While discussions of the military are notably absent in academic African History, it doesn’t mean that the subject is absent from the history left by the Africans. Sources that have been used for generations contain extensive discussions of the organization, arming, training, and utilization of military forces in Africa by Africans, but these aspects of the sources are largely ignored or interpreted within the frame of other violent activity, such as slave raiding. However, simply by their existence, these sources offer future generations the opportunity to expand and finally tell the story of formal military activity in Africa. This in turn will allow for the creation of a more complete record of African political, social, and even state-building activity before the advent of European colonization.
The Jesuits played a key role in the evangelization of the Portuguese colony of Angola and its surrounding Kimbundu-speaking neighbors when they came with the colonial mission of Paulo Dias de Novais in 1575. Their experience is an example of evangelization in a colonial setting in Africa, and contrasts with Jesuit approaches to conversion in the neighboring and independent Kingdom of Kongo. They drew heavily on previous experiences in the Kingdom of Kongo, which had itself become Christian a century earlier and pioneered a marriage between African religion and Christian spirituality. When Jesuits came to Kongo in 1548 they found an existing established church and added relatively little to it before they left following political disputes. When Dias de Novais came to found Angola, he initially was militarily dependent on Kongo’s assistance and the Jesuits, too, were dependent on the Kongolese version of Christianity, which is clear in their choice of vocabulary in the Kimbundu catechism that they sponsored and oversaw in 1628. However, the colonial situation in Angola made the Jesuits more willing to accept the idea of conversion by the sword, and they were notably less tolerant of African religious inclusions in Angola than in Kongo. The contrast in the two approaches was particularly evident when the Jesuits reopened a mission in Kongo in 1619.
From early contact with the Portuguese and conversion to Christianity in the late 15th century and continuing through the Counter Reformation, the Kingdom of Kongo resisted Portuguese colonialism while remaining steadfastly loyal to the Roman Catholic Church. Against the turbulent backdrop of the growing Atlantic slave trade, internal conflict and power struggles, and Portuguese presence in Luanda, Kongo repeatedly resisted the temptation to break from Rome and establish its own Church, in spite of Portuguese control of the Episcopate. In the late 16th century King Álvaro clashed with the Portuguese Bishop, but remained faithful to the church in Rome. In the early 17th century, Kongo armies repelled Portuguese invasions from the south while kings continued to lobby for more Jesuit and later Italian Capuchin missionaries, whom they needed, above all, to perform sacraments vital to Kongolese Catholics. Another opportunity to split from Rome came when Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita created the Antonian movement in 1704 and denounced the Catholic Church. Instead, she was captured and burned at the stake while King Pedro IV remained faithful to the Capuchin missionaries. In contrast to Portuguese Angola, where Jesuits were deeply implicated in slave trading, the Capuchins in Kongo did not own slaves and, for the most part, both resisted and criticized the slave trade.
In the early seventeenth century, New England merchants were heavily involved in privateering raids on Spanish and Portuguese shipping in the Caribbean and in capturing slave ships, almost entirely sent from Angola. Knowing the specific background and historical events in Angola allows us to solve a number of mysterious appearances, such as Imbangala (“canniball negroes”) raiders, and a “queen” who was probably a member of the Kongo-Ndongo nobility whose enslaved members also appear in Brazilian records of the same epoch. Careful use of contemporary and dense documentation of Angola and shipping allow this greater nuance and opens the way for other research.