Angola

Institutionalization of Ethnic Categories

Key Dates
Details/Documentation

Sources

Key Dates

  • 16th century: Initial Portuguese occupation
  • Late 19th/Early 20th century: Effective Portuguese occupation
  • 1961: Angolan War of Independence
  • 1975: War of Independence ends, Angola gains independence from Portugal

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Details/Documentation

Race

Race classifications were strongly institutionalized under the colonial government, but ended at independence.

The colonial government created the category of assimilados Africans who were educated and could speak Portuguese, as a separate and higher class from all other black Africans, who were considered the indigenato. The colonial government counted by race on censuses, indicating three categories: white, mestizo, African, and further distinguishing the Africans as either assimilado or indigenato. No censuses have been taken since independence.

The 1954 Native Law established a bureaucracy for registering Africans in terms of these categories (Heywood 2000: 94).

Whites, mestiços, and assimilados were educated separately from Africans beginning with the passing of the Missionary Statute in 1941 and continuing through independence.  The government ran the school system that taught whites, mestiços and assimilados only. A separate 3-year “ensino de adaptação” program taught African students basic reading, writing, and arithmetic (Duffy 1961: 296-297).

In 1922, the governor created two separate branches of the civil service, one for Europeans and the other for Africans. The franchise was first expanded to include blacks in 1971-72 (Crowder 2008: 773).

In 1875, a post-slavery labor law was enacted, stating that, “all ‘non-productive’ Africans would be considered ‘vagrants’ and would thus be subject to non-paying labor contracts” (Bender 1978: 139). The vagrancy clause was abolished between 1926-1928, and in 1928, the forced labor law was changed to state that Africans could only be forced to work “on services of pressing public interest,” though private white farms were considered “pressing public interest” (Bender 1978: 141). Forced labor ended in 1961 along with the end of distinctions between indigenato and assimilado (Crowder 1984: 773).

We find many instances of land use policies structured by racial categories during the colonial period. A 1907 decree established zones for the exclusive use of Africans, and from 1912 to 1932, 98 square miles were established as “native reserves” and four square miles were given to individual Africans (Bender 1978: 148). A 1961 decree recognized and protected communally held African lands and prohibited the expulsion of Africans from these lands (Bender 1978: 182).

The use of racial categories was discontinued at independence. Article 18 of the 1992 Constitution prohibits “all acts that seek to undermine social harmony or create discriminations or privileges based on [color, race, ethnicity, sex, birthplace, religion, ideology, education, economic or condition]”.

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Language

The institutionalization of language categories was substantial under colonial rule, but less thoroughgoing than with respect to racial categories; Unlike in the case of race categories, language categories have been moderately institutionalized under independence.

The 1950 and 1960 censuses recorded tribe and language for African respondents, but ethnic questions were not asked on other censuses.

Cabinda operated with varied levels of autonomy throughout the colonial period and in the Treaty of Simulambuco (1885), Cabinda was granted separate protectorate status from Angola (Lyle 2005: 703). Portugal’s 1971 draft constitution also included independence for Cabinda.

In July 2006, after ceasefire negotiations in Congo-Brazzaville, Cabinda was granted special status, which provides greater local control of political and economic policy (Minorities at Risk Project 2009).

We also find evidence of the institutionalization of the Ovimbundu category though the specifics are somewhat more ambiguous. Heywood highlights that the Ovimbundu occupied several kingdoms in central Angola as of the 1840s. But, “When the Portuguese conquered the states and imposed their own structures of colonial rule between 1890 and 1975, they retained many features of Ovimbundu village institutions, but instituted their own system of rule that threatened local autonomy. As a result, throughout the colonial period, tensions between local prerogatives and state (central) authority continued. They took the form of heightened regional and ethnic identities that reinforced Ovimbundu separateness from the state and from other African populations of Portuguese Angola” (Heywood 2000: xiii).

Heywood goes on to note that, “the ethnic and regional divisions the government had promoted in the years prior to 1961 dominated the anticolonial struggle. Yet there is no work that explores this aspect of Angolan history, nor is there any study that links the actions of the authoritarian colonial state to the regional and ethnic consciousness (nationalism) that the Ovimbundu exhibited between 1961 and 1974. Indeed, studies of the liberation war only hint at the links between the authoritarian state and regional/ethnic consciousness as a manifestation of nationalism” (Heywood 2000: 126-7).

Moreover, after 1961, the government used radio broadcasts in Umbundu in rural and urban areas with large numbers of Ovimbundu listeners. They emphasized linguistic, ethnic, cultural and regional differences between the Ovimbundu and other Africans in Angola. Authorities distributed pamphlets, which warned the Ovimbundu that the Kimbundu and Kongo were planning to invade the central highlands and seize Ovimbundu land, women, and children (Heywood 2000: 136). Here, the state’s use of ethno-linguistic categories in written documents would count towards the overall institutionalization of those categories.

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Religion

The census counted religion on between 1940 and 1970. No other significant religious classifications have been identified.

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Caste

None found

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Indigenous

None found

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Other ethnic, including tribe

The 1950 and 1960 censuses recorded tribe and language for African respondents, but ethnic questions were not asked on other censuses.

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Sources

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