There have been many giants in the history of African people. But what else would you expect from God’s chosen people? In his extraordinary book The Destruction of Black Civilization, Chancellor Williams touches on the life of one of Africa’s greatest champions. Her name was Nzinga.
In 1488, when the Portuguese arrived at the mouth of the Congo River in central-west Africa, they had dreams of creating a great empire that would stretch across Africa and India.
When the Portuguese encountered the kingdom of Kongo, they were surprised at the level of sophistication of its administrative and political structure. The Kongo’s economic system of agriculture and handicraft industries were organized into guilds, and its trade with neighboring states made it a prosperous nation. Kongo traded with nations to its east, west and north. The states to the south of Kongo, which would later become Angola, were troubled by the influx of Portuguese immigrants settling on the coast, nearby islands, and now moving up the river toward the interior.
These settler population centers allowed the Portuguese to establish strongholds on the Angolan northern border, the seacoast, the off-shore islands, and inside the Kongo kingdom itself. They did not come with guns blazing, or they would have been speedily ejected from the continent. Instead, they came with smiling faces and the extended hand of friendship. Always careful to observe the rules of diplomacy, the Portuguese masked their true intentions behind promises of spiritual and material wealth for the people of Kongo. They painted a picture of their monarch and nation as the greatest in the world, made so by a religion that allowed them to reach the pinnacle of civilization. The Portuguese went on to explain how the Supreme Pontiff would welcome them into the Christian fold, and would even send missionaries to help make Kongo the greatest kingdom in Africa.
Using similar tactics, the Portuguese aggressively pursued a policy of divide and conquer. They kept the Blacks fighting among themselves by forming alliances with various opposing chiefs throughout the country. They would then have the chiefs supply them with captives for the slave market. To obtain their human booty, neighboring chiefs had to launch raids into each other’s territory. These shortsighted fools provided the Portuguese with these captives in exchange for weapons and trinkets. As an added incentive, African chiefs knew that failure to meet their slave quota meant that they themselves would be sold into slavery.
The Portuguese stepped up this process in 1608 by demanding more slaves from provincial chiefs. To meet this demand, chiefs asked for more arms and raided neighboring chiefdoms more often. They eventually began to abduct their own people. The increased warfare between chiefdoms exacerbated the already widespread anxiety, fear, distrust and depopulation.
In part two: The coming of a savior.