Although the Republic of Congo has a rich and interesting history, its past is often little-known. This Central African country is also called Congo-Brazzaville, to better distinguish it from its neighboring country, Congo-Kinshasa, which is equivalent to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Congo became independent from France on August 15, 1960. However, the territory has born many other names over the years, such as the French Congo, the Moyen-Congo territory, and the People’s Republic of Congo. This article focuses on the precolonial era.
The Pygmies, a people of hunter-gatherers living in the primary forest, are regarded as the first inhabitants of the region. During our safari cruises on the rivers of the Congo, we will discover the indigenous peoples (Pygmies) and their ancestral knowledge. In the first century BC, other indigenous peoples, the Bantu, migrated from present-day Nigeria to the Congo basin. This led to the creation of the Kongo Kingdom and the Bateke Kingdom.
Bateke Kingdom (12th-1892)
This precolonial Central African Kingdom owned a large territory. It extended over eastern Gabon, western Congo, and part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The term Bateke refers to the People of the Teke since the prefix -Ba equals to the plural. The Teke, a Bantu population, founded the Bateke Kingdom in the 17th century, which was the rival of the Kongo Kingdom.
The Makoko lineage, which means “King”, continues to this day. The kingdom’s current capital is Mbe. It’s a village located in the north of Brazzaville. The queen lives in Ngabe, on the banks of the Congo River. During Ducret Expeditions cruises, we stop to greet the Queen of the Teke Kingdom.
The Teke Kingdom was not divided into clans, but was based on chieftaincy: land chief, lord, great lord of the crown and king. The most important social unit was the village. For the Tekes, religion is based on belief in the spirits of the ancestors, who are always present with humans. As for the Superior Spirit, it resides in the cliffs of the Lefini River. The god Nkwe Mbali serves the king and protects the kingdom.
Teke society lived from agriculture (corn, cassava, groundnuts, tobacco, and raffia), fishing, hunting, crafts (pottery, weaving) and trade. From the 18th century onwards, the bow and spear were replaced by the gun, and weaving declined sharply because of imported fabrics. For example, raffia cloth was used as currency in the west of the kingdom. Later, raffia was replaced by European fabrics.
Queen of Teke Kingdom
One of the kingdom’s key figures is Queen Ngalifourou Ngassie, respected sovereign and undisputed mother. Born in 1864, she was enthroned queen and succeeded her husband King Iloo I. The first Teke sovereign, this Makoko is reputed to have signed the treaty with Savorgnan De Brazza that gave birth to Brazzaville in 1880, and later to a Federation of French Equatorial Africa. The cruise includes a lecture on the Savorgnan de Brazza expedition.
The current queen is the granddaughter of the first Ngalifouru Queen, who passed away in 1956. She was buried the following year. Following the burial of the 17th Makoko Auguste Nguempio in July 2021, Queen Ngalifourou Ngantsibi appointed King Michel Ganari Nsalou 2 on November 20, 2021. Consequently, he becomes the 18th Makoko.
Kingdom of Kongo (1390-1914)
This monarchy, whose history is linked to the Republic of Congo, lasted nearly five centuries. Its territory included the DRC, Congo, Angola, and Gabon.
The Manikongo is the political leader of the Kongo People. Elected by administrative officials called “bambuta”, the Kongo king, also known as the “ntinu wa Kongo”, was responsible for the well-being and security of his people. After his election, he chose six governors for the empire’s six provinces.
According to Italian explorer Filippo Pigafetta in 1591, the provinces were as follows: Nsundi, Mbata, Mpangu, Mpemba, Mbamba and Soyo, excluding the Loango lands.
Kingdom of Loango (1550-1883)
The Kingdom of Loango today represents southern Gabon and part of southwestern Congo. The Loango region is perceived as an independent political entity of the Kongo Kingdom.
The 3 Main Provinces of the Kongo Kingdom: Nsundi, Mpangu and Mbata
The crucial Nsundi province established close relations with the royal house. Its influence inspired a royal house name that would later appear: the House of Nsundi. As for Mpangu province, its success was due to its economic importance and stability. The province of Mbata symbolized the political weight of the Kingdom of Kongo: succession to the throne, coronation of kings, burial of kings… Perceived as a sacred province, tradition demanded that the king of the kingdom find a wife from Mbata. The kingdom’s elites were more loyal to the king in this rich province because of the revenue collected through taxation.
Historical Figures of the Kongo Monarchy
Lukeni lua Nimi ruled the Kongo Monarchy from its inception in 1390. The first Manikongo, he declared Mbanza Kongo capital of the Kongo Kingdom. Between 1482 and 1506, the Manikongo converted to Catholicism named Jean I, known as Nzinga Nkuwu, decided to take over the spirituality of his kingdom.
Kongo knew several dynasties: the one of the Kwilu between 1568 and 1622, that of the House of Nsundi until 1626, then again, the Kwilu until 1636 and the House of Kinlaza until 1665, when Antoine I of Kongo became the kingdom’s last independent sovereign.
The 7 Kingdoms of Kongo dia Nlaza
The 7 Kingdoms of Kongo dia Nlaza are a confederation of Central African states. Renowned for their cloth production, they joined the Kongo Kingdom in the early 17th century. The Kongo royal archives of the 16th century are the first piece of evidence found of this potential alliance of small political entities. However, it is likely that its creation dates from earlier. A second piece of evidence from the 17th century reveals to us that these 7 kingdoms were also called the “momboares”.
According to the explanation of a Portuguese Jesuit priest, the immense production of fabrics or clothing produced by these 7 kingdoms was made from raffia or palm. Their quality was such that these products were exported to Luanda, today’s Angola, then under the aegis of the Portuguese colonial power. According to records, the 7 kingdoms exported around 100,000 meters of fabric per year, ranking them among the world’s largest textile producers at the time. Unfortunately, this historical legacy is unknown, but it describes the proud and rich heritage of the Congolese people.
Kongo Civil War (1665-1709)
There was strong rivalry between the royal families of the Kongo Kingdom, particularly among the supporters of the Kinlaza and Kimpanzu Houses, who eventually clashed. This civil war lasted 44 years. The youngest of the three brothers of the House of Água Rosada put an end to the conflict by negotiating a rotation of the devolution of the royal title between these two Houses. In so doing, he succeeded in reuniting the kingdom in 1709. His name was Pierre IV du Kongo. Having ruled from 1709 to 1718, he stipulated that the King of Kongo should be one of the descendants of the 3 Houses between Água Rosada, Kinlaza and Kimpanzu.
What Is the House of Água Rosada?
Its name refers to the Congo River and means “pink water”. This was the last royal line of the Kongo Kingdom. It lasted from the 18th to the 20th century.
This Portuguese influence changed the system from 1888. Indeed, that year, Pierre VI du Kongo, the last sovereign of the Kongo Kingdom, signed a treaty of vassalage with Portugal. He had already sworn allegiance to Portugal in 1860, but gradually opened the doors to Portuguese colonization. His long reign lasted from 1859 to 1891. In the end, the Kongo region became part of Portuguese Angola and the independent state of Congo, which is the current DRC.
Fall of the Kongo Kingdom
After the revolt of 1913-1914, the title of “King of the Kongo” disappeared under a Portuguese decision. The Kongo monarchy came to an end in 1914 with Manuel III of Kongo, who became the last king of the Kongo Kingdom.
For more information, we recommend the following websites:
– L’Histoire du Congo lue dans les cartes géographiques, Fonds Documentaire du Centre ORSTOM de Pointe Noire, 1993 by Pierre RAT PATRON (specialist in Geography who spent a year and two months in Congo in 1992-1993) = a 37-page PDF in French with 30 maps.
– La Fondation du Royaume ses limites territoriales aux XVe et XVIie siècles. In L’ancien royaume du Congo des origines à la fin du XIXe siècle. Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales = That text from the first chapter is in French.