Before the arrival of European colonists small groups of hunter-gatherers had spread over most of southern Africa for thousands of years, and they lived well in even the driest and wettest areas of the subcontinent. Some 2,000 years ago the domestication of sheep, cattle, and goats led to the emergence of nomadic herders, primarily in the wetter coastal areas and the nearby interior. These early inhabitants of the subcontinent have been known as the Khoisan people.
The European colonists who arrived during the 17th century called the herders (who referred to themselves as Khoekhoen) Hottentots, and the hunter-gatherers (called Sonqua, Obiqua, or San by the Khoekhoen), Bushmen. Both of these terms at first referred to differences in their ways of life but acquired narrower racial meanings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Because of their pejorative uses the terms Bushmen and Hottentot have been dropped in favor of San and Khoekhoen. The Khoisan people, however, were diverse, and each group had its own name and language or dialect. Despite these differences in language and ways of life, the Khoisan shared common patterns of kinship, territorial organization, rituals, and religious beliefs.
The European colonization of southern Africa between the 18th and early 20th centuries had disastrous consequences for the Khoisan population, leading to their loss of control over the natural resources crucial to an independent existence. Many Khoisan people were killed in warfare with European colonists and with other African people. An unknown number also died from imported diseases, such as smallpox. This was a common effect of colonization. The survivors were forced into colonial society at its lowest levels as domestic servants, farm laborers, and industrial workers. In the western and northwestern parts of southern Africa, some Khoekhoen people settled around mission stations, where they managed to maintain a semi-independent pastoral existence until as late as the 1950s. By then, however, there were only a few Kalahari San groups remaining in the central areas of the subcontinent who could still depend on hunting and gathering for a livelihood.
The Portuguese influence in West Africa began in the late 15th century when King John II of Portugal (1455–95), keenly interested in finding a sea route to India around the southern tip of Africa, sent Diogo Cam (or Cão; fl. 15th century), who reached the northern part of Angola in 1482. The northern region was then ruled by King Afonso (d. 1543) of the Kongo state and Queen Nzinga (1583–1663) of the southern Mbundu kingdom of Matamba. (Her royal title in the Kimbundu language was ngola, and it was from Queen Nzinga’s title that the Portuguese took the name for the colony of Angola.) Since the slave trade was a thriving business and promised great wealth, the Portuguese decided to establish their colony in the region. After building their first settlements in Luanda in 1576, the Portuguese began to exercise their control in the region. The Catholic Portuguese brought Christian missionaries with them, and King Afonso I embraced Christianity. Queen Nzinga, in contrast, fiercely resisted the Portuguese and punished those who formed alliances with whites. The Matamba queen also understood that the practice of converting Africans to Christianity was a European psychological tactic to separate them from their culture and renounced the name given to her by the Catholic missionaries.
The Portuguese encouraged slavery in the region and profited handsomely from it. King Afonso cooperated with them, hoping that by doing so he could provide his people with the skills and education found among Europeans. But the Portuguese were insatiable in their appetite for slaves and the wealth they brought, and Afonso’s efforts to end the slave trade proved futile. People from Angola were captured and forced to work as slaves in the sugar plantations in Brazil, São Tomé, and Principe. Between 1516 and 1539 Kongo was supplying 4,000 slaves a year to the Portuguese planters in South America, and by 1540 that number had increased to 7,000. When King Afonso died in 1543 the king of Portugal did not even notice. By 1830 Angola was deemed the largest source of slaves who were sent to Brazil and the United States.
Portugal was not without competitors for the rich potential of the region. The Dutch had South African interests and took over Luanda in 1641. While they held it for seven years the Portuguese recaptured the city in 1648 and undertook a systematic conquest of the Kongo and Ndongo states. In 1671 the Portuguese victory was complete. The British, who were also interested in the thriving slave trade of the region, refused to acknowledge the Portuguese right to Angola at first. Only after an Anglo-Portuguese Treaty was signed between the two countries in 1894 did England concede Angola to the Portuguese, and complete Portuguese control of the interior was not achieved until the beginning of the 20th century.
Until the early 20th century dictatorship and forced labor were the hallmarks of Portuguese rule in the region. After World War II the Portuguese also encouraged white migrants to settle in the region. In 1951 Portugal changed the colony into a province and called it Portuguese West Africa. This led to racial violence. Also around the same time, voices of independence were being raised in most colonies of West Africa, and the Angolans demanded their freedom from the Portuguese, who turned them down. Because Portugal continued to refuse to decolonize the region, three liberation movements emerged: the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Liberatção de Angola, or MPLA), which had connections to Communist parties in Europe; the National Liberation Front of Angola (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola or FNLA), with links to the United States and the Mobutu government in Zaire; and the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, or UNITA). Although all these groups fought for the same goal—the independence of Angola—they differed in ideologies and were unable to manage a unified war against the Portuguese.
In 1974 after a military coup in Portugal that brought a military government to power, Angola was handed over to the coalition government formed by the MPLA, UNITA, and FNLA. But their internal conflicts plunged the nation into a civil war. The region became an international military intervention hotspot with the UNITA and FNLA backed by the armed forces of the United States, Zaire, and South Africa. Cuba, on the other hand, supplied forces in support of the MPLA and had the backing of the Soviet Union in this endeavor. By November 1975 the MPLA had crushed the UNITA and FNLA; on November 11 Angola declared its independence from Portugal, and the MPLA came to power. Agostinho Neto (1922–79) became the first president of Angola.
However the remnants of UNITA continued its fight with the MPLA, and the civil unrest in the region continued until 2002, when a cease-fire was signed between the MPLA and UNITA. In August of the same year UNITA disbanded its forces and became a democratic political party. Finally after a period of great turmoil and uncertainty, Angola found peace. However the country has a long way to go since its economy was virtually destroyed during the civil war.

The coastal lowland, rising inland, and a high plateau form the three principal regions of Angola. The edge of the plateau region of Angola is marked by a chain of mountains. Prominent among them is Chella (5,250 feet), Tala Mugongo (4,400 feet), and Vissecua (6,500 feet). The volcanic mountain Caculo-Cabaza lies to the south of Kwanza, while Mt.
Elonga (7,550 feet) and Mt. Loviti (7,780 feet) are the highest peaks in the Benguella region. The uneven topography of Angola has produced many rapids and rainfalls. The Cuanza and Cunene are the two major rivers of the country. Angola experiences both dry and wet climates like other African regions. Heavy morning mists are the main feature of the dry season. Rainy seasons can last up to seven months (September–April) in the northern parts of Angola, while in the south the rainy season begins in November and lasts until February. July and August are the coolest months. The mean annual temperature is 72°F at São Salvador Congo, while at Caconda it is 67°F.

After attaining Angola’s independence in 1976, the main concern of the MPLA leadership was to stabilize the economy of the country and repair the extensive damage to the infrastructure caused by the civil war. Influenced by Marxist-Leninist policies, the country survived on oil exports, although agriculture was given some prominence as well. Agriculture is the main means of livelihood for the majority of Angolans. The two important cash crops are sugarcane and coffee. Angola also produces cassava, cotton, bananas, sisal, and tobacco. Fishing is also common. In the savanna regions, cattle, pigs, and sheep are raised. However since 1975 foodstuffs have to be imported.
The country is also rich in mineral resources and hydroelectric power. Oil is available primarily from offshore reserves and contributes 50 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Due to overspending on the military and widespread corruption, however, progress has been limited. Diamond mining is another industry that flourishes in Angola. Deposits of iron, gold, copper, and many other metals are also found here.
The country’s infrastructure is badly in need of repair, its railroads and roadways damaged by the frequent civil wars. Luanda and Lobito are the chief shipping ports of Angola. An active member of the Southern African Development Community, the United States, Portugal, and Brazil are Angola’s main trading partners.

Angola has a rich cultural history derived from the traditions of its tribal groups. The Ovimbundu of the central highlands of Angola constitute 37 percent of the population and are the largest ethnolinguistic group. Umbundu is their mother tongue. In the past Ovimbundus played a major role as intermediaries in the slave and ivory trades and controlled the well-knit Angolan community in the 1940s. The Mbundu tribe, the second largest ethnolinguistic group (25 percent), settled just north of Ovimbundu territory. Their language is Kimbundu. Although most of the boundaries of Mbundu territory have remained fairly firm, the social and linguistic boundaries of the category have shifted. Some of the peripheral groups have been variously influenced by neighboring groups, and the groups closest to the coast have been more strongly influenced by the Portuguese than the groups living in the interior.
The Bakongo people constitute 15 percent of the total Angolan population. They speak Kikongo. Lunda-Chokwe, Nganguela, Ovambo, NyanekaHumbe, and Herero were the other prominent indigenous communities of Angola. Although Christianity has many adherents in Angola, Angolans also continue to observe their traditional rituals. In the 1980s Marxist-Leninist policies influenced a large number of Angolans. Efforts made to develop a more systematic and friendly political structure by the MPLA party were based on the Soviet model, forcing many tribes to leave their tribal communities in rural areas and search for new methods of livelihood in cities. Due to this displacement, many tribal groups lost their ethnic identities. Even with the difficult socioeconomic system in the country, people are drawn to music and art. Their traditional music influenced the popular music of modern times. Batuque—a lively type of circle dance, a mix of African and Brazilian styles—and drum music, are also extremely popular in Angola.

The staple foods of Angola include corn, vegetables, meat, and palm oil. Funge, a cornmeal porridge, is a staple food and it is the base for many preparations. A popular Angolan recipe, called calulu, is a rich stew of okra, tomatoes, greens, garlic, and palm oil with chicken, dried beef, or fish. Chicken muamba, which contains onion, palm hash, garlic, and okra, is equally delicious. Muamba can be served with rice, funge, or palm oil beans. Piripiri, a fixture of Portuguese cuisine, originated in Angola. It is a paste of dried red chili peppers, garlic, chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, sea salt, lemon juice, and peanut or vegetable oil, and makes an excellent marinade or sauce for chicken, pork, beef, or fish.

The birth of a child is generally celebrated with joy in Angola. The people of the Ovimbundu tribe do not take the child outside their home for the first seven days after birth. They fear that bad luck may befall the child, because it is fragile and susceptible to evil spirits.

In Angola coming of age is celebrated with singing and dancing. During a special ceremony, birth and death are emphasized. Name changes can also happen at this time.
In ancient Angola the initiation ceremony for girls included leading a secluded life for a particular period of time. Female relatives would teach them about life as an adult and their responsibilities toward their ethnic group. Female circumcision is not practiced in Angola. The male circumcision ceremony takes place at puberty and is of great importance in Angola because the people believe that after circumcision a boy completes his transition from boyhood to manhood.
Masks play an important role in the initiation ceremonies. For example the male dancers in most tribes wear a female mask called mwana pwo, which means “young woman,” during initiation ceremonies. Also during the circumcision ceremony, men wear a polychromatic mask called a kalelwa, which means “protective spirit.”

In Angola people believe that they move on to a new dimension after death. Referred to as the “cult of ancestors,” the traditional belief is that the spirit lives on after the body is buried. Children are kept away from burial rituals. Only when their parents die are they allowed to participate.
Angolans believe that those who do not have a proper burial turn into harmful spirits and end up disturbing their own families, often causing diseases and death. Because the civil war in the country has claimed many lives and prevented many from having traditional burials, the people believe that there are many angry spirits that want to cause trouble. In order to avoid the harm such spirits can cause, Angolans perform other traditional rituals for their loved ones to pacify the ancestral spirits and protect the living from their wrath.