|San José State University|
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Up until the Christian era the area that is now Angola was populated by hunter/gatherer tribal groups speaking a language in the Khoisan family of languages, similar to the Bushmen of the Namib Desert. During the first millennium A.D. peoples from Central Africa speaking languages in the Bantu moved into the area. These Bantu-speakers were agriculturalist and could produce iron weapons and tools. By the end of the sixteenth century the Bantu tribes controlled what is now Angola. There were two major tribal kingdoms, the Kongo and the Ndongo. The rulers of the Ndongo were called the ngola and it is this word which is the origin of the name Angola.
At the end of the fifteen century Portuguese explorers made contact with the kingdom of the Congo. The rulers of this kingdom were Christianized and the Portuguese praised the sophistication of the kingdom.
The Portuguese organized a slave trade to supply the sugar plantations of northeast Brazil. This slave trade continued until the British suppressed the shipment of slaves in the early part of the nineteenth century.
Central Angola is a plateau of altitude 3500 to 4500 feet. This constitutes 60 percent of the land area of Angola. To the north and west of the central plateau is a highland plateau that reaches altitudes in the range of 8000 feet. On the west there is a coastal desert which results from the cold Benguela Current. To the east the land drops away from the plateaus in escarpments. The plateaus establish three drainage basins. The northeast is in the Congo drainage basin. The southeast is in the Zambezi basin. To the west the rivers flow into the South Atlantic. Because of the sharp drop in altitude from the plateaus to the coast there is great hydroelectric potential.
In the mid-nineteenth century the Portuguese government tried to promote plantation agriculture based upon slave labor in the vicinity of Luanda. Various crops such as cotton, coffee, sugar and cacao were tried without much success. It was only much later when the transportation system was improved could such crops be grown commercially. In the twentieth century commercial agriculture was the primary industry of Angola with three fourth of the labor force involved in agriculture.
The Portuguese established control in Cabinda, an exclave separated from the rest of Angola by the Congo River. Cabinda is of major economic significance because of the petroleum that was discovered there. Crude Oil and petroleum products are the major exports of Angola.
The Portuguese army was constantly needing to suppress rebellions. In 1975 the military
took control of the government of Portugal. The military leaders of the coup were socialists and
they abruptly granted the Portuguese territories such as Angola their9:32 PM 2/23/2012 independence. A power
vacuum in Angola was created. Most of the European population of Angola fled in the wake
of independence. Political parties were organized along tribal lines. The Mbundi tribal groups
supported the MPLA (Popular Liberation of Angola). The Ovibundu, on the other hand, supported
UNITA. MPLA was Marxist and oriented toward Moscow. UNITA was initially Maoist and oriented
toward Beijing. When Chinese support was lacking UNITA secured support from the Nationalist
Party government in South Africa. The ideologies of these parties were quite flexible.
MPLA gained control of the capital, Luanda,
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