The External Trade of the Loango Coast 1576-1870

The Effects of Changing Commercial Relations on the Vili Kingdom of Loango By Phyllis M. Martin

There are two very common misconceptions about African History. 
The first is that before the arrival of the Europeans all Black Africa was occupied by "primitive" tribes. The second is that a clear distinction can be made between colonial and precolonial history. The External Trade of the Loango Coast, an account of a little known but intriguing part of African history, provides good illustration of the fallacy of both these ideas. The subject may seem esoteric, but consider whether a book entitled "english foreign trade 1500-1800" would be considered at all remarkable.

            In the 16th and 17th centuries the Vili Kingdom of Loango, situated on the west coast of Africa between the equator and the mouth of the Congo, was a powerful centralised state. Its ruler, the Maloango, was able to impose his own conditions on European traders, and played the different nations (predominantly portuguese and dutch) off against one another. Vili brokers acted as middlemen between African traders and European ship captains and Vili officials exacted taxes and duties; both made immense profits. Vili currency (palm cloth) remained in use throughout the whole of southwest Africa for several centuries.

            The trade was initially in luxury goods, with ivory, redwood and copper being traded for cloth, guns and other manufactures, but the growing demand for slaves in the New World (America) resulted in the almost completely domination of the slave trade. The volume of slaves exported from the Loango coast reached over 15000 per year, and Vili merchants penetrated far into the African interior in search of new sources.

            The primary economic effect of this trade was to create a class of rich Nobles whose wealth did not depend on the Maloango. This resulted in the gradual collapse of centralised authority and the eventual lapse of the office of Maloango. So the final demise of the Kingdom was due to European influence, but only indirectly so.



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Formerly included in the great Kingdom of Congo, Loango became independent towards the end of the sixteenth century, at which time it extended from the mouth of the Kwilou to that of the River Congo. By the treaties of 1885 all this country, over which Portugal had till then exercised a somewhat uncertain sway, became part of French Congo, except the enclave of Cabinda which still remained under Portuguese control. 

The transference of civil dominion affected the ecclesiastical distribution of the territory. By decree of 24 Nov., 1886, the Vicariate Apostolic of French Congo, or Lower Congo, more properly Loango, was detached from that of Gaboon; and in 1890, as a result of further division, the Vicariate of Upper French Congo, or Ubangi, was erected. The three vicariates which make up French Congo Gaboon, Loango, Ubangi embrace an area, approximately, of one million square miles. The official returns (1908) for French Congo and its dependencies are given in the "Annuaire Pontifical Catholique" (1909), 342, note.

The Vicariate Apostolic of Loango lies to the south of that of Gaboon; on the west, it is bounded by the Atlantic; on the south, by the Massabi river, Cabinda, and Belgian Congo; to the east is the Vicariate of Ubangi, from which it is separated by the Djue as far as the upper reaches of that river, and thence onward by a line drawn to meet the head waters of the Alima. 

The natives are known by the generic appellation of Fiots, i.e. "Blacks", and belong to the great Bantu family. Of the numerous dialects the most important is the Kivili. 

Amongst those who have contributed to the knowledge of the language are Mgr Carrie, the first Apostolic vicar, and Mgr Derouet, now in charge. The revival of missionary enterprise followed a grievous lapse on the part of the tribes from a relatively high degree of culture; fetichism, in its grossest forms, was everywhere rampant. The work of Christianization has been attended with serious difficulties, but in one year (1901) more than one thousand conversions were registered to the mission of Loango alone. The vicariate, entrusted to the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, numbers about 1,500,000 inhabitants, of whom more than 5,000 are Catholics and 3000 catechumens. 

There are 24 European missionaries, 1 native priest, 45 catechists, 15 brothers, and 11 sisters. Of the mission stations 8 residental, 62 secondary Loango, at the head of the Niari-Kwilou portage route, and starting-point of the "route des caravanes" to Brazaville, is the most important. Its fitness for serving as chief French port and railway depot of the territory has received serious attention of late. 

In this place (now a mere group of factories), which is the residence of the vicar, the fathers have their own printing establishment. The seminary and house of novices are at Mayumba, where P. Ignace Stoffel founded the mission in 1888. There are established in the vicariate 6 parochial schools, with 750 boys; 6 orphanages, with 650 inmates, and 1 religious institute of men, with 6 houses.

The present vicar Apostolic is Mgr Jean Derouet, of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, titular Bishop of Camachus. He was born at Saint-Denis-de-Villenette, Diocese of Seez, Department of Orne, France, 31 Jan., 1866. Ordained in 1891, he went as missionary to the Congo, and in 1904 was named pro-Vicar Apostolic of Loango. He was chosen bishop on 19 December, 1906; consecrated 3 Feb., 1907, in the chapel of the Holy Ghost, at Paris; preconized on 18 April of the same year; and appointed Vicar Apostolic of Lower French Congo.

Transcribed by Gerald M. Knight

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX
Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor
Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York


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