Democratic Republic of the Congo

Map of the Luba and Lunda kingdoms (c. 1850). Image Credit: Library of Congress.

Like South Africa, the area known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo was also the site of Bantu expansion c. 3000 years ago. The Bantu peoples continued to expand settlements and trade until at least the tenth century. At the end of the fourteenth century, the kingdom of Kongo was established, which overlapped with northern Angola. The monarchy of the Kongo survived until the king Antonio I was killed in 1665, though the state endured until it was divided at the Conference of Berlin in 1884-85. The Luba kingdom emerged in 1585 and endured until 1889 when its dependence on long-distance trade led to its decline. Further south, the Lunda kingdom was established in 1665 and became a confederation of chieftainships until its conquest by neighbouring Chokwe forces. The last significant Congolese kingdom was the Yeke kingdom (1856-1891), which was abruptly ended when Leopold II of Belgium’s expedition killed the king, Msiri, and appointed a successor who would hand over Katanga to Leopold. The neighbouring Kuba kingdom was a remote entity in the southern Congo, and survived until the nineteenth century, when Belgium enforced their authority in the region. From the 1870s Belgian colonisation disrupted most of the indigenous monarchical rule in the area. In 1960 the Democratic Republic of the Congo was proclaimed, bringing an end to formal monarchical rule.

You can find out more about one of these indigenous female rulers, Ngalifourou, below!


Gates, Henry Louis, Emmanuel Akyeampong, and Steven J. Niven, eds. Dictionary of African Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011

Reefe, Thomas Q. The Rainbow and the Kings: A History of the Luba Empire to 1891. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2022

Thornton, John K. A History of West Central Africa to 1850. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020

Van Reybrouck, David. Congo. The Epic History of A People. London: Ecco Press, 2015.

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