The Mbundu People


The Mbundu are a Bantu people living in the north central part of Angola, including the capital Luanda, and make up about one-fourth of the population of the coun-try, or 2,420,000 people. The Mbundu are not the same as the Ovimbundu, who also live in Angola and are the single largest ethnic group in the country. The Mbundu speak a Bantu language called Kimbundu, which is divided into two groups, the Ambundu and Awkauanda.The Mbundu developed several king-doms, and in the 15th century, the King-dom of Ndongo fell under the powerful Kongo king.

The Ndongo king was called the Ngola a Kiluanje, and from his royal title the name Angola was derived. In the later part of the 16th century, the Kongo king began to lose his power over the Kimbudu-speaking kingdoms, and by the end of the century, Ndongo no longer paid him tribute. The Kimbundu states estab-lished their own commercial ties with the Portuguese. The Portuguese established a trade station at Luanda for direct trade with both the Ndongo and the Matamba king-doms. The Portuguese were able to estab-lish a good deal of influence especially in the royal court of Ndongo as interest in the slave trade increased.

The Mbundu also helped give rise to the Kasanye Kingdom, located a bit further inland, which arose as a staging base for trade caravans going to the interior.Queen Nzinga (d. 1663) was a princess of the royal family of Ndongo, and under her, the kingdom expanded by taking Mat-amba in 1620. She abandoned her base in Ndongo and built her career in Matamba, whereshewasabletofendofftheintru-sions of the Portuguese and other African states. Despite her efforts, neither king-dom lasted long after her death, and, in 1683, Ndongo was conquered by the Por-tuguese.

By the end of the 18th century, nearly all of the western Mbundu lands were under Portuguese control.During the 19th century, commercial sugar and coffee plantations expanded into Mbundu territory, and the Portuguese had the great-est impact on the Mbundu.The Mbundu suffered the greatest from the Portuguese colonials, which impacted their culture. Most Mbundu are Christians, and many are well educated. The problems of assimilation—the stated policy of the Portuguese government—were such that few of those who tried to assimilate into European culture were accepted.

It has been noted that only 1 percent of the Afri-can population was seen as “civilized” or “assimilated” prior to the start of the resis-tance in 1961.In 1961, the armed struggle for Angola began. The Mbundu backed the Marxist Movimento Popular de Libertacao de Angola (MPLA), which was founded in 1956 in Luanda. The MPLA was estab-lished mainly by assimilados and mesticos who had studied abroad and who had come in contact with liberation ideas from other parts of Africa. The Mbundu played a major role in Angolan independence, and the MPLA formed the first indepen-dent government in 1975.

Angola plunged into a bloody civil war between the MPLA and its rival, Uniao Nacional para a Independecia Total de Angola (UNITA). The two groups fought a proxy war for the United States (supporting UNITA) and the Soviet Union (supporting MPLA), and with South Africa (supporting UNITA) and Cuba (supporting MPLA) sup-plying troops. The civil war ended only in 2002 after the death of Jonas Savimbi, the head of UNITA.

John A. Shoup

Further Reading

Bender, Gerald. Angola under the Portuguese:TheMythand theReality. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, Inc. 2004.

Oyebade, Adebayo. Culture and Customs of Angola. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.