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Culture of Angola


The origin of the culture of Angola is tied to the traditions of the central Bantu peoples and the ancient kingdom of Kongo. Located on the southwestern coast of Africa, Angola became a key colony in the growing Portuguese empire after 1500, but for most of the years of its domination Portugal exerted little cultural influence, content to control the slave trade from forts along the coast.


Only after the mid-19th century did Portugal seek control of the entire territory, thus spawning a resistance that inspired much art and literature. Angola’s struggle for independence was long and violent, and life in the independent nation has also been marred by intense civil war. Such disorder has obstructed the development of Bantu customs and also destroyed the more Portuguese traditions of the coastal cities.


As with most African art, the wooden masks and sculptures of Angola are not merely aesthetic creations. They play an important role in cultural rituals, representing life and death, the passage from childhood to adulthood, the celebration of a new harvest and the marking of the hunting season.

Angolan artisans work in wood, bronze, ivory, malachite or ceramic mediums. Each ethno-linguistic group in Angola has its own unique artistic traits. Perhaps the single most famous piece of Angolan art is the Cokwe thinker, a masterpiece of harmony and symmetry of line. The Lunda-Cokwe in the north eastern part of Angola is also known for its superior plastic arts.


The music of Angola has been shaped both by wider musical trends and by the political history of the country. It has been described as a mix of Congolese, Portuguese, and Brazilian music, while Angolan music has also influenced the music of the other Lusophone countries.

The capital and largest city of Angola — Luanda — is home to a diverse group of styles including zouk, Angolan merengue, kilapanda, semba, a genre with roots intertwined with that of Brazilian samba music, Kizomba and Kuduro. Just off the coast of Luanda is Ilha do Cabo, home to an accordion and harmonica-based style of music called rebita.


In the towns and cities, Western-style clothing is common, though some people still wear traditional clothing. The villages remain more traditional, where women wear panos, African wraparound batik garments.

 Dressing up for parties and special occasions in the cities almost certainly means wearing Western-style outfits. Angolan youth prefer casual jeans and T-shirts, except for special occasions. There are a few groups, such as the Mukubao in the southern Angolan province of Kuando Kubango, who do not wear any clothing.


Whenever possible, Angolans eat three meals a day. A breakfast consists of bread, eggs, and tea or coffee. Sometimes mothers may prepare a special breakfast treat of sweet rice (arroz doce).

The staple foods include cassava (a plant with an edible root), corn, millet (a small-seeded grain), sorghum (a grassy plant that yields a grain used alone or to make syrup), beans, sweet potatoes, rice, wheat, and bananas. 

Typical midday meals consist of a ball of manioc dough (cassava flour mixed with boiling water), with fish, chicken, or meat. People in the north and in the capital enjoy pounded cassava leaves (kisaka). Specialty dishes include mwamba de galinha, a palm-nut paste sauce in which chicken, spices, and peanut butter are cooked, creating a delightful aroma.

 A recipe adapted for Western cooks follows. Angolans make use of their abundant fresh and saltwater fish. One dish, calulu , combines fresh and dried fish. A favorite dish among Angolans is cabidela, chicken’s blood eaten with rice and cassava dough.


Portuguese is both the official and predominant language in the black, mesti ço and white populations. About 40% of Angolans speak Bantu languages as their first languages, many more as second language, although younger urban generations and some sectors of the Angolan society are moving towards the exclusive use of Portuguese. The most spoken Bantu languages are Kimbundu, Umbundu, and Kikongo (all of these have many Portuguese-derived words).


Angolan’s literary roots in the oral tradition were overlaid during the 19th century with the writings of Portuguese-educated Portuguese-Africans in the cities. Literature helped to focus anti-colonial resistance and played an important role in the independence struggle. Angola’s most famous poet, Antonio Agostinho Neto, was the leader of an important political movement. His works centered on themes of freedom and have been translated into many languages. Post-independence literature, however, has been limited by censorship and ongoing political strife.


Many of Angola’s historic buildings reflect the colonial influence of the Portuguese on Angolan architecture. Common characteristics found in buildings and homes throughout the country are evidence of the influence which has its origin in the 15th Century, when Diogo Cao caravels docked in the Kingdom of the Kongo.

Missionaries, carpenters, and masons were among the first settlers during the time of the Portuguese arrival to the region. The colonists replicated the Portuguese style of architecture in all the forts, churches, buildings and homes they built. These structures were composed of stone, iron and wood and were built to survive the sometimes harsh coastal weather.


Sports are largely dominated by football (soccer), which is a national passion and is played by people of every social stratum. Some Angolans have become players of distinction, but they tend to compete professionally in Portugal or elsewhere in Europe, where there are more opportunities.

 In 2006 Angola was one of four sub-Saharan African countries that participated in the World Cup finals. Basketball is growing in popularity in Angola, especially owing to the influence of foreign armed forces fighting on Angolan soil. The sport is played by people of all ages and both sexes, and, because of government support, the men’s national team has done well at African championships and participated in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.


Public holidays include Inicio de Luta Armada (Commencement of Armed Struggle Day) on February 4; Victory Day on March 27; Youth Day on April 14; Armed Forces Day on August 1; National Hero’s Day (anniversary of the birth of Antonio Agostinho Neto, first Angolan president) on September 17; Independence Day on November 11; Pioneers’ Day on December 1; and Foundation of the MPLA Workers’ Party Day on December 10.

On Christmas and New Year’s Day, friends assume godmother (madrinha) and godfather (padrinho) relationships. They take turns giving gifts to each other; one offers the other a gift on Christmas and the other returns the gesture on New Year’s Day. In the capital, young people are likely to spend New Year’s Eve with their families until midnight, just long enough to taste some champagne. Then they head for the discos with friends until early morning. Angolans celebrate carnival (Mardi Gras) on the Tuesday preceding the Christian holiday of Ash Wednesday, which begins the period of Lent leading up to Easter.


Angola has a rich subsoil heritage, from diamonds, oil, gold, copper, forest, and fossils, and a rich wildlife (dramatically impoverished during the civil war). Before independence in 1975, Angola was a breadbasket of southern Africa and a major exporter of bananas, coffee and sisal, but three decades of civil war (1975–2002) destroyed the fertile countryside Since independence, oil and diamonds have been the most important economic resource. Nearly all of Angola’s oil goes to the United States, and recently becaming the main exporter of oil to China. The rest of its petroleum exports go to Europe and Latin America.