Ovambo Twilight

Humbe Warrior

Deepest South
From 1885 until 1915, the south of Angola was war. War in all forms and for all reasons known in Portuguese Africa - from cattle-thieving raids and ethnic revolts to international armed conflict - with such intensity and participation of European contingents seldom seen south of the Sahara. It would become, from 1904, the proving ground of a not so small part of the Portuguese Officers Corp and the touchstone of their ability to conquer. In short, Southern Angola would be the Indochina, Madagascar the Sudan and Morocco of a Portuguese colonial Renaissance.

For the more enlightened Africans, specially some Ovambo chiefs, the way-out seemed unavoidable. Sooner or later the German machineguns to the south, and the Portuguese to the north, would riddle with bullets their last independent nations. But the debility and hesitations of the Portuguese administration would allow them one last hope of avoiding the dreaded outcome. This was not a childish miscalculation, for at least one Ovambo nation, the Kwanyama, would keep total suzerainty over its territory until the summer of 1915, while the powerful Ovimbundo kingdoms of Central Angola had succumbed thirteen years earlier.

First Attempts
This part of Angola, that spreads from the sea to the Cubango river is located in the so called "Savannah Region", stretching inland into deepest Africa, across the continent, until it reaches the East Coast. Poked by baobab trees, thickets and small bush woods, it's a land rich in cattle that grazes in tender pastures called chanas, confined to the south by the "hunting territories" criss-crossed, at this time, not only by pombeiros ( Portuguese traders or salesmen who travelled the hinterland: pombe), but also by British, American, Brazilian, German and Scandinavian professional hunters, French missionaries and Finnish Lutherans! Further still are the deserts and barren lands which characterise Southwest Africa. The most predominant ethnic group populating the area is the Bantu, which migrated from the north and are represented by the Ovambo, Herero and Nyaneca-Humbe, with the non-Bantu formed by the Hottentot-Bushmen and Va-twa.

Although the Portuguese had made their presence felt since 1641, the first real attempt to colonise the south was made in 1785, when the Governor General of Angola sent two expeditions, one by sea and another by land, who established the settlement of Mossamedes on the coast. From 1843 until 1857, Portuguese, Brazilian and some German settlers established themselves not only in Mossamedes but further inland, climbing the 1800 meters of the Chela mountain ridge to reach the Huila plateau. In 1857 the Huila fort was attacked by 8000 warriors of the Nano people, inhabitants of Central Angola, in the region south of Bié. They were repulsed by a small force of regulars and settlers after a four days battle. The Nano would strike again in force in 1860, seizing cattle and capturing people, among them some settlers that would be rescued latter. The fort was once again besieged, and the Major in command was decapitated on the barrel of a cannon when his troops were defeated after a failed sortie. By 1867, all garrisons were abandoned with the exception of the half destroyed Huila fort, that was to hold the plateau on its own.

The Cape Dutch
On August 21 of 1879 a Boer trek arrived in Humbe. A delegation sent to the soba (chief) Chaungo was attacked, and on August 25 the Boers stormed his libata (African village) killing 25 people and putting him on the run. The Governor of Mossamedes which was informed of the incident six months latter, quickly invited the Boers to settle on the plateau. In September of 1880 they were given permission to settle an almost independent colony in Humpata. The government gave them 200 acres per family, and 277 Cape Dutch (name given to them by the Portuguese), 50 servants and Bastardos (Boer and African half-castes) under the authority of Jacobus Frederik Botha, three-hundred rifles in all, almost tripled the total white population on the plateau. Two new vectors of conquest and, specially, trade were therefor introduced: The horse and, even more important, the wagon. With the introduction of 100 horses and 2000 oxen, Portuguese trade got the autonomy that it longed for.

With a calculated risk, the Governor of Mossamedes requested their assistance to reoccupy Humbe. For this task he could gather 100 native soldiers but only 50 of them had rifles. Some time after September 1880, a Captain with 10 soldiers took possession of the fort, that by this time laid in ruins. Due to a lack of funds the Governor was forced to appoint a local merchant government-delegate, with the task of building a new fort at his own expenses.

By January 1881, fifty-seven Boer families had established in the Humpata colony, now named St. Januario. A detachment of troops was placed there under the command of the young and bright 2nd lieutenant Artur de Paiva, which latter married with one of Frederik Botha's daughters, and in November 1881, the Boers were given Portuguese citizenship, without real effect. The Boers would become indispensable auxiliaries in the subjugation of Humbe before 1900, and in the campaigns of Central Angola.

Settlers, Missionaries, Traders and Explorers
The period 1880-1881, which saw the beginning of as new era in the South, ended with the settlement of a French Spiritian Mission in Huila, under the relentless efforts of Father Duparquet. Although being foreigners and therefor seen as suspicious characters by the Portuguese, they turned out to be not only the Hearts & Minds on the plateau but, being Catholics of Alsacian extraction, became the hidden sentinels against the German advance from the south.

The new Portuguese policy for the plateau was to submit and pacify the local tribes in order to obtain the most fertile lands. In April 1882 a Portuguese farmer, captain of irregulars, with a small invading force of native infantry and African auxiliaries was attacked and defeated by the soba of Lubango. Although victorious, the soba had "the good taste" of not waiting for the arrival of Portuguese reinforcements. So was this fertile land "freed" from its inhabitants. This search for an healthy climate and good farmlands, adequate for European agriculture, would be one constant in the southern colonisation.

To balance the Boer influence on the plateau, which numbered 325 by 1883, the local authorities decided to insert 41 survivors of the Portuguese settlement of Pungo Andongo (near Luanda). By 1886, they had all but dispersed or returned to Europe. In 1884 another contingent of 42, this time from Madeira, established a colony near the Boer settlement. On 19th January 1885, 222 settlers arrived in Lubango. In August a further 349 settlers from Madeira went to Humpata and, from there, marched on with the previous 42 to establish the settlement of S. Pedro da Chibia. In all, by the end of 1885, Southern Angola had received 643 new Portuguese settlers. On the other hand, the Pilgrim-Fathers of 1849-1851, around 500 settlers at this time, had established and maintained 95 farms, from the coast to the hinterland. With this settlers, however, came many of the undesirables, unemployed and vagrants who would roam the hinterland as funantes (Portuguese merchants) building small empires, with brandy in one hand and the sjambok (Boer large whip) on the other, and raging war by private enterprise.

On March 10, 1884, the Portuguese explorers Roberto Ivens and Hermenegildo Capelo, who had made several scientific explorations across Angola between 1877-1880, arrived in Mossamedes. Their mission was not only geographical but also political. They were instructed to subject the Kwanyama and to obtain further information on German activities in Ovamboland. In seven months they would cross 3000 miles of African territory from the Atlantic coast to the Indian Ocean. When they finally arrived in Quelimane, Mozambique, of the 124 men which had began the expedition, only 56 were still barely alive.

Because the plough was not enough to show Portuguese suzerainty, the governor-general of Angola, Ferreira do Amaral, sent the sword as well. In September 1883, the governor of Mossamedes Nunes da Matta, went to Humbe with 30 African soldiers and four artillery pieces to reorganise what he had advised to abandon sixteen years earlier. In three years the Portuguese had re-established control over the southerly domains. Well...not quite. In June 1885 a dispute over the election of the new Kwanyama soba led to an attack on white hunters and the French catholic mission, which resulted in the death of Father Delpuech and one friar. Weyulu, the new soba, who could raise a force of 3000 men armed with Martini-Henry's and Wastley-Richards, no longer had the European moderating hand, able to influence his despotic temperament. Though some feared a wave of terror from the Kwanyama, Nunes da Matta didn't believe that the Humbe would rebel. He was to be tragically proven wrong.

The Humbe Revolts

First Revolt 1885-1886
This conflict, presents itself as a typical example of a recurring opposition between local traders and Portuguese military, and specially has an example of the transfer of fiscal power in the hinterland. The funantes were complaining since February 1885 that the Humbe robbed them and that Chaungo, who refused to pay taxes, had forbidden his subjects any contact with the fort and all whites, except those from the mission. They explained to the authorities that the 60 men garrison was too weak to protect them from armed assaults, and that only recently had Chaungo been forced to stop collecting a tribute that he traditionally imposed on traders. In June 1885, Nunes da Matta sent 120 African soldiers and auxiliaries to re-establish order but, the lieutenant in command, for reasons unknown, retreated and didn't force Chaungo to pay indemnity for damages.

The new fort commander, captain Pedro Moreira da Fonseca, was left all alone with his troop detachment during the summer. On October 31st, Chaungo took up arms, attacking trading posts and the fort, which resisted well though lacking ammunition. Chaungo requested assistance from the Kwanyama and Kwamato. The fear of a Humbe and Ovambo coalition lay in the horizon.

A sate of war was declared in Humbe on September 16th, wile captain Moreira da Fonseca entrenched behind the adobe walls of the fort. It was the peak of fever season which prostrated civilians and African soldiers alike. Seeing everything crumbling down around him, Clemente de Andrade captain of irregulars, merchant and builder of the fort, the man whom the authorities had named government-delegate of Humbe, decided to catch Chaungo with a light column. On November 10th, he set forth with around 34 native soldiers and 24 African auxiliaries to take Chaungo's embala (The tribal capital and chief's residence. A kraal). The Humbes observed the columns advance but, made no attempts to oppose it. The deserted village was pillaged and burned, wile the commander was unable to prevent the soldiery from getting drunk with macau, the local beer. On the way back the column was ambushed at Quiloba. The askaris who had only bad ammunition left, were literally pined to the ground by the Humbes assegai. It was the end. Of the 64 men in the column 52 were killed, including the commander. A search-party of traders and askaris found only stripped decapitated bodies lying about. It was the first time that the Portuguese lost that many troops in Southern Angola. In Huila, the reinforcements were being organised with despairing slowness. Governor Nunes da Matta, who fought with a chronicle shortage of manpower, was finally able to assemble a column of 93 African infantrymen, 38 Boers, 94 Herero and Bushmen and 150 Ovimbundo, totalling 420 men with two cannons and twenty wagons.

The column set out on December 4th. The Humbe attacked at Tchicusse and resistance became stronger as the column neared the fort, which was reached two weeks later. The proverbial burning of villages began. The lack of fire arms was badly felt among the insurgents, and they were finally defeated on open ground at Jamba on December 21st. Chaungo escaped, but it was military impossible to capture him with a column that withered away with sickness.

Even more serious was the abandonment of the column by the Boers and settlers who went home to rest. The hungry soldiers were left alone until March 1886 when a fresh detachment of 60 soldiers arrived from Huila with ammunitions. On March 13th the Portuguese, with 220 native soldiers and African auxiliaries, defeated the Humbes at Cafuntuca. This afforded an opportunity to take many prisoners and the most precious spoil of war in the south: 500 cattle heads. By May this inglorious and fruitless seven months "war" ended in human and financial breakdown.

In November 1886, around 400 Hottentots, unsurpassed cattle thieves which are believed to have followed the Boer treks, started to raid the Humbe, Gambos and Huila districts. The Portuguese authorities suspected that the British traders in Damaraland were arming them and buying the stolen cattle. In order to chase the mounted Hottentots, an irregular squadron was raised at the end of 1887 made of deportees and settlers.

From 1886 to 1890 the settlers continued their migration to the hinterland, which resulted in the usual attrition with the indigenous people. In the Gambos, the commander of the fort had too few soldiers to have any real authority. In fact it were three local traders, beneficiaries of the wealth of the region, kingmakers who exploited the rivalries between clans and then bought the cattle and workers from the winners, that trailing the guns and soldiers from the fort had the mission to control and pacify the road to Humbe.

The Second Revolt, 1891
Chaungo who had escaped in 1886, was finally captured in 1888. The new soba Tchioa elected by the Portuguese was much hated among the locals. He couldn't conjure up rain, and nothing could best demonstrate his illegitimacy, in a semi-arid herdsmen country cursed with a long drought. There was another claimant to the throne named Luhuna, who had the ability to make rain when ever he wanted, and after escaping several attempts made by the authorities to capture him, attacked Tchioa's embala on 5th of March 1891. Tchioa took refuge on the fort, who had only thirty rifles for its defence. After being elected soba by the Humbe, Luhuna submitted the rest of the region from March until May of 1891.

Although in 1891 the Portuguese had their cavalry squadron, many of the troopers didn't know how to ride. Given the task of organising a relief column, major Justiniano Padrel, the energetic commander of the 4th Caçadores* Battalion followed the district commander, captain Luna de Carvalho's advise and hired the services of a local mercenary chief named Tom, a Tswana, who rented his services at a lower price than the Boers (only half of the stolen cattle). This mercenaries of varied ethnic background (Herero, Bastardos, Bushmen, Berg-Damara, etc.), that roamed from the Gambos to the Kaokoveld (South West Africa), allied themselves to the highest bidder, which weren't necessarily the Portuguese authorities. But since they refused to follow orders from others than the Boers, Padrel was forced to request their help. For their services the Boers demanded double wages and the presence of a doctor.

*The Caçadores (hunters, chasseurs, jägers), are light native infantry troops. At this time they were organised in battalions but latter dissolved and re-organised by companies. The ç in Portuguese is read like ss, (cassadores, Rossadas, etc.).

On the 8th of May 1891, the expedition set out from the Gambos with 60 askaris, 60 Boers and mounted settlers, 20 Bastardos, 44 Berg-Damara, 30 Bushmen, 500 Himbas (Herrero) seven wagons a Krupp cannon and one machinegun. The column was attacked on the 14th at Tchipelongo but the auxiliaries repulsed the assailants. The Portuguese burned every village on the way, and reached the fort on the 16th. Defeated by the Portuguese artillery on the 20th and 25th of May, Luhuna had no choice but to escape south to Donguena (33 miles south of Humbe), inhabited by a particularly aggressive branch of Humbe. Padrel went in his pursuit and after five days in Donguena, had inflicted 200 casualties and captured over 3000 cattle heads. The Humbe, in panic sued for peace but the warring faction had crossed the Cunene river into Kwamato. Between the 20th and 25th of June, Padrel, then turned to the north-east regions to force the remaining Humbe to submit, taking women and children to the fort to be ransomed for cattle. But Luhuna was still at large, so Padrel decided to advance against his allies the unsubmitted Kwamato.

To engage the first Portuguese-Ovambo war, without the prior consent of the district governor, was a serious decision. The Kwamatos, because of their modern rifles, were feared by all, including their more numerous neighbours the Kwanyama. Padrel received the support of 3500 Kwanyama auxiliaries sent by King Weyulu which arrived at the fort on July 9. By now he had 4600 men under his command. With two guns, and commanding the most important expedition mounted in Southern Angola till this date, the self confident Padrel forded the Cunene at Pembe. Without delay, he marched on Big Kwamato, soba Iquera's embala, were Luhuna had taken refuge. Then, suddenly everything fell apart. The region is a vast plane pocked with bush woods that offer good protection for shooters. Commanded by Iquera's son, the Kwamatos and their allies, concentrated around Padrel's men, and on the night of the 12th to the 13th fell upon the Portuguese camp at Dombeafungue with around 10 000(?) men. The battle raged for nine hours. The Portuguese claimed 200 Kwamato casualties against seven wounded and two dead Kwanyama on their side. But the Krupp had been disabled with a broken axis. On the 13th, 2500 Kwanyama left the column. Of the other African auxiliaries only the Himba showed any intention of staying until the end.

Without the possibility of being reinforced, all officers agreed that the column should retreat or face annihilation. First simulating an advance, the column retreated in good order and under fire for seven hours. The askaris had to charge twice before they could all reach the Cunene river by 3 p.m. of the 13th. Padrel had lost 11 dead and 31 wounded, many by cold-steel. The column had been saved by Padrel's and his staff's sang-froid. At Dombeafungue the Portuguese had to face an Ovambo coalition that in spite having heavy losses (around 800 casualties), did no sue for peace and was prepared to resist.

With most of Luhuna's chiefs captured the war was over. It had lasted five months. Of the 6632 captured cattle heads half was divided among the volunteers and half went to the Crown. Padrel left Humbe on the 1st of August 1891.

But the south still belonged to the ones who could raid it or had enough firepower to cross the vast wild hinterland, such as the Hottentot and the Boers or the British and Scandinavian hunters who sold huge quantities of arms and ammunition to the Kwanyama. For a month, from the 4th of January until the 5th of February 1893, a group of Boers and 9 Portuguese cavalrymen had to chase another Hottentot raid, killing thirty and retrieving 500 cattle and 6 horses.

The Third Humbe Revolt, 1897-1898
In 1897 the Humbe rebelled for the third time in twelve years. It was the most complex revolt of all. Its origins lay in a serious epidemic outbreak of bovine plague. The disease started in East Africa (1892-1893), and crossed the continent. It must have been one reason of the Matabele and Mashona revolts of 1896. The German authorities of Southwest Africa vaccinated all settlers cattle but cruelly left the Herero cattle to die. The Portuguese warned of what was happening south of the Cunene, forbade all cattle trade and ordered a massive vaccination. In order to protect the vaccination brigade sent to Humbe from probable Hottentot raids, colonel Artur de Paiva, a veteran of many campaigns in Central Angola, requested the presence of the Mossamedes Dragoons Company (European) that had replaced the Irregular Squadron. On the 22nd of October 1897, 151 men commanded by four officers arrived in Humbe. Most of them arrived on foot due to the horse sickness which had killed almost all their mounts. They were greeted by an apocalyptic sight. Everywhere was the stench of death, rotting carcasses and pestilent pyres. It became almost impossible to supply the troopers, so on November 26th the squadron was ordered to retreat from Humbe. Lacking supplies and with a great number of sick, the squadron started to move by platoons. On December 6, the 4th platoon under sergeant-major Silveira was the first to leave, followed next day by the 2nd and 3rd platoons under captain Baltazar de Brito and, on the 11th, the 1st platoon, made up of sick and convalescents with only two mules and a horse, under the command of lieutenant João Carlos de Saldanha, Earl of Almoster. The Humbe were by now refusing to vaccinate their cattle, spurred by the witchdoctors, they accused the Portuguese of administering bad medicine and using the sickness as an excuse for sending troops to fight them. In a short time the herds had melted like ice under the sun.

When the 1st platoon camped at Tchituba by dawn of the 12th of December 1897, the locals were already upset by the depredations made by the preceding units. Two soldiers and a bearer sent to a nearby village mistreated and killed a Humbe woman who refused to sell them supplies, and were closely chased to the Portuguese camp by a great number of screaming warriors (possibly a thousand), that had gathered for a funeral. Surprised by this sudden appearance, the dragoons put up a disorganised defence wile the bearers ran for their lives. Outnumbered and under fire from an enemy hidden in the bush, the Earl of Almoster ordered to resume the advance. At 2 p.m., after marching for six miles under fire, and with a growing number of wounded, the dragoons formed a small square and fired their last ammunitions. The Humbes continued to fire and, when there were only four dragoons and the wounded Earl of Almoster standing, finally closed in for the kill. All had ended, 14 troopers were dead and mutilated, seven were missing and eight escaped wounded. The heart of sergeant-major Pio was taken to be given to the Humbe children so that they could become as brave as the dragoons. The commander of the dragoons, with several days advance and blindly following orders, didn't even turn back to bury the bodies. This task fell upon a local farmer, José Lopes, and his servants, who found the remnants of the doomed column the next day.

The Humbe had revolted and on December 15th the fort was once again under siege. But this time many of the Humbi leaders weren't very keen in having the army on their lands, when they were loosing cattle by the thousands. The fort, defended by second-lieutenant José Felix with less than 40 native soldiers, was attacked during the night on the 18th, 19th, 20th and 24th of January 1898, which resulted in 1 dead and 5 wounded.

On the 25th of January 1898, colonel Artur de Paiva finally set out from the plateau with the relief force. The column had 16 officers, 30 artillerymen from Luanda, 120 dragoons, 280 askaris, 40 Boers, 100 volunteer settlers, 650 Bushmen and Himba (under the mercenary chief Oorlog), totalling 1252 men, with 5 artillery pieces, 50 wagons and 873 bearers. This time Artur de Paiva could count with around 300 white fightingmen to "punish the rebellious gentile".

The rainy season was at its peak and the trail was impassable. Under this murderous weather the men became ill, the wagons bogged down and the fording of rivers a nightmare. When they entered the Humbe district on February the 14th, the column stretched for 1,5 miles. On the morning of 16th, the square, cloaked by the smoke of burning libatas, reached Munyande were a loyal soba and his people joined the rest. In the distance, the savage beating of drums and war cries, sounded tragically desperate. At 11 a.m. a group of African auxiliaries was greeted with rifle fire, which increased rapidly. The cavalry was divided into three groups and the auxiliaries on foot chased the assailants for 6 miles. The Humbe lost 116 dead and a great number of wounded. Wile many others drowned when they tried to cross the swollen Caculovar river. On the 18th the Humbe attempted to ambush the column, but were thwarted by the quick response of the avant-garde, loosing a considerable number of men in the process. From then on, the Humbe were unable to stop this road-roller, that advanced under a punishing rain, at a speed of 3 miles a day. On the 23rd February 1898, the column finally entered the fort, after a month long hard march. The Humbe resistance had almost disappeared. After several months of small actions, which resulted in the capture of many prisoners and, 1500 ox and 2000 sheep taken, the operations ceased on the 20th of June 1898. The troops were in a miserable state. After a seven month long campaign, the column lost 8 killed, 23 wounded and 4 missing in action, and of the 96 who died of disease, 74 were white. The Humbe lost around 800 people and several hundred prisoners with almost all villages burned down. They would never become a serious threat again. Colonel Artur de Paiva would die in 1900, at sea, victim of the fever contracted during this campaign.

The Ovambo Resistance

Beyond the Cunene
The southern frontier was as liquid as water. On February 1902, the Kwamatos started to raid the Humbes. Therefor the fort reinforced its garrison to company size. On the 17th of February 1902 this troops with auxiliaries and aided by the Humbes, inflicted heavy losses on the invaders (up to one hundred dead). At the end of 1903, the Huila district had two askari companies, one mixed company, one dragoon troop and one artillery section, in all 38 horses and mules and 263 rifles. They could also request the services of 200 Boers and settlers willing to fight. This meagre forces faced a population of 250 000 natives!

With the Germans pressing in the south, the Portuguese decided to prevent a possible invasion of northern Kwanyama by their neighbours. For the first time in Southern Angola, the Portuguese, raising a modern army from metropolitan cadre - 40 officers, 467 European soldiers (91 artillerymen, 105 cavalrymen, disciplinary soldiers, sappers, medical and transportation personnel and 10 naval machinegunners), and 613 askaris, totalling 1160 soldiers, aided by 11 European auxiliaries, 420 Oorlogs's African mercenaries and 500 Humbes - would go on the offensive. The governor of Huila and expedition leader, a simple engineers captain with the prerogatives of a general was ill suited for command. His officers were all but incompetent fools (with some exceptions), looking for promotion and medals in the war against "the blacks".

The Ovambo expected and were prepared for war. Father Lecomte, a French missionary advised the Portuguese to attack the Kwanyama from the north through Evale, avoiding the Kwamatos. In his opinion the Kwamato and Vale were dreaded foes. They were brave and intelligent warriors, not like the Kwanyama that preyed on the weak with their surprise attacks.

Since the governor's report was never published, one can only speculate why he decided to attack through Kwamato territory.

The Massacre, 25th of September 1904
The Portuguese forded the Cunene river at Pembe (the same of 1891), on September 19th. The Kwamatos were waiting. From the 20th to the 24th there were some minor firefights. Then the Kwamatos tried to paralyse the column, that was still on the Cunene riverbank, by killing the ox and horses. To free the stranded square, governor Aguiar sent captain Pinto de Almeida, on the 25th of September, with a strong detachment of troops who's numbers were enough to conquer the Ovambo kingdoms: Two artillery pieces (old mountain-guns), two dragoon platoons and six infantry platoons, totalling 255 Europeans and 244 African soldiers, aided by many armed auxiliaries. A guide led the troops to a clearing were the Kwanyama hidden among the trees started to fire at the officers and then closed in. The cavalry charged, but the terrain was ill suited for them and many mounts were thus lost. Then the artillery stopped firing. At Umpungo the Portuguese had fallen into the favourite Kwanyama trap, who fired devastating volleys from their modern rifles - bought from the white hunters and traders - at a distance of 100 meters. Against such a concentration of firepower, unusual in the dark continent and specially in Angola, the Portuguese discipline crumbled as ammunition ran low. The bugle sounded the retreat but, it was too late. The auxiliaries had routed before the Kwamatos charged for hand-to-hand combat, brandishing their maces and assegai. Aguiar who stayed in camp 2 miles behind did not move in support of the surrounded square. His ineptitude was such that, when he finally decided to send infantry with ammunition, the supporting artillery fired upon the retreating survivors that emerged out of the bush. Killing three officers and 22 soldiers. In the clearing, the remaining soldiers were all slaughtered.

The casualties list is staggering. In less than two hours, the Portuguese had lost 250 dead and missing. Aguiar decided to ford the Cunene that same day, leaving behind the unburied bodies, two guns, two ammunition wagons and hundreds of rifles. It was a sad affair. Blamed for the disaster, governor Aguiar was dismissed. The military garrisons on the plateau were reinforced fearing an Ovambo offensive. Nothing happened. Luckily, the Kwamatos were unable to establish an Ovambo coalition, losing a superb opportunity to exploit their victory.

Preparing the Revenge
The Portuguese government soon made plans to beat the Ovambo. From a report made in July 1905 by a Portuguese officer who travelled beyond the Cunene to gather information, the Ovambo could call up to 18 000 men armed with 8000 rifles. The new governor of Huila, captain Alves Roçadas decided to prepare the terrain for future expeditions. In June, Hangalo, the despotic ruler of Mulondo, refused to let the Portuguese build a fort on his territory. He had been spared by previous expeditions to Humbe. On the 25th of October, his fortified embala was bombarded and taken. His 1000 men army was defeated and his head was cut-off as a warning to others. From 1905 until 1906, Roçadas, in a series of operations, cleared the plateau and Humbe of all potential threats to his rear and established a fort in Kwamatwi territory (Fort Roçadas), on the other side of the Cunene river, in front of Humbe. One of the prises of this campaign was the capture of the long time fugitive Luhuna.

The Kwamato Campaign, 1907
In 1907, modern warfare reached Angola with its thousands of European infantrymen, trenches, water-carts, a Decauville railroad, a gunboat and... a war correspondent. The great metropolitan expedition arrived at the end of June 1907: 87 officers, 1306 European troops, 906 African troops, 115 auxiliaries, 57 civilians, and 24 deportees. The number of auxiliaries was very small compared to the previous campaigns: 14 Portuguese and 18 Boer horsemen with 83 African auxiliaries. It would take two months to concentrate the troops at Fort Roçadas.

Captain Roçadas organised everything, leaving nothing to chance. He gathered 10 artillery pieces, four machineguns and 1602 rifles, plus 44 wagons and empty bags to be filled with sand as needed.

Commander, Captain Alves Roçadas
Chief-of-staff, Captain Eduardo Marques
Staff, 7 officers and 12 men.

Sappers: 1 officer, 2 sergeants, 20 sappers and 40 native auxiliaries.

1 batt. 4 Ehrhardt pieces, 3 officers, 52 men and 19 mules.
1 batt. 4 Canet (old model) pieces, 3 officers, 50 men, 20 mules.
1 section 2 Krupp Mountain Guns, 1 officer, 18 men, 8 oxen.
1 batt. 4 Nordenfeld machineguns, 2 officers, 18 men, 8 oxen.

Cavalry: Commander, Capt. Montez
1st Dragoon sqd. (carbines), 4 officers, 1 veterinary, 93 men and 17 African auxiliaries.
Mounts: 100 mules.
2nd Dragoon sqd. (lancers), 4 officers, 1 veterinary, 110 men and 30 African auxiliaries.
Mounts: 95 horses and 21 mules.

2nd Naval Company, 4 officers and 168 men.
12th Infantry Company, 5 officers and 220 men.
Disciplinary Company of Angola, 5 officers and 147 men.
1st European Company of Angola, 5 officers and 175 men.
2nd European Company of Angola, 5 officers and 124 men.
10th Mozambique Company (Askaris), 5 officers and 200 men.
14th Native Company of Angola, 6 officers and 176 men.
15th Native Company of Angola, 6 officers and 158 men.
16th Native Company of Angola, 6 officers and 177 men.

Auxiliaries: Commander, Lieutenant Teixeira Pinto
14 Portuguese, 18 Boers and 83 Oorlog's mercenaries.

Train & Ambulance: 67 wagons and 40 men.

For this campaign the Portuguese had a trump card named Calipalula (or Caripalula). He was of royal blood and had been badly treated and expelled from Big Kwamato, barely escaping alive. Treated by the Portuguese in Humbe, he was persuaded to guide the expedition into Kwamato territory, and reveal the location of the badly needed water wells (cacimbas).

On the Kwamato side the much feared "Ovambo League" had partially been established. The Kwanyama sent 12 lengas (4000 men), under the command of Makir, one of their best chiefs. The Kwambi, Ongandjera and Ombalanto also sent warriors. But the Vale, the Kwaluthi, and the numerous Ondonga were not present. The Hinga (Humbes from beyond-Cunene), came to support their neighbours, but the Humbes from the Portuguese side of the border limited themselves to providing information about the troops. Their numbers were between 15 to 20 thousand warriors, 7000 of them armed with Snyder, Martini-Henry, Kropathschek, and Mauser rifles. The Portuguese arrogantly hoped to triumph with just 2300 men where, the Germans with five times as much troops wouldn't dare to go.

After repairing the bridge over the Cunene river, damaged by floods; opening a trail two miles long through the bush and a small firefight by the reconnaissance detail; The troops began their offensive march, in double column, at 5 a.m. on the 26th of August 1907. The column adopted the classic disposition of colonial campaigns, with the train and baggage in the middle, and the regular troops positioned so that they could easily form a defensive square. The objective was to take the royal embala of Maghogo of chief Sihetekela, soba of Little Kwamato, followed by an invasion of soba Oikhula's Big Kwamato and the occupation of the entire region with army posts. The Kwamato was divided in two separate kingdoms, each with its own soba. The more numerous, but less warlike and worst equipped, was Big Kwamato. The less numerous but much more heavily armed and aggressive, was Little Kwamato. It was the latter that took the brunt of the offensive. The Ovambo Armageddon had begun. The march followed without incidents during the first day, and at night the bivouacked square eared the loud address of the Kwamatos challenges and menaces, all around. By dawn, the column, guided by Caripalula, started to advance towards the Aucongo water wells. After a wile, at around 9 a.m., bands of warriors were sighted in the distance by the scouts, moving to envelop the square. When the troops reached a large clearing named Mufilo they stopped. The Kwamatos suddenly broke fire, attacking the train that was still moving into the inside of the square. During a full hour, the cavalry and native infantry escort defended the advance until it reached the centre in good order. By now a savage fire had enveloped the Portuguese positions with a choking grip. The platoons and artillery responded with regular and steady volleys.

The invisible foe, who had a respectful arsenal and no lack of ammunition, continued its deadly fire at a distance of 150-300 meters. The air was criss-crossed by numerous hissing rounds, and the list of wounded started to grow. The commander's aide-de-champ was struck on the neck; the commander of the 14th Native Infantry company, with one arm pierced, continued to give orders; Some have their slouch hats holed, and the chief-of-staff's horse was killed by a bullet. Trying to loosen the grip, commander Roçadas, orders the right face under captain Patacho, followed by the rear under captain Ribeiro, a bayonet charge into the bush wood. At the same time, the cavalry walked at the trot and then charged carrying every thing in front for a mile, wile on the left the Naval and Disciplinary companies, advancing by platoons, cleared the bush. But the enemy did not retreat, and returned to their previous positions after the infantry and cavalry charges. In the meantime, the first line of troops was ordered to fill the sand bags, wile the artillery and second line maintained fire. After four intensive hours, the fire started to die down. Small pockets of resistance were still active, so the 2nd cavalry squadron charged once again. Suddenly, finding themselves surrounded, they opened their way through the enemy with a brilliant charge at lance point. After a 2 hours struggle, under the day's declining beam, the squadron returned to the square in good order, with bugles playing the War March and carrying their wounded. A jubilous cry exploded from the square, as every soldier jumped and waved their hats, forgetting the still observing Kwamatos. As night fell, only the sound of isolated shots and the wounded groans, could be eared. The Portuguese lost 12 European, 2 African soldiers and an officer dead, and 55 wounded. The 1904 disaster had been avenged. The Portuguese had regained their self confidence and buried the myth of Kwamato invincibility. Badly mauled during the battle, the Kwanyama contingent left for home.

The following day, the column reached Aucongo, were a fortified position was established. Unfortunately the wells were almost empty, and the water reserves had to be used. On the 29th a cavalry detachment sent to water the cattle at a nearby lagoon was attacked but escaped with minor casualties. On the 30th, with water running low, all the wagons, with a strong escort, were sent to the rear carrying the sick and wounded, and to bring supplies. Somehow it was never attacked, and on September 1 was back at Aucongo. On the 2nd of September, the camp suffered a furious attack by the assegai experts, the Kwambi. The air was filled with the roar of thousands of voices crying "Ta-tweh, ta-tweh, Kwambi!" (Charge, charge, Kwambi!). Seeing the enemy gathering in the bush around the camp, Roçadas decided to take the offensive. Leaving a company to defend the unfinished fortified post, he ordered a second heavily escorted train to head for Fort Roçadas with the sick and wounded, wile he and the rest of the square advanced upon Macuvi, diverting the enemies attention from the train with this double movement.

The artillery fired a few shots, wile the sappers, protected by a detachment of hand picked Naval Infantry sharpshooters, set fire to the nearby huts. After the train had left, the square began to retreat to the post by echelons. The Kwamatos tried to cut-off the retreat by occupying the bush behind the troops, positioning themselves between the square and the unfinished post. A furious combat ensued. The sailors and the infantrymen of the 12th European company, aided by machineguns, kept their cool, retreating slowly under fire. The artillery almost lost their mules but kept firing at the occasional targets. The combat lasted three hours at the cost of 6 dead and 30 wounded. At Aucongo, from the 29th of August until the 4th of September the Portuguese lost a total of 13 dead and 34 wounded. On the 7th the train was back.

With the Aucongo army post completed, a strong garrison is posted, wile on the 11th the rest of the column heads for Tchamuinde's water wells, were water was good and plentiful. The advance was accompanied by the Kwamatos sporadic shots, and the permanent war chants in the distance. On the 13th the march was resumed to occupy Damekero and then move to Aluendo and its water wells. The advance was made under violent fire from the Kwamatos who, hiding in the bush and behind termite mounds, had enveloped the square. Wile the sappers and auxiliaries opened a trail, the infantry fired regular volleys. On the right face of the square, the 1st European and the 10th Mozambique companies cleared the bush with the bayonet, as the East Africans chanted their war cry. When the huts of Damekero were sighted, the artillery poured a few rounds and in a short time the village was assaulted and cleared by the Naval and 12th European companies. The square halted and entrenched with sand bags, wile the cavalry cleared the terrain around the position. The Kwamatos finally retreated after four hours of fighting, showing a resilience and a will to triumph that would only be broken by the following operations. The Portuguese suffered 24 casualties, including 8 dead.

A fortified post was established, with a garrison, and another train left for supplies which returned with a 400 contingent of Humbi auxiliaries. Caripaluli and the Portuguese settler, José Lopes, tried to parliament with the Kwamatos, but were welcomed with rifle fire. On the dawn of the 20th the troops resumed the advance towards Aluendo. The column was lightly fired upon. When the square bivouacked at Mupala, another firefight broke out. For several hours, wile the troops entrenched, the Kwamatos, as usual hiding behind termite mounds and in the bush, maintained a constant fire, inflicting 22 casualties, including 4 dead on the Portuguese.

The next day the Inyoca water wells were taken with the bayonet by the 12th and Naval companies. Here the troops and cattle were able to kill the thirst and rest under the shade of large trees. 11 kilometres to the south, Maghogo was set on fire by the panicked population. On the 22nd, the Portuguese reached the fortified embala. Ignoring that Sihetekela had abandoned the place with a small number of warriors, the artillery bombarded the village, followed by a bayonet assault of the infantry, which took it without resistance. As the heavy rains of the season began to fall, the troops occupied the kraal and began to build the fort of Don Luis de Bragança. The flag was raised on the 28th of September 1907. In a month long operation the Portuguese had suffered 42 dead and 125 wounded. The Kwamato casualties were unknown, since non had surrendered or been taken prisoner.

After resting and re-supplying for several days, the square began to move on Big Kwamato, on the morning of the 4th of October 1907, with a force of 1284 men. As the troops advanced towards soba Oikhula's royal embala of Nalueke, they began to receive rifle fire from the defenders. At 10 a.m. when the square reached a dense bush wood near the embala, the fire suddenly stopped. The square halted as the artillery fired over the palisade, the train moved between the front and rear faces wile the sides moved forward occupying the flanks of the line. The troops started to advance with a steady pace, but soon after all the line charged enthusiastically the battlements. Not a living soul was found inside or around the place. Oikhula, drunk and refusing to leave, escaped . Big Kwamato had crumbled in just one day. The spoils of the 1904 massacre, including two cannons, were recovered and sent to the rear During the 11 kilometres long march and the 2 hours firefight, the column suffered another 3 dead and 11 wounded. The ten actions of this campaign had cost the Portuguese a total of 205 men: 5 officers, 53 European and 8 African dead; and 5 officers, 91 European and 43 African wounded. Of the metropolitan contingent, 346 men were sick.

Caripalula, was named soba in recognition for his services, but was not accepted by his people. He tried to commit suicide with a gunshot to the head but failed. A new soba, Cabungo Popiene, was then elected by the elders. On the 11th, the fever stricken column left for the rear. On the 19th of October 1907, the troops finally reached the home base. The war had ended after two month of fighting.

During 1908, the remaining Kwamatos under Sihetekela resorted to guerrilla warfare. From then on, the Portuguese advanced to the South West African border and resumed the occupation of the East. The last Ovambo kingdom, the Kwanyama, would resist until 1916.

Armies in Southern Angola


História das Campanhas de Angola, Pélissier, René, (Estampa 1986)
A Campanha do Cuamato, Velloso de Castro, (Loanda 1908)
Roçadas na ocupação do Sul de Angola, Almeida Teixeira, (Lisboa 1935)
Campanha do Humbe 1897-98, Luiz de Pina Guimarães, (Lisboa 1938)
Os auxiliares na ocupação do Sul de Angola, Gastão Sousa Dias, (Lisboa 1943)


Armies in Southern Angola

The Portuguese
From 1848 until 1926, the Portuguese fought close to 200 actions and campaigns in Angola. The struggle, against the various European colonial powers and native kingdoms, to maintain its claims over such vast African territories was one that Portugal, with its limited resources and manpower, could not afford. It's amazing how it could hold on against such overwhelming odds. At the beginning of the century and until 1885, the Portuguese military were dependant on the resilience and efforts of many forgotten officers. The backbone of the expeditions were usually made up of ill equipped askaris armed with Sniders and African auxiliaries, led by white officers and settlers. Only the specialist troops, such as the artillery, were European. The metropolitan expeditions sent during the 1860's and 1870's were issued with the usual uniform which consisted of a dark blue coat, white loose trousers and white havelock. They were armed with the traditional Martini-Henrys. The askaris were issued a dark brown coat, but that was not always the case, since equipment rotted very quickly in Africa. In the 1880's European troops were issued a white uniform. The havelock was used along with the slouch hat which was specially used by the officers. Some of them, like Artur de Paiva in the south, even dressed Boer style on a few campaigns. At this time the standard rifle of European troops became the Austrian made Kropathschek 8mm mod. 1886, which was latter produced under licence in Portugal, while the African troops were equipped with the Martini-Henry. In 1900 a new colonial uniform regulation was adopted. Khaki was to be warn by all troops. The Europeans were issued broad brimmed hats, while the African troops were issued with a red fez and short baggy trousers. Officers often used white trousers. In 1898 the Mossamedes Dragoons had a light grey uniform but latter adopted the khaki. The cavalry was armed with swords and Kropathschek carbines, with the second squadron also equipped with lances. The artillery was equipped with Portuguese made BEM 7 cm m/1882 mountain-guns, Krupps, Canets and latter on also with the Erhardt. The standard machinegun was the widely used Nordenfeldt, sometimes serviced by naval gunners. The naval infantry during the Kwamato campaign, used a blue-grey infantry uniform with the sailors tippet. The African troops quality was often questionable and by 1900's the majority of the expeditions were formed by Europeans. The adopted formation in combat was the square, like in many African campaigns. By the end of the century the quality of officer's Corps increased as the influx of experienced personnel began to arrive from the East African campaigns.

The Auxiliaries
Both Boers and Portuguese settlers were invaluable auxiliaries during the campaigns. They were the ones who knew the territory and its inhabitants, and often carried their own individual expeditions. They were armed with every kind of rifles available, from Winchesters to hunting rifles. These troops performed well under fire and were often accompanied by their armed African servants. The native auxiliaries were raised by local authorities, farmers and Boers. Armed with old rifles and traditional weapons, they made up the larger part of the earlier expeditions. Although performing well, if efficiently led, they were more then often unreliable allies.

The Mercenaries
Oorlog, was a tall and dry African, one of those native warrior military genius. With his mixed band of Damara and Herrero mercenaries that escaped from South West Africa, roamed the plateau, attacking on one hand the native villagers and on the other accompanying the Portuguese on several expeditions. He was the unquestionable leader of all African auxiliaries. This obscure figure, was the son of Tom, the Tswana mercenary, and a Herrero woman. He was born in 1863, the year when Hottentots and Herreros fought each other. For this reason he was named Vita, which translated to Afrikaans meant "War" (Oorlog). Tough and steady with his men, he forgave no flaws. His justice was swift and permanent. Once, during a reconnaissance, one of the auxiliaries refused to ford the Cunene. Oorlog, immediately put a bullet through his head. In 1907 he was with the column in Kwamato. When the campaign ended he was appointed chief of the native police force then established. During the 1914 combats with the Germans, he was one of the few who stayed loyal to the Portuguese, accompanying the expeditionary force against the Kwanyama in 1915-16. His men, dressed with mix of European and African clothes, were armed with modern rifles, and some, not many, had horses. These are first rate fighters who keep their cool under fire and are very loyal to the Portuguese.

The Humbe
The Nyaneca-Humbe comprise 11 tribes: Muila, Gambo, Humbe, Ndonguena, Hinga, KhwanKhuwa, Handa of Mupa, Handa of Quipungo, Quipungo, Quilengue-Humbe and Quilengue-Musó. Descending from the Bancumbi, invaders from the north, who founded the great Humbe-Onene kingdom, which stretched from the Cunene to Central Angola, and the Damara invaders from the south, the Humbe, like many other nations of Southern Angola, were herdsmen. Their life and wealth depended on cattle. The settlers advance, the taking of their lands by farmers and general exploitation often resulted in fierce and vengeful attacks by both parts. The Humbes were usually armed with spears, daggers, small maces, axes and longbows. Non carried shields. Some were armed with old flintlocks, called canyangulos or Lazarinas, and modern rifles. Their hair style varied from skin-headed dread-locked pony-tails, to the more usual full hair locks bound at the back. They never wore bright clothing, preferring to use a leather or black ox cloth (only the royalty could were black goats skin), with a leather half-mooned shaped piece at the back. Their main tactic was to wear down the enemy and then fight at close quarters. They are brave terrible warrior, and every one that falls on theirs hand is bound to have a painful death.

The Kwamato
The Kwamato belong to the Ovambo family which comprises 12 tribes: Donga, Kwambi, Ongandjera, Kwaluthi, Ombalanto, Colucatsi, Eunda, Dombondola, Kwamato, Kwanyama, Evale and Cafima. The more numerous being the Kwanyama, Donga and Cafima. More accurately, they should be called Bana n' cutuba, because of a shell shaped piece of leather that they use to cover their backside, the n' cutuba. They diverge from the other native peoples in height, robustness and character. They are a nation proud of their independence and brutality. Herding and raiding are their trades. The armament consists mainly of the traditional assegai, daggers, spiked clubs, bows and arrows with various rifles (Mausers, Kropathscheks, Martini-Henrys, old Sniders and flintlocks) adding to the mix. The Kwamato and their allies could gather a force of up to 20 000 warriors armed with 7000 rifles. The tactical unit is the cua, led by a lenga, or war chief, numbering between 100 to 600 warriors, and a number of lengas form an etanga (army). When at war, the army gathers at the capital, Maghogo, under the command of a royal blooded chief, or an experienced lenga. In 1907, the army commander was Danieca. The best fire arms belonged to lengas, sobas and sharpshooters. The rest was distributed among their relatives. The chiefs often wore European clothing, with feathered hats and ridded horses, but never fought on horseback. Once the enemy is found, the army moves in as pincers, surrounding the foe. The troops are positioned in two lines, the first is always the best led and equipped, while the second stays in reserve for close combat. Every piece of terrain is used for cover. The best shooters are detached and placed on the most favourable spots to deliver a murderous fire upon the enemy. Once the square falters, the second line charges and no quarter is given. The Kwamato, astute and intelligent warriors, are more than a match for any poorly led expedition.