The sophisticated economy of the Kongo empire

The Kongo empire was an ancient State located in Angola, both Congos and Gabon. We talked about the general history of this kingdom here, we’ll give you a brief overview of its economy.


The currency was made of shells collected by women on the island of Luanda and only exploited by the State. The harvest was monitored and counted by royal officials, and carried out under the direction of Mani Luanda, the governor of the island, who was also in charge of its transfer to the capital city Mbanza Kongo. The currency was called Nzimbu, specifically, Nzimbu Kitombé and Nzimbu a Mbundi. The Nzimbu enabled exchanges as well as toll collection of the local governors by the central power. It made it possible to regulate public expenditure.

Loango, ancient city of the Kongo Empire, located in the current Congo Brazzaville. Reproduction by the Dutch historian Olfert Dapper in the 17th century according to authentic descriptions


A specialized administration ensured the entry and accounting of central government revenue. Three bodies of officials were assigned to taxation. They were the Mfutilas, the Mani Mpanzas and the Mani Sambas. The Mani Sambas were responsible for the collection of tolls and taxes on goods.


Iron ore abounded in the kingdom, and flourished on the surface of the soil in the form of ferruginous stones. Many iron workshops were set up on the hills near Mbanza Kongo. They were producing weapons necessary for the defense of the empire and its territorial expansion. They were also producing domestic tools, axes and hoes for the rational exploitation of land and forests. Copper was also transformed, especially in the present Congo-Brazza.


The baKongo were described as arborists and skillful farmers. Several varieties of millet and sorghum were cultivated, varieties of bananas and a dozen varieties of yam were produced there. The abundance and variety were such that “they cultivate 12 species of food plants, each one ripe for a distinct month, in ways to be provided fresh food throughout the year.”[1]. Livestock farming was also practiced. There were oxen, sheep, goats, pigs, and birds from the poultry-yard.


Imagination remains forever marked by the explorers’ narratives restored by the German historian Leo Frobenius, who described the inhabitants of Kongo as people “clothed in silk and velvet (…) civilized to the bone marrow” [3]. Several palm trees were methodically cultivated for the purposes of the textile industry. Their fibers were used to make high-quality fabrics. Brocade was called Incorimba. Velvet was called Enzaca. Damas called Infulas. Satins Maricas, Taffeta called Tanga. The “armoisins” Engombos.

Nzinga Mbemba (Afonso I), emperor of Kongo. Illustration by Carl Owens

The market

Called Nzandu, the market was the ideal place of exchange. In Mbanza Kongo, it was the main center of exchange, redistribution and arbiter of fashion. The baKongos were said to “show good judgment, especially for trading” [2]. G. Balandier said: “The baKongo have given an exceptional importance to the market institution… this network of connections constitutes an exceptional phenomenon”. [2]

All this economy, admirable by its organization, its evolution and its sophistication, will be destroyed by the Portuguese attacks during the slave trade.


By: Lisapo ya Kama ©

Notes :

  • Théorie de la révolution africaine, Tome 1 : repenser la crise africaine ; Jean Pierre Kaya
  • Histoire de l’Afrique noire, Joseph Ki-Zerbo
  • [1] Théorie de la révolution africaine, Tome 1 : repenser la crise africaine ; Jean Pierre Kaya, page 107
  • [2] Idem, page 112
  • [3] Nations Nègres et Culture, Cheikh Anta Diop, page 343
Spread the love