Little is known about the early history of the Angola region, stretching south from the mouth of the Congo. The inhabitants are living a neolithic existence until the arrival of Bantu migrants from the north, bringing iron technology in the first millennium AD.
When the Portuguese begin trading on the west coast of Africa, in the 15th century, they concentrate their energies on Guinea and Angola. Hoping at first for gold, they soon find that slaves are the most valuable commodity available here for export. But the Portuguese never establish much more than a foothold in either place. In Guinea rival Europeans grab much of the trade, while local African rulers confine the Portuguese to the area around Bissau.
Thousands of miles down the coast, in Angola, the Portuguese find it even harder to consolidate their early advantage against encroachments by Dutch, British and French rivals. Nevertheless the fortified towns of Luanda (established in 1587 with 400 Portuguese settlers) and Benguela (a fort from 1587, a town from 1617) remain almost continuously in Portuguese hands.
As in Guinea, the slave trade becomes the basis of the local economy - with raids carried ever further inland to procure captives. More than a million men, women and children are shipped from here across the Atlantic. In this region, unlike Guinea, the trade remains largely in Portuguese hands. Nearly all the slaves are destined for Brazil.
During the 19th century the western embargo on the slave trade brings to an end Angola's main export. The shipping of slaves from Angola is banned in 1836, but slavery remains legal in the Portuguese empire until 1875. So an attempt is made in Angola to make productive use of slaves who can no longer be sold abroad.
Grants of land are made in regions inland from Luanda. Plantations are established, with coffee, cotton and sugar as the main crops. But this encroachment leads to continual outbreaks of warfare with local rulers of the Kongo, Mbundu and Ovambo peoples. Angola is a most unsettled region when the European scramble for Africa begins in the 1880s. It remains so in most subsequent periods