History of Luanda

Published on 25th July 2006

Luanda is the capital city of Angola. It is not only Angola's chief seaport but also its administrative centre. With a population of approximately 4.5 million, the capital is located 8°50'18" South, 13°14'4" East. The city is divided into two parts, the baixa and the cidade alta.

Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese, the island of what today is part of the capital city Luanda was known among the native Africans population as Loanda, meaning "flat land." It had no mountains and comprised only of sand that shifted with the tides and the flow of the nearby Kwanza river.

Luanda was founded in 1575 by the Portuguese explorer Paulo Dias Novais as São Paulo de Luanda. Over time, the area became the departure point for wars to capture slaves and the assembly and loading point for slave ships bound for Brazil. The brisk trade in slaves brought more colonists and the settlement grew.  

The Cathedral of Luanda was constructed in 1583 and ten years later the Jesuit Church, followed by Monastery of Sao Jose in 1604. In 1605, the Governor, Manuel Cerveira Pereira, conferred the status of the city on the settlement of Sao Paulo.  

The Dutch occupied Luanda with the help of Ngola Nzinga from 1641 to 1648, providing a boost for anti-Portuguese states. In 1648, Brazilian-based Portuguese forces re-took Luanda and initiated a process of military conquest of the Congo and Ndongo states that ended with Portuguese victory in 1671.  

The basis for a major growth of Luanda was laid in 1889 as Governor Brito Capelo opened the gates of a canal which supplied the water scarce city with water.

The city's coastal setting, bay and spectacular views inspired great plans for its development. It had an irregular topography, predominantly of red sand that crumbled into unstable gullies.  

To support the considerable development being planned for the city, large-scale infrastructure projects were required. As slave trade diminished, there was a major increase in other trade and the clusters of native huts on the red sand underwent development. They grew and in them, Africans from the interior came together with those forced out of the center of the city, which was increasingly being taken over by the ruling classes.  

Popular culture, traditions and values were maintained and thrived rapidly leading to the awakening of a nationalist spirit and the creation of various associations that later became part of the emancipation movement.

By the turn of the century, Luanda was experiencing a new dynamism. New road and rail transport links with the interior appeared leading to increase in trade and exports and the establishment of new factories. Luanda became an important commercial hub and the main urban center of a thriving colony.

By the time of Angolan independence, Luanda was a modern city with a majority of the city's population being of Portuguese origin. Very few Africans were permitted to live there. Many Portuguese left after independence and there was an immediate crisis as the local African population lacked the skills and knowledge needed to run the city and maintain its infrastructure.

Luanda experienced several critical situations including an urban war, the emigration of technicians, the migration into the city by the rural population and the consequent collapse of infrastructure.

Today, the city is recovering from years of strife and has spectacular sites. They include several African markets, a slavery museum that sits atop the spot where slaves were kept while awaiting transport to Brazil, Kwanza delta where the river meets the sea among others.  




This article has been read 6,125 times