Reference Entry

Mbanza Kongo Capital city of the kingdom of Kongo; renamed São Salvador by Afonso I.

John Thornton

in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195170559
Mbanza Kongo Capital city of the kingdom of Kongo; renamed São Salvador by Afonso I.

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The city of Mbanza Kongo was the capital of the kingdom of Kongo and is one of the oldest cities still existing in sub-Saharan Africa. It is located on the flat top of a steep-sided mountain, at about 600 meters elevation, and commands the countryside around it. Lacking any full archaeological exploration, the age of the city is uncertain, but it became the capital of Kongo when the kingdom was founded by Lukeni lua Nimi around 1390. By the 1490s, when Europeans first visited the region, they compared it to the Portuguese city of Evora. In the early sixteenth century King Afonso I had a wall, palace, and several churches built in stone when he made Christianity the official religion of the realm. In 1549 Jesuits built the church of São Salvador, which became the seat of the bishop of Kongo when the Catholic Church created the office in 1596. This church, which still stands, is known locally as Nkulumbimbi and according to legend was built overnight by angels. The city was known as São Salvador from about 1570 until 1975 when the newly independent Angolan government changed the name back to M’banza Congo.At its height during the reign of Garcia II (1641–1661), the city and its immediate hinterland in the valley below may have numbered as many as 60,000 inhabitants, though it was never densely settled. The city was sacked several times during the civil war that followed Kongo’s defeat at the Battle of Mbwila, in 1665, and abandoned following the looting of the city by King Pedro III Nkanga Mpanzu in 1678. Several kings sought to reoccupy the city in subsequent years; it was widely believed that no king could be recognized unless he ruled from the capital. The city was reoccupied in 1705 by the followers of Beatriz Kimpa Vita (later known as Dona Beatrice), leader of a religious movement. In 1709, following a battle against Constaninho da Silva, King Pedro IV (1694–1718) formally reoccupied the city and restored the kingdom. Except for brief periods, the city was never again abandoned.The number of city inhabitants fluctuated widely during the following centuries, as occasional civil wars depopulated the region or restorations repopulated it. In 1885 Pedro V accepted Portuguese vassalage, and a Portuguese armed force and governor entered the city. Following a revolt led by a dissident noble named Tulante Buta in 1914, the kingdom of Kongo was abolished and the city became the capital of the administrative district of Congo. Subsequent reorganizations took place during colonial rule, and the city is currently the capital of Zaire Province in Angola. It was sacked several times during the Angolan civil war, the last time in 1998. The city contains the provincial high school and hospital, government buildings, and the Royal Museum of Kongo, which holds a number of artifacts of the old kingdom. Population was estimated in 2009 at 30,768 people.

Reference Entry.  502 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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