The Chokwe were once one of the twelve clans of the great Lunda Empire of 17th- and 18th-century Angola. They eventually became independent when they refused to continue paying tribute to the Lunda emperor. Their successful trading and abundant resources caused them to be one of the wealthiest groups in Angola. By 1900 the Chokwe had dismantled the Lunda kingdom altogether, using guns they had received in trade from the Ovimbundu. Chokwe language and influence then began to dominate northeastern Angola and spread among the Lunda peoples.
The Portuguese had virtually no contact with the Chokwe until the 1930s when the Chokwe traded wax, rubber and ivory. The Portuguese then quickly brought an end to the dominance of the Chokwe people in the region.