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Kingdom of Loango

The term Loango coast describes a historically significant area of West Central Africa extending from Cape Lopez or Cape Catherine in Gabon to Luanda in Angola. Ki-Kongo-speaking groups inhabited the West Central African region then known as the Loango Coast. Within this region, Loango was the name of a kingdom, a province, and a port.

Once linked to the powerful Kongo Kingdom, the Loango Kingdom was dominated by the Villi, a Kongo people who migrated to the coastal region during the 1300s. Loango became an independent state probably in the late 1300s or early 1400s. With two other Kongo-related kingdoms, Kakongo, and Ngoyo (present day Cabinda), it became one of the most important trading states north of the Congo River.

It was probably during the fifteenth century that a number of small states were incorporated to form the kingdom of Loango. The main ethnic group within the kingdom was the Vili, a sub¬group of the Kongo. The kingdom was divided into several provinces, but it did not achieve the high degree of centralization found in the Kongo kingdom. Kingly succession was determined on a terri¬torial basis, each province having a designated position in the line of succession. Each time a king died and was succeeded by the governor of the highest ranking province, all the governors rotated to a higher post. Lesser officials could not be dismissed by the king.

By the eighteenth century the social stratification in the kingdom of Loango had changed in response to the slave trade. The Vili opened trade routes to the interior, exchanging slaves and tobacco with the Teke. An individual's power and status fluctuated with the number of slaves under his control. Slaves destined for export, how¬ever, were distinguished from domestic slaves. The domestic slave population grew so much that some wealthy African slaveowners established their own villages, and political offices were created to direct activities associated with the slave trade. Some of these officials eventually gained enough power to challenge the king's authority.

The kingdom of Loango outlived that of the Kongo but suffered a similar end. During the nineteenth century the local chiefs and village headmen consolidated their authority and managed to establish their own independent political units. The state structure and the influence of the aristocrats gradually dissolved as the European powers eliminated the slave trade. By the beginning of the present century the kingdom had disintegrated.

A common social structure was shared by people in the coastal kingdoms of Loango, Kakongo, Ngoyo, Vungu, and the Yombe chiefdoms; the Teke federation in the east and the Nsundi societies on either side of the Zaire River from the Matadi/Vungu area in the west to Mapumbu of Malebo pool in the east. The provincial regions, districts, and villages each had chiefs and a hierarchical system through which tribute flowed upward to the King of the Kongo and rewards flowed downward. Each regional clan or group had a profession or craft, such as weaving, basket making, potting, iron working, and so on. Tribute and trade consisted of natural resources, agricultural products, textiles, other material cultural artifacts and cowries shells.

The country subject to the king of Loango extended from the Zaire or Congo, on the south, to Cape St. Catherine, a coast of upwards of 400 miles; but Loango proper occupied only the middle part, excluding Mayomba on one side, and Malemba on the other. The climate was described as fine, rain of rare occurrence, and never violent, but dews abundant; the soil a red stiff clay and very fertile, but little cultivated; the grains are manioc, maize, and a species of pulse, called msangen; the sugar cane grows to a great size ; palmtrees are abundant; also potatoes and yams, and the finest fruits grow wild. Among the animals were tyger-cats, ounces, hyamas, hares, and antelopes.

On the coast of Loango, low-lying country alternates with hilly tracts, while towards the interior park-like undulating country gives place, as it rose gradually to the mountainous zone of Mayombe, to increasingly dense forest. The modern alluvium is traversed by bands of quartz, but this only contains traces of iron and copper, not gold, though this has been found in the conglomerate of the Kwilu. Iron (haematite) is the most plentiful mineral.

A large number of petty states originally existed upon the coast of Loango, until a prince belonging to Zerri in Kacongo subjugated the larger portion of these states and made Loango his capital. The town is said to have had a population of 15,000. In the south, Kacongo, or Malimba, and Ngoyo, or Kabinda, maintained their independence in certain respects; but the other parts of the country were in no very close connection with their suzerain.

The power of the rulers varied with the prestige which they were able to maintain, and a strongly centralised organisation was rather the exception than the rule. At some period in the last part of the sixteenth century, at any rate before 1648, the date of the arrival of the Portuguese, Loango is said to have been a province of Congo, though there is no certain information as to the nature of the relationship.

The Portuguese who entered Loango in the 17th century. The influence of the Portuguese Christianity did not make itself felt until a comparatively late period. The king of Loango was certainly converted about the middle of the seventeenth century by a zealous missionary; but as both missionary and convert died shortly afterward, no permanent result was effected. It was not until the year 1766 that missionaries again entered the country. On this occasion they were a French party, and settled in Kacongo.

Meanwhile, the kingdom of Loango was entirely overshadowed by its powerful and prosperous neighbor, Congo. For a time, indeed, it appeared, as if Congo was to be a “Christian state, and to become. the starting-point whence Christianity and European civilisation were not so much to conquer as to overspread the Dark Continent. But it became apparent only too quickly that the seed which had so rapidly sprung up could bring forth no fruit; it was in turn choked and destroyed by the growth of native weeds.

The central province of Loango — Buali — contained the town and sacred grove (Chibila) of the elected ruler or "Maloango." It is surrounded by three coast and three interior provinces, the latter adjoining the Mayombe country ("land of slaves"), inhabited by tho Bakunu and Basundi, both of whom own allegiance to the chief of Loango.

Each of the six provinces was ruled by a chief, whose title is formed by the prefix "Ma" (=Mani Fumu, "son of a prince ") placed before the name of the province. With the paramount chief, and with each of these minor chiefs, a ruler called Mambona (always a slave) was associated, who is in some ways on an equal footing with the first. Each province is divided into townships, each under a "Kongozovo." This subdivision was closely connected with the religious and social system of the people. While the native kingdom to the south of the Congo had long been a prey to anarchy, and Eakongo and the Bateke country have shared the same fate, Loango alone preserved its ancient form and traditions, owing, the people say, to the protection afforded by the Mayombe forests.

The vice-kingdom of Kakongo, lying just north of the Congo river, which, together with Loango and still more remote districts to the north-east, was considered to have been an integral part of the old Congo kingdom at the height of its power. One of the Kakongo provinces, Ngoyo, was, in fact, the "mother province," as Sonyo, south of the Congo, was the "father province" of that kingdom. It was the inhabitants of this province who have become generally known as Muserongo (a corruption of Mu-si-Ngoyo, "a man of Ngoyo"). By around 1900 the country was traversed by four roads, called by the people Nzila Nyambi, or "Godmade roads," which ran north, south, east, and west from the central province of Kakongo.

The country was thinly inhabited; the population was estimated around 1800 by Degrandpre at 600,000. The inhabitants were very indolent, and lived in the most simple manner. Their houses were formed of straw and junk, roofed with palm leaves. The government was despotic, and the dignity was transmitted only in the female line.

Loango, city &. capital of Loango, on a river which forms a bay at its mouth, about 6 miles from the Atlantic. It was about 4 miles in circuit, containing only about 600 inclosures, in each of which there is a number of cottages, and the inhabitants are computed at 15,000.

Banza Loango, the capital, had long, straight, clean streets, and about 1500 inhabitants, who were tolerably industrious. The face of the country in Loango is diversified with mountains and plains. It was a considerable market for slaves, who were brought from various countries in the interior.

Almost the only object for which Europeans resorted to this coast was the trade in slaves. While Loango was in the height of its power, its port was almost the exclusive theatre of this trade, but by the early 19th Century Mayomba, Malemba, and Cabenda are equally visited. The slaves brought to Loango for sale were partly Mayombas, partly Quibangas, and Montekes. The country of Loango, having been drained of its inhabitants by the slave trade, was by the 1830s far less populous than formerly. It was reputed to be extremely unhealthy to Europeans.

Some commercial agreements of the slaves were treated at Diosso by the Mad-Loango (king) and others were on the site itself. The port of Loango was the crossroads of all the slaves who came from a part of the Gulf of Guinea. It saw more than 2 million slaves come from the areas that today constitute Chad, Angola, southern Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo and the present territory of the Republic of Congo. All the tribes in the areas concerned had been involved in the slave trade.

The slaves who had scarifications on their faces were not accepted by slave traders. In fact slavers or slave traders were afraid that they would recognize themselves culturally through these scarifications which are distinctive cultural traits with therapeutic and identity-based virtues. The consequences of the deportation were, among other things, cultural uprooting. Similarly, King MadLoango did not sell the members of his court.

The former port of slavery in Loango is one of the most important sites in the Gulf of Guinea, where millions of slaves were shipped and transported directly to the Americas without intermediate stops. This site that engulfed millions of souls, lost in the devouring horizons of the Atlantic Ocean, still has all the witnesses of this inhuman trade.

In the big market, the are three mango trees, the tree for the ritual of forgetting and the one for the return as well as the landing stage bear witness. Moreover, because of its historical position, this site is also the place where several rites of enthronement and funeral of kings of the kingdom of Loango are still practiced.

The cultural significance of this site is also perceptible through the lamentations hummed by the inhabitants who remained at the scene of the sinister, reminding us of the nostalgia of the parents who remain waiting for the loved ones torn from their affection and that they will never again see again. Thus, the former port of embarkation, which has become a true sanctuary because of its historical charge, is a key link in understanding the history of slavery.

The herbaceous vegetation is dominated by small trees, with sandy soil influenced by the marine climate. The land in the vicinity is very fertile, and the water excellent. The entrance of the bay is attended with some danger. The town is called also Lovango, Loangiri, Banga, and Buali; by the natives, Borai or Boon. It had, however, been unwisely broken up between the spheres of France and Portugal by the end of the 19th Century.

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