Mbailundu Remembered: Colonial Traces in Post-Civil War Angola

  • Shana Melnysyn University of California Humanities Research Institute


This article traces connections between structures, identities and forms of collective
belonging that impacted social relations in Angola from roughly the 1880s to 2013.
In the absence of a coherent, centralised state structure, both during Portuguese colonialism
and after independence in 1975, communities coalesced around regional
and ethnic identities that had begun hardening under colonial rule. These structures
of conflict and inequality animated the Angolan civil war (1975–2002). Through the
lens of oral histories and collective memories of the early twentieth century, as well as
archival records, I show how Angola’s exclusionary identity politics were forged during
colonial times and have persisted into the 21st century. Focusing on the Umbundu
speaking kingdom of Mbailundu, in Angola’s central highlands, this article suggests
that colonial structures of belonging and exclusion continue to affect political life
in 21st century Angola by maintaining stark divisions between people of different
regional, ethnic and religious backgrounds. A fractured picture of belonging and loyalty
emerged out of settler colonial structures in Angola and continues to reverberate
in the political intrigues that overshadow everyday life.