Timeline of the Portuguese Scramble for Africa

A rough timeline about Portuguese Angola 1884-1917, or how Britain did over Portugal in the Scramble for Africa.

Timeline Portuguese Angola 1884 – 1917

Portugal’s claims to Angola were established at the Berlin Conference in 1884. The participants supposedly defined Angola’s boundaries, however, in reality the more powerful European states who controlled central Africa, determined Angola’s boundaries. Portugal acquired the left bank of the Congo River and the Cabinda enclave.

Map of colonial Africa as in 1913, with modern borders
Colonial Africa 1913 map

In 1889 Britain forced Portugal to leave Nyasaland (present-day Malawi) and Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia). British interests had been seemingly threatened by Portuguese scientific expeditions (under Serpa Pinto) into the Makolo country and the Shire regions. In August 1889 the acting British consul in Nyasaland began protesting against Portuguese activity in these areas. In October this had escalated such that the British Minister in Lisbon warned Portugal that Great Britain would oppose threats to its interests. In October the British also granted the British South Africa Company governmental rights in the area seemingly threatened by the Portuguese expeditions (north of the Transvaal and west of Mozambique). In November the British Consul in Lisbon accused the Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs of preparing to conquer the Makololo. The Portuguese denied these claims and reiterated Pinto’s assertion of the peaceful intent of the expedition and that fact that the accompanying soldiers were for protection against the Makololo, not for offensive action. However, the Portuguese also sent a Dispatch to the British government outlining their claims to the disputed territory. In December, after conflict between Portuguese troops and the natives of Makololo, the British requested the Portuguese government refrain from attacking British settlements. The Portuguese still denied the military nature of the expedition, however, six days later Pinto cabled that the Makololo was under Portuguese authority. The British responded with naval shows-of-strength off Las Palmas (Dec) and Gibraltar (January 1890). The British subsequently asked Portugal for assurance that the disputed territory would not be settled. The Portuguese responded by denying British claims to the area, yet reiterated the scientific nature of the expedition. On 10 January 1890 Britain demanded that Portugal withdraw from Makololo. After more demonstrations by British naval forces and rumoured threats to Lourenco Margues, Quelimane and S. Vicente, the Portuguese acceded unconditionally to British demands and withdrew their forces from the Shire and Mashonaland.

Between 1891 and 1927 Portugal and Belgium agreed a complex border generally following natural frontiers. Portugal had staked out most of its claims in Angola by the end of the nineteenth century.

Just because Angola was recognized as a Portuguese possession did not mean that it was under Portuguese control. The work of conquest took the better part of twenty-five years, and in some remote areas even longer.

It took the Portuguese military from 1884 to 1915 to subjugate the African inhabitants of the hinterland. Intensive military action was necessary in several areas. One campaign took place in the southern region in response to a request from the Boer settlement near Humbe that was threatened by the Kwanhama. Sporadic campaigning included several serious reverses for the Portuguese. The Portuguese were able to bring the Kwanhama under control only with the assistance of field artillery and the establishment of a series of fortified garrisons. One of the most difficult Portuguese military campaigns was waged against the Dembos, a Kimbundu-speaking people who lived less than 150 kilometers northeast of Luanda. The Portuguese attacked the Dembos repeatedly over a period of three years before the Dembos were finally subdued in 1910. Because of difficult conditions, including the tropical climate, the Portuguese did not complete their occupation of Dembos land until 1917.


Kings Carbine

Nuno Pereira’s site on Portuguese Africa. Fantastic. Included a comprehensive painting guide.

Livermore, H. V. (1966). A New History of Portugal. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

William Myers also mentioned …. in volume 12.1 (Spring 2001, I believe) of the Frank Cass journal ‘Small Wars and Counterinsurgencies’, there are a couple of articles by John P. Cann on the Great War in Angola and Mozambique.

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