POPULATION: 11 million
LANGUAGE: Portuguese; Ovimbundu; Mbundu, Kongo; Chokwe; other Bantu languages
RELIGION: Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism); indigenous religious beliefs
In 1482 the Portuguese established forts and missions along the west coast of the Republic of Angola. King Alphonso of the Kongo converted to Christianity and established friendly relations with Portugal. In 1575, the Portuguese sent convicted criminals to Angola, where they founded a settlement at Luanda, the present-day capital of Angola.
In 1483, slave trading began and continued for almost 400 years, even though there were many attempts to ban it. The Portuguese formally abolished slavery in 1875, but it was not until 1911 that the slave trade really ended.
In 1900 the Portuguese settlers began cacao and palm oil plantations. Diamond mining began in 1912. In 1951 the Portuguese made Angola an overseas territory and an integral part of Portugal. A year later, the first colonatos (planned settlements) were settled by Portuguese immigrants. The Portuguese had a policy known as assimilado. This policy permitted only culturally assimilated Angolans (those who had adopted European ways) to enjoy the privileges of Portuguese citizenship. As of 1960, only about 80,000 of 4.5 million people in Angola qualified as citizens.
Many in Angola were not happy with the Portuguese control of their country. These Angolans organized resistance movements. After years of struggle, Angola gained its independence from Portugal on November 11, 1975. With independence came conflict between different factions of society. There has been constant civil unrest in Angola since 1975, and hundreds have lost their lives in the conflict. In 1995, the United Nations sent peacekeepers to monitor an agreement among rival leaders to try to end twenty years of fighting.
The largest ethnic group is the Ovimbundu, comprising 37 percent of the population. The Mbundu are second at 22 percent. These two groups adapted well to European ways introduced by the Portuguese, and are successful traders. The third largest group is the Bakongo at 13 percent, followed by the Luimbe-Nganguela and the Nyaneka-Humbe at a little over 5 percent each. Scattered in the arid (hot and dry) southern third of Angola are seminomadic peoples (people who move often during part of the year, transporting their households with them). Until around 1900, these people hunted and gathered, but now they herd animals and grow food crops.
The population of Angola is estimated to be more than 11 million people; it is projected to reach over 20 million people by the year 2015.
Angola is bordered by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Zambia to the east, and Namibia to the south. To the west lies the Atlantic Ocean. The total area is 481,354 square miles (1,246,700 square kilometers). The capital is Luanda.
The Bié Plateau lies in the center of the country. This plateau is the source of several major rivers, including the Cunene River, flowing to the south and west; the Kuanza River, flowing northwest to the Atlantic; the Kwango River, flowing northward; and the Zambezi River, flowing to the east.
The tallest mountains (serra) are found in the region of the Bié Plateau. In the southwest, in the mountain range known as Serra Xilengue, Mt. Moco rises to 8,594 feet (2,578 meters).
Portuguese is the official language, although 95 percent of Angolans speak Ovimbundu, Mbundu, Kongo, Chokwe, and other languages. Portuguese remains important because it is the language of government, national media, and international relations. Since Angola became independent in 1975, African languages have been taught in school.
The first president of Angola, Antonio Agostinho Neto, is a national hero. His birthday, September 17, is celebrated as National Hero's Day. He belonged to a group responsible for shaping Angola when it became independent from Portugal. His group's battle cry in the early 1950s was "Let us discover Angola." The group also coined the term angolidade (Angolinity), to describe national identity.
About 90 percent of Angolans are Christian, with Catholics representing 70 percent, and Protestants, 20 percent. Traditional religion is practiced by about 10 percent of Angolans.
Public holidays include Inicio de Luta Armada (Commencement of Armed Struggle Day) on February 4; Victory Day on March 27; Youth Day on April 14; Armed Forces Day on August 1; National Hero's Day (anniversary of the birth of Antonio Agostinho Neto, first Angolan president) on September 17; Independence Day on November 11; Pioneers' Day on December 1; and Foundation of the MPLA Workers' Party Day on December 10.
On Christmas and New Year's Day, friends assume godmother (madrinha) and godfather (padrinho) relationships. They take turns giving gifts to each other; one offers the other a gift on Christmas and the other returns the gesture on New Year's Day. In the capital, young people are likely to spend New Year's Eve with their families until midnight, just long enough to taste some champagne. Then they head for the discos with friends until early morning. Angolans celebrate carnival (Mardi Gras) on the Tuesday preceding the Christian holiday of Ash Wednesday, which begins the period of Lent leading up to Easter.
Many of the rites of passage are marked by Christian ceremonies. Birth, baptism, marriage, and funeral ceremonies are all celebrated by church rites. To celebrate a birth, people drink champagne and give gifts. To mark a death, friends and relatives join the family of the person who has died for a meal after the burial ceremony. A widow often wears black for a month, and stays inside for a week after the funeral.
The most common greeting is the Portuguese Ola (OH-lah, Hello), followed by Como esta? (ko-mo ess-TAH) or Como vai? (ko-mo VA-ee), both of which translate to "How are you?" Depending on the time of the day, one might hear Bom dia (bone JEE-ah, Good morning), Boa tarde (bow-ah TAR-day, Good afternoon), or Boa noite (bow-ah NWAH-tay, Good night). Shaking hands is common. A kiss on each cheek is becoming an accepted greeting among friends in urban life, although older people prefer to shake hands. Pointing is considered rude.
Dating rules depend on the family. Young people usually choose their own spouses. Dating in the cities is common and usually involves going out to a movie, eating in a restaurant, or attending parties. When a couple becomes engaged to be married, a ring is offered by the young man. The two families then meet to discuss matters such as bride price. Bride price, which is paid to the father of the bride, may involve gifts of clothing, perfume, and jewelry. The custom of payment of bride price is more common in the rural areas, where traditional practices are more common in all aspects of life. In towns and cities, social customs have changed more rapidly to reflect Western ways.
Living conditions have worsened as a result of the civil war that has been going on since 1975. Health care and medical facilities have gotten worse, especially in those parts of the country where neither the government nor the rebels are in control.
The civil unrest has forced people to leave their homes to search for safe places to live. Millions of these refugees cannot find adequate food, water, and sanitary services. They are at risk of infectious and parasitic diseases and starvation. Land mines are buried all over Angola, and as many as 50,000 people—including women and children —have lost arms or legs in land-mine explosions. There are not enough doctors to care for the population. It is estimated that there is only one doctor per 10,000 people, a low ratio even for Africa. Private medical facilities exist, providing a higher standard of medical care. But the refugees who are in the greatest need of food, water, and medical care cannot afford to go to private hospitals or clinics.
Houses are typically made out of local materials, with mud or cinderblock walls and thatched or galvanized iron roofs. In Luanda, where space is limited, apartment living is becoming more common. Electricity in Luanda is fairly dependable. However, water is irregular in some zones, and families who can afford it install their own reserve water tanks.
In rural Angola, women till the fields, gather wood and water, and do domestic chores. Polygyny (when a husband has more than one wife) is practiced in both rural and urban areas, but men must have enough wealth to support more than one wife. Co-wives live separately from each other in their own houses. Abortion is legal only to save a woman's life.
In Angolan villages, women typically raise between six and twelve children. However, women's rights groups such as the Organization of Angolan Women are helping to establish literacy programs and health units.
In larger towns, women have fewer children and compete for male-dominated jobs. Women drive cars, study at universities, vote, occupy non-combat positions in the army, and serve as traffic policewomen. As of the late 1990s, five women ministers held government cabinet posts in such areas as oil, fisheries, and culture. Five women were Public Ministry magistrates, and there were three women judges. One woman headed a political party and was a candidate in the 1992 elections.
In traditional families, extended kin relationships are common. Ovimbundu children inherit from both their mother and their father. In most other ethnic groups boys inherit from their mother's brother. In the Mbundu ethnic group, a daughter joins her husband in his village, and a son joins his uncle's (mother's brother's) village.
In the towns and cities, Western-style clothing is common, though some people still wear traditional clothing. The villages remain more traditional, where women wear panos, African wraparound batik garments. Dressing up for parties and special occasions in the cities almost certainly means wearing Western-style outfits. Angolan youth prefer casual jeans and T-shirts, except for special occasions. There are a few groups, such as the Mukubao in the southern Angolan province of Kuando Kubango, who do not wear any clothing.
Whenever possible, Angolans eat three meals a day. A breakfast consists of bread, eggs, and tea or coffee. Sometimes mothers may prepare a special breakfast treat of sweet rice (arroz doce).
The staple foods include cassava (a plant with an edible root), corn, millet (a small-seeded grain), sorghum (a grassy plant that yields a grain used alone or to make syrup), beans, sweet potatoes, rice, wheat, and bananas. Typical midday meals consist of a ball of manioc dough (cassava flour mixed with boiling water), with fish, chicken, or meat. People in the north and in the capital enjoy pounded cassava leaves (kisaka). Specialty dishes include mwamba de galinha, a palm-nut paste sauce in which chicken, spices, and peanut butter are cooked, creating a delightful aroma. A recipe adapted for Western cooks follows. Angolans make use of their abundant fresh and saltwater fish. One dish, calulu , combines fresh and dried fish. A favorite dish among Angolans is cabidela, chicken's blood eaten with rice and cassava dough.
When Angola was a colony of Portugal, all schools were operated by the Catholic Church. High schools were for a small number of students from elite (wealthy and powerful) families. Only a few of those who attended high school actually completed their studies and graduated. Education at the primary level was of low quality, and only about 10 percent of the population could read and write when Angola won independence from Portugal in 1975.
Since then, the civil war has made improving the education system difficult, but the government has worked to improve the literacy rate. By the late 1990s, 42 percent of Angolans could read and write, but males still have far greater educational opportunity. Overall, 56 percent of males are literate, compared with only 28 percent of females. About three times as many men as women continue their studies beyond the tenth grade. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was providing funding in the late 1990s to support education for poor and rural children. It is difficult for Angolan schools to operate in a society that is constantly at war, and where there are not enough funds or teachers to meet the students' needs. Private schooling exists but is costly.
The Agostinho Neto University, the public university in Luanda, has three campuses but has been devastated by poor economic conditions resulting from the war. Many students decide to go to college outside Angola. Many go to Cuba or Russia. Some even travel to study in the United States.
Percussion, wind, and string instruments are found throughout Angola. Maracas (saxi) are made by drilling a few small holes in dried gourds and placing dried seeds or glass beads inside. The box lute (chilhumba) is played during long journeys by nomads in southern Angola. Musical performances often include dancing. Members of the Luimbe-Ngangela ethnic group in eastern Angola wear masks when they dance.
Serve with rice.
Traditional music has strongly influenced popular music. Young people prefer to dance, holding each other close, to kizumba , a style of upbeat rhythmic music. The discos play imports such as the samba from Brazil, and popular music from the United States and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Storytelling is an important foundation of Angolan literature. It is generally agreed that written literature began in 1850 with a book of verse by José de Silva Maia Ferreira. Since 1945 the liberation struggle has developed strong links between literature and political activism. Many MPLA (Worker's Party) leaders and members, including Agostinho Neto, took part in this movement. From 1975 until the early 1990s, Angolan writers had to be affiliated with some kind of governmental organization in order to be published.
Angola's cultural heritage also is tied to the Portuguese language. Angola shares its past as a Portuguese colony with four other African countries—Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tomé and Principe, and Cape Verde.
Angola is recovering from a severe reduction in its work force, which began in 1975 with the abrupt departure of more than 90 percent of the white settlers. Many of the 300,000 departing Portuguese took their skills with them, and deliberately destroyed factories, plantations, roads, and transportation systems. The prolonged civil war chased away skilled Angolans and foreign money. Angolans currently are undertaking a national recovery program to rebuild and diversify their economy and to retrain their people.
Soccer is the most popular participant and spectator sport, played by both girls and boys. The "Citadel" in Luanda is one of Africa's largest stadiums.
In the 1990s, basketball gained popularity in Angola after the Angolan men's national basketball team won three consecutive All-African championships. Backboards and baskets are now seen on street corners in most villages, towns, and cities. Handball, volleyball, and track and field round out the most popular sports.
Chess is a popular pursuit in Angola. The country has nearly a dozen international chess masters. Children enjoy a traditional game, ware, which is a mancala game. Mancala games, played in many variations throughout Africa, involve two players who move stones around a playing surface. The surface may be a board with carved indentations or a patch of ground with indentations dug out of the soil.
The advent of the satellite dish has made television an increasingly popular form of entertainment in Luanda and other urban centers. The dishes are status symbols and allow Angolans to increase their options from the one government-run station to an array of channels from all over the world. Angolans connect with the world's popular culture by watching Brazilian shows (in Portuguese), MTV, and American movies with Portuguese subtitles. Residents in apartment buildings lower their costs by sharing the same satellite dish. While movie theatres remain popular, video rental stores are growing in popularity in Luanda, and videos are part of an urban trend toward home entertainment.
Luanda's three museums, including the Museum of Anthropology, contain a fine collection of African art and handicrafts. Noncommercial masks and sculptures vary according to ethnic group. They symbolize rites of passage or changes in seasons, and play important roles in cultural rituals. Artisans work with wood, bronze, ivory, malachite, and ceramics.
In the 1980s, the Ministry of Culture stifled art by controlling all art production and marketing. Recent deregulation (the removal of government restrictions) has made handicraft production a blossoming cottage industry (small business often operated from the home). Stylized masks, statuettes, and trinkets ("airport art") now flood the popular Futungo tourist market on the outskirts of Luanda. This art may not reflect the deep cultural beliefs of the people, but it provides work and a source of income for people with artistic skills. Shoppers at the Futungo market are treated to musicians playing traditional instruments such as marimbas (xylophones), xingufos (big antelope horns), and drums, giving the feeling of a village festival.
An underdeveloped economy resulting from thirty years of civil war is the cause of much social upheaval. The refugee squatter settlements on Luanda's outskirts have created new urban problems and changed family structure. Despite the significant income from the sale of oil products to foreign countries, political instability has slowed economic growth in Angola. Jobs that pay adequate salaries require a diploma from a foreign university and are hard to find without special connections. Low salaries discourage Angolans with technical skills from staying in their country.
Drug addiction is not widespread, though cigarette smoking is. No age limit exists on the purchase or consumption of alcohol, but social mores (customs or values) discourage alcohol abuse. Burglary and petty thievery, however, are common. Minor crimes are often punishable on the streets. For example, thieves in the public market are immediately identified by a shout of ladron! (thief!) and are then chased and punished on the spot if caught.
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