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Born Nzinga Mbemba, Afonso I ascended the throne in 1506 after the death of his father, Nzinga a Nkuwu. Unlike his father, who had rejected Catholicism and limited contact with the Portuguese explorers, Afonso had been baptized as a Christian when the Kongo court converted in 1491. During his time as governor of Kongo's Nsundi province, Afonso entertained Portuguese priests and gained a reputation for Christian piety. When his father died, around 1590, Afonso returned to Mbanza Kongo, the capital, to seek the throne. His half brother, Mpanzu Kitima, raised a provincial army to remove Afonso from the capital. Afonso characterized the struggle as being between Christian and anti-Christian forces and later maintained that the Christians had won through the intervention of Saint James.

From the beginning of his reign Afonso sought to Christianize Kongo creating a financial base a school system a parish organization and a naturalized ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

leader of the Kongo kingdom, was born in the mid-fourteenth century. His birth name was Mvemba a Nzinga and he was the child of King João I Nzinga Nkuwu of Kongo and Nzinga a Nlaza, one of the king’s wives. When the Portuguese ship captain Diogo Cão first arrived in 1483, Afonso was a high-ranking officer in the kingdom. He consented to be baptized by Catholic missionaries. When a royal court faction opposed to Christianity arose after João I’s baptism in 1491, Afonso developed his authority in his own province of Nsundi. He allowed two Portuguese priests, Goncalve Vas and Rodrigue Anes, to live in his court.

Not surprisingly Portuguese missionaries and officials gave Afonso support especially after his father renounced Christianity In Nsundi Afonso used his privileged access to European trade goods to gain access to valuable high grade copper located north of the Congo River and ...

Article

Agaja  

Jeremy Rich

king of Dahomey, was born sometime in the later decades of the seventeenth century. According to oral traditions collected in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Agaja succeeded his brother Akaba to the throne in large part because of his support from influential royal women. Na Geze, a royal princess married to the ruler of the city-state of Ouidah located directly south of Dahomey, supported Agaja’s claims to power. Likewise, his eldest sister and Akaba’s twin Na Hangbe also intervened on the behalf of Akaba’s son Agbo Sassa. According to European slave traders’ accounts and oral narratives, Agaja battled Agbo Sassa for the throne around 1718. Apparently, Hangbe denounced Agaja as a usurper, to no avail; and her son was forced to flee to the north.

Once Agaja had seized the throne he launched a series of reforms within the kingdom and led numerous campaigns against Dahomey s neighbors One ...

Article

Agaja  

Elizabeth Heath

The third ruler of the Dahomey Kingdom, Agaja succeeded his brother, Akaba, in 1708. Agaja was a shrewd and powerful king, expanding the kingdom and making it one of the most powerful in West Africa. He spent much of his early reign instituting administrative reforms that centralized and strengthened the kingdom: he created an elite corps of female guards, enlarged the royal army, and employed a group of military spies who acquired information about neighboring groups. These innovations proved crucial to his victorious conquest of the Allada and Whydah Kingdoms in the 1720s. The acquisition of these coastal kingdoms gave the previously landlocked Dahomey access to the sea and, consequently, European trade.

Agaja's ambition to control the transatlantic slave trade that flowed through these ports brought him into rivalry with the neighboring Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, whose attacks on Dahomey forced Agaja to surrender in 1730 and ...

Article

Agonglo  

Robin Law

king of Dahomey (in modern Benin), was the son of Kpengla, his predecessor as king of Dahomey (r. 1774–1789). His official “Queen Mother” (kpojito), appointed as such after his accession to the throne, was a woman called Senume, but it is not clear whether she was also his biological mother. Contemporary European sources give his name as Wheenoohew, but this is not recognized in Dahoman tradition. He was also alternatively called Adarunza, but this seems to be a generic surname which (also in other variants, such as Adahoonzou) was applied by Europeans to all kings of the dynasty (Agonglo being counted as Adarunza VIII).

Agonglo s accession to the throne was contested with two other princes presenting themselves as candidates and his political position at the beginning of his reign appears to have been insecure requiring him to conciliate his senior officials and the populace more generally ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

king of Kongo, was born in the middle of the sixteenth century. His birth name was Nimi a Lukeni Lua Mvemba. Little is known of his early life, and the name of his father has not survived. His mother, Isabel Lukeni Lua Mbemba, remarried King Henrique I of Kongo after Álvaro’s father had passed away. Henrique I died fighting Téké warriors from the northern Anziku kingdom only a year after ascending to the throne in 1567. The Kongolese people already had suffered greatly during a civil war for the succession of the kingdom following the death of Diogo i in November 1561. It is unclear how Álvaro gained the throne. Between 1584 and 1588 the Kongolese ambassador to the Vatican Duarte Lopes claimed that Álvaro had been acclaimed king by a majority of the major noble families but some historians believe he wrested power through force In ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

king of Kongo, was born in the middle of the sixteenth century to King Álvaro I and a slave wife. At the death of his father in 1587 Álvaro had to struggle against a number of male and female members of the royal family in order to ascend to the throne According to a Jesuit at the court Álvaro II defeated one of his brothers in a single combat duel in order to claim the crown To strengthen his power Álvaro created a large army of Tio slave soldiers that grew to over sixteen thousand men They were purchased at the Malebo Pool of the Congo River on the outskirts of Kongolese territory With this force Álvaro could dominate the aristocratic families and the provinces in a much more centralized fashion than his predecessors For example Álvaro appointed royal judges to oversee tribunals in each province Upon the death ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

king of the Merina state of central Madagascar and a pivotal figure in its eighteenth-century expansion, was born around 1745 in the northern Malagasy town of Ikaloy. His father, Andriamiaramanjaka, was a member of the Zafimamy royal family of the northern independent kingdom of Alahamadintany. His mother, Ranavalonandriambelomasina, was the daughter of Merina monarch Andriambelomasina, who ruled Merina from roughly 1730 to 1770. He also was the nephew of Andriambelomasina’s successor, Andrianjafy, who was the king of Merina from 1770 to 1787.

He stayed with his father in Ikaloy until he was roughly twelve when he moved to the Merina court As a young man Andrianampoinimerina became a wealthy merchant and probably engaged in slave trading At the same time he presented himself as a defender of ordinary commoners fearful of slave raiding threats from neighbors like the Sakalava kingdom and unjust officials Supposedly Andriambelomasina had stipulated that ...

Article

Ari Nave

Oral traditions recorded by Jesuit missionaries in the late eighteenth century suggest that Andriambélomàsina, ruler of the Imerina (the territory of the Merina ethnic group) from 1730 to 1770 , directed that his eldest son Andrianjàfy succeed him, followed by his grandson Ramboàsalàma, son of his eldest daughter. Andrianjàfy, however, intended for his own son to take his place and plotted to kill Ramboàsalàma, who, fearing for his life, fled to the north. Supported by a dozen Merina chiefs, Ramboàsalàma returned in 1787, overtaking the city of Ambohimànga and exiling his uncle, who was later killed.

Ramboàsalàma was crowned Andrianampoinimerina, “the prince in the heart of Imerina.” After consolidating power through treaties and marriage alliances and establishing a capital at Antananarivo in about 1795 Andrianampoinimerina also known as Nampoina began to expand the Merina Empire Eventually he controlled much of the island conquering and consolidating the Betsileo Sihanaka ...

Article

A governor under Ali, Muhammad rebelled against Ali's son and successor and in 1493 ascended the throne. Two years later he went on a prolonged pilgrimage to Mecca that became legendary both in Europe and the Middle East for its pomp and ostentation. On his return, Muhammad set out not only to enlarge his empire, but also to transform the previously African state into an Islamic kingdom. Although he failed in that effort, he restored Tombouctou as a center of faith and learning and favored Muslim scholars with grants of land and high posts in government. Refining the administrative machinery inherited from Ali, he established directorial positions—similar to those of modern cabinet ministers—for finance, justice, agriculture, and other affairs. Although more a statesman than a warrior, he added vast territories to his realm, extending his influence as far west as the Atlantic Ocean. In 1528 Muhammad was overthrown by ...

Article

Jay Spaulding

Funj king nicknamed “the Red,” saw the Funj kingdom (in present-day Sudan) reach its apogee of power under his rule (AH 1103/1692 CE to AH 1128/1716 CE). Badi was a competent ruler, if perhaps not the equal of his second predecessor and namesake, who had been reputed the wisest man in the kingdom. The king resided at the capital city of Sinnar in a great palace complex of packed earth surrounded in part by a palisade of thorn boughs and surmounted by a lofty five-story tower. Before the gates of the palace lay the fashir, a great open square where state festivals were held and where a great weekly market took place. Slave attendants policed the market while leading Badi’s royal lions; it was considered judicious to give them something. On Fridays, Badi and his entourage processed across the fashir to the royal mosque for noonday prayers after ...

Article

Jay Spaulding

king of Sinnar in present-day Sudan (r. AH 1136/1724 CE to AH 1175/1762 CE), was nicknamed “Abu Shulukh,” perhaps because of conspicuous facial cicatrization. He assumed the throne as a youth on the death of his father, Nol. The regent Doka, remembered as “the Good Wazir,” ruled the kingdom until 1142/1729–1730, and from the latter year until 1156/1742–1743 the regency was held by Badi’s maternal uncle, Ismaʿil. Badi emerged from his minority in 1744 during the Second Ethiopian War; it was said that the Sudanese victory could be attributed to his leadership in prayer.

Upon his personal assumption of power Badi took steps to change fundamentally the organization of the government of Sinnar He was the first king to personify the rejection of matrilineal succession among the nobility of Sinnar Badi s father Nol although he himself belonged to the old elite made his son Badi the ...

Article

Juliet Montero Brito

fugitive slave and leader of an anticolonial rebellion in Venezuela from 1553 to 1556, was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico (Venezuela). He was a slave of Don Pedro Del Barrio, the son of Damián Del Barrio, who had discovered an important gold mine in Segovia de Barquisimeto, Venezuela, and moved his family and slaves from the island of Puerto Rico to Venezuela to establish a slave labor regime in the mines. In 1552 Miguel Barrios was moved to Nueva Segovia de Barquisimeto, at which point he had already earned a reputation as a rebellious and courageous slave, unbreakable in character. In 1553 he struck his master Del Barrio and then fled to the nearby mountains Once there he declared himself free and during the following year under cover of darkness came down from the mountains and convinced many of the other black and indigenous slaves to join ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

king of the sultanate of Songhai, was born sometime in the early decades of the fifteenth century. He ascended to the throne of the kingdom of Songhai in 1464. In the previous century, Songhai had been a vassal of its larger neighbor to the west, Mali, but Ber’s immediate predecessors had reestablished Songhai’s independence, and ruled from the city of Gao on the Niger River. Another form of his name is Sunni Ali Ber.

Ber was a tremendous military strategist He developed a large fleet on the Niger amassed a large army of slave warriors and was the head of one of the most skilled and fearsome cavalry units in West Africa in his lifetime Soldiers on horseback patrolled the entire kingdom and often surprised Ber s numerous political enemies Ber launched numerous invasions of territories to the west and south When Umar the Tuareg governor of Timbuktu insulted ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

legendary hero of the Afro-Brazilian community, is believed by many to have been born in the kingdom of Kongo in Central Africa in the early eighteenth century. With few written sources available about his origins or his life that could help confirm the many stories told about Rei in later years, it is difficult to determine with precision many of the narratives that emerged about him. According to many stories about Rei, he was a leader of his people in Kongo and was captured by African rivals. These enemies sold him to a visiting Brazilian slave ship, which brought Rei and his unfortunate companions across the Atlantic to the Minas Gerais region of southern Brazil. His wife and most of his family were said to have died during the long voyage. Only one son was believed to have survived.

During the early eighteenth century Brazilian prospectors discovered large deposits of ...

Article

Aaron Myers

In the late seventeenth century, gold was discovered in the area that is now the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil, triggering an inundation of gold prospectors from the surrounding provinces and Portugal. They brought large numbers of African slaves with them to extract the precious metal and began importing slaves from Africa’s Gold Coast (present-day Ghana and the surrounding countries), a region known for its advanced mining activities. By 1720 the city of Ouro Preto had become the center of gold mining in Minas Gerais. This was the destination of the African king Chico Rei and many members of his tribe.

Originally named Galanga, Chico Rei was the king of a small Congolese tribe of some 200 people in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Around 1740 he and his tribe were taken prisoner by Portuguese slave traders and sold into slavery in Minas ...

Article

Johnhenry Gonzalez

was born into slavery in 1767, probably on the island of Grenada. As with the other former-slave leaders of the Haitian Revolution, Henri Christophe’s early life remains shrouded in obscurity. Like Boukman Dutty, the original leader of the August 1791 slave uprising, Christophe was smuggled into Saint Domingue during the late eighteenth century as French colonists partially fed their growing demand for slaves by illegally importing them from surrounding Caribbean colonies.

As a child Christophe was sold to a slave owner in Cap Français, the principal port in the French colony of Saint Domingue. Decades later, when he rose to become the king of northern Haiti, he rechristened the town Cap Henri.

It is possible that Christophe had his first military experience in the American Revolution Although he was still a boy at the time many historians contend that he served among the hundreds of free men of color ...

Article

Dawud  

Jeremy Rich

king (askiya of the Western African empire of Songhai was born sometime in the early sixteenth century He was one of the sons of the mighty monarch Askiya Muhammad Muhammad Ture who reigned over Songhai in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries Askiya Dawud succeeded his brother Ishaq I r 1539 1549 At the beginning of his long period on the throne he removed most of his brother s officials Since Dawud had served as a military and civil leader prior to Ishaq s death he knew the royal court retinue quite well Court officials had summoned Dawud to Ishaq s court just as the king lay dying Only one rival could challenge him to replace Ishaq Bokar a grandson of Askia Muhammad Bokar died suddenly which chronicles attributed to a Muslim diviner hired by Dawud Even with such stories he had a reputation for kindness and ...

Article

Robert Fay

Lebna Dengel, who was born in Ethiopia, assumed the throne at the age of twelve, after the death of his father. During his early reign his mother, Helena, served as regent. In 1516 the Muslim sultanate of Adal rebelled against Ethiopian domination, but Lebna Dengel’s forces defeated the rebellion. The queen regent, however, feared Muslim expansion, and turned to Portugal for aid. A Portuguese mission arrived in 1520. Some accounts suggest that the emperor sought a relationship with the Portuguese as a means of ending Ethiopia’s isolation and acquiring European technology. Others sources, however, imply that Lebna Dengel was unimpressed by the Portuguese visitors, whom he allegedly treated with cool disregard. Sources also disagree about the nature of Lebna Dengel s reign Some scholars emphasize his devotion to Christianity and claim that his rule was based on justice and mercy while others assert that he was ...

Article

Richard Watts

Jean-Jacques Dessalines was born to Congolese parents on a plantation in Saint-Domingue (as Haiti was known prior to independence). He was given the name of the plantation owner, Duclos, before adopting the name of the freed black landowner, Dessalines, who purchased his services as a slave. Unlike his future comrade-in-arms, François Dominique Toussaint Louverture, Dessalines was treated harshly as a slave and joined the ranks of maroons (runaway slaves) at a young age. In 1792 he became a partisan of the slave uprising led by Boukman, a slave of Jamaican origin, and impressed his compatriots with his courage. Yet Dessalines committed acts of cruelty that frightened some in the rebellion. His capacity for violence would contribute in equal measure to his precipitous rise and fall.

Following the abolition of slavery in Saint-Domingue in 1793 Toussaint Louverture allied himself with the French Dessalines joined him eventually becoming Toussaint ...