Kongo language

Kongo or Kikongo is one of the Bantu languages spoken by the Kongo and Ndundu people living in the tropical forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo and Angola. It is a tonal language. It was spoken by many of those who were taken from the region and sold as slaves in the Americas. For this reason, while Kongo still is spoken in the above-mentioned countries, creolized forms of the language are found in ritual speech of Afro-American religions, especially in Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Haiti. It is also one of the sources of the Gullah language[6] and the Palenquero creole in Colombia. The vast majority of present-day speakers live in Africa. There are roughly seven million native speakers of Kongo, with perhaps two million more who use it as a second language.

Map of the area where Kongo and Kituba as the lingua franca are spoken

Kikongo is the base for a creole used throughout the region: Kituba, also called Kikongo de l'État or Kikongo ya Leta ("Kongo of the state" in French or Kongo), Kituba and Monokituba (also Munukituba). The constitution of the Republic of the Congo uses the name Kitubà, and the one of the Democratic Republic of the Congo uses the term Kikongo, even if Kituba is used in the administration.

Native toAngola, DR Congo, Congo
Native speakers
(ca. 6.5 million cited 1982–2012)[2]
5 million L2 speakers in DRC (perhaps Kituba)
Latin, Mandombe
Official status
Official language in
 Angola ("National language")
 Republic of Congo
 Democratic Republic of Congo
Language codes
ISO 639-1kg
ISO 639-2kon
ISO 639-3koninclusive code
Individual codes:
kng – Koongo
ldi – Laari
kwy – San Salvador Kongo (South)
yom – Yombe[1]
Glottologcore1256  Core Kikongo; incl. Kituba & ex-Kongo varieties[3]
yomb1244  Yombe[4]
Map - DR Congo, major languages
The Kongo language


The Hail Mary in Kikongo.

At present there is no standard orthography of Kikongo, with a variety in use in written literature, mostly newspapers, pamphlets and a few books.

Kongo was the earliest Bantu language which was committed to writing in Latin characters and had the earliest dictionary of any Bantu language. A catechism was produced under the authority of Diogo Gomes, a Jesuit born in Kongo of Portuguese parents in 1557, but no version of it exists today.

In 1624, Mateus Cardoso, another Portuguese Jesuit, edited and published a Kongo translation of the Portuguese catechism of Marcos Jorge. The preface informs us that the translation was done by Kongo teachers from São Salvador (modern Mbanza Kongo) and was probably partially the work of Félix do Espírito Santo (also a Kongo).[7]

The dictionary was written in about 1648 for the use of Capuchin missionaries and the principal author was Manuel Robredo, a secular priest from Kongo (who became a Capuchin as Francisco de São Salvador). In the back of this dictionary is found a sermon of two pages written only in Kongo. The dictionary has some 10,000 words.

Additional dictionaries were created by French missionaries to the Loango coast in the 1780s, and a word list was published by Bernardo da Canecattim in 1805.

Baptist missionaries who arrived in Kongo in 1879 developed a modern orthography of the language.

W. Holman Bentley's Dictionary and Grammar of the Kongo Language was published in 1887. In the preface, Bentley gave credit to Nlemvo, an African, for his assistance, and described "the methods he used to compile the dictionary, which included sorting and correcting 25,000 slips of paper containing words and their definitions."[8] Eventually W. Holman Bentley with the special assistance of João Lemvo produced a complete Christian Bible in 1905.

Linguistic classification

Kikongo belongs to the Bantu language family.

According to Malcolm Guthrie, Kikongo is in the language group H10, the Kongo languages. Other languages in the same group include Bembe (H11). Ethnologue 16 counts Ndingi (H14) and Mboka (H15) as dialects of Kongo, though it acknowledges they may be distinct languages.

According to Bastin, Coupez and Man's classification (Tervuren) which is more recent and precise than that of Guthrie on Kikongo, the language has the following dialects:

  • Kikongo group H16
    • Southern Kikongo H16a
    • Central Kikongo H16b
    • Yombe H16c
    • Fiote H16d
    • Western Kikongo H16d
    • Bwende H16e
    • Lari H16f
    • Eastern Kikongo H16g
    • Southeastern Kikongo H16h


Consonant phonemes
Labial Coronal Dorsal
Nasal m /m/ n /n/ ng /ŋ/
mp /ᵐp/ mb /ᵐb/ nt /ⁿt/ nd /ⁿd/ nk /ᵑk/
p /p/ b /b/ t /t/ d /d/ k /k/
mf /ᶬf/ mv /ᶬv/ ns /ⁿs/ nz /ⁿz/
f /f/ v /v/ s /s/ z /z/
Approximant w /w/ l /l/ y /j/
Vowel phonemes
Front Back
High i /i/ u /u/
Mid e /e/ o /o/
Low a /a/

There is contrastive vowel length. /m/ and /n/ also have syllabic variants, which contrast with prenasalized consonants.

English words of Kongo origin

  • The Southern American English word "goober", meaning peanut, comes from Kongo nguba.[9]
  • The word "zombie" comes from Kongo nzombie, meaning "dead.". "Nfumu ya nzombie" is "Chief of the dead", or God.
  • The word funk, or funky, in American popular music has its origin, some say, in the Kongo word Lu-fuki.[10]
  • The name of the Cuban dance mambo comes from a Bantu word meaning "conversation with the gods".

In addition, the roller coaster Kumba at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in Tampa, Florida gets its name from the Kongo word for "roar".

Presence in the Americas

Many African slaves transported in the Atlantic slave trade spoke Kongo, and its influence can be seen in many creole languages in the diaspora, such as Palenquero (spoken by descendants of escaped black slaves in Colombia), Habla Congo/Habla Bantu (the liturgical language of the Afro-Cuban Palo religion), Saramaccan language in Suriname and Haitian Creole.


In 2018, a book written in Kikongo was nominated for the Grand Prix of Literary Associations.[11]


  1. ^ Maho 2009
  2. ^ Kongo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Koongo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Laari at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    San Salvador Kongo (South) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Yombe[1] at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Core Kikongo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Yombe". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  6. ^ Adam Hochschild (1998). King Leopold's Ghost. Houghton Mifflin. p. 11.
  7. ^ François Bontinck and D. Ndembi Nsasi, Le catéchisme kikongo de 1624. Reeédtion critique (Brussels, 1978)
  8. ^ "Dictionary and Grammar of the Kongo Language, as Spoken at San Salvador, the Ancient Capital of the Old Kongo Empire, West Africa: Preface". World Digital Library. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  9. ^ "Bartleby.com: Great Books Online -- Quotes, Poems, Novels, Classics and hundreds more". www.bartleby.com. Archived from the original on 2008-03-28. Retrieved 2017-07-21.
  10. ^ Farris Thompson, in his work Flash Of The Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy
  11. ^ Source: Bamenda Online

External links

Kongo learning materials

Bembe language (Kibembe)

Bembe (Kibeembe) is a Bantu language of Congo-Brazzaville. It is closely related to Kikongo. Pangwa (not the Pangwa of Tanzania) may be a dialect.

Maho (2009) considers Beembe, Kamba-Doondo, and Hangala (Ghaangala) to be distinct languages.

It should not be confused with the Bembe language (Ibembe) spoken in Congo-Kinshasa and Tanzania.

Bozal Spanish

Bozal Spanish is a possible extinct Spanish-based creole language or pidgin that may have been a mixture of Spanish and Kikongo, with Portuguese influences. Attestation is insufficient to indicate whether Bozal Spanish was ever a single, coherent or stable language, or if the term merely referred to any idiolect of Spanish that included African elements.

The Spanish distinguished negros ladinos ("Latinate Negros", those who spent more than a year in a Spanish-speaking territory) and negros bozales (wild, untamed Negroes; those born in or freshly arrived from Africa). Similarly, the Portuguese distinguished between índios mansos (tamed, domesticated Indians) and índios bravos (untamed, wild Indians), and between negros crioulos or ladinos (blacks born in the territory of a European empire, cf. Spanish criollo meaning natively-born white person from the colony; crioulo is now the main anti-black slur in Brazilian Portuguese) and negros africanos or boçais (blacks born in Africa).

Bozal Spanish was spoken by African slaves in Cuba, Uruguay and other areas of South and Central America from the 17th century up until its possible extinction at around 1850. Although Bozal Spanish is extinct as a language, its influence still exists. In some Cuban folk religious rituals today, people speak what they call "Bozal". Similarly, many songs of the afro genre, which flourished in Cuba in the 1930s and '40s, contain lyrics reminiscent of the language.


Brazzaville (French pronunciation: ​[bʁazavil], Kongo: Balazavile) is the capital and largest city of the Republic of the Congo (Congo Republic). Constituting the financial and administrative centre of the country, it is located on the north side of the Congo River, opposite Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). The population of the capital is estimated to exceed 1.8 million residents, comprising more than a third of the national populace, 40% of whom are employed in non-agricultural professions. During World War II, Brazzaville was also the capital of Free France between 1940 and 1942.

In 2013, Brazzaville was designated a City of Music by UNESCO, and has been a member of the Creative Cities Network since then.

Cabinda (city)

Cabinda (Kongo: Tsiowa), formerly Vila Amélia, is a city located in the Cabinda Province, an exclave of Angola. Angolan sovereignty over Cabinda is disputed by the secessionist Republic of Cabinda. The municipality of Cabinda covered 1,823 square kilometres (704 square miles) and contained 598,210 inhabitants in 2014. The residents of the city are known as Cabindas or Fiotes. Cabinda, due to its proximity to rich oil reserves, serves as one of Angola's main oil ports.

Candomblé Bantu

Candomblé Bantu (also called Candomblé Batuque or Angola) is one of the major branches (nations) of the Candomblé religious belief system. It developed in the Portuguese Empire among Kongo and Mbundu slaves who spoke Kikongo and Kimbundu) languages. The supreme and creative god is Nzambi or Nzambi Mpungu. Below him are the Jinkisi or Minkisi, deities of Bantu mythology. These deities resemble Olorun and the other orishas of the Yoruba religion. Minkisi is a Kongo language term: it is the plural of Nkisi, meaning "receptacle". Akixi comes from the Kimbundu language term Mukixi.

Debout Congolais

"Debout Congolais" (Kongo: Telama besi Kongo; English: Stand up, Congolese, lit. Arise Congolese) is the national anthem of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was originally adopted in 1960 upon independence from Belgium, but was replaced by "La Zaïroise" when Congo changed its name to Zaire in 1971. It was finally reinstated when Congo was reorganized in 1997. The words are by Joseph Lutumba and the music is composed by Simon-Pierre Boka di Mpasi Londi.

Gonimbrasia belina

Gonimbrasia belina is a species of emperor moth which is native to the warmer parts of southern Africa. Its large edible caterpillar, known as the madora or mopane worm or amacimbi, feeds primarily but not exclusively on mopane tree leaves. Mopane worms are an important source of protein for millions in the region. The species was first described by John O. Westwood in 1849.


Ibinda (also Kibinda, Chibinda, Tchibinda) is ostensibly a Bantu language or a dialect group spoken in the Angolan province and exclave of Cabinda.

Ibinda is Western Kongo (Guthrie: H16d) as it is spoken in Cabinda. It is a combination of several dialects of the Kongo language (Kikongo) spoken by small ethnic groups in Cabinda. Among the principal ones are Iwóyo, Ikuákongo (Kakongo), Ikóchi, Ilínji (Ilinge), Kiyómbe (Quiombe), Kisúndi and Ivili although some are sometimes considered separate from Ibinda. Ibinda is a project of Cabindan separatists or nationalists who advocate the formation of a Republic of Cabinda and is the "national language" of the proposed state.Historically, vernacular speech in Cabinda has also been called Fiote, from m'fiôte, a word meaning "black" or "colored person." Fiote referred to all local languages of Cabinda "because they were the languages spoken by black people." The term was also used to describe the inhabitants themselves and as an adjective meaning native or indigenous ("everything that was not of European origin was labeled 'fiote' – fiote papaya, mango fiote, potato fiote, etc.). However, this term is considered derogatory and is eschewed by Cabindans. "Cabindans do not like being called Fiote...[because] the word was used by the Portuguese to describe everything that was inferior – a bad road would be called a fiote road and bad food would be called fiote food." Some argue that the language should be called Cabinda.

Kituba language

Kituba is a widely used lingua franca in Central Africa. It is a creole language based on Kikongo, a family of closely related Bantu languages. It is an official language in Republic of the Congo and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It is not entirely accurate to call Kituba a creole language as it lacks the distinction between superstrate and substrate influence that is typical of creole development.

Kongo people

The Kongo people (Kongo: Esikongo, singular: Mwisikngo; also Bakongo, singular: Mukongo) are a Bantu ethnic group primarily defined as the speakers of Kikongo (Kongo languages).They have lived along the Atlantic coast of Central Africa, in a region that by the 15th century was a centralized and well-organized Kingdom of Kongo, but is now a part of three countries. Their highest concentrations are found south of Pointe-Noire in the Republic of the Congo, southwest of Pool Malebo and west of the Kwango River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and north of Luanda, Angola. They are the largest ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and one of the major ethnic groups in the other two countries they are found in. In 1975, the Kongo population was reported as 4,040,000.The Kongo people were among the earliest sub-Saharan Africans to welcome Portuguese traders in 1483 CE, and began converting to Catholicism in the late 15th century. They were among the first to protest slavery in letters to the King of Portugal in the 1510s and 1520s, then succumbed to the demands for slaves from the Portuguese through the 16th century. The Kongo people were a part of the major slave raiding, capture and export trade of African slaves to the European colonial interests in 17th and 18th century. The slave raids, colonial wars and the 19th-century Scramble for Africa split the Kongo people into Portuguese, Belgian and French parts. In the early 20th century, they became one of the most active ethnic groups in the efforts to decolonize Africa, helping liberate the three nations to self governance. They now occupy influential positions in the politics, administration and business operations in the three countries they are most found in.

Kunyi language

Kunyi is a Bantu language spoken in R. Congo.

LGBT rights in Angola

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Angola have seen some improvement in the early half of the twenty-first century. Angolan law prohibits "acts against nature", though this law has seldom been enforced. In January 2019, the National Assembly approved a new penal code, which does not outlaw consenting same-sex sexual activity. It awaits the President's signature. Additionally, since 2015, employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been banned, making Angola one of the few African countries to have such protections for LGBT people.

Some NGOs in Angola, that are working on HIV/AIDS education, are beginning to work with the LGBT community, and there are no reports of LGBT people being specifically targeted for harassment in Angola by police or vigilante groups. Additionally, two specific LGBT groups operate in Angola. However, only one of these groups has received official and legal recognition.

La Congolaise

"La Congolaise" (English: "The Congolese") is the national anthem of the Republic of the Congo. It was adopted upon independence from France in 1959, replaced in 1969 by "Les Trois Glorieuses", but reinstated in 1991. The lyrics were written by Jacques Tondra and Georges Kibanghi, and the music was composed by Jean Royer and Joseph Spadilière.

Nzambi a Mpungu

Nzambi a Mpungu is the Kongolese name for a high creator god. The idea of such a god spread from Central Africa into other Kongo related religions.


Pointe-Noire (Kongo: Ndindi) is the second largest city in the Republic of the Congo, following the capital of Brazzaville, and an autonomous department since 2004. Before this date it was the capital of the Kouilou region (now a separate department). It is situated on a headland between Pointe-Noire Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Pointe-Noire is the main commercial centre of the country and has a population of 715,334 (2007), expanding to well over 1 million when the entire metropolitan area is taken into account.

Supreme Council (Kyrgyzstan)

The Supreme Council (Kyrgyz: Жогорку Кеңеш, Joǵorku Keńesh, جوعورقۇ كەڭەش, [dʒoʁorqu keŋeʃ]) is the unicameral Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic. It has 120 seats with members elected for a five-year term by party-list proportional voting.

Suundi language

Suundi is a Bantu language spoken in the Republic of the Congo.

Vili language

Vili (Civili) is one of the Zone H Bantu languages, grouped with the Kongo clade).

The language has a few thousand native speakers in spread along the coast between southern Gabon and northern Angola, most of them in the Republic of the Congo's Kouilou, Pointe-Noire and Niari departments.

The Vili people (Muvili, singular Bavili) were the population of the 17th- to 18th-century Kingdom of Loango in the same region.


Zaire (), officially the Republic of Zaire (French: République du Zaïre; French pronunciation: ​[za.iʁ]), was the name of a sovereign state between 1971 and 1997 in Central Africa that is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The country was a one-party totalitarian dictatorship, run by Mobutu Sese Seko and his ruling Popular Movement of the Revolution party. Zaire was established following Mobutu's seizure of power in a military coup in 1965, following five years of political upheaval following independence known as the Congo Crisis. Zaire had a strongly centralist constitution, and foreign assets were nationalised. The period is sometimes referred to as the Second Congolese Republic.

A wider campaign of Authenticité, ridding the country of the influences from the colonial era of the Belgian Congo, was also launched under Mobutu's direction. Weakened by the end of American support after the end of the Cold War, Mobutu was forced to declare a new republic in 1990 to cope with demands for change. By the time of its downfall, Mobutu's rule was characterised by widespread cronyism, corruption and economic mismanagement.

Zaire collapsed in the 1990s, amid the destabilization of the eastern parts of the state in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and growing ethnic violence. In 1996, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, the head of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) militia, led a popular rebellion against Mobutu. With rebel forces successfully making gains beyond the east, Mobutu fled the country, leaving Kabila's forces in charge as the country restored its name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo the following year. Mobutu died within four months after he fled into exile in Morocco.

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