African History 4: Kongo and Portugal

Today we'll learn about how people in Kongo were total Portugeeks...at least until Portugal started enslaving them. Yeah, that alliance didn't turn out too well.

LanguageEnglish Language
World HistoryAfrican History

Transcript

00:22

It was like how modern anime fans get super into Japan.

00:26

Though nobody in Kongo was walking around dressed like a tweaked-out space princess. [Man wearing blue space dress]

00:29

As far as we know…

00:31

The kings of Kongo also hoped that an alliance with Portugal would bring them wealth and

00:35

power.

00:36

Which it did for a while.

00:37

Portugal responded by sending hordes of missionaries, and by 1506 Kongo had a Catholic ruler. [Missionaries transfer to Kongo]

00:44

As the 16th century dragged on and Portugal founded a colony in the Americas, the Portuguese

00:50

became less interested in talking about God and more interested in buying slaves. [Portugal man in room with a slave]

00:55

Guess they didn't wear any “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets…

00:59

The Portuguese first bought slaves directly from the Kongo government, including POWs

01:03

and criminals convicted of serious crimes. [Portuguese man buying slaves]

01:06

But the Portuguese just couldn’t get enough.

01:08

So they hired bandits to kidnap people and take them to the slave trading posts. [Bandits kidnapping a slave]

01:12

This became so common that some areas of the Kingdom of Kongo became regular ghost towns.

01:17

Seems like the Portuguese weren’t too concerned with diplomatic relations at this point… [People stood by hut and tumbleweed blows past]

01:21

In 1526, one of the kings of Kongo couldn’t take it anymore.

01:25

His name was Afonso I.

01:28

Nobody called him the Fonz, but… maybe they should have.

01:31

Afonso’s first tactic was to write a strongly worded letter to the Portuguese on the subject [Afonso writing a letter]

01:36

of illegal slavery.

01:38

But this was the equivalent of a snippy post-it-note on the fridge, so… it wasn’t too effective. [Afonso puts sticky note on fridge door]

01:43

Next, Afonso formed a committee to examine the problem.

01:47

Like most committees that have ever existed, this committee, uh… didn’t accomplish

01:51

much.

01:52

It did, however, design a slew of treaties to restrict Portuguese slavery to a few hundred [Slaves stood behind bars]

01:55

prisoners chosen each year by the government.

01:58

But this… “just take the ones we don’t like” approach… also failed.

02:03

Almost immediately, slavers were back to nabbing whoever they wanted. [Bandits kidnapping a slave]

02:06

A century of political scheming followed.

02:09

The Portuguese tried to support different candidates to the throne who were more on

02:13

board.

02:14

But the Portuguese scheming mostly failed, and the kings of Kongo got sick of the “selling [Kings pointing to portuguese man]

02:19

civilians” plan.

02:21

In 1622, the Kongolese put their bullets where their mouths were.

02:25

Okay, that might have been misleading.

02:26

Meaning… they started a war.

02:28

The First Kongo-Portuguese War was from 1622-1623.

02:30

The Portuguese came out as losers on that one and slave-trading activity was reduced. [Soldiers waving white flag]

02:36

So that was good.

02:38

Álvaro I was the king at the time, and he had a lot to be proud of.

02:42

He’d defended his people and shown the Portuguese that the Kongolese weren’t going to be total [Alvaro outside door and man laying on the floor]

02:46

doormats.

02:48

But all this came with a high cost.

02:49

Álvaro’s victory didn’t just tick off Portugal; it made every other slave-trading

02:54

nation hopping mad. [Slave trade nations hopping]

02:56

You know rulers are really angry when they start to hop...

02:59

Kongo spent the 17th century under near-relentless attack by Portugal and nearby African slaver

03:04

kingdoms.

03:05

Finally, Kongo cracked. [Kongo cracking]

03:07

In 1665, it lost a major battle against the Europeans.

03:11

In the battle, the king and a ton of the upper nobility were killed. [Soldiers lay dead on the floor]

03:13

So that was… not good.

03:16

The Kongo government collapsed, civil war broke out, and the great kingdom fell apart.

03:20

The scary thing about standing up to a bully is that bullies like to make examples of the [People bullying a boy on the bus]

03:25

people who stand up to them.

03:27

And when the bully is an entire society that’s making a ton of money be enslaving your people… [Giant portuguese king stomping on people]

03:33

… you’d better believe they’ll have more in their arsenal than…doling out swirlies… [King pushing mans head into toilet]