The Battle of Kitombo was a military engagement between forces of the BaKongo state of Soyo, formerly a province of the Kingdom of Kongo, and the Portuguese colony of Angola.
In 1665 the Kingdom of Kongo clashed with their one-time allies the Portuguese at the Battle of Mbwila. The engagement resulted in a crushing Portuguese victory ending in the death of the Mwenekongo António I and most of the kingdom's nobility. Afterwards, Kongo erupted in a brutal civil war between the House of Kinlaza, which had ruled under the dead king, and the House of Kimpanzu. Soyo, home to many Kimpanzu partisans, was eager to take advantage of the chaos. Within a few months of the national tragedy at Mbwila, the Prince of Soyo invaded the capital of São Salvador and installed his protégé, Afonso II on the throne. This happened again in 1669 with the placement of Álvaro IX on the throne. By this time both the Portuguese and central authority in Kongo were growing tired of Soyo's meddling. While the Kinlaza and others in Kongo lived in fear of a Soyo invasion, the governor of Luanda was fearing the growing power of Soyo. With access to Dutch merchants willing to sell them guns and cannons plus diplomatic access to the Pope, Soyo was on its way to becoming as powerful as Kongo had been before Mbwila. King Rafael I, driven by Soyo from his capital, fled to Luanda, where he sought Portuguese aid to restore him to the throne. In return, he promised Portugal money, mineral concessions and the right to build a fortress in Soyo to keep out the Dutch.
The governor of Luanda, Francisco de Távora, ordered a force of Portuguese augmented by native allies such as the feared Imbangala into Soyo to crush the kingdom once and for all. It was led by João Soares de Almeida, with a force of over 400 Portuguese musketmen.
Luanda's Colonial Army
This colonial force was the most powerful that had been organized in Central Africa up until then. It included 400 musketeers, a rare detachment of cavalry, 4 light cannons, an unknown number of levee bowmen, Imbangala Auxiliaries and even some naval vessels.
Soyo and Ngoyo's Army
The then Prince of Soyo, Paulo da Silva, got word of the impending invasion and prepared his army to meet it. In a surprising show of post-Mbwila BaKongo unity, Soyo called on the kingdom of Ngoyo for assistance. Ngoyo had at one time been at least nominally subordinate to the king of Kongo but had grown farther and farther away from the state during the 17th century. Ngoyo, who boasted a large fleet of shallow draught craft, sent many soldiers to its southern neighbor in anticipation of the attack.
Few details exists on exactly how the battle was executed other than it was waged near the village of Kitombo. It was divided into two phases with the first being the Battle of Mbidizi River, a brief but bloody engagement north of the Mbidizi river in June and the last occurring near or at the wooded area called Nfinda Ngula in October.
The next engagement, for which the battle is most famous, occurred three months later in October. During the interval, both forces were able to lick their wounds. The Soyo army used this time to re-equip themselves with more arms from their Dutch allies. The BaKongo forces regrouped at Nfinda Ngula, a densely forested area that had served Soyo well in their battles against Kongo during Garcia II's invasions. The area had proven impregnable even to artillery and allowed Soyo's army to rally around the Prince and its light artillery pieces. Using the Dutch light field pieces to good effect, the BaKongo attacked and routed the Portuguese. The colonial army was comprehensively destroyed. The Portuguese not killed in the battle drowned fleeing across the river or were captured. Legend has it the captives were offered as white slaves to the Dutch. Its commander also died in the battle. The number of casualties among the Soyo forces are unknown except for the Prince of Soyo who died during the battle.
Aftermath and peace
The battle at Kitombo was a humiliating defeat for the Portuguese and a boon for the state of Soyo. Portuguese Angola remained hostile to Soyo and Kongo as a whole, but dared not venture back. Soyo and the House of Kimpanzu became even more powerful in the politics of the region, but never attained the wealth of pre-Mbwila Kongo as the Portuguese had feared. The next prince of Soyo used the state's Dutch contacts, specifically through Capuchin missionaries, to get the Pope to intervene on their behalf. At the behest of Soyo, the pope acquired a papal nuncio from the king of Portugal recognizing Soyo's independence and that the crown would make no further attempts on its sovereignty.
- Thornton, John K: "Warfare in Atlantic Africa 1500-1800," 1999. Routledge. Page 103.
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- Thornton, John K: "The Kongolese Saint Anthonty: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706", page 78. Cambridge University, 1998
- Gray, Richard: "Black Christians & White Missionaries", page 38. Yale University, 1990
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- Battell, Andrew and Samuel Purchas: The Strange Adventures of Andrew Battell of Leigh, in Angolaand the Adjoining Regions", page 132. The Hakluyt Society, 1901
- Thornton, John K: "The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706", page 69. Cambridge University, 1998
- Thornton, John K: "Warfare in Atlantic Africa 1500-1800", page 112. Routledge, 1999
- Thornton, John K: "The Kongolese Saint Anthonty: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706", page 197. Cambridge University, 1998
- Thornton, John K: "Warfare in Atlantic Africa 1500-1800", page 103. Routledge, 1999
- Gray, Richard: "Black Christians & White Missionaries", 1990. Yale University. Page 38.
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