, the Luchazi and the Mbunda.

Angola starts with the Kongo Empire.  This empire was where the Portuguese made their first trading post along the west coast of Africa in the late 1400s.  And, this is the first time we have written records of the history of this region.

The Kongo Kingdom was centralised and powerful, dominating the region.  The surrounding tribes were forced to pay tribute to them.  The people of the Kongo were initially happy with incoming Portuguese who increased their power and trading potential.  But by the mid-1600s, the Kongo Empire started to decline.  The reasons for this are several. There was an internal succession dispute and also wars were being waged with their neighbours and with the Portuguese.  From this time onwards the empire became decentralised and their power diminished.  By 1850 the kingdom was totally controlled by the Portuguese. 

Map of the west coast in 1757

Further south were the Ovimbundu of Benguela.  The Ovimbundu did not live along the coast; they lived on the highlands inland.  They were known to be excellent farmers and great traders even before the incoming Portuguese.  By the late 1600s, the Ovimbundu had made contact with the Portuguese and became one of their main intermediaries for trade.  Some of them later became known as the Mambari; the traders who were named coming in to our region.

Missionaries accompanied the Portuguese traders and introduced their Catholic religion.  From then, the people gradually became Catholic with a mixture of traditional beliefs.  

The Portuguese introduced commercial slave trading with slaves being shipped overseas, mainly to Brazil, for vast sugar plantations which had been set up in the mid-1500s.  Previously, slave trading had been a way of life for the Bantu people but was unlike the commercial scale of the Portuguese.  Even some missionaries joined in the collection and trading of slaves.  This led to conflict between the Portuguese and the Bantu, and among different tribes of the Bantu.  The Portuguese slave trade started small but soon gained momentum with, it is said, 40,000 slaves being exported from Angola each year in the late 1700s. 

From Merchants and the Business of the Slave Trade at Benguela, 1750-1850, Mariana Candido:

According to Joseph C Miller, pombeiros were the folk heroes of Portuguese Angola, idealized as intrepid path breakers in the wilderness … Although the term initially referred to Portuguese males, it later came to refer to mulatto and black traders.  By the second half of the seventeenth century, those identified as pombeiros were usually slaves of Portuguese traders who conducted business in the interior on behalf of their masters.

In 1764, Captain Manoel da Costa Pinheiro bought 410 slaves from 27 different traders … Two negociantes (licensed trader), Lieutenant Colonel Inácio Ruiz da Cruz and Captain José M Santa Torre, sold 150 slaves, representing more than one third of the shipment.  Another five coastal traders sold 172 slaves: Second-Lieutenant Manoel Dias Leite, who traded 46; José de Ferreira and the Reverend Manoel Gomes who sold 27 slaves each.  A small boy was among the slaves Reverend Gomes sold. …

The Portuguese controlled the coastline but did not themselves venture far inland, using the local people to capture slaves and to control the routes inland.  To this end, the local people formed large armies under warlords to join in the trade.  This led to battles between clans and between the clans and the Portuguese.  These armies on the march had to be fed as they moved and would often plunder villagers’ farms, leaving them with nothing to eat.  This led to the migration of many pastoralists who ran away to the east.

From The Roots of Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa, Robin Palmer, Neil Parsons:

As the seculo shouted kwacha!, it’s dawn, the village camp, which had been a hive of activity, would see one more outburst of apparent confusion as each man rushed to his olomango and loaded up.  With the seculo in the lead, the caravan was on its way.  The men would break spontaneously into song, usually descriptive of the journey ahead.  The caravans must have been impressive sights.  The largest one ever recorded in East and Central Africa left Bié for the coast in 1873, comprising some 20,000 people.

The official end of the slave trade came in 1830 but continued illegally for many years.  Unlike on the east coast (Mozambique) where the slave trade continued until the end of the 1800s, the trade along the west coast was curtailed (although not stopped altogether) because European ships patrolled the coastline to enforce the abolition.  This however did not end the slave trade internally.

In fact, the slave trade (then slaves were entitled ‘servants’) continued in Angola until 1909 when international pressure ended it.  The ‘servants’ were used as porters to carry loads of elephant tusks, beeswax, rubber and then later became forced labour on estates and in factories.

We therefore have to view the history of Angola with their story between 1550 to 1850 being dominated by the slave trade.  The Portuguese did not trade in any other commodity very much until the mid-1800s when they switched to rubber as their main export.

When the Scramble for Africa happened in the 1890s, the Portuguese did not control large parts of Angola and had no presence there.  But they set about subduing the inland tribes to confirm their ‘ownership’ of the land.  Even some battles were still ongoing into the 1900s. 

The Portuguese did vie for the interior of Africa (during the Scramble) between Angola and Mozambique; their plan was to join the two colonies.  The map below shows their aspirations (Mapa do Território Português em África, 1890).  Fortunately for us in Zambia this did not happen.  Portugal was becoming weaker as every year passed and it is clear that the British claims outweighed the Portuguese ones.