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Building Kimbundu: Language, Space and Power

This book is an African history beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the early Atlantic Age, when villages and nations along Africa’s central western coastline struggled to survive demographic disruptions—drought, disease, famine, political contests, and military conflicts, in addition to the slave trade. The historical narrative follows Africans’ similar but contrasting stories; some of these stories were tied to the settlement at Luanda, others surrounded the Portuguese fort at Ambaca, in the interior. All communities addressed the problems of their time with social, cultural, and economic innovation, but in each case we find the amplification of particular social relations, favoring distinctive processes, indicating Africans with diverse priorities for their future.

The analysis privileges a history of two new languages, labeled herein Akwaluanda and Ambakista, that appeared in European documentary sources by the middle of the eighteenth century; it focuses on the story of why Africans came to favor these over older local languages. More than just providing a sequence of historical choices made and actions taken by Africans, we aim to go beyond recognition of African agency and initiative, and consider their alternatives. Simultaneously, this book demonstrates how a spatial analysis of historical linguistics can inform historical interpretation. Simple observations of language use in sub-Saharan Africa compel us out of old colonial perspectives and into a more sophisticated understanding of how these pre- Angola Angolans used language and space to create power.

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