Reading 20 - Reading 20 Nzinga Mbemba(Afonso I"Letters to...

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Reading 20: Nzinga Mbemba (Afonso I), "Letters to the King of Portugal" Points: 50 Introduction: The largest state in central West Africa by 1500 was the kingdom of Kongo, stretching along the estuary of the Congo River in territory that today lies within Angola and Zaire. In 1483 the Portuguese navigator Diago Cao made contact with Kongo and several years later visited its inland capital. When he sailed home he brought with him Kongo emissaries, whom King Nzinga Kuwu dispatched to Lisbon to learn European ways. They returned n 1491, accompanied by Portuguese priests, artisans, and soldiers who brought with them numerous European goods, including a printing press. In the same year the king and his son, Nzinga Mbemba, were baptized as Catholic (see picture above). Around 1506 Nzinga Mbemba, whose Christian name was Afonso, succeeded his father and ruled until about 1543. Afonso promoted the introduction of European culture in his kingdom by adopting Christianity as the state religion (although most of his subjects, especially those in the hinterlands, were unaffected), imitating the etiquette of the Portuguese royal court, and using Portuguese as the language of state business. His son Henrique was educated in Portugal and returned to serve as West Africa's first black Roman Catholic bishop. European firearms, horses, and cattle, as well as new foods from the Americas, became common in Kongo, and Afonso dreamed of achieving a powerful and prosperous state through cooperation with the Europeans. By the time of his death, however, his kingdom verged on disintegration, in no small measure because of the Portuguese. As many later African rulers were to discover, the introduction of European products and customs caused widespread dissension and instability. Worse, the unceasing Portuguese pursuit of slaves undermined Afonso's authority and made his subjects restive. In 1526 the desperate king wrote the following two letters to King Joao III of Portugal, urging him to control his rapacious subjects. The documents are part of a collection of twenty-four letters that Afonso and his Portuguese-educated, native secretaries dispatched to the kings of Portugal on a variety of
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issues. Reading #1 Sir, Your Highness should know how our Kingdom is being lost in so many ways that it is convenient to provide for the necessary remedy, since this is caused by the excessive freedom given by your agents and officials to the men and merchants who are allowed to come to this Kingdom to set up shops with goods and many things which have been prohibited by us, and which they spread throughout our Kingdoms and Domains in such an abundance that many of our vassals, whom we had in obedience, do not comply because they have the things in greater abundance than we ourselves; and it was with these things that we had them content
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