Kongo is one of Africa’s oldest and best-documented kingdoms. Historians estimate that the kingdom’s territory at its peak extended from what is now Angola to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. The locals’ version of events, on the other hand, includes modern-day Gabon, Namibia, and even Zambia.
This claim is supported by cultural parallels between the countries involved. It is thought that the kingdom arose from the disintegration of an ancient kingdom known as Bangu, which was located on the north bank of the Congo River.
As indicated earlier, the Kingdom of Kongo is arguably one of the largest kingdoms on the African continent yet its expansion was not a result of military conquests, according to a report by Rebecca Bayeck, Ph.D. The kingdom didn’t have an army and mercenaries but royal guards who protected the court.
The kingdom expanded by convincing neighboring states to join it. Other kingdoms were welcome to join the Kongo Kingdom and become provinces as long as they promised to follow the rules. They could also leave the monarchy without being harmed.
Intermarriage among the people also contributed to this growth. According to oral traditions, Nima a Nzima of the Mpemba Kasi married Luqueni Luansanze of the Mbata in 1390 C.E. in a political marriage that sealed the union between the two KiKongo-speaking peoples and led to the establishment of the Kingdom. The kingdom’s power peaked in the middle of the 1600s.
The kingdom of Kongo, which had a population of over 2 million people, benefited greatly from the trade of ivory, copper, salt, cattle hides, and slaves. Weavers, potters, and metalworkers in the kingdom not only imported but also produced goods, including the famous Kongo raffia fabrics.
The Kongo kingdom was highly centralized, with a single monarch known as the nkani presiding over his domain and appointing regional governors. These governors, in turn, nominated regional leaders and collected tribute from regional chiefs, such as ivory, millet, palm wine, and leopard and lion skins, which they then delivered to the monarch in Mbanza Kongo, the Kongo capital.
Because there was no line of succession to the throne among the Bakongo, any Mukongo (Kongo kingdom citizen) could run for and be elected king. The kingdom was divided into 12 provinces, each governed by a governor appointed by the monarch. Soyo, Ngoyo, Kakono, Loango, Mpumbu, Matamba, Ndongo, Nsundi, Mbamba, Mpemba, Mpangu, and Mbata were the provinces.
Each of the 12 finalists for the throne was given a position by the kingdom. All twelve candidates were promised a noble title, such as Mani (a term for a monarch or other person in authority) or Ne.
“The title Mani or Ne was either followed by the name of the candidate’s district, province, or function for those who held positions in the royal court. For instance, Ne Mampandu was the Ne of Mampandu,” Bayeck writes.
Decline of Kongo Kingdom
Around the sixteenth century CE, the Portuguese, frustrated by Kongo’s trade laws, shifted their focus south to the region of Ndongo, hastening the decline of the kingdom, as stated by worldhistory.org. Ndongo’s army had already defeated Kongo’s in 1556 CE, the platform added. Also, popular unrest was brewing against the Kongo rulers as the populace hated the fact that they were being taxed so much by an aristocracy eager to purchase imported luxury items.
Furthermore, as the number of European traders in the region increased, particularly after the Dutch arrived in the early 17th century, it became difficult for the king to maintain the loyalty of the regional governors, resulting in Kongo’s drastic power decline.