Mbwila, Angola (1665 AD)
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the relatively small European territories in Africa escaped the wars and bloodshed that ravaged the Americas and during the colonial era. One of the few major exceptions was the Battle of Mbwila, probably the largest battle to take place in Sub-Saharan Africa before the various Boer and Zulu wars of the 19th century. Mbwila pitted a highly trained and well-equipped force from Portugal against a large, organized army of the Kingdom of Kongo. Although considerably less one-sided than the European massacres of natives in the Americas, it was still an overwhelming victory for the invaders, and foreshadowed the balance of power in Africa for the next two hundred years.
During the early years of colonial expansion in Africa, the Portuguese established ports and a large territorial base in what is now Angola. In order to secure their power, they made an alliance with one of the largest tribal kingdoms, Kongo, which held a large territory in the heart of the continent. This mutually beneficial alliance, one of the few such successful relationships between the Portuguese and a local power, lasted for many decades.
In 1622, the Portuguese desire for expansion and new colonial territory ultimately led to a breakdown in relations with Kongo. The Portuguese invaded Kongo, and after some brief initial successes, they were defeated at the battle of Mbamba and driven out. In the 1640s Kongo made an alliance with the Dutch and almost drove the Portuguese out of Angola altogether. However, the Dutch withdrew in 1648, and Portugal prepared to take its revenge.
For the next two decades, the Portuguese pressed Kongo, who unsuccessfully sought aid from the other European powers. During this time they raided Kongo, both for punitive reasons and for slaves. The crises came to a head in 1665, when the small kingdom of Mbwila, which lay between Kongo and Angola, underwent a power struggle for the succession. Kongo came in on one side, and Portugal came in on the other.
While Portugal had the superior force, they were supported by large numbers of African auxiliaries, while Kongo had its own force of musketeers commanded by European mercanaries. Because of this the conflict was fairly even. During the early stages of the battle, the army of Kongo met with initial success; but they were unable to break the Portuguese line, and after their king was killed at the forefront of the fighting they were forced to withdraw. Although a Portuguese victory, the army of Kongo survived somewhat intact. The real loss was the king, which ultimately plunged sub-Saharan Africa’s most powerful nation into civil war that left the region vulnerable to European conquest in later years.
The field where the Battle of Mbwila took place is somewhat vague, as the fighting took place in a remote area that fell into decline in during the Colonial era. Unfortunately the site where the battle occurred is not well known or marked.
The location of the battle is generally held to be a site a few miles outside of modern-day Uige in northern Angola, approximately 120 miles northeast of Luanda. As of this writing no other visitor information was available. Web: www.angola.org (tourism website of Angola).
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