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Excerpt of letter from Nzinga Mbemba to Portuguese King João III

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In 1526, the king of the Kongo, Nzinga Mbemba (who by this time had adopted the Christian name of Afonso I) began writing a series of 24 letters to the Portuguese King Joao III appealing for an end to the slave trade. While a trading relationship had been in place between Portugal and Kongo since the 1480s, Afonso was increasingly unhappy that the relationship between both countries had degenerated into one in which the slave trade had become increasingly important. While he may exaggerate the extent of the slave trade and downplay the role of the Kongolese in this trading relationship, it is important to assess Afonso’s tone and what he says and fails to say.

Nzinga Mbemba to King João III, 1526


And we cannot reckon how great the damage is, since the mentioned merchants are taking every day our natives, sons of the land and the sons of our noblemen and vassals and our relatives, because the thieves and men of bad conscience grab them wishing to have the things and wares of this Kingdom which they are ambitious of, they grab them and get them to be sold; and so great, Sir, is the corruption and licentiousness that our country is being completely depopulated, and Your Highness should not agree with this nor accept it as in your service. And to avoid it we need from those Kingdoms no more than some priests and a few people to reach in schools, and no other goods except wine and flour for the holy sacrament, That is why we beg of Your Highness to help and assist us in this matter, commanding your factors that they should nor send here either merchants or wares, because it is our will that in these Kingdoms there should not be any trade of slaves nor outlet for them. Concerning what is referred to above, again we beg of Your Highness to agree with it, since otherwise we cannot remedy such an obvious damage, Pray Our Lord in His mercy to have Your Highness under His guard and let you do forever the things of His service, I kiss your hands many times.

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Excerpt of letter from Nzinga Mbemba to Portuguese King João III in World History Commons,