Portugese intervention in the West
Looking for status
A powerful ruler
This Manikongo, or king, resided over 300 km inland at Mbanza Kongo, and yet everyone knew him and paid tribute to him at the coast. So for the Portuguese there was a leader to negotiate with, who had authority over many people, in a region with great commercial potential. The main commodities were ivory and copper, and of course slaves. Slaves were an important aspect of that trade from the beginning, but the Portuguese also imported silver and peppers.
The newly named Dom Joao I took possession of an entourage of carpenters and masons, large amounts of European cloth, a selection of horses and cattle, and a piece of revolutionary technology: a printing press, complete with two German printers. The first printing press had only been invented forty years earlier.
Aside from the Dutch, British and French appearing on the scene in the 17th century, a host of other communities and groups tapped into the trade network, both on the east and west of the continent. Increasingly, these traders acted independently of both the Portuguese crown and traders based in Lisbon.
Later, Affonso's son, Henrique, was to become the first black Bishop in the Catholic Church.
The Franciscan missionary Rui d'Aguiar was amazed at King Affonso's piety and dedication:
"It seems to me from the way he speaks he is not a man, but an angel, sent by the Lord in this kingdom to convert it. For I assure you, it is he who instructs us. He devotes himself entirely to study, so that it often happens that he falls asleep at his books, and often he forgets to eat and drink in talking of the things of our Lord."
In 1512 the King of Portugal ordered a coat of arms be drawn up for the Manikongo. But good will between kings and the piety of the newly converted king were not enough to deal with the rush of commercial greed which soon enveloped the Kongo.
The demand for manpower in the New World meant the slave trade soon took over all other commercial transactions, and it attracted a mass of rootless, ruthless entrepreneurs, some BaKongo, or neighbours of the BaKongo, some Portuguese and people from mixed races.
Greed and profit
"He sold our goods at the lowest price possible. With the money he bought a slave from Goa and another. He sent us them in one of the first ships, saying they were the carpenters. At the same time he sent us some blue cloth all gnawed by rats... all this we have been able to endure because of the love of our Jesus Christ."
Later on in Affonso's reign, it was obvious that whatever the initial rewards in terms of material goods and skills, the slave trade was beginning to undermine the fabric of the kingdom. On 18th October 1526, Affonso complained to the Portuguese King. He claimed the slave trade was robbing the country of its best men.
"Sir, there is in our kingdom, a great obstacle to God. Many of our subjects crave the Portuguese merchandise which your people bring to our kingdom so keenly. In order to satisfy their crazy appetite they snatch our free subjects, or people who have been freed.
They even take noblemen and the sons of noblemen, even our kinsmen. They sell them to white men who are in our kingdom, after having transported their prisoners on the sly in the dead of night. Then the prisoners are branded. The white men... cannot say from whom they have bought the prisoners."
As the 17th century proceeded, the voracious demands of the slave trade and the breakdown of loyalty among Kongo's client states, all conspired to undermine the position of the Manikongo. The special relationship between the BaKongo and the Portuguese turned sour, as alliances and enmities increasingly turned solely on profit.
In 1665 the Kongo army was defeated by the Portuguese at the battle of Mbwila. The head of the Manikongo was cut off and put in the chapel situated on the bay of Luanda.
Her following attracted jealousy and criticism. She was burnt at the stake for heresy, along with her baby son in 1706. Pedro IV, ruler of the Kimbungu, ordered her death with the encouragement of Catholic priests.
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