West African Forest People – New World DBA Army List

West African Forest Peoples (1494-1700) army list for New World DBA, my New World variant of DBA. Based on DBR III/7. Covers the Kingdoms of Ashanti, Yoruba, Benin, Ngola, Kongo (Christian from 1490), Dahomey from1600, and the Jaga (Cannibal). The west Africans favoured ambushes from their native woods, leading Europeans to a unfavourable assessment of their warlike spirit. The most common equipment were javelins, short sword, and a large light shield. After 1658 cheap flintlocks called “Dane guns” were used for skirmishing. Kongo armies, being Christian, carried flags emblazoned with crosses. Dahomey fielded amazons. The Jaga attacked Kongo in 1568-73 and were then defeated by the Portuguese. Kongo fell to the Portuguese in 1665.

Theatres: Africa
Ag: 0
Tropical Terrain. 1-2 Compulsory: Woods. 2-3 Optional: River, Marsh, Rough, BUA, and/or Road.
Camp/Stronghold: Stockade

Number Description Troop Type Cost Example Army
Number Cost
15-48 Warriors BdO 3
0-2 Scouts and skirmishers with bow Sk 2
Only after 1658
0-16 Warriors with “Dane gun” Sk 2
0-1 European renegades and their servants ShE 7


The Ashanti are of the Akan group and speakers of Asante-Twi language. The Ashanti territory is in the central Gold Coast (now Ghana) about 300 km inland. When the Portuguese first arrived on the coast in 1471 the Ashanti were organised into small independent chiefdoms, each with its own capital town and political institutions. European intrusion initiated, however, economic competition and political unrest. Osei Tutu and his priest Komfo Anokye unified the independent chiefdoms around 1670 into a powerful political and military power – the Ashanti Empire – that peaked in 1750 and finally merged with British Gold Coast colony in 1901. The Gold Coast area (now Ghana) has varied terrain — coasts and mountains; forests and grasslands, fertile agricultural areas and near deserts. The houses of the poor are plastered wattle-and-daub construction domed by a thatched roof of grass, formed in compounds of connected buildings arranged around a court. The larger towns have palaces, whose walls are of sun-baked clay, enclosing many rooms.


The Yoruba are a Sudanic-speaking sedentary people of Nigeria. They occupy the southwest of the country from the Niger River in the north and east to the Dahomey border, and then into Dahomey itself (Yoruba History Page). Until relatively recent times the Yoruba did not consider themselves a single people, but rather as citizens of Oyo, Benin, Yagba and other cities, regions or kingdoms. The Yoruba kingdoms warred not only against the Dahomeans but also against each other. The name Yoruba was applied to all these linguistically and culturally related peoples. The Yoruba religion was Animistic and they worshiped numerous gods.

Ife experienced a golden age between 1100 and 1700 (Wikipedia: Yoruba People). Ife was the first of all Yoruba cities and although a city-state rather than a kingdom, it remained important as the original sacred city and the dispenser of basic religious thought (Yoruba History Page). Oyo and Benin surpassed Ife in the 15th century and grew and expanded into Kingdoms as a consequence of their strategic locations at a time when trading became prosperous.

Oyo was the dominant Yoruba power from 1700 to 1900 (Wikipedia: Yoruba People). Unlike the forest-bound Yoruba kingdoms, Oyo was in the savanna and drew its military strength from its cavalry forces, which established hegemony over the adjacent Nupe and the Borgu kingdoms and thereby developed trade routes farther to the north (Library of Congress: Yoruba Kingdoms and Benin). By the 17th century the kingdom of Oyo, in the region between Dahomey and the Niger River, was a strong and flourishing state. Oyo disintegrated into numerous petty kingdoms during the first half of the 19th century.

The nearby Kingdom of Benin was also a powerful force between 1300 and 1850 (Wikipedia: Yoruba People). Benin was to the east of Ife (Library of Congress: Yoruba Kingdoms and Benin). It had become independent by the 15th century. Benin, which may have housed 100,000 inhabitants at its height, spread over twenty-five square kilometers that were enclosed by three concentric rings of earthworks. At its apogee in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Benin even encompassed parts of southeastern Yorubaland and the small Igbo area on the western bank of the Niger. Dependencies were governed by members of the royal family who were assigned several towns or villages scattered throughout the realm, rather than a block of territory that could be used as a base for revolt against the oba.

Dahomey Kingdom

Founded in the early 17th century, the Kingdom of Dahomey gradually extended its domination around its capital of Abomey over most of what is now the southern part of Benin. King Agaja, who in the early 18th century established a corps of women soldiers, gained control of the coast and became a major supplier of slaves to European traders. After Agaja’s death, Dahomey was eclipsed for a time by the neighboring Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, but its power was revived by King Gézo (1818-1858), who extended its frontiers northward. French penetration of the coastal region began in the 1850s. The last king, Béhanzin, tried to resist the French advance, but was defeated in 1893 and deported to Algeria (where he died in 1906). Dahomey became a French colony. The name Dahomey was also used by the independent government from 1960 to 1975, when the name of the country was changed to Benin.


Kongo’s army was composed of a mass levy of archers, drawn from the general male population, and a smaller corps of heavy infantry, who fought with swords and carried shields for protection (Wikipedia: Kingdom of Kongo). The heavy infantry were considered nobles, and typically referred to in documents as fidalgos or lesser nobles in Portuguese documents. They may have been paid and supported through revenue assignments, though evidence for this is weak. A large number were supported at the capital, perhaps as many as 20,000, and smaller contingents were maintained in the major provinces under the command of the provincial ruler.

When the Portuguese arrived in Kongo they were immediately added as a mercenary force, probably under their own commander who used their special purpose weapons, like cross bows and the muskets, to add force to the normal Kongo order of battle (Wikipedia: Kingdom of Kongo). Afonso wasn’t too impressed. By the 1580s however, a musketeer corps, which was locally raised from resident Portuguese and their Kongo-mestiço (mixed race) offspring was a regular part of the main Kongo army in the capital. Provincial armies had some musketeers, for example they served against the Portuguese invading army in 1622. Three hundred and sixty musketeers served in the Kongo army against the Portuguese at the battle of Mbwila.

At The Battle of Mbwila the Kongo army included a large number of peasant archers, probably about 15,000, some 5,000 heavy infantry equipped with shields and swords, and a musket regiment of 380 men, 29 of them Portuguese led by Pedro Dias de Cabral, who was also of mixed Portuguese-African heritage.
(Wikipedia: Battle of Mbwila).


The Jaga or Jagas were terms applied by the Portuguese to invading bands of African warriors east and south of the kingdom of Kongo (Wikipedia: Jagas). In fact the Portuguese gave two distinct and unrelated groups the same name. The Jagas of Kasanze invaded Kongo and a second group, properly be called Imbangala, invaded Angola. Both peoples were fierce warriors, often acting as mercenaries for others.

Jagas of Kasanze

As the Lunda Empire formed a people of the Balunda ethnic group fled west and settled on the border of the Kingdom of Kongo (the BaTeke kingdom of Tio was to the north and the Mbundu kingdom of Ndongo to the south) (Wikipedia: Jagas). An alternative theory is that these Jagas were actually rebels within the country, either peasants or discontented nobles. Regardless of their origin the Jagas were constant victims of the Kongo slave trade and eventually invaded their western neighbour in 1568. The Portuguese based at São Tomé intervened on behalf of king Alvaro I of Kongo, sending about 600 musketeers under Francisco de Gouveia Sottomaior to his aid. By 1580 the Kongo / Portuguese had driven the Jagas out of Kongo, but not out of the area. The Jagas formed their own kingdom known as Kasanze in the early 1600s and provided many mercenary troops to Ndongo and even Kongo itself.

Jagas of Kasanje / Imbangala

By at least 1615, when Bento Banha Cardoso hired some Imbangala, the Portuguese governors of Luanda began to use this people in their wars (Wikipedia: Imbangala). After Luis Mendes de Vasconcelos’s 1618 assault on Ndongo he hired three distinct bands of Imbangala although they soon abandoned the Portuguese cause. Kasanje’s band began a long campaign of pillage that eventually would establish them along the Kwango River in the Baixa de Cassange region of modern Angola. In the late seventeenth century this band abandoned their previous militant customs.

The Kaza band of Imbangala joined the Ndongo to oppose the Portuguese, however, they betrayed Ndongo’s Queen Njinga Mbande in 1629 when she was trying to form a base for Ndongo independence on islands in the Kwanza River (Wikipedia: Imbangala). During 1629-30 Njinga tried to join with Kasanje, but when this failed, she went to Matamba and there formed her own (or joined with another) Imbangala band led by a man known only as “Njinga Mona” (Njinga’s son).

Other bands were integrated into the Portuguese army, serving as auxiliary soldiers, under their own commanders and cantoned within the Portuguese territory (Wikipedia: Imbangala). As the seventeenth century wore on, these and other bands were either annihilated by one or another of the political states or absorbed into the states formed by Njinga in Matamba or by Kasanje.

South of the Kwanza, however, in the original homeland of the Imbangala, they continued operating much as before for a least another half a century, but even there they gradually formed partnerships with existing political entities such as Bihe (Viye), Huambo (Wambu) or Bailundu (Mbailundu) (Wikipedia: Imbangala). In all these areas, their customs tended to moderate in the eighteenth century, cannibalism was restricted to ritual and sometimes only to symbolic occasions (for example in the nineteenth century Imbangala groups in the central highlands still practices a ritual know as “eating the old man”).


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