In the first entry, we explored the culture of the Imbangala as well as its origins. Now we look at the history of the tribe within the Angola region.
Imbangala’s Role in Portuguese Angola
In the 1620s, part of Angola was under Portuguese rule. Called Portuguese Angola, the colonial government had strained its relationship with the Kingdom of Kongo. Portugal wanted to expand and gain crucial land for trade and growing cash crops.
Since the relationship was so damaged, Portugal would have to take the land it wanted by force. To do this, they needed a strong military force–especially a native force that knew the tactics and military of Kongo.
The country developed relationships with smaller tribes in Angola including a slave trade relationship with the Imbangala. This relationship went back to earlier in the 17th century when the Imbangala assisted Portugal in other battles.
While this was just work for the tribe which had yet established its own kingdom, their penchant for wanton violence made them the perfect hounds of war for the Portuguese.
During the Kongo-Portuguese War in 1622, colonial forces brought in Mbundu archers–known as some of the most lethal and accurate shooters in Angola–and the dangerous Imbangala infantry. The end result was the crushing Portuguese forces defeating the Kingdom of Kongo in December of that year.
The End of the Relationship
Being particularly unruly by European military standards, Portuguese leadership found the Imbangala hard to bring underfoot as a supplemental native force. This was cemented by Imbangala leader and kingdom namesake Kasanje breaking off from the colonial force and engaging in what his kingdom did best: marauding. Not long afterward, a splinter warband of the Imbangala would establish the Kingdom of Kasanje.
The later 1620s and early 1630s would be punctuated by civil war among the native people of Angola and shifting alliances. Some warbands were formed, dissolved, or destroyed. As the centuries rolled on, the tribe modernized and turned from war to commerce. With war among tribes becoming infrequent as Portuguese Angola expanded, the death culture would slowly fade and the Kasanje Kingdom became a part of the colony by the early 20th century.