2.1  Early evangelization of Congo

            King João Nzinga Nkuwu (? - 1506)

In his first voyage to the mouth of the Zaïre (Congo) river in 1482 Diogo Cão made contact with representatives or vassals of the king of Congo and was allowed to take four young Congolese men back with him to Portugal.  These were educated and baptized in Portugal and returned with Diogo Cãõ on his second voyage in 1490.  Their relatives in Congo had given up all hope of ever seeing them again and were overjoyed at their return.  As a result, the Portuguese and their religion were heartily welcomed.  A number of Franciscans and a few Dominicans came with Diogo Cão and set to work teaching the faith with the help of the Congolese young men who returned with them.1

Mpinda, the town at the mouth of the Zaïre river where Diogo Cão landed, was in the land of Sonyo, whose Mani (king) was a vassal of the Mani-Congo further in the interior.  On Easter Sunday 3 April 1491 Fr. João, the Franciscan prefect of the mission, baptized the Mani-Sonyo, who took the name Manuel, and his son, who took the name António.  Although his many followers wanted to be baptized at the same time the Mani-Sonyo would not permit it because he thought the Mani-Congo might be offended if others were baptized before him.  Since the Mani-Sonyo was the uncle and senior to the Mani-Congo, he had no hesitation in being baptized along with his son before him.  An embassy accompanied by Fr. João then went on to the Congo capital, later named São Salvador, which resulted in the baptism on 3 May 1491 of the Mani-Congo Nzinga Nkuwu, who took the name João, and later his wife, who took the name Leonor, after the king and queen of Portugal respectively.2

Shortly afterwards the King’s son Mvemba Nainga, who was the Mani of Nsundi, was baptized and took the name Afonso.  Around 1493 King João, resenting the preaching that he should keep to one wife, turned more and more to his former spiritualistic practices and conspired with his non-Christian son Panso Akitimo to oppose Christianity.  Christianity, however, continued to spread in Sonyo and Nsundi, whose manis remained faithful.  The King died around 1560 and Queen Leonor concealed his death until her son Afonso could come from Nsundi and secretly enter the capital.  There he rallied his supporters and, calling on the name of Jesus and the Apostle James (Santiago), defeated his brother Panso Akitimo, who had surrounded the town with a large army, and became king.

            Afonso I (1506-43)

During the reign of Afonso I more priests came, notably some Franciscans in 1504, 1509, 1511 and 1514, some Canons of St. John the Evangelist of Azuis in 1508 and some Augustinian Canons of Santo Eloi in 1514.  A school for boys was planned but not immediately realized.  A number of boys were sent to Portugal for education.  When some of them were careless about studying Afonso wrote to King Manuel of Portugal telling him to punish the boys but not send them away.3  On the other hand Afonso often had to complain of Portuguese officials and traders in Congo and on São Tomé who were overstepping themselves and claiming a monopoly in certain areas of trade.4  He also complained of the avarice of certain missionaries.5

In 1512 Afonso sent an embassy to Pope Julius II.  In 1518 Pope Leo X granted his request to have his son Henrique ordained a bishop.  Henrique had been educated with the Augustinian Canons of Santo Eloi in Lisbon and was 24 years old.  Pope Leo emphasised that his ordination as a bishop at that early age was exceptional and that some theologians and canon lawyers should be provided to advise him.  Ordained in 1520, bishop Henrique returned to work in his country in the capacity of auxiliary to the bishop of Funchal and titular bishop of Utica, a town a little north of Carthage in Tunisia which once was the seat of a bishop.  Bishop Henrique had too much work to do and in 1526 Afonso wrote several times to King João III of Portugal asking for 50 priests and 6 Augustinian Canons of Santo Eloi to help him.6  Little Portugal did not have so many priests to dispose of, and the same year Afonso wrote again to João III telling him that Bishop Henrique was not well and asking to have two nephews of his ordained bishops to help Henrique and to ordain Congolese priests.7  Bishop Henrique died in 1530, and Afonso’s request was not granted.  In fact no other African was ordained a bishop until Joseph Kiwanuka was made bishop of Masaka, Uganda, in 1939.  Instead, in 1533 São Tomé was made a diocese and given a bishop the next year.  But the new bishop, Diogo Ortiz (1534-40), a diocesan priest from Vilhegas, Portugal, never came to his diocese.  Neither did his successor Bernardo da Cruz OP (1540-53), although the latter had an auxiliary sent to replace Bishop Henrique.

In Easter time of 1541 six or eight Portuguese men burst in on King Afonso while he was attending Mass and tried to kill him.  He beat them off, killing one and wounding two others, as he himself describes in one of his letters.8  Afonso died in 1543, and was succeeded by his son Pedro, who was overthrown the next year by his nephew Diogo.

            Diogo I (1545-61)

Diogo I received the successor of Bishop Henrique, the Portuguese Dominican João Baptista, who in September 1542 was appointed auxiliary bishop of São Tomé and titular bishop of Utica.  Bishop João Baptista began a priory in São Salvador for African Dominicans,9 but soon fell out of the King’s grace.  In 1546 and 1547 King Diogo complained to Fr. Diogo Gomes, a Portuguese priest born in Congo and serving as King Diogo’s confessor and ambassador to Portugal, that the Bishop was arrogant and possibly writing bad reports about King Diogo to Portugal.10  In 1547 King Diogo wrote to King João II of Portugal informing him that he had expelled the Bishop.11

In 1548 Diogo’s ambassador to Portugal, Fr. Diogo Gomes, returned to Congo with four Jesuits who opened a school in São Salvador for 600 students.12  The Jesuits, however, were only there a year before they had their own troubles with the King.  Fr. Cristóvão Ribeiro blamed diocesan priests in Congo for stirring up a persecution against the Jesuits as they had against Bishop João Baptista.13  Letters of complaint came from King Diogo that the Jesuits were insulting him in their preaching,14 and from the Jesuits that the King curtailed their preaching and would not allow them to teach women or to have Masses celebrated for the late King Afonso.15  These first Jesuits left along with Fr. Diogo Gomes, who entered the Jesuit novitiate taking the name Cornelio.  In 1552 Cornelio Gomes SJ informed St. Ignatius of Loyola that King Diogo would be deposed and the king of Portugal would install another king more favourable to the Jesuits,16 but nothing came of this plot.

In 1553 Cornelio Gomes returned to Congo with other Jesuits and plans for another school for 600 students, but they complained of renewed troubles with the King. 17  King Diogo, on the other hand, asked for Jesuits to be sent to help Cornelio establish the school and also requested 300 copies to be printed of Cornelio’s catechism in Bantu.18  Later King Diogo wrote again for more priests and at the same time expelled some older priests, including some Jesuits.19  In 1554 Cornelio Gomes had a dispute with the King over his marriage.  The Jesuit report of 1548 said that in the whole Congo only the King and a few notables were “married for Church”.20  But Cornelio found out that the King was related to his wife within a degree which required a dispensation from the Church for his marriage.  No one had issued the dispensation and Cornelio began refusing the King communion.  He was overruled by the pro-episcopus Manuel Figueira and other priests, but the controversy must have been the origin of Cornelio’s final departure in 1555 and the failure of the school before it ever took off.  The failure of this second Jesuit mission led Fr. Diogo Mirão to report to St. Ignatius the renewed possibility that the Portuguese might intervene and depose King Diogo.21

In 1557 two Franciscans, with a supply of Cornelio Gomes’ catechisms, arrived in Congo to replace the Jesuits.  The first bishop of São Tomé to come to Africa, Gaspar Cão OSA (1554-74), toured Congo in 1560 and was well received by Diogo.  When the difficult King Diogo died in 1561 the Portuguese declared his son Afonso II king.  But a few days later this king was assassinated and succeeded by his half-brother Bernardo I.22  Bernardo died in 1567 fighting the Yakas who were threatening Congo territory from the east.  His successor Henrique I died the same way in the following year.  He was succeeded by his son Álvaro I.

2.2  First contacts with Angola

The Portuguese discovered the land of Angola, whose name derives from Ngola, the title of its king, at the time of their first explorations.  In 1520 King Manuel I of Portugal told his officials to take a priest to Angola in the hope of converting the Ngola.  In 1529 King João III made the same proposal.23  The matter was dropped until 1557 when the Ngola’s ambassadors, who were delayed a few years on São Tomé because King Diogo of Congo demanded a monopoly of the mainland trade with São Tomé, were finally allowed to go to Portugal and ask for missionaries.  Queen Caterina and Cardinal Henrique received them and sent back with them a diplomatic mission together with four Jesuits.

When the mission arrived in 1560 the former Ngola had died and a new one took his place who was not favourable to the missionaries.  Six months after landing and after the death of one of the Jesuits the remaining missionaries and envoys were allowed to go to Cabaça, the capital of Ndongo, 500 kms up the Cuanza river.  They were allowed to open a school for 30 students, but gradually all their possessions were taken from them and the school was closed.  The Ngola then sent most of the Portuguese away but held Fr. Francisco de Gouveia, Bro. António Mendes and the Portuguese ambassador Paulo Dias de Novais as hostages.  In 1562 after eleven months captivity António Mendes was allowed to go.  He blamed King Bernardo of Congo for telling the Ngola that the Portuguese had come only for gold.  Paulo Dias was released in 1565, but Francisco de Gouveia was held until his death in 1575.

In 1563 Francisco de Gouveia wrote advocating conquering Angola to open it up for evangelization.24  But a letter of his in 1565 was more hopeful for a peaceful introduction of the Gospel.25  Nevertheless Fr. Mauricio Serpe SJ wrote from Portugal in 1568 to the Jesuit General once more advocating the conquest of Angola.26  In 1571 King Sebastião of Portugal gave Paulo Dias de Novais authorization to conquer the territory between the Dange and Cuanza rivers.  A fleet accompanied by four Jesuits landed on Luanda island in 1575.

The occupation of the coast took place without conflict with the ruling Ngola, but some months after arriving Fr. Garcia Simões SJ wrote that King Álvaro I of Congo was colluding with the Ngola against the Portuguese, and added that “almost all hold for certain that the conversion of these barbarians will not be accomplished by love unless they are first subjected by arms as vassals to the King [of Portugal].” 27  After another year’s seasoning and two years before his premature death the same Jesuit was writing that the colonial government was fatal for evangelization, that the Portuguese were becoming more violent and in one year they had killed 4,000 and enslaved 14,000.28  Before the Angolan adventure the Portuguese only dabbled in the slavery business, buying for their labour requirements common criminals or prisoners of war already enslaved by African chiefs or kings, in spite of the fact that in 1462 Pius II had condemned the West African slave trade.29  In Angola the Portuguese not only bought slaves but also made war and captured their own slaves on a vast scale and turned them into an international medium of exchange, since the property of Portuguese who died in Angola was sold for slaves who were then sent to Brazil to be resold as compensation for the heirs.30

In spite of this obstacle the Jesuits made considerable progress in evangelizing the people along the coast.  The Jesuit newcomers naively allied themselves with Paulo Dias in his policy of military expansion inland beginning in 1580.  The Jesuits saw victory in war as a means of removing obstacles to conversion,31 but Paulo Dias, while happy with the salt mines and countless slaves he captured during 1583, had his sights set on the “mountain of silver” at the Cambambe mines.32  Initially the Jesuits followed up the military victories by making many conversions, but they learned at times of Portuguese reverses that their converts, while still Christian, preferred to obey their own king rather than foreigners.33  In 1584 the Ngola sent word that he was prepared to become a Christian and give up half his kingdom.  Paulo Dias answered that he was welcome to become a Christian but he must give up his whole kingdom.34  The next year Paulo Dias took the silver mines of Cambambe and the Ngola abandoned his capital of Cabaça, retreating further inland.35  In 1586 Baltasar Barreira SJ reported that conversions that year were few because of the fighting, but the Jesuit report for 1588 still upheld the policy of conquest before evangelization.36

2.3  A more independent Congo

            Álvaro I (1568-87)

Álvaro I was driven from his capital by the Yakas in 1569 and lost most of his territory to them.  The Portuguese governor of São Tomé helped him expel the Yakas and fortify São Salvador.  Four Dominicans came with the governor of São Tomé in 1570 and helped reconstruct Christianity in the restored kingdom.  After some time two of them died and the other two returned home.37

Since Spain annexed Portugal in 1580 Spanish religious were allowed to go to Portuguese zones.  The Discalced Carmelites sent five of their members in 1582 but all were lost in a shipwreck.  At the chapter of 1583 the Provincial Jerónimo Gracián’s proposal to try again passed, in spite of the opposition of St. John of the Cross who thought the contemplative nature of the Order could not be maintained in the Congo.  Another group set out the same year but were captured by English pirates.38  In 1584 three Discalced Carmelites finally reached Congo, passing through Luanda.  On their way north to Bumbe they baptized 3,000 people.  In Bumbe they met a nephew of King Álvaro who was a deacon (ordenado de Euângelio) and permitted to baptize.  In São Salvador they met four priests (Dominicans of the 1570 mission?), the only ones in the kingdom, and King Álvaro welcomed them saying that the European religious who had come to Congo before had left their holiness north of the Equator.  The one lay brother of the group was ordained a priest in São Salvador by the bishop of São Tomé and joined the others who learned the language and began a very fruitful itinerant ministry.  They baptized 10,000 people in their travels around Mbata, Mpangu, Nsundi and São Salvador and their preaching is said to have been accompanied by miracles.  In 1589 they returned to Spain full of enthusiasm to recruit more Carmelites, but by that time Fr. Gracián’s term as provincial had expired and his opponent Fr. Doria was elected who wanted nothing to do with missions.  There the matter ended, to King Álvaro’s disappointment.39

One of the Carmelites, Diego del Santísimo Sacramento, complained of white people in Congo “who have more than a thousand black slaves and in a whole year do not give them a mouthful of bread to eat and send them out to the fields like cattle to multiply.”40  Small wonder that King Álvaro’s gratitude to the Portuguese for help against the Yakas turned cool, so that he was suspected of aiding the king of Angola in resisting the Portuguese.41

One of Álvaro’s envoys to Rome, the Portuguese Duarte Lopes, wrote a description of Congo which was published in 1591, translated into many languages and given much publicity, paving the way for the creation of the diocese of São Salvador in 1595.  In the meantime Álvaro died in 1587 and was succeeded by his son Álvaro II.

            Álvaro II (1587-1614)

Álvaro II encouraged Church growth and welcomed the Jesuits who visited him in 1587,42 but reports in 1591 suspect his sympathy with the king of Angola.43 In 1595 Álvaro’s ambassador in Madrid complained of Portuguese who were buying Congolese slaves.44  Álvaro could afford to take an independent line from Spain-Portugal because Duarte Lope’s book and his own correspondence with the Pope gave him a footing in Rome which soon developed into an alliance which irked Spain-Portugal.

The first major benefit of this alliance was the creation in 1595 of the diocese of São Salvador, separated from that of São Tomé.  Yet the king of Spain-Portugal insisted on and was conceded the right of padroado over the new diocese.  The first bishop, a Portuguese Franciscan named Miguel Rangel Homem, arrived in 1599 and died in 1602.  The dean of the diocesan chapter, a man Álvaro did not like, ran the diocese until the appointment of the Portuguese Dominican António de Santo Estêvão in 1604.

The latter appointment was made before Álvaro’s embassy of 1604 reached Rome saying that he would rather not have a Portuguese bishop.  The instructions sent along with Álvaro’s ambassador, the Congolese António Manuel, also complained of Portuguese raids on Congolese mines and raised the very fundamental question of whether the king of Angola should be deprived of his kingdom to make room for Portuguese expansion and exportation of the country’s riches.45  In 1605 Álvaro’s ambassador in Madrid, Fr. Diogo Gonçalves Manuel, was suspended from the exercise of his priesthood for voicing too boldly King Álvaro’s sentiments.  Disregarding the suspension as unjust and invalid, he was imprisoned and ordered by King Philip III of Spain to be put in a monastery prison or sent to the galleys.  His diplomatic papers were confiscated.46

Álvaro’s ambassador to the Pope, António Manuel, arrived in Lisbon in 1605 wounded after being captured on the sea by Dutch pirates.  In Spain he requested Discalced Carmelites and Dominicans for Congo and asked for the reinstatement of Jerónimo de Almeida as governor of Luanda because the present governor was hostile to the king of Congo.47  The King of Spain’s Council proposed no change regarding the governor of Luanda.  The Council decided that Dominicans could go to Congo but not the Spanish Carmelites, because the Council of Portugal did not want non-Portuguese religious, although the reason they gave the Pope was that the Carmelites might not get along well with the Dominicans.  As for the Congolese Ambassador’s intention to continue on to Rome, the Council pointed out that previous embassies of the king of Congo had raised important questions and complaints to the Pope and therefore the Spanish-Portuguese agent in Rome should examine all the Congolese Ambassador’s papers before letting him give them to the Pope and this agent should if possible take the papers and do all the talking with the Pope about Congolese interests.48  António Manuel finally arrived in Rome on 2 January 1608.  He was exhausted and sick and died at the age of 33, three days after arriving.  Pope Paul V personally looked after him in his illness and attended him while he died.  He was buried in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major and in the sacristy there is a monument to him.

In the meantime Bishop António de Santo Estêvão of São Salvador asked in October 1607 for permission to retire because he was not well and thought he had been poisoned.49  He died in April 1608.50  In 1609 the Portuguese Franciscan Manuel Baptista Soares was appointed his successor.

In spite of the repeated and strenuous protests of the Portuguese, Paul V went ahead with King Álvaro’s request as contained in his ambassador’s papers and commissioned the Spanish Discalced Carmelites to go to Congo.  Four Portuguese Dominicans did go, as previously arranged, two of them dying on the way and the other two arriving in September 1610,51 but the Portuguese, who were becoming more powerful and nearly independent of Spain, prevented the Carmelites from going, to the great displeasure of the Pope and Cardinal Scipione Borghese.52

In 1613 King Álvaro began a permanent embassy in Rome headed by a Spanish priest Juan Baptista Vives.  Through him he complained several times of the Portuguese in general and the bishop of São Salvador in particular.  He complained that evangelization was at a standstill and the few priests were not interested in it.  The two Dominicans, he says, “do no good and get involved in affairs that were none of their business.”  He therefore asked once again for Discalced Carmelites.53  After the death of Álvaro in August 1614 these negotiations were suspended and complaints were continued by his half-brother Bernardo II.  The latter was deposed and killed in August 1615 and was succeeded by Álvaro III, the son of Álvaro II.54

            Álvaro III Mvika a Mpanzu (1615-22)

Álvaro III continued diplomatic relations with Rome through Juan Baptista Vives, who continued as ambassador of Congo until his death in 1632.55  In spite of the request of the Council of Portugal that the Cardinal Protector of Portugal also represent Congolese interests,56 Paul V in 1619 appointed the Spaniard Cardinal Trejo.  The Roman alliance strengthened Álvaro’s hand in dealing with the Portuguese.  Although after his accession in 1615 he had to speak abjectly to the Portuguese, blaming his predecessor Bernardo II for allowing the Dutch to establish a post at the port of Mpinda,57 in 1617 he was lodging protests with the Pope against the Portuguese in Angola whom he accused of abetting the Yakas in overrunning Congolese land.58  He also complained against Bishop Manuel Baptista for having two priests, cathedral canons in São Salvador and advisors of Álvaro, arrested and sent to Angola, even though one of these later was allowed to return.59

Bishop Manuel Baptista’s relations with Álvaro deteriorated until in 1618 he offered his resignation and the next year left Congo.60  He died in 1620.  While in Congo he had excommunicated the Mani of Sonyo for trading with the Dutch at Mpinda61 and threatened Álvaro with excommunication for assuming the Spanish royal title Majestad, but Álvaro was not intimidated.62  After Bishop Manuel Baptista left, complaints were made that he embezzled diocesan money and went off with slaves without paying tax on them.  A probe by the Papal Secretary of State in 1622 verified the embezzlement.63  Álvaro wanted to have his chaplain the Spaniard Bras Correira made bishop, and sent four letters to Rome in different ways, hoping that one would arrive without the Portuguese intercepting it.64  Portuguese objections prevented Bras Correia’s appointment.  In 1621 another Portuguese Franciscan Simão Mascarenhas was appointed, but news of the appointment did not reach Congo until after Álvaro’s death.

The Spanish Capuchins in 1618 made available some of their men to go to Congo.  Álvaro was eager to have them come, and hoped that they would establish a novitiate in São Salvador for Congolese young men who would join their ranks.  Cardinal Trejo and Paul V strongly backed the project, as did Gregory XV who became pope in 1621.65  But the Council of Portugal blocked all attempts of the Capuchins to set out and in 1621 prevailed upon King Felipe to sack Cardinal Trejo as Protector of Congo.66  Later efforts on the part of Álvaro and Gregory XV to send the Capuchins were frustrated, while letters between the two were often opened or intercepted by the Portuguese.67  Gregory XV, however, was determined to press ahead with the promotion of missionary work and, as we saw in the Introduction, established Propaganda Fide in 1622 for this purpose.

            Pedro II Nkanga a Mvika (1622-24)

Pedro II’s succession after the death of his nephew Álvaro III was peaceful, but the Portuguese told Propaganda Fide through the papal nuncio that the death of Álvaro III made it too dangerous to allow the Spanish Capuchins to go to Congo.68

Meanwhile troubles in Angola were the occasion for a new Jesuit project in Congo.  At the end of 1622 the governor of Angola, João Correira de Sousa, invaded and devastated the Mbamba region of Congo while pursuing an Angolan chief who had harboured run-away slaves from Portuguese plantations.  Three Jesuits of Luanda who criticized the governor were arrested and sent back to Portugal in 1623.69  Two others fled to São Salvador where they made plans to found a school.  The people of Luanda then revolted against the governor and when the new bishop Simão Mascarenhas arrived in Luanda he could not go on to São Salvador because he had to stay as acting governor of Luanda for one year.70  The two Jesuits in São Salvador finalized arrangements for their school, but Pedro II died before the four founding staff members arrived.

            Garcia I (1624-26)

Pedro’s son Garcia became king at the age of 17.  By September 1624 the Jesuit school was functioning.  On 13 October Bishop Simão Mascarenhas finally arrived in São Salvador but died five days later.71  In August 1625 Fr. Mateus Cardoso SJ arrived in São Salvador to become principal of the school.  While visiting Congo in 1616 he had prepared a catechism in Kikongo.  Expelled from Luanda during the troubles of 1623 and sent to Lisbon, he had his catechism printed and now brought a stock of the book to Congo.  Unfortunately he died two months after arriving in São Salvador.

The Jesuit school at São Salvador continued beyond 1660 and turned out many influential people, including numbers of priests of Portuguese, Congolese and mixed background.  The only vitiating factor in the record of the school was its endowment with the taxes paid on 400 slaves sent to the Indies each year.72

After the death of Bishop Simão Mascarenhas the royal chaplain Bras Correia ran the diocese and made appointments.  Not everyone was satisfied and soon some of the canons of the cathedral were blaming King Garcia for the death of the bishop, and Garcia made the same accusations against the canons.  In 1625 Garcia expelled Bras Correia and one of his canons.  In Luanda and Lisbon Bras Correia had no warm reception because he had made diocesan appointments without the permission of the king of Portugal as required by the padroado.  He was also accused once more of involvement in the bishop’s death.  All this altercation was brought to an end by the successful coup of the duke of Nsundi in 1626, who became King Ambrósio.73

            Ambrósio I (1626-31), Álvaro IV (1631-6), Álvaro V (1636) and Álvaro VI (1636-41)

The contest for ecclesiastical power in Congo was settled in 1626 by the transfer of Francisco do Soveral, the Augustinian bishop of São Tomé.  Although he was bishop of São Salvador from 1626 to 1642, he resided in Luanda.  Nothing came of the projected division of São Salvador and Luanda into two separate dioceses.74

At this time the threat of the Dutch, who were established in Mpinda, made the governor of Angola and the king of Portugal deal more respectfully with Ambrósio.75  When Ambrósio died in 1631 he was succeeded by his 13 year old nephew Álvaro IV.  At this time Bras Correia returned to Congo, to the joy of the new king, but the next year we find him in Luanda as a Jesuit novice.76

Álvaro IV died at the age of 18.  There was unrest in the country and his successor Álvaro V lasted only six months.   He was killed fighting the duke of Bemba (= Bembe or Pemba), Nimi a Lukemi a Nzenza a Ntumba, who became King Álvaro VI, although he was of an entirely different lineage from the previous kings.  Álvaro VI had to vindicate his authority by fighting the Mani of Sonyo.  Under pressure from the governor of Angola he expelled the Dutch from Mpinda in 1639.  But he also wrote to Pope Urban VIII in 1639 and again in 1641 complaining of the governors of Angola and asking to have the bishop required to reside in São Salvador.77

During all this period steps were taken to obtain Carmelites, Augustinians, Franciscans and Capuchins; there was also talk of establishing a seminary in Congo, but none of these projects was realized.  The Italian Capuchins whom Propaganda Fide wanted to send had to contend not only with the Portuguese, but also with rival Capuchin provinces of Castile and Andalusia, and finally with the Dutch who took Luanda in 1641.78

2.4  Continued contact with Angola

In 1587 the Jesuits led by Fr. Baltasar Barreira began a school in Luanda which Paulo Dias endowed with feudal revenues from nine districts.  The revenues consisted of farm produce and 300 slaves per year.  The Jesuits would keep 100 slaves for the building and maintenance of the school, sell 150 in exchange for needed supplies, and free 50 after teaching them the faith.79  The Jesuit visitator Pedro Rodrigues in 1593 strongly criticized this practice,80 but the people of the provinces themselves settled the problem by revolting and stopping payment.  With the promised government subsidies not forthcoming the Jesuits avoided closure of their school only by sending small numbers of the slaves they already had to the schools of their brethren in Brazil in exchange for basic supplies.  This compromising solution avoided wholesale selling of slaves at the low Luanda prices until in 1604 revenues from farm endowments allowed the Jesuits to be free from slave trafficking once and for all.81  An endowment in 1619 by Gaspar Álvares, a Portuguese trader who became a Jesuit novice in 1623, helped to stabilize the school further.  Although open to all, the school had no African students, but only Portuguese, because the Africans “are not interested and do not bring food but search for it day by day.”82

The Jesuits continued to build churches and evangelize the Sobas and Yakas.  Since the creation of the diocese of São Salvador in 1596 many diocesan priests came from Portugal—there were 24 in 1619—and some Africans and mulattoes were ordained.  The Franciscans began a church in Luanda in 1606.  But the slave trade and continued warfare prevented any real progress.  In a four year period up to 1607, 15,768 slaves were exported from Angola to the Indies.83  To expand the slave trade plans were made in 1612 to invade Benguela.84  Manuel Cerveira Pereira began the invasion in 1618.  The slaves were few because the people fled, but some copper mines were found.  Two Jesuits moved to Benguela in 1620 and more were sought.85  More ambitious schemes were proposed but never realized, such as the Portuguese proposal in 1616 to conquer Mwanamutapa to connect the east and west coast territories,86 and the Jesuit plan to find an overland route from Congo to Ethiopia.87

The Jesuits’ efforts in evangelization resulted in the baptism in 1622 of Ana Nzinga, who succeeded her brother in 1623 as ruler of the diminished independent kingdom of Angola in Ndongo and Matamba.88  In 1626 the governor of Angola sent an expedition against her because she refused to hand over run-away slaves.  She escaped to some islands on the Cuanza river but one of her chief ministers was captured and executed.89  A new king, Aidi Filipo de Sousa, was installed in Ndongo and baptized along with his wife in 1627.90  Francesco Pacconio SJ, who baptized him, also wrote an Ambundu catechism and grammar which were published in Lisbon in 1642.91

Portuguese independence from Spain in 1640 exposed the colonies to the brunt of Holland’s attacks.  In 1624 the Dutch failed in an attempt to take Luanda.  They took Brazil in 1636 and then set eyes once more on Angola, the source of Brazil’s slaves.  They took Luanda in 1641, while the Portuguese retired to Bengo, a little town a short ways to the north.  The Dutch also took São Tomé and Benguela and in 1642 the Portuguese retreat of Bwengo, from which the Portuguese fled to Massangano, up the Cuanza river.  There Bishop Soveral died, leaving São Salvador without a bishop for thirty years because the king of Portugal claimed the right to nominate the bishops and his independence from Spain was not recognized by Rome for a long time.

The Portuguese recovered Luanda and the surrounding territories in 1648.  In the meantime the Jesuits baptized the king of Ndongo, Henrique, in 1643.92  The Discalced Carmelites began working in Angola in 1659,93 but more dramatic action was taking place with the arrival of the Capuchins in Congo.

2.5  The Capuchins in Congo

            Garcia II (1641-60)

King Álvaro VI died in 1641 and was suceeded by his brother Garcia II Nkanga a Lukeni.  When the Dutch took Luanda, Garcia’s ambassadors signed a treaty with them at Luanda in 1642.  Garcia’s friendship with the Dutch extended to giving them slaves and apologizing that they were so few,94 although just a few weeks later in a letter to the Jesuits of Luanda he lamented the evil of the slave trade.95  Nevertheless he refused to have a Dutch ambasador resident in São Salvador.  He also continually refused to have Protestant preachers and burned the Calvinist iterature the Dutch distributed.  When the Capuchins came they found an independent Congo still very much attached to Catholicism.

The first group of five Italian Capuchins sent by Propaganda Fide in 1641 were turned back at Lisbon.  Some Spanish Capuchins later joined them and a group of twelve led by Bonaventura d’Alessano left for Congo by way of Spain in 1645.  They escaped the Dutch coast guard and were jubilantly welcomed by the Mani of Sonyo.  One of the first accomplishments of the Cappuchins was to arrange peace between the Mani of Sonyo and Garcia II. The Mani then restored Garcia’s captive son and some of the Capuchins moved to São Salvador.  There they engaged in praching and conducting a school for 600 students.  Fr. Bonaventura da Sardegna wrote a Kikongo grammar.

Four other Capuchins led by Bonaventura da Taggia left for Congo by way of Lisbon and Brazil and landed at Cape Ledo, just south of Luanda, in 1646.  They tried to make their way to the Portuguese outpost of Massangano but were captured by the Dutch on the way and sent back to Europe just before Garcia’s ambassadors arrived in Luanda to try to gain their release.

In the meantime one of the first group of Capuchins, the Spaniard Fancisco de Pamplona, went back to Rome in 1646 to obtain more Capuchins. He tried to restrict the mission to Spaniards in order to keep Congo within the king of Spain’s sphere of influence,96 since Garcia himself expressed support for a Spanish take-over of Angola, to the exclusion of the Portuguese.97  But the General of the Capuchins assigned six Spaniards and eight Italians to Congo.  They arrived in 1648.  Some of the first group had died or returned home, and many of the older and newer arrivals were sick.  Nevertheless they set to work and in twenty years evangelized and baptized hundreds of thousands in the areas of São Salvador, Mbamba (Bembe), Mbata, Mpenda and Nsundi.

In 1648 Garcia II sent two Capuchins, Giovanni Francesco da Roma and Angel de Valencia, as his ambassadors to Rome, asking for forty more Capuchins along with three bishops.98  Garcia had already asked Pope Innocent X for a bishop in 1646,99 but no bishops were to come as long as João IV of Portugal refused any kind of appointment which did not give full recognition to his right of padroado, and Philip IV of Spain threatened to invade the papal states if the Pope did comply with Portugal’s wishes.  All the Pope’s attempts to find a loophole and make a compromise appointment were squashed by Portugal’s agents in Rome Nuno da Cunha SJ and Manuel Pacheco OSA and by the zealot cardinal-protector of Spain Gil Carillo Albornoz.  By the middle of 1648 forty-five Capuchins were assembled in Spain, thirty-one waiting to go to Congo and fourteen to Benin.  In August, however, the Portuguese retook Luanda and, while the Capuchins ministered to plague victims in Spain waiting for the king’s permission to depart, Garcia sent the Capuchin Bonaventura da Sorrento to negotiate peace with the new masters of Luanda.  Bonaventura and Garcia accepted the stipulation that any new Capuchins must come to Congo through Lisbon and no Spaniard would be accepted.  Propaganda Fide accepted the new conditions and in July 1650 instructed the Capuchins not to depart from Spain.  Many of them gave up and went home, but Giovanni Francesco da Roma wrote back on 10 October saying that his group was all ready to leave for Congo and since the need was critical he would depart unless he received a contrary order.  The papal nuncio to Spain, Giulio Rospigliosi, gave full approval to this procedure and on 13 February 1651 eighteen Italian and Belgian Capuchins sailed from Spain for Congo.  On 19 February the letters of Propaganda Fide arrived in Spain strictly forbidding the departure.  The nuncio never informed Rome of his responsibility for the departure, and a letter censuring Giovanni Francesco followed.  He was able to explain himself convincingly when he returned to Rome in 1654, and was then sent to Benin.

Garcia II in 1650 had sent Bonaventura da Sorrento to Rome as his ambassador.  He was to return the next year through Lisbon but the Portuguese turned him back.  He went instead through Spain in 1653, but when another group of fourteen Capuchins sent by Propaganda Fide arrived in Luanda the next year, the Capuchins residing in the city since 1649 could persuade the Portuguese to let them land only by letting Bonaventura da Sorrento be sent back to Italy.

These were difficult times for the Capuchins.  In 1651 the Portuguese, through the cathedral chapter of São Salvador and António do Couto SJ, stirred up Garcia II against them.100  Garcia nevertheless warned the provincial chiefs to respect the Capuchins after George de Geel’s martyrdom.  This Belgian Capuchin was killed in 1652 after burning down a pagan shrine which some of his Christians were attending.  Pagan worship was proscribed by the King, and in 1653 Serafino da Cortona had some pagan priests arrested and sent to the Inquisition in Brazil.101  Strong arm tactics, however, were not reserved for followers of traditional religion only.  A Franciscan in Luanda accused the Capuchins of not being religious at all but agents of Spain.  Serafino da Cortona complained to Propaganda Fide in 1655 that the Jesuits had turned Garcia against them; he also asserts that the Jesuits owned 2,000 slaves.102  Manuel de Matos SJ wrote at the same time complaining that the Capuchin schools were competing with the Jesuit ones and that the Capuchins were running farms with slave labour.103

In spite of these harrassments and deficiencies the Capuchins’ work of evangelization had a massive popular impact which no other group came near to equalling.  They spread into Matamba as a result of Queen Nzinga’s raid on Congo in 1648 when she took two Capuchins prisoners.  Releasing them, she asked for more Capuchins to return.  They did so after peace was made with the Portuguese in 1656.  She returned to the Christian faith she had professed in 1622, abolishing official human sacrifices, but was constrained to offer the Portuguese 200 slaves.  This brave queen died in 1663 at the age of about 82 after an exemplary reign which drew the recognition of Pope Alexander VII.  Her immediate successors returned to human sacrifices and cannibalism, outlawing Christianity, but a coup permitted the return of Christianity in 1676.

In Congo Giacinto da Vetralla’s report of 1658 points out that of sixty Capuchins who came only twenty-six were still alive and working.  Among other problems he noted that the Congolese feared that the preachers may be paving the way for domination by the continuingly aggressive Portuguese.  Garcia II also caused harm by rigorously collecting church tithes and keeping them for his own use.  The King was also afraid that by education and agricultural development his subjects would lose respect for his authority.  The rival claims of Portugal and Spain permitted very few more missionaries to come, and in 1660 Propaganda Fide ordered the Capuchins to give first priority to founding a seminary for the Congolese, since the Jesuits who had been given the task never carried it out.  The Capuchins began training some seminarians, but circumstances in Congo prevented the project from maturing.

            António I (1661-5) and the period of anarchy (1665-1709)

António Vita a Nkanga, the son of Garicia, began his reign by oppoosing the Capuchins except for the one indigenous Capuchin Francisco Robredo de São Salvador.  Some disaffected chiefs finally turned against António and with the help of the Portuguese, defeated and killed him in the province of Ambuila in 1665.  One king then took over in São Salvador, another in Bula to the north, and a third to the south on the Ambrisi (M’Bridge) river.  In the civil wars that followed São Salvador itself was burned and abandoned in 1678 and not reoccupied until after 1710.104  During this time the Capuchins carried on the best they could.  The peace treaty between Spain and Portugal in 1669 opened theflow of missionaries once more, but the anarchy of the country and a high mortality rate reduced their effectiveness.  Between 1672 and 1700 approximately 100 Capuchins came, but of these and those who came previously 64 died, 38 returned home, and in 1700 only 5 remained.  One of the noteworthy writings of this period is the historical, geographical and ethnographical study by Giovanni-Antonio Cavazzi, entitled Istorica descrizione de tre regni Congo, Matamba e Angola, which he wrote after leaving for Italy in 1668.

The Spanish-Portuguese peace permitted the appointemnt of a bishop for São Salvador in 1671, but the man died before ordination.  Another was ordained in 1673 but died in Luanda a month after his arrival.  A Franciscan bishop, Manuel de Natividade (16786-85), transferred the headquarters of the diocese to Luanda because of the destruction of São Salvador and only set eyes on Congo in the year of his death.  His successors were equally out of contact with the African interior.

The St. Anthony movement of 1703-6 typified the political and religious frustration felt in Congo in this period of decline.  Two Capuchins remained in Congo doing what work they could while observing neutrality between the rival claimants to the throne.  According to their description a 20 year old prophetess named Kimpa Vita claimed to be a reincarnation of St. Anthony of Padua, while her husband claimed to be St. John.  Her message was that the king, Pedro IV, must move to São Salvador for the Congo kingdom to be restored.  If he did not he would be punished by God.  She also was reputed to have worked many wonders which gained her a large following.  She burned both crosses and items of pagan worship while she included the belief that Jesus was born in São Salvador.  Bernardo da Gallo, one of the Capuchins, urged Pedro IV to stop her, but her following was by then so great that the king dared not oppose her.  Only when she made a royal crown for herself did the King feel obliged to step in and, on the advice of Bernardo, had her and her husband burned at the stake in 1706.  The St. Anthony movement, however, continued to exist until 1709 when Pedro defeated and killed Pedro Constantino Kibenga, his rival to the throne.

2.6 The dark years (18th and 19th centuries)

Dynastic struggles in Congo came to an end mainly because the office of king was no longer worth contending for.  He had little power and wealth, and each chief went his own way.  Capuchins kept coming, but their number hovered around a precarious average of five.  Diocesan priests held most of the town parishes, while catechists kept alive the faith, worship and educational level of the masses of the people.  While the diocesan priests, mostly black or mulattoes, came under the bishop and the padroado of the Portuguese kings, the Capuchins were under their prefect appointed by Propaganda Fide.  Jurisdictional disputes often arose and Propaganda Fide bound the Capuchins to refrain from any ministry within five miles of a diocesan parish church. Practical considerations also made them concede the right of the bishop to send diocesan priests into posts the Capuchins had abandoned for want of numbers.  The bishop ordained candidates as he saw fit, often without proper training.  Propaganda Fide pushed for a seminary again in 1743, but without success.

Complaints had always been lodged against diocesan priests for concubinage, avarice and slave trading,105 but the Capuchins’ spirit also declined in these years.  The harsh life of Africa diverted most of them to the Americas, while of those who came few stayed more than one assignment of seven years and fewer still learned the language and became anything more than sacrament dispensers, tallying up so many thousands of baptisms, marriages and confessions. What is more, the Capuchin hospices were maintained by slaves.  Granted they were given to the Capuchins, not bought, and were well treated, so much so that there are cases when they stayed and took care of stations abandoned by the Capuchins; but they were still slaves.  In the 18th century approximately 50,000 slaves were exported annually afrom Congo and the Zaïre river mouth area.106  It was only too easy for some people to accept and then participate in such a system.  When the Capuchin Pietro Paolo da Bene visited Congo in 1819 the king gave him some slaves which he sold to finance his trip to Brazil.  Propaganda Fide corrected him in very severe words.  The Capuchin wrote back that Roman bureaucrats could well talk about the evil of slavery but they did not understand Africa.  He signed his letter “Slave of the slaves of St. Anthony”.  When he died in 1829 in his pocket were found two checks, of 1,5600,000 and 134,000 réis, in payment for consignments of slaves.107

This may have been an isolated example showing one side of the picture, because the same king of São Salvador, Garcia V, sent his son to Luanda to be ordained a pirest.  The latter returned and served in São Salvador until 1836.108  Likewise French diocesan priests in 1766 began working with great sacrifice in Luango and Kakongo to the north of the Zaïre river to revive the faith planted there a century before.  Sickness and death forced the ten or so priests and several laymen to abandon their work in the field as well as their project for a seminary.  The French revolution prevented a resumption of the task.109

The tree planted long ago in Congo and Angola was not bearing fruit and was hardly keeping alive.  It was time for God’s providence to stop everything and start afresh.  In 1834 the revolution in Portugal put an end to all religous orders and missionary work.  Even Luanda, which had always been well provided for, was without a bishop for twenty years after 1826.

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1Brásio (1944) gives this conclusion to the conflicting evidence of who were the first missionaries.

2MMA, I, 83-5, giving the text of João de Barros.  I assume that the “Joham” who Rui de Pina says is a Franciscan and the “João” who De Barros says is a Dominican are the same person.

3MMA, I, 406.

4MMA, I, 294, 355; II, 103-7.

5MMA, I, 335; II, 76.

6MMA, I, 459, 468, 475.

7MMA, I, 483-4; IV, 141.

8MMA, II, 103.

9Jadin (1973), 427.

10MMA, II, 151, 153.

11MMA, II, 155.

12MMA, II, 165, 171, 209.

13MMA, II, 220.

14MMA, II, 226, 242.

15MMA, II, 228.

16MMA, II, 275.

17MMA, II, 283, 295, 311.

18MMA, II, 325.

19MMA, II, 327.

20MMA, II, 217.

21MMA, II, 377.

22MMA, II, 474, 483.

23MMA, I, 431, 531.

24MMA, II, 518.

25MMA, II, 530.

26MMA, II, 566.

27MMA, III, 142.

28MMA, III, 145.

29Wiltgen (1956), 102.

30MMA, III, 153, 368.

31MMA, III, 191.

32MMA, III, 248.

33MMA, III, 248.

34MMA, III, 307.

35MMA, III, 318.

36MMA, III, 328, 375.

37MMA, IV, 273-5.

38Crisógono de Jesús (1950), 328-9.

39MMA, II, 273, 281, 283, 295, 299; IV, 355, 393; Florencio del Niño Jesús (1929, 1934).

40MMA, III, 340.

41MMA, III, 340.

42MMA, III, 344, 350.

43MMA, III, 429.

44MMA, III, 520.

45MMA, V, 112.

46MMA, V, 146, 151, 157.

47MMA, V, 262.

38MMA, V, 280.

49MMA, V, 350.

50MMA, V, 532.

51MMA, V, 598, 600, 605, 609; VI, 132.

52MMA, VI, 41, 42, 45.

53MMA, VI, 125, 128.

54MMA, VI, 288, 292.

55MMA, VIII, 108.

56MMA, VI, 358.

57MMA, VI, 234.

58MMA, VI, 288.

59MMA, VI, 292, 242, 275.

60MMA, VI, 323.

61MMA, VI, 359.

62MMA, VI, 404.

63MMA, VI, 430, 484; VII, 8.

64MMA, VI, 389, 554.

65MMA, VI, 307, 389, 400, 501, 557, 574.

66MMA, VI, 576, 577.

67MMA, VII, 3, 16.

67MMA, VII, 82, 44.

68MMA, VII, 176.

69MMA, VII, 166.

70MMA, VII, 273.

71MMA, VII, 228.

72MMA, VII, 309-432.

73MMA, VII, 172, 196, 234, 244, 331, 347.

74MMA, VII, 587, 270.

75MMA, VIII, 101, 190.

76MMA, VIII, 433, 474.

77MMA, IX, 293, 412.

78Jadin (1973), 441.

79MMA, III, 476.

80Jadin (1973), 443.

81MMA, VII, 140.

82MMA, V, 487.

83MMA, VI, 77.

84MMA, VI, 511.

85MMA, VI, 263.

86MMA, VI, 277; VII, 226 etc.

87MMA, VII, 248.

88MMA, VII, 359, 417, 426, 526; VIII, 92.

89MMA, VII, 494, 557.

90Jadin (1973), 446.

91MMA, IX, 39.

92Jadin (1973), 446.

93MMA, IX, 13.

94MMA, IX, 17.

95MMA, IX, 446.

96MMA, IX, 452.

97MMA, X, 126.

98MMA, IX, 459.

99MMA, XI, 94, 99, 102.

100MMA, XI, 305.

102MMA, XI, 445.

103MMA, XI, 456.

104Filesi (1972b), 17, note 12; Bontinck (1970), xlvi.

105MMA, XI, 520 (the year 1655); Metzler (1973), 899 (the year 1718).

106Metzler (1973), 897.

106Ibid., 896-9.

107Gray (1969), 304.

108Metzler (1973), 915-8.