Kongo Kingdom

Kongo Kingdom(1395 to 1857) was a central African kingdom located in present day Democratic Republic of Congo, near the lower Congo River. Kongo like other African Atlantic coastal kingdoms engage in massive slaving. Thousand were exported from the port of Mpinda, south banks of the Congo River.  


The lower Congo River was being settled around the twelth century by the ancestors of the Bakongo(kongo). Farming communities began to sprang up. The soil located between forest and savannah area was rich and fertile. Food surpluses were common.  

By the 1400, the farming communities were united under one kingdom and king called the manikongo, with his capital Mbanza Congo. Lukeni Nimi of the Bungu Kingdom with an alliance of the mwisikongo, the clan chiefs, united the Bakongo farming communities. Kongo was divided into six provinces: Mpemba, Soyo, Mbamba, Mbata, Nsundi, Mpangu. Mpemba, Soyo, and Mbamba were the richest and influential. Kingdom stability depended on the latter three working in harmony. At the arrival of the Portuguese, it is estimated Kongo had a population of three million.

Timeline of Kongo Kingdom

1483 Kongo makes contact with Portuguese, Diogo Cão
1491 João I converts to christianity
1506-1509 Afonso Mvemba a Nzingo becomes king
1518 Henrique Kinu a Mvemba made bishop in Europe
1509-1542 Afonso I assumes the throne
1542-1550 kingdom hurled into dynastic chaos
1550-1561 Diogo Mpudi a Nzingo assumes the throne, brings 
1561 Afonso II assumes the throne
1561-1567 Bernardo I assumes the throne, overthrew Afonso
1567-1568 Henrique I assumes the throne,dies while fighting Tio in east
1568 dynastic dispute set off with Henrique's death, Alvaro I takes
1571 Jaga invasion, Portuguese assisted Alvaro in regaining throne
1579 Álvaro assist Portuguese in quest to conquer Ndongo
1580s Álvaro extended the empire eastward, renames Mbanza Congo, São Salvador
1587-1614 Álvaro II Mpanzu a Nimi son of Alvaro assumes throne
1614-1622 Alvaro III Nimi a Mpanzu assumes throne after much resistance
1622 Pedro II Nkanga a Mvika elected after compromise
1624-1626 Garcia I Mvemba a Nkanga, overthrown when tried to force appointment
1626-1631 Ambrósio Nimi a Nkanga assumes throne kandas began ruling individual provinces 
1631-1636 Álvaro IV Nzinga a Nkuwu took over the throne
1636 Álvaro V deposed 
1636-1641 Álvaro VI assumes the throne,
1641-1661 Garcia II assumes the throne
1661 António Vita Nkanga assumes the throne
1665 Battle of Mbwila(Ulanga) , Kongo defeated, Antonio dead
1665 King António I Vita a Nkanga died at Battle of Mbwila-Ulanga
1665 Portuguese Angola tried to control Kingdom of Mbwila
1665 António death sparked dynastic dispute, Soyo supporting 
Kimpanzu kandas, Kongo supporting Kinlaza kandas.
1665-1666 Álvaro VII a Mpandu on throne
1666-1668 Álvaro VIII Mvemba a Mpanzu on throne
1668-1670 Pedro III Nkanga a Mpanzu  on throne, a kinlaza
1669-1670 Kimpanzu Álvaro IX Mpanzu a Ndbwila 
1670 Pedro fled to south founding kingdom with capital@Lemba
1670 Rafael I Nzinga a Nkanga request aid from Portugues, defeated in Battle of Kitombo, Rafael sought destruction of Soyo and Kimpanzu kandas

Each province had its own army and lead by the governor. Kongo united could produce an army of 80,000 men. During battle, the manikongo would lead the army, with governors directing their individual provincial force. 

The kingdom collected tribute and used a shell currency called the nzimbu. Kongo controlled the harvesting of the nzimbu shells on the island of Luanda. The kingdom weaved raffia, forged metals such as copper and iron, engaged in crafts such as pottery and basket making. With its control of nzimbu production, surrounding kingdoms came under its influence: Ndembu, Mbwila, Bungu, Kakongo, and Loango. By the 1500s, it was an empire that stretched from the Atlantic coast to the Kwango River.


Mbanza Congo was the capital of the Kingdom of Kongo with a population of 30,000 plus. It sat on a cliff with river below and forested valley. The King's dwelling was describe as a mile and half enclosure with walled pathways, courtyard, gardens, decorated huts, and palisades. One early explorer described it in terms of a Cretan labyrinth.

Portuguese Arrival

The Portuguese first arrived in 1483. They took Kongo ambassadors to the Portuguese court and later returned to Kongo, bringing back missionaries and European goods to the kingdom in 1491. Manikongo Nzinga a Nkuwu was baptized, but later rejected Chrisitianity. His successor, Manikongo Nzinga Mbembe (Afonso I), made Christianity the official state religion. The slave trade also began to increase. Slaves and ivory would be exchanged for European goods and guns. Slaves would be taken from nearby kingdoms, who would retaliate. The region would become more and more unstable.


Between 1568-1569, Kongo was invaded by the Jaga, who pillaged and sacked the kingdom. The manikongo was sent into exile. The reason for the invasion is not clear. It is believed that prolonged draught caused the Jaga to engaged in raiding or maybe the demand for slave and tribute from Kongo had taken a toll on the Jaga population. In 1574, Manikongo Alvaro I was reinstated to the throne with Portuguese assistance. The kingdom continued its trade in slaves, which was further entrenched with the arrival of the Dutch. The manikongo's authority slowly diminished and during the seventeenth century the kingdom split into factions. 

The kingdom would be united later in 1709, under Pedro IV, but never experience its previous glory.

Works Cited

Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.(1999). Africana: the Encyclopedia of African and African American Experience. Basic Civitas Books, pp. 550-551. ISBN 0-465-00071-1. 

Shillington, Kevin (2005). History of Africa. Revised 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 192-193. ISBN 0-333-59957-8

Ehret, Christopher (2002). The Civilizations of Africa. Charlottesville: University of Virginia, ISBN 0-8139-2085-X.