João I of Kongo
João I of Kongo (died 1509), alias Nzinga a Nkuwu or Nkuwu Nzinga, was ruler of the Kingdom of Kongo between 1470–1509. He was baptized as João in 3 May 1491 by Portuguese missionaries. Due to his interest in Portugal and its culture, he initiated a major cultural initiative in 1485 upon the arrival of Diogo Cão. It was under these conditions that the first Atlantic Creole emerged, forming in both Central Africa and in Portugal.
King Nzinga a Nkuwu was the seventh ruler of Kongo. He was married to Queen Nzinga a Nlaza, a first cousin. She had a son by the king named Nzinga Mbemba. She would later help him become king of Kongo after her husband's death. Under the reign of Nzinga a Nkuwu, Kongo had grown to 100,000 square kilometres and contained a very centralised government.
Arrival of the Portuguese
In 1483, a Portuguese caravel captained by Diogo Cão reached the estuary of the Congo River and made contact with subjects of the king. Cão sailed back to Portugal carrying a party of Kongo emissaries. On arrival in Lisbon, the emissaries were baptized and placed in a monastery before returning to the king in 1491.
Along with the emissaries came Portuguese priests, masons, carpenters and soldiers plus European goods. The ships anchored at Mpinda and after a brief halt to baptise the governor of Soyo, uncle to the manikongo, the procession went on to the capital where they were greeted by the king and five of his leading nobles.
Baptisms and later relations
On 3 May 1491, the king of Kongo was baptised along with his family. Initially, only the king and his nobles were to be converted, but the queen demanded to be baptised. Kongo's royal family took the names of their Portuguese counterparts, thus João, Eleanor (or Leanor in some instances) and Afonso. A thousand subjects were detailed to help the Portuguese carpenters build a church, meanwhile the Portuguese soldiers accompanied the king in a campaign to defend the province of Nsundi from Bateke raiders. The European firearms were decisive in the victory and many captives were taken.
Most of the Portuguese later departed with slaves and ivory while leaving behind priests and craftsmen. After this cultural honeymoon, the king's profession of the Catholic faith proved short lived. His life ended in 1509. He was succeeded by his son via the Queen, Afonso I.
- Oliver, Roland and Anthony Atmore: "Medieval Africa, 1250–1800", page 167. Cambridge University Press, 2001
- Thornton, John: "Elite Women in the Kingdom of Kongo: Historical Perspectives on Women's Political Power", page 442. The Journal of African History, Vol. 47, 2006
- Thornton, John: "Elite Women in the Kingdom of Kongo: Historical Perspectives on Women's Political Power", page 438. The Journal of African History, Vol. 47, 2006
- Oliver, Roland and Anthony Atmore: "Medieval Africa, 1250–1800", page 168. Cambridge University Press, 2001
- Oliver, Roland and Anthony Atmore: "Medieval Africa, 1250–1800", page 169. Cambridge University Press, 2001
- Oliver, Roland and Anthony Atmore: "Medieval Africa, 1250–1800", page 170. Cambridge University Press, 2001
- Hilton, Anne: "Family and Kinship among the Kongo South of the Zaire River from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries", page 197. The Journal of African History, Vol. 24, No. 2, 1983
Nkuwu a Ntinu