The Kikongo-speaking Bakongo made up an estimated 15 percent of the Angolan population. In 1988 the Bakongo were the third largest ethnolinguistic group in Angola. Concentrated in Uíge, Zaire, and Cabinda provinces, where they constituted a majority of the population, the Bakongo spilled over into the nation of Zaire (where they were the largest single ethnic group) and Congo. Although the Angolan city of São Salvador (renamed Mbanza Congo) was the capital of their ancient kingdom, most of the Bakongo were situated in Zaire.

Their former political unity long broken, the various segments of the ethnolinguistic category in Angola experienced quite different influences in the colonial period. The Bashikongo, living near the coast, had the most sustained interaction with the Portuguese but were less affected by participation in the coffee economy than the Sosso and Pombo, who were situated farther east and south. All three groups, however, were involved in the uprising of 1961. The Pombo, still farther east but close to the Zairian border, were much influenced by developments in the Belgian Congo (present-day Zaire), and a large contingent of Pombo living in Léopoldville (present-day Kinshasa) formed a political party in the early 1950s. The Solongo, dwelling on the relatively dry coastal plain, had little contact with the Portuguese. They and the Ashiluanda of the island of Luanda, to the south, were Angola's only African sea fishermen.

The Mayombe (also spelled Maiombe) of the mountain forests of Cabinda spoke a dialect of Kikongo but were not part of the ancient kingdom. That part of the Mayombe living in Zaire did join with the Zairian Bakongo in the Alliance of Bakongo (Alliance des Bakongo-- Abako) during the period of party formation in the Belgian Congo, but the Cabindan Mayombe (and other Kikongo-speaking groups in the enclave), relatively remote geographically and culturally from the Bakongo of Angola proper, showed no solidarity with the latter. Instead, in 1961 the Mayombe formed a Cabindan separatist movement, the Alliance of Mayombe (Alliance de Mayombe--Alliama), which merged with two other Cabindan separatist movements in 1963 to form the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (Frente para a Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda--FLEC).

One of the first major revolts of the nationalist struggle was instigated by Bakongo in March 1961 in the northwest. The Portuguese crushed the peasant attack, organized by the Bakongo group, the Union of Angolan Peoples (União das Populações de Angola -- UPA), on their settlements, farms, and administrative outposts. Subsequently, 400,000 Bakongo fled into Zaire. In 1962 the UPA formed the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola -- FNLA), which became one of the three major nationalist groups (the other two being the MPLA and UNITA) involved in the long and bloody war of independence. Most of the FNLA's traditional Bakongo constituency fled into exile in Zaire during the war. Following independence, however, many Bakongo exiles returned to their traditional homesteads in Angola. They had since retained their ethnolinguistic integrity.

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