Kongo

Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Kongo issued to King Affonso I Photo: Antonio Godinho

Kongo was a kingdom situated in what is now Northern Angola, between the Congo river and the Atlantic Ocean, and stretching inland to the start of the Congo basin. It emerged in the late 14th century at the centre of trade routes in the region, and was firmly established before the Portuguese arrived to trade in the late 15th century.

Kongo had a deep history throughout the period of Atlantic trade. It despatched ambassadors to Brazil and the Vatican, and members of its ruling family trained as priests in seminaries in Portugal. It became a powerful kingdom through the 16thc entury, and both influenced cultural practices moving into the Atalntnic world, and was influenced by them. However in the late 17th century it fell into decline after a series of civil wars prompted by conflict over Atlantic trade.

Crucifix, Kongo peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 17th century, Copper alloy. Photo: Antonio Godinho

Kongo had therefore globalised and incorporated outside influences, yet Kongo culture remained resolutely Kongolese throughout. This experience of pluralism and cultural retention would stand the societies of West-Central Africa in good stead to retain their vitality when colonialism began almost two centuries later. Postcolonial nations such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo grew from a core of a very strong, deep-rooted, and yet globalised peoples and cultures.