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The Congolese Empire

The Era of Portuguese Imperialism

Portuguese Military Units in the Province of Angola


Republican Armed Forces






In the region of present Congo and in the district of Congo in the north of Angola, was the Empire of Congo in the Middle Ages. [1] It was founded by peoples who had invaded the area from the southeast around 1400.Around the actual Congo there were five more or less autonomous areas: the three kingdoms Ngoyo, Kakongo and Loango (in the area of ​​the current Republic of Congo), the Matamba district in the Kwango area and Ndongo that lay around the Kwanzi river. The princes of these empires recognized, albeit mostly in name, the reign of the Manikongo, the Emperor of Congo.

The Portuguese discovered the area in 1482. By the discoverer, Diogo Cão in that year on the southern bank of the Zaire, on the most northwestern point of Angola a so-called padrão was erected. To this padrão the place is still called Punto Padrão. The pillar consisted of a pole with a capital with the coat of arms of Portugal and a long text in Portuguese: IN THE YEAR 1681 SINCE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD, THE YEAR 1482 SINCE THE BIRTH OF OUR LORD JESUS ​​CHRIST THE AUGUST, ILLUSTROUS AND POWERFUL PRINCE, KING DOM JOHN II OF PORTUGAL, HAS ORDERED DIOGO CÃO, KNIGHT OF HIS HOUSE, TO DISCOVER THIS COUNTRY AND TO ERECT THESE PILLARS. On the capital is the cross of the Order of Christ.[2]

In 1490, missionaries and craftsmen were sent by John II to the newly discovered country. The pretender to the throne, Nzinga Mbemba, was baptized in 1491 as Alphonso. He ruled from 1506 to 1543 as Dom Alphonso I. He strove to organize  his empire on a European footing and maintained good relations with the Portuguese king. As a Manikongo he wore a European-style coat of arms that was granted to him by this monarch. It was recorded in 1541 by Antonio Godinho in an armorial, the "Livro do Torre do Tombo" (now kept in the archive of the same name in Lisbon). It is: Red, five armored arms, armed with swords, 2, 1 and 2 in the natural color, and a blue chief with a white lily-cross between four golden scallops. In the base of the shield is a white point charged with a blue shield showing five white besants 2.1 and 2, between the congolese regalia, i.e. two thrones and two hand drums. On the shield is a golden helmet with five bars and lambrequnied red and gold, crowned with a crown with five fleurons and as a crest the five arms from the coat of arms.

Undoubtedly, the five swords, badges of a constable, stand for the five vassal states. With the cross in the chief can be meant the cross of the Order of Avis. The scallops possibly refer to the Order of St. James of the Sword, which would rhyme again with the swords in the arms. [3]

Alfonso I was succeeded by five kings of which Dingo I ruled the longest - 15 years. In 1567, Manikongo Alvaro I came to power who ruled until 1576. In the Museum Plantijn Moretus in Antwerp I discovered a map on which the arms of Alvaro I was drawn. [4] It seems to have been derived directly from the Alfonso I arms, but it has been considerably simplified. The armed arms are reduced to five swords, the chief has been omitted and in base the coat of arms of Portugal is in place of the regalia. The crest has been replaced by a crown. The motto is written on a ribbon above the coat of arms: ALVARUS PRIMVS REX CONGI (Alvaro I, King of Congo).

Alvaro I was confronted with raids from Central Africa during his government. Armed tribes brought the empire in 1576 a blow from which it could not recover. After the middle of the 17th century, the Manikongo Empire effectively ceased to exist after the government of Garcia II (1641-'61).

The Portuguese stepped into the created power vacuum in 1576 and founded São Paolo de Luanda in that year as the center of the slave trade. They would continue to colonize the area until 1975.

In the nineteenth century the personal physician of the then Manikongo was allowed to carry a coat of arms of which the right half was occupied by the described imperial arms as descibed above, but it is not clear whether this was discovered in the archives for the occasion or that the memory of it still survived.


Group gathered around throne and regalia. Kongo (1686),

by Olfert Dapper, 1639-1689 [5]


At the time of the first contacts of the Congolese with the Portuguese, the most important of the small rulers in the Ndongo area was the Ngola. The name "Angola" is derived from this hereditary ruler's title.

The Portuguese founded São Paulo de Luanda in 1576 as a center for the slave trade to Brazil. From here they extended their power further and further to the interior. Portugal remained the undisputed ruler of the area for the next few centuries with only a brief interruption from 1641 to 1648 when they had to give it to the Dutch.

At the Congo conference in 1885 Portugal received Angola as a colony. In 1951, limited self-government was granted under pressure from national liberation movements. After a transitional government from 1975, Angola became an independent People's Republic on 11 November of the same year.

For the colony in 1935 a coat of arms was adopted that has the model of the arms of the other Portuguese colonies: a shield divided in three per point arched with the five shields of Portugal in the first field, the second field the specific symbols for the colony and in base green waves for the overseas territories. The shield is covered with a mural crown and is placed on a golden armillary sphere, the symbol of the Portuguese empire. Below the armillary sphere is a ribbon with the name of the colony or province.

The specific field for Angola was purple with an elephant in chief and a zebra in base, both of gold. [6]

The coat of arms of the Republic has the usual Soviet model: in the middle are the symbols of the party (the yellow five-pointed star of the MPLA), the labor (an adze), the armed struggle (a machete) and the development of the new nation (an rising sun). They are surrounded by the symbols of agriculture and industry: coffee and cotton branches and a cogwheel; and of popular development: an open book. At the bottom is a script with the name of the country: Republica Popular de Angola.

In 1990 Angola became an ordinary republic. The arms were changed by mirroring the wreath but remained the same for the rest. The "Republica de Angola" is now on the cover.




Nzinga a Nkuwa



Nzinga Mvemba / Dom Alphonso I

Manikongo 1507-1543



Arms: Gules, five arms in full armoury, each holding a sword upright, proper, 2,1, and 2, in base a point Argent, an escutcheon Azure, five balls per cross saltire Argent, between four unidentified objects Or; and a chief azure, a cross flory Argent between four shells Or, 2 and 2.

Crest: On a helmet to the dexter Or, lined Vert, lambrequined Gules and Or, issuing from a golden crown, five arms in full armoury each holding a sword upright proper.


From:  Godinho, Antonio: Livro da Nobreza Perfeição das Armas dos Reis Cristaos e Nobres Linhagens dos Reinos e Senhorios de Portugal. Livro da Torre do Tombo. Lisboa, 1541.


Pedro I


Dingo I


Afonso II




Henrique I




Alvaro I




Royal arms of Congo1578-’87


Arms:  Gules, five swords per pale, hilts in base 2, 1 and 2, the central one the biggest, proper, in base an escutcheon of Portugal

Crown: A crown with drie leaves and two pearls.

Motto: ALVARVS PRIMVS REX CONGI (Alvarus I, King of Congo).


Alvaro II



Struggle for Succesion in Kongo. Seven Mani Kongo 1614-1641


Garcia II



Somewhat modified the arms are given by Francisco Coelho in his “Tesouro da Nobreza” (1675).

Fol. 35 of this armorial shows:




Arms: Gules, five arms in armoury, armed with a sword proper in lower semi-circle, in base the quinas-arms between statues of (Victoria ?) and (Belluno?) standing on a grassy ground; and a chief Azure, a rectangular crossArgent between two shella Or.

Crest: The arms in armoury of the arms in saltire.


The legend reads: El Rey de Congo  Dadas por El Rey Dom Manoel. (The King of Congo, granted to King Manoel)




The King of Congo

By Allain Mallet, 1719


Arms: A cross between four escutcheons charged with five besants in saltire


Manuel Afonso Nzinga a Nlenke was a ruler of Kibangu and was one of the two main Kinlaza claimants to the throne of the Kingdom of Kongo during its civil war, the other being the King of Lemba. He ruled the Kingdom of Kibangu from 1685 to 1688.

When Manuel Afonso ascended to the throne of Kibangu, there were those who were opposed to his claim to the Kingdom of Kongo, and an internal struggle for the throne of Kibangu began. The leaders of those against Manuel Afonso's rule were two brothers of the Água Rosada house, the product of one Kinlaza parent, and one Kimpanzu parent. The brothers' faction was eventually successful in 1688, and the older of the two, Álvaro, gained the throne of Kibangu [7]






Colónia de Angola



In 1933 a coat of arms for Angola was proposed existing of an impaled of Portugal and a special blazon for the province.

Arms: Per pale, the dexter of Portugal and the sinister fer fess, the chief an elephant in front of a tree in a landscape, proper; the base a zebra in front of a palm-tree in a landscape proper.[8]


About a year later the arms were changed. They became:


Arms: Gules, a Pelican in her piety proper; surrounded by a bordure Or, charged with five quinas escutcheons alternating with five crosses of the Order of Christ.

Crown: A Portuguese mural crown of five towers Or



í Pelecanus erythrorhynchos - Pelecanidæ "in her piety," that is a mother pelican wounding her breast to feed her young from her own blood. This symbol is emblematic of Christian charity.


Another year later the coat of arms was changed again, reverting to the arms of 1933:


Arms: Parted per pale and a base per point arched: 1. Argent, five escutcheons Azure, five balls Argent 2, 1 and 2 per cross for Portugal. 2. Purpure, an elephant (Loxodonta africana - Elephantidæ) and a zebra (Equus grevyi - Equidæ) per pale Or, for Angola; 3. Argent, five bars wavy Vert for the colony.

Crown: A Portuguese mural crown with five towers Or.

Supporter: An armillary-sphere Or.


 Adopted 8.V.1935.


Província de Angola



Achievement as before but the title changed into PROVÍN. PORTUGUESA DE ANGOLA


Portuguese Military Units in the Province of Angola [9]









1. Região Militar de Angola / Angola Regional Command


Arms: Or, a Welwitchia Mirabilis flowering Vert, seeded Or, within a bordure Gules.

Crest: On a helmet to the dexter, lambrequined Or and Vert, two lions-paws Gules in saltire, upholding a shield Or, a Welwischia Mirabilis flowering Vert, seeded Or.

Motto: CONSTANTE E FIEL (Constant and Faithful)


The Welwitschia Mirabilis, a plant of the Moçamedes desert where it resists the hostile environment and even flowers, symbolizes the heroism of the Portuguese army in Angola and its unbending tenacity in the struggle against all its adversaries and for better and worse continues its arduous mission.

The bordure Gules symbolizes a regional command

The lions claws symbolize the arms of the Portuguese soldiers defending the province of Angola.




Smaller arms



2 Grupo Dragões de Angola / Angola Dragoons


Arms: Sable, two swords in saltire proper between four dragons rampant Or

Crest: On a helmet to the dexter, lambrequined Sable and Or, a dragon rampant Or, in  his dexter a sword upright proper.

War cry: DRAGÕES...CARREGAR (dragoons ...charge).


The colour of the shield symbolizes the territory of Angola on the black continent.

The two swords symbolize the arms of the Cavalry

The four dragons symbolize the four unities and their military valour

The crest symbolizes a unity ready to attack

The war cry alludes to the commander of the 2nd Squadron Planalto Dragoons, lieutenant Alfredo Pedreira Martins de Lima  who attacked in the Cuamatos Campaign with the cry  “Dragões ao golpe! Carregar! Carregar! Carregar!”(dragoons to the encounter, charge, charge, charge)


3 Escola de Aplicação Militar de Angola / School of Military Training of Angola


Arms: Lozengy Argent and Sable, a chief  Purpure, an elephant Or.

Crest: On a helmet to the dexter, lambrequined Argent and Sable, a black hand vested Argent and a white hand vested Sable, per pale upholding a lamp Or.

Motto: PARA SERVIR-VOS BRAÇO ÀS ARMAS FEITO (These arms are made to serve you.)


The lozengy symbolizes the racial  integration of black and white.

The chief symbolizes the Province of Angola

The vested arms symbolize the collaboration of black and white Portuguese to reach enlightenment

The lamp symbolizes the didactic task of the School of Military Training of Angola.




República Popular de Angola




Arms: Azure, an adze and a machete in saltire proper, in chief a mullet Or and in base a rising sun Gules.

Garland: D. A stalk of corn and branches of coffee and cotton, S. a cogwheel and in base an open book all proper.

Motto: República Popular de ANGOLA in red lettering on a ribbon Or.


República de Angola

1990- present


Arms: Azure, an adze and a machete in saltire proper, in chief a mullet Or and in base a rising sun Gules.

Garland: D. a cogwheel; S.: A stalk of corn and branches of coffee and cotton, and in base an open book all proper.

Motto: REPÚBLICA DE ANGOLA in black lettering on a ribbon Or.


Æ See illustration in the head of this article


Presidential Flag (2002)




Cap badge 1975-1990



Police Cap Badge


Republican Armed Forces




Drawings H.d.V.







Cabinda (also spelled Kabinda) is an exclave and province of Angola, a status that has been disputed by many political organizations in the territory. The capital city is also called Cabinda. The province is divided into four municipalities - Belize, Buco Zau, Cabinda and Cacongo.

Modern Cabinda results from the fusion of three kingdoms: N'Goyo, Loango and Kakongo. It is 7,823 km2 in area, and has a population of 264,584 (estimated in 2006)

While the Angolan Civil War largely ended in 2002, an armed struggle persists in the exclave of Cabinda, where some of the factions have proclaimed an independent Republic of Cabinda, with offices in Paris.


Portuguese explorers, missionaries and traders arrived at the mouth of the Congo River in the mid-fifteenth century, making contact with the Manikongo, the powerful King of the Congo. The Manikongo controlled much of the region through affiliation with smaller kingdoms, such as the Kingdoms of Ngoyo, Loango and Kakongo in present-day Cabinda.

Over the years, the Portuguese, Dutch, and English established trading posts, logging camps and small palm oil processing factories in Cabinda. Trade continued and the European presence grew, resulting in conflicts between the rival colonial powers.

Portugal first claimed sovereignty over Cabinda in the February 1885 Treaty of Simulanbuco, which gave Cabinda the status of a protectorate of the Portuguese Crown under the request of “the princes and governors of Cabinda”. This is often the basis upon which the legal and historical arguments in defence of self-determination of modern-day Cabinda are constructed. Article 1, for example, states, “the princes and chiefs and their successors declare, voluntarily, their recognition of Portuguese sovereignty, placing under the protectorate of this nation all the territories by them governed” [sic]. Article 2, which is often used in separatist arguments, goes even further: “Portugal is obliged to maintain the integrity of the territories placed under its protection.” FLEC-R’s case, for instance, rests on the fact that the above-mentioned treaty was signed between the emissaries of the Portuguese Crown and the princes and notables of Cabinda, giving rise to not one, but three protectorates: Cacongo, Loango and Ngoio.

Through the Treaty of Simulambuco in 1885 between the kings of Portugal and Cabinda's princes, a Portuguese protectorate was decreed, reserving rights to the local princes and independent of Angola. Cabinda once had the Congo River as the only natural boundary with Angola, but in 1885, the Conference of Berlin extended the Congo Free State's territory along the Congo River to the river's mouth at the sea.

In 1975, the Treaty of Alvor integrated Cabinda into Angola, but this treaty was rejected by Cabindan political organizations. These organizations argue that because they had no input on the document, it was, and is, illegal, and therefore does not bind them to Angola






From: www.cabinda.net/Cabinda08.html 10.12.2006



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© Hubert de Vries 2006-12-16 / Updated 2009-06-04 / 2009-08-13 / 2009-11-17 / 2011-03-13 /  2011-11-17; 2019.03.08




[1] The putting of this Congo is argumented by the fact that the residence of the Manikongo was in Mbanza, called  São Salvador  by the Portuguese. São Salvador is situated in the north-angolise province  Congo (today the povince of Zaire and São Salvador renamed in M’Banza  See also the map of  Regna Congo et Angola byJohannes Blaeu, 1662 (pp. 150-151).

[2]  Replica’s are preserved in the Afrika Museum in Tervuren and in the Museo Marinha in Lissabon. Order of Christ was founded in 1319 as a successor of the Order of the Temple. The padrão in the Museum te Tervuren. Foto. H.d.V.

[3]  The Order of Avis was founded in 1144. The Order of Santiago in 1290.

[4]  Duarte, Lopez:  Vera Descriptio Regni Africani Congus Appellatur. Translation Pigafetta, Frankfurt, De Bry, 1599. The exploration of this map was done in the years 1578-’87. (Museum Plantijn-Moretus, Antwerpen).

[5] https://kwekudee-tripdownmemorylane.blogspot.com/2013/05/pre-colonial-african-kingdom-of-kongo.html

[6] Die Portugiesische Kolonien. In: Der Herold, 1943 pp. A3-A4.

[7] http://www.egyptsearch.com/forums/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=print_topic;f=15;t=008876

[8] http://www.exercito.pt/portal/exercito/_specific/public/allbrowsers/asp/projuallarm.asp?stage=2&arm=38, jul-sep 1933

[9] http://www.exercito.pt/portal/exercito/_specific/public/allbrowsers/asp/projuallarm.asp?stage=2&arm=38, abr-jul 1934

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