In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Benguela

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • Brazil Connections
  • Slavery
  • Political, Economic, and Social Transformations During the Era of the Slave Trade
  • Cultural Transformations and the African Diaspora
  • Missionaries, Ethnographic Studies, and the Making of the Ovimbundu
  • After the End of the Slave Trade

Atlantic History Benguela
Mariana P. Candido
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0245


Benguela is a city in central Angola, but the term often refers to its immediate interior and regions in the central highlands of Angola, which were part of the so-called Kingdom of Benguela, a Portuguese administrative territory. Founded in 1617 by Manoel Cerveira Pereira in the name of the Portuguese Empire, it was initially called Sao Felipe de Benguela, in honor of the Iberian king Felipe II of Portugal or Felipe III of Spain. Inhabited by the Ndombe population, the port became the third most important slave port in the coast of Africa. From Benguela, over 760,000 African slaves were sent to the Americas, mainly to ports in Brazil. Only the ports of Luanda and Ouidah have seen more people exported from their shores than Benguela. Called Ombaka by the local Ndombe population, the port was an import hub of trade, and caravans visited the coast in search of dried fish and salt. In exchange, the Ndombe acquired copper. After the arrival of the Portuguese, the Ndombe were slowly moving away from the coast in search of safer locations, away from raids and labor demands of the European power. French, Dutch, and English interlopers, who ignored the Portuguese claim of monopoly over the trade, visited the port throughout the era of the transatlantic slave trade in search of captives to attend to the labor demands in the colonies in the Americas. With the end of the slave exports, new economic schemes developed in the regions, such as the establishment of cotton and sugar cane plantations, in the so-called “legitimate” commerce. In the second half of the 19th century, the demand for rubber and ivory in Europe and North America replaced the commerce on human beings. The long-distance trade caravans brought rubber, ivory, and copper from the states located in the central highlands. Later on, in the early 20th century, the Benguela railway was built to accelerate the displacement of raw material, connecting the coast to the copper belt region in Zambia.

General Overviews

Few works have been published that cover the history of Benguela after 1975. For the colonial period, Delgado 1944 and Delgado 1945 focus mainly on the Portuguese presence in Benguela. These titles have a strong pro-Portuguese perspective, stressing the glories of Portuguese victories and the expansion of the Catholicism in the region. A series of general studies about west-central Africa treat Benguela, not exclusively, but as part of the west-central Africa regions. Comments and episodes about Benguela’s history tend to be treated in studies focusing on other regions of west-central Africa or general books, including in Aguiar 2006, Curto 2002, and Miller 1997. A growing number of publications, among them Freudenthal 2011 and Candido 2013, examine the interactions of the local population and the Portuguese and the contact between the coast and the interior.

  • Aguiar, Pascoal. Administração colonial portuguesa no Congo, em Angola e em Benguela. 2 vols. Lisbon, Portugal: Sociedade Histórica da Independência de Portugal, 2006.

    Explores the history of Benguela and its relationship with the Portuguese Angola and Congo. Focuses on the colonial administration, relying on primary sources available in Portuguese archives. Few references to the local population, and emphasis is on the Portuguese presence.

  • Candido, Mariana P. An African Slaving Port in the Atlantic World: Benguela and Its Hinterland. African Studies 124. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511997594

    Explores the history of Benguela from the earlier settlement, covering its founding in 1617 until 1850. Focuses on the integration of the region’s population into the Atlantic world and the impact of the transatlantic slave trade on political and social organizations. Research was based on primary sources available in Angolan, Portuguese, and Brazilian archives.

  • Curto, José C. Álcool e escravos: O comércio luso-brasileiro do álcool em Mpinda, Luanda e Benguela durante o tráfico atlântico de escravos (c  1480–1830) e o seu impacto nas sociedades da África Central Ocidental. Tempos e Espaços Africanos 3. Lisbon, Portugal: Editora Vulgata, 2002.

    Explores the economic effects of the transatlantic slave trade in different parts of west-central Africa, including Benguela. Although it does not focus exclusively on Benguela, this study discusses the economic impact of the transatlantic slave trade over the local economies, stressing the importance of the exchange of alcohol produced in Brazil for African slaves.

  • Delgado, Ralph. Ao sul do Cuanza (ocupação e aproveitamento do antigo reino de Benguela). 2 vols. Lisbon, Portugal: Imprensa Beleza, 1944.

    Dated but still-relevant study of the Portuguese occupation of the region south of the Kwanza River. Focuses mainly on the 1779–1941 period, paying particular attention to the Portuguese armed conflicts and the process of occupation in the interior of Benguela. Provides transcription of documents from archives in Angola.

  • Delgado, Ralph. O reino de Benguela: Do descobrimento à criação do governo subalterno. Lisbon, Portugal: Imprensa Beleza, 1945.

    Classic study about Benguela from its founding until 1779. Written in 1945, while Benguela was under Portuguese rule, Delgado stressed the contribution of the Portuguese to the early history of the port town. Most of the attention is given to colonial authorities and not much information is provided on the local population. Delgado worked closely to official reports to narrate the history of Benguela.

  • Freudenthal, Aida. “Benguela—da feitoria à cidade colonial.” Fontes & Estudos 6–7 (2011): 197–229.

    Traces the evolution of the town of Benguela from its founding to a colonial city in the 20th century. Discusses the importance of the slave trade and slavery locally, and the slow transition toward legitimate commerce in the mid-19th century. Stresses the importance of urban segregation in the colonial centers in the 20th century.

  • Miller, Joseph C. Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730–1830. E-book. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.

    Massive study on the organization of the transatlantic slave trade, focusing on Portugal, Angola, and Brazil. Emphasizes the Atlantic connections between Brazilian and Angolan ports and merchant elites and explores the link between the transatlantic slave trade and the rise of merchant capitalism. First published in 1988.

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