Before the Portuguese set the name of Angola for the territory on the west-central African coast in the late seventeenth century, the region was better known as Ndongo. The chief political authority in the area was the Ngola, whose powers were directly linked to the divinized and supernatural aspects. Among the Ambundu people, the predominant ethnic group in the region, the belief that the power of this sovereign was legitimized by the ancestors prevailed, which gave him the gift of maintaining communication between the world of the living and the dead – ritual practice that was part of the routine of various groups that inhabited West Central Africa.

Despite these mystical and metaphysical conceptions surrounding the power of the Ngolas, practical decisions about how to govern their subjects and establish alliances or wage conflicts with rival African or foreign groups were in the hands of the sobas. The territories of the old Ndongo were divided into sobados, each governed by their respective soba, who enjoyed full autonomy in their decisions. According to the historian Joseph Miller, Ndongo’s own geography favored this political decentralization, guaranteeing greater possibilities of negotiations on the part of these leaders. Going to Ngola was a resource always associated with times of difficulty, such as lack of rain, food shortages, or epidemics. The sobas were independent, the sovereign being concentrated in functions predominantly directed to the field of the sacred.

Sobas played an important role in the processes of Portuguese conquest in the interior of Angola. These chiefs were responsible for both the supply of slaves to the lucrative Atlantic market and the opening of routes to the interior of the kingdoms of West Central Africa.

To the south of Luanda the sobas of Quissama played a prominent role, responsible for the greatest number of insubordination to the impositions of the Portuguese Crown. when governor Paulo Dias de Novaes, the sobas of Quissama tried to prevent the passage of a Portuguese expedition near the river Kwanza, which had as consequence a violent battle. Portuguese troops led by sergeant Mor Manoel Joao, with the aid of a hundred and seventy soldiers, attacked Quissama making victims and setting fire to the land. The end of the episode would be the imposition of Portuguese interests with the sobas of Quissama – a condition that did not last long as new revolts would happen again.

The governors who succeeded Paulo Dias de Novaes had as their aim to convince the Sobas to prohibit the transit of “non-Portuguese foreigners” in their territories, a goal not reached, since the control of the roads was given to the local leaders and the monopoly of the Portuguese trade nor always represented the best of alternatives. As in Quisssama (Kisama, Kissama), other mbundu leaders, distributed by various minions of the region, offered hard resistance through blockades and attacks on several Portuguese invaders.

The sobas have staged numerous revolts against officials of the Portuguese Crown established in Luanda, provoking from riots to even deportations – as was the case of several governors, such as Francisco de Almeida and Jerônimo de Almeida. It is worth emphasizing the promotion of the Jesuit priests to the organization of these conflicts, since up to the Pombal (Pombeiros are the people of, Portuguese father and Angolan mother. portugeses used them as messenger to the interior, because they speak the maternal and paternal language) period they were the main responsible for the direct contact with the heads of the Ndongo, despite the Crown’s attempts to minimize this control.

Back in the case of Quissama, there the investments for its conquest were justified by Portuguese administrators because of the existence of silver mines in the territories of Cambambe ( or Kambambe), located to the north of the right bank of the river Kwanza. To get to these supposed deposits it was necessary to go through the paths controlled by the rebel chiefs. This pressure was responsible for a series of revolts, such as the case of the then governor Francisco de Almeida, who had been in office for only eighteen months (1593-1594), justifying his return to the Court due to the pressure of the sobas and the Jesuits. The Mbundu chiefs on the one hand demanded of the then governor greater autonomy to negotiate slaves with merchants, and the religious did not want to interfere in their business and contracts.

His successor Jerônimo de Almeida, who was the brother of the former governor, would also suffer with the retinence of the chiefs of Quissama. Thinking of the necessity of political articulations, the new governor sought a truce with the Jesuits and summoned the mores captains responsible for the prisons of the backlands, an attitude directed to the opportunities promised by Cambambe silver and the necessary passage through Quissama.

For all its pragmatism, yet another resounding failure would bar the project of the Portuguese. In a new attempt to cross the river Kwanza three rebellious sobas of Quissama attacked the expedition, and though the governor had four hundred infants and twenty-one horses, this was not sufficient to defeat the sobas. According to the document produced by JC Feo Cardozo The History of the Governors and Captains Generals of Angola, from 1576 to 1825 and the geographical and political description of the kingdoms of Angola and Benguela, “it was not this power enough to subject them, because when they would attack them, they would gather themselves in some bushes so impenetrable of thick. ” The Portuguese ignored them: they burned the houses of the population that recognized the authorities of the rebel chieftains, characterizing the fires as a form of exemplary punishment transformed into a spectacle, whose obvious objectives were to propagate their military force and to frighten insubordinate sobas.

One of the most powerful sobas of Quissama was Cafuche Cambare (or Kambare), a leader who maintained his opposition to Jerônimo de Almeida’s attacks. J. C. Feo Cardozo analyzes the achievements of the Soba Cafuche Cambare as a “disgrace” for the Portuguese, in a manner consistent with a narrative of exaltation of the Portuguese feats, showing almost an indignation at the defeat of the troops for a “mere” African chief.
[ About Muene (Duke) Kafush (Cafushi) we also find in the EBook of The Strange Adventures of Andrew Battell, by Andrew Battell. That which reports the following:

From this place we marched to the westward, along the river Coanza, and came right against the
Serras or mountains of Cambambe, or Silver Sierras. Here is the great fall of water, that falleth
right down, and maketh a mighty noise that is heard thirty miles. We entered into the province of
Casama, and came to one of the greatest Lords, which was called Langere. He obeyed the great
Gaga, and carried us to Lord called Casoch (Kafush (Cafush)), which was a great warrior, for he had some seven
years before overthrown the Portugals camp, and killed eight hundred Portugals and fortythousand
blacks, that were on the Portugals side. This Lord did stoutly withstand the Gagas, and
had the first day to mighty battle, but had not the victory that day. So we made a sconce of trees after their fashion, and remained four months in the wars with them.

…And again we find more accounts of Muene Kafushi (Cafushi) in the diary of Queen N’Zinga, who says; that the Cafushi the N’Gola (potent, potentate) of the Kisama (quissama) sent messenger to King N’Gola A Kiluanje at the request of union of forces and King N’Gola A Kiluanje as its leader. ]

This and other historical records sought to draw another story, where the role of African leadership appears mitigated, sometimes disapproved. Some time after his experience the sobas would be characters of another battle, involving his memory.

Another source produced at the end of the 18th century by the Portuguese military Elias Alexandre Corrêa, entitled History of Angola, also analyzes the achievements of the Portuguese in West Central Africa from their first contacts with the heads of the Congo kingdom, maintaining the same character of exaltation typical of the eighteenth-century memories that were dedicated to the descriptions of Portuguese deeds in its vast and heterogeneous Overseas Empire. In the words of Elias Alexandre, the victory of the Soba Cafuche Cambere, sovereign of the lands of Quissama, was the product of the use of natural traps called Baroque – a kind of grotes used by the chief to hide his “people of arms” ready for the attacks, served as shelter for “concubines and children of his subordinates.” For this reason alone the rebelliousness of the sobas would not have been annihilated by the Portuguese troops and prevented the conquest of the metalist objectives of the sixteenth century.

Quissama sobas appeared in the sources until the end of the eighteenth century as the greatest opponents of the Portuguese conquest, as barbaric and violent, rebellious and insubordinate, that more obstacles imposed on the interests of the Crown and its projects for the conquest and interiorization of Angola.

Despite what the Portuguese sources believed, Mbundu chiefs were protagonists in the processes that led to the internalization of the Portuguese in Angola, as well as managed the supply of slaves destined to the Atlantic trade. The sobas had their marks in their relations with the metropolitan authorities, and they knew how to use alliances and wage conflicts.

Thanks to the interior lords in that part of Africa, the conquests of the Portuguese Crown in the backlands of the old Ndongo remained unstable throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Flávia Maria de Carvalho is Professor of History of Africa at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL), author of the book “Sobas and men of the king: relations of power and slavery in Angola – seventeenth and thirteenth centuries” (Edufal, 2015). PhD in History from UFF.


Birmingham, David. Alliances and conflicts. The beginnings of foreign occupation in Angola. 1483-1790. Luanda, Historical Archive of Angola / Ministry of Culture, 2004.

Correa, Elias Alexandre. History of Angola. 3 Volumes. Lisbon: Classics of Portuguese Expansion in the World. African Empire. Series E, 1997.

Heintze, Beatrix. Angola in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Studies on sources, methods and history. Luanda: Ed: Kilombelombe, 2007.

Miller, Joseph. Political power and kinship. The former mbundu states in Angola. Luanda: National Historical Archives / Ministry of Culture, 1995.

Torres, J. C. Feo et al. Memories containing the biography of Vice Admiral Luiz da Mota Feo and Torres. The History of the governors of Angola from 1575 to 1825 and the geographic and political description of the kingdoms of Angola and Benguela. Paris: Fantin Bookseller, 1825.


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