Loango – Africa’s Pre-Colonial Power Slave Dealers Who Sold their Souls & Their People …

King Tegbesu made £250,000 a year selling people into slavery in 1750. King Gezo said in the 1840’s he would do anything the British wanted him to do
Who was King Tegbesu?
King Tegbesu was the fourth king of Dahomey, a West African kingdom that existed from 1625 to 1894.

Where is Loango located?
Loango is a historic region located in western Africa, specifically in the present-day countries of Angola, Republic of Congo, and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Selling Their Souls: Kingdom of Loango, Africa’s Pre-Colonial Power
At the time when European explorers were first setting foot in Africa, the continent seemed to them a vast and enchanting realm with many unique cultures. They also encountered proper kingdoms that thrived with their own monarchs and dynasties. Lucrative trade soon flourished between the two. The Kingdom of Loango was a powerful pre-colonial state, encompassing much of modern-day western Congo. It thrived from roughly 1550 to 1883, and during that time it was a major trading partner for the European merchants and explorers. Alas, that trade had a darker side to it, as the Kingdom of Loango did not shy away from enslaving its neighbors and sending them off across the globe. So what is the full story of this unique African kingdom?

The Europeans Encounter the Kingdom of Loango
Throughout its existence, the Kingdom of Loango was very much in the shadow of its southern, more powerful neighbor – the Kingdom of Kongo . Nevertheless, Loango was a power in its own right, possessing many resources that Europeans depended on. However, it most certainly wasn’t as old as Kongo, and its exact origins remain obscure.

The very first travelers’ accounts of this part of Africa do not mention Loango. In 1535, Mvemba a Nzinga, better known as King Alfonso I, the King of Kongo, does not mention Loango in his many kingly titles. Therefore, it is commonly assumed that Loango was not an influential power during this time, or didn’t even exist.
Still, just a few decades later, we see the first mentions of Loango. The Portuguese explorers and missionaries were amongst the first to come into contact with this polity, after they had already established themselves in Kongo nearby. Around 1561, Sebastião de Souto, a priest, tells us that the King of Kongo sent missionaries to Loango, in an attempt to convert them to Christianity. Soon after, we learn from the Portuguese that Loango was on friendly terms with Kongo, and was – in times past – its vassal. How that vassalage was lost, we do not know. Either way, everything pointed to the fact that Loango was an independent kingdom in its own right, but not as powerful as Kongo.

Soon enough, it was not only the Portuguese that arrived here. Other major European powers were also quick to take a peak – Dutch explorers and English travelers soon followed. By the 1660’s the Dutch recorded detailed traditional accounts of Loango’s formation. In 1668, geographer Olfert Dapper tells us that there were several small polities on the territory of Loango, at war with one another. An ambitious leader, hailing from the small nearby kingdom of Kakongo – which was Kongo’s vassal – managed to subdue all these rivaling polities and unite them into a single kingdom, which was likely independent from the start. Soon, that kingdom became known as Loango.

The Kingdom of Kongo depended on the slave trade for its wealth.
A Land Rich in Resources
The primary interest of Europeans in Africa was commerce. This new continent was full of resources and potential for slave labor , which the European powers were quick to take advantage of. Loango was a notable example. It was a major trading power in coastal Africa. One of its staples was cloth – Loango was a major regional producer of cloth, and thousands of meters of their trademark cloth was exported in the 17th century. In that same period, the kingdom was amongst the biggest regional exporters of copper, a valuable resource used in Europe. To obtain sufficient copper, Loango merchants often traveled long distances to procure it.

Sadly, another major export of Luango was slaves. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t Europeans who majorly enslaved African peoples. Loango is a good example of this, as it subdued neighboring tribes, taking them prisoner and selling them to the Europeans who used them as slave labor. Their slavers often traveled far inland, attacking small tribes and communities, later to sell them on the slave markets. When the leaders of Loango recognized the need for slaves amongst the Europeans, they quickly became one of the bigger slave trading kingdoms in Africa. And money wasn’t always the payment – Luango chiefs wanted firearms and other goods as well. It was reported in one of the early contacts that the king of Loango possessed a number of early firearms – but that he did not know how to use them.

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As far as religion goes, the Kingdom of Loango was a pagan state, worshiping a high creator God named Nzambi a Mpungu. Not much else is known about their religion, which was supposedly based on worship of “house and field spirits”. Either way, Loango had a long history with Christianity. Some of its Kings were successfully baptized, but the pagan faith always returned. The Christian church was never fully established in Loango, despite the attempts of many missionaries.

A Kingdom That Fades into Obscurity
Throughout much of its history, Loango was not a kingdom that could be compared to those in Europe. It was a collective of settlements and tribal leaders, who only nominally recognized the sovereignty of a Loango king. Either way, a long succession of kings has been recorded, of whom only their names are known. But by around 1786, the Kingdom of Loango became fragmented, and the king lost all real authority. This was King Buatu, who died in 1787, and after whom we do not know anything about the leadership of Loango. Of course, with the changes that the world was experiencing in the 1800s, and the major presence of the European powers in Africa, we can safely say that the fragmented Loango state simply faded into obscurity, like countless other African polities, city-states, kingdoms, empires, and cultures.


African Slave Owners

Many societies in Africa with kings and hierarchical forms of government traditionally kept slaves. But these were mostly used for domestic purposes. They were an indication of power and wealth and not used for commercial gain. However, with the appearance of Europeans desperate to buy slaves for use in the Americas, the character of African slave ownership changed.

In the early 18th century, Kings of Dahomey (known today as Benin) became big players in the slave trade, waging a bitter war on their neighbours, resulting in the capture of 10,000, including another important slave trader, the King of Whydah. King Tegbesu made £250,000 a year selling people into slavery in 1750. King Gezo said in the 1840’s he would do anything the British wanted him to do apart from giving up slave trade:

“The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and the glory of their wealth…the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery…”

Some of the descendants of African traders are alive today. Mohammed Ibrahim Babatu is the great great grandson of Baba-ato (also known as Babatu), the famous Muslim slave trader, who was born in Niger and conducted his slave raids in Northern Ghana in the 1880’s. Mohammed Ibrahim Babatu, the deputy head teacher of a Junior secondary school in Yendi, lives in Ghana.

“In our curriculum, we teach a little part of the history of our land. Because some of the children ask questions about the past history of our grandfather Babatu.

Babatu, and others, didn’t see anything wrong with slavery. They didn’t have any knowledge of what the people were used for. They were only aware that some of the slaves would serve others of the royal families within the sub-region.

He has done a great deal of harm to the people of Africa. I have studied history and I know the effect of slavery.

I have seen that the slave raids did harm to Africa, but some members of our family feel he was ignorant…we feel that what he did was fine, because it has given the family a great fame within the Dagomba society.

He gave some of the slaves to the Dagombas and then he sent the rest of the slaves to the Salaga market. He didn’t know they were going to plantations…he was ignorant…”

Listen hereListen to Mohammed Ibrahim Babatu, great great grandson of the famous Muslim slave trader Baba-ato

The young Moroccan traveler and commentator, Leo Africanus, was amazed at the wealth and quantity of slaves to be found in Gao, the capital of Songhay, which he visited in 1510 and 1513 when the empire was at the height of its power under Askiya Mohammed.

“…here there is a certain place where slaves are sold, especially on those days when the merchants are assembled. And a young slave of fifteen years of age is sold for six ducats, and children are also sold. The king of this region has a certain private palace where he maintains a great number of concubines and slaves.”

The ruling class of coastal Swahili society – Sultans, government officials and wealthy merchants – used non-Muslim slaves as domestic servants and to work on farms and estates. The craftsmen, artisans and clerks tended to by Muslim and freed men. But the divisions between the different classes were often very flexible. The powerful slave and ivory trader Tippu Tip was the grandson of a slave.

The Omani Sultan, Seyyid Said, became immensely rich when he started up cloves plantations in 1820 with slave labour – so successful was he that he moved the Omani capital to Zanzibar in 1840.
Find out more about the Swahilis

The Asanti (the capital, Kumasi, is in modern Ghana) had a long tradition of domestic slavery. But gold was the main commodity for selling. With the arrival of Europeans the slaves displaced gold as the main commodity for trade. As late as 1895 the British Colonial Office was not concerned by this.

“It would be a mistake to frighten the King of Kumasi and the Ashantis generally on the question of slavery. We cannot sweep away their customs and institutions all at once. Domestic slavery should not be troubled at present.”

British attitudes changed when the King of the Asanti (the Asantehene) resisted British colonial authority. The suppression of the slave trade became a justification for the extension of European power. With the humiliation and exile of King Prempeh I in 1896, the Asanti were placed under the authority of the Governor of the Gold Coast and forced therefore to conform to British law and abolish the slave trade.

In 1807, Britain declared all slave trading illegal. The king of Bonny (in what is now the Nigerian delta) was dismayed at the conclusion of the practice.

“We think this trade must go on. That is the verdict of our oracle and the priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself.”

Loango National Park: Located in Gabon, Loango National Park is a protected area known for its diverse wildlife, including elephants, gorillas, hippos, and various bird species. It is situated on the Atlantic coast and encompasses a range of ecosystems, such as forests, savannas, and wetlands.

Loango Kingdom: The Loango Kingdom was a historical African kingdom that existed in present-day Gabon and the Republic of the Congo from the 15th to the 19th century. It was known for its participation in the transatlantic slave trade and its cultural influence in the region.

Loango language: Loango is also a Bantu language spoken by the Loango people in the Republic of the Congo. It is part of the Sira cluster of languages within the Bantu language family.

Loango Airways: Loango Airways was a small airline based in the Republic of the Congo. However, please note that specific information about the current status or operations of the airline may have changed since my knowledge cutoff in September 2021.

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