Conquest of Luanda Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Luanda, a major outpost for slave-trading in Angola, southwest Africa, was founded by the Portuguese to supply labor primarily for their sugar plantations in Brazil. The Dutch occupied northeast Brazil from 1630 to 1654, and from 1641 to 1648 they held the Angolan slave trade.

Summary of Event

In the fifteenth century the Portuguese steadily explored the west coast of Africa, seeking a monopoly route to the riches of Asia. However, they found much wealth along the African coast itself, including gold, ivory, and slaves. Along the Guinea coast in the north, south to the Congo River, they established fortifications and trading posts. Luanda Island was a key location to them, and so they occupied it in 1575. [kw]Conquest of Luanda (Aug. 26, 1641-Sept., 1648) [kw]Luanda, Conquest of (Aug. 26, 1641-Sept., 1648) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Aug. 26, 1641-Sept., 1648: Conquest of Luanda[1390] Colonization;Aug. 26, 1641-Sept., 1648: Conquest of Luanda[1390] Trade and commerce;Aug. 26, 1641-Sept., 1648: Conquest of Luanda[1390] Social issues and reform;Aug. 26, 1641-Sept., 1648: Conquest of Luanda[1390] Africa;Aug. 26, 1641-Sept., 1648: Conquest of Luanda[1390] Angola;Aug. 26, 1641-Sept., 1648: Conquest of Luanda[1390] Luanda

Luanda is situated off the coast of northwest Angola, south of the Congo River. Near the mouth of the Cuanza River, the Portuguese formed Luanda as a commercial and transportation nexus for the slave trade from the interior of Angola. The Portuguese earlier had established a prospering slave trade Trade;slaves Slavery;trade routes through the Congo River. Into this region they introduced food crops from Brazil, including cassava, which would become the starch staple of the southern African continent. Local kings and chieftains amassed wealth by supplying the slave trade, allowing them to purchase European luxury goods and contract European artisans and craftsmen. Portuguese Baroque buildings emerged over the landscape of the Guinea coast and in the Congo and Cuanza valleys.

As Brazilian sugar plantations Plantation system;Brazil became ever more important economically, the demand mounted for slaves to supply labor, especially from Angola. Although Portugal had led the exploration of Africa and the Americas, it was ill-equipped to hold its position. Other countries increasingly coveted their possessions. The Dutch were key competitors of the Portuguese. Portugal, a principal but weak ally of Spain, the most bitter Dutch enemy, became easy prey for the growing maritime power of the Netherlands. Wherever the Portuguese maintained colonies—in Brazil, Africa, or Asia—the Dutch succeeded during the early part of the seventeenth century in capturing and occupying parts of them. Most spectacularly, the Dutch succeeded in occupying the northeast of Brazil from 1630 to 1654, establishing their capital at Recife, Pernambuco, and naming the region New Holland New Holland .

The Dutch wanted Brazil’s sugar plantations, but for the plantations to function, they needed the slave labor the Portuguese obtained from Africa. To this end, therefore, the Dutch descended along the coast of West Africa. In the first decades of the seventeenth century, they wrested dominance of the African gold, slave, and ivory trade from the Portuguese along the Guinea, or upper, coast. In both Brazil and Africa, Dutch operations functioned as part of a monopoly trading corporation, the Dutch West India Company Dutch West India Company . It was the military and naval forces of this entity that had conquered and occupied Dutch Brazil and that sought slave labor for the sugar plantations on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

In May of 1641, Count John Maurice of Nassau John Maurice of Nassau , principal governor of New Holland, mounted a Dutch expedition that successfully captured and occupied Luanda. The force of three thousand men in twenty-one ships was led by Cornelis Jol Jol, Cornelis (d. 1641), the peg-legged Dutch commander also known as Houtebeen (wooden leg). The island of Luanda fronted a bay on the mainland, where the city of São Paulo was located. A short peninsula jutted from the eastern edge of the bay, where the Portuguese had built two fortifications. The Dutch landed on August 25 between the two forts to prevent Portuguese firepower from reaching them. Panicked, the Portuguese abandoned the forts and the city overnight, so the next morning the Dutch were able to enter São Paulo unopposed. The Portuguese fled up the Cuanza River, holding up primarily in two fortifications.

For the next seven years the Portuguese held out, though they were constantly besieged by an alliance of the Dutch with African troops of the Kongo and Matamba kingdoms. The Matamba were commanded by their notorious leader, Queen Njinga (r. 1624-1663) Njinga . The crucial supply of slaves for Portuguese Brazil was soon cut off. Portugal made futile attempts to rescue its besieged colonists. However, a decisive reversal of the Luanda defeat occurred only with the determination of Portuguese Brazilian landowners to regain their African labor supply.

The king of Portugal, John IV John IV (king of Portugal) , and the Portuguese governor-general of Brazil persuaded the governor of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador Correia de Sá e Benevides, Sá e Benevides, Salvador Correia de to lead a joint Brazilian-Portuguese expedition in 1648 to retake Luanda. As throughout his life, he was advised in his strategies and planning for the Angola expedition by Father João de Almeida Almeida, João de . Financed and supported more by Brazilian funds and troops than by those of Portugal, Sá e Benevides left Rio de Janeiro in May, 1648, with one thousand men on more than a dozen ships.

In August, Sá e Benevides stationed his squadron opposite the Dutch-occupied fortifications of São Paulo. Before dawn of August 18, the Portuguese attacked these strongholds but were brutally driven back. It seemed as if they were defeated, but it was the Dutch who raised the white flag of surrender. Some of their largest cannon exploded during the defense. Aware of their vulnerability, they also thought the Portuguese had more troops because Sá e Benevides had placed stuffed dummies (for soldiers) on his ship.

The Portuguese were quick to round up not only the Dutch opponents in the city but also those arriving from the interior to support them. By the beginning of September, the Portuguese had exiled from Angola almost all the Dutch occupiers and relieved, at the last hour, the besieged Portuguese in the interior. They then began to subdue the indigenous allies of the Dutch, banishing Queen Njinga to the eastern interior. As governor-general of Angola, Sá e Benevides soon resumed the slave trade to Brazil, where the Dutch were to be definitively removed six years later, in 1654.


With their defeat at Luanda, the Dutch not only failed to acquire a stable labor supply for their sugar plantations in Dutch Brazil but shortly thereafter also lost their Brazilian possessions. They were, however, able to hold their victories against the Portuguese in Southeast Asia, developing the colony of Indonesia.

The victory of the Portuguese at Luanda demonstrated the power of indigenous Brazilian forces to act outside their country in their own interests and on behalf of Portugal. This action is often considered the initial phase in forming a Brazilian national character. It also represents the role Pernambuco would develop in the forefront of provincial leadership in Brazil in the following centuries.

Securing Angola meant that for the next two centuries Portugal would become the supplier of more than one million slaves for Brazil. They were the crucial force in exploiting the wealth of the gold rush in Brazil during the eighteenth century. The victory at Luanda meant that Brazil would become demographically and culturally the most African-influenced country in Latin America. Since these slaves came from Bantu-speaking nations, the victory further meant that Bantu linguistic, religious, and sociocultural characteristics would become a paramount feature of Afro-Brazilian culture. Like few military victories in history, Luanda assured a consequent massive, forced, transoceanic migration from one continent that would definitively determine the character and future of another.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bender, Gerald J. Angola Under the Portuguese: The Myth and the Reality. Trenton, N.J.: African World Press, 2004. Bender investigates the myths and realities of racism in Portuguese policies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boxer, Charles R. The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600-1800. New York: Knopf, 1965. A classic account of the rise of the Dutch maritime empire in competition with Portugal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boxer, Charles R. Salvador de Sá and the Struggle for Brazil and Angola, 1602-1686. London: Athlone Press, 1952. A definitive biography in English of the Brazilian-born Portuguese colonial administrator who conquered Luanda from the Dutch.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Curto, José C. Enslaving Spirits: The Portuguese-Brazilian Alcohol Trade at Luanda and Its Hinterland, c. 1550-1830. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2004. Chapter 3 details trading operations in Luanda and the interior of Angola from 1550 to 1649.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Egerton, F. Clement C. “The Beginnings.” In Angola in Perspective: Endeavor and Achievement in Portuguese West Africa. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973. This chapter traces the origins of Angola from the first settlement by Portugal on Luanda to its settlement of the interior, occupying Mbundu territory.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Price, J. L. The Dutch Republic in the Seventeenth Century. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002. A concise overview of the internal economic, political, and sociocultural issues propelling the international expansion of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Russell-Wood, A. J. R. A World on the Move: The Portuguese in Africa, Asia, and America, 1415-1808. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. This work examines Portuguese king John’s efforts to recover and develop the Portuguese Empire.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schwarz-Bart, Simone. “Ana de Sousa Nzinga: The Queen Who Resisted the Portuguese Conquest.” In Ancient African Queens. Vol. 1 in In Praise of Black Women. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001. This article reviews the life of Njinga as an early Angolan hero of anticolonialist resistance.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Piet Hein; John IV; Njinga. Luanda

Categories: History