Angolan Wine Industry During the Colonial Period

The slave trade greatly affected the wine industry during the colonial era in various African countries. The arrival of foreigners in various African countries led to a cultural transformation and the development of intercultural communities. For instance, in Angola, new settlers were comprised of Portuguese and Brazilians.

These foreign colonizers came from entirely different cultures, especially in regards to alcoholic beverages. The Portuguese valued grape wine and Portuguese brandy, while the Brazilians relished alcohol made from sugar cane. These new drinks contrasted with local beverages previously produced in the area. Additionally, the interactions between the colonialists and the local African people led to many socioeconomic transformations.

This article provides a comprehensive overview of the wine history in African countries through and after the colonial era. Furthermore, the article also evaluates the significance of the cultural continuity of African societies by assessing their wine traditions throughout history.

The Colonial Influence on African Wine Industry

During the Transatlantic slave trade era, wine and other alcoholic beverages became major import into Western Africa in order to trade for exportable captives. During the Colonial Era, wine was imported into West Africa in regions where there was a large population of potential slaves.[1] 

For instance, in Luanda, a Portuguese colony in Angola, it is believed that almost a third of the slaves that left this port were paid for with imported alcohol.[2] The alcohol and wine importation not only affected the slave trade, but also led to a significant transition in alcohol consumption in those areas.

Angola’s Early Intersection with Europeans

In 1617, Manuel Cerveira Pereira led about 250 men to Cattle Bay, where they found the port town of Benguela, south of the Katumbela River.[3] Subsequently, Pereira and his people started creating the Kingdom of Benguela, which led to central Angola becoming a Portuguese colony. Here, they could access highly populated African regions to conduct their trade.

Like in Luanda, the Portuguese interacted with locals already familiar with alcoholic beverages, which made their wine more marketable. Along with other goods, wine motivated locals to engage in trade with the Portuguese.

When Pereira and his people arrived in Cattle Bay, the Umbundu community in Central Angola consumed various, local alcoholic beverages like ‘Mingundi,’ a fermented mixture of honey and water. When the Portuguese discovered this they saw a trade opportunity with their wine. 

Mingundi was among the best drinks to be locally produced.[4] Moreover, the local people also enjoyed locally manufactured beer produced from sorghum and millet- two highly produced grains in Central Angola.[5]

Similarly, another alcoholic beverage was produced from sorghum, known as Hella. It was smooth and highly appreciated by Africans in the 1700’s.[6] Another beverage called ‘Ochasa’ was made from a combination of Mingundi and the local beer. 

Did you know: The local people in Angola were already making their own alcoholic beverages long before the Europeans arrived. They made these beverages out of honey and various types of local grains. 

All traditional alcoholic beverages in Central Angola had one similarity: a low alcohol content. These alcoholic beverages were used to mark the significance of various rituals and cultural activities, which united communities in West Central Africa. For example, in 1785,  the death of the chief in Kilenges in the south of Caconda led to the Intambi, where the people drank alcoholic beverages to mourn and recognize the accomplishments of the deceased chief.[7]

Additionally, alcoholic beverages were consumed in times of celebration. In the 18th century, when a highlander woman wanted to tie the knot with her partner, a feast was created, and drinks like Mingundi would be served to all the guests.[8]

The African people were already consuming alcoholic beverages for a wide assortment of occasions. It can be concluded that alcohol has deep roots in their culture and society.

When the Europeans first invaded African countries, intending to colonize them, the amount of alcohol the people consumed amazed them. In most areas, like Central Angola, consumption was limited only by production. The Europeans quickly identified a business opportunity with their own alcoholic beverages. 

After the arrival of Pereira and his men in Cattle Bay, the group began exporting captives for the purpose of military action and commercial relations in other regions almost immediately. By 1618, it was confirmed that one vessel had left the Benguela region full of enslaved people. By the end of the year, about 350 vessels had left to transport slaves.[9]

The export of slaves from Benguela to various European countries became a routine activity. In 1641, the Dutch occupied Benguela to meet their need for slaves. The Dutch grew the slave export business in Cattle Bay and Benguela, which affected the economy of the two regions. During the 18th century, Benguela became a significant Atlantic slaving region due to the gradual growth of the number of slaves dispatched from the region.[10]

The high volume of the slave trade made Benguela a significant supplier in Central Angola. Therefore, alcohol products were imported in large quantities in this region to help pay for the slaves. For instance, in Cattle Bay, about 10% of the slave exports out of the region were paid for by an alcoholic beverage exchange.[11]

The amount of imported wine and booze in Benguela’s slave trade was highly recognized, and critical for the continued slave trade. Moreover, the continuous demand for European alcohol by local people also rendered this business venture a success. The Europeans provided what the local people lacked and desired, enabling them to continue their business.[12]

The arrival of Pereira in Benguela marked a vivid transformation in foreign political power and changed the culture in Central Angola. For instance, the colonizers came from cultures where grape wine was preferred over other alcoholic drinks. Therefore, the colonial administration in Benguela started charging import tax on grape wine due to its high demand. The first shipment of wine proved that wine needed to be fortified with a stronger alcohol to keep it from spoiling on the long journey. In 1621, a new tax was introduced to wine being offloaded in Cattle Bay, which would help deal with the cost of fortifying the wine.[13]

By the mid-17th century, more foreigners joined the population of Portuguese expatriates in Benguela. Even though the town was small, it was inhabited by both Brazilians and Portuguese. The Brazilian expatriates also came with alcohol preferences, which were also met by the imported grape wine.

Besides wine, sugar cane liquor arrived in Cattle Bay in 1648 from Brazil. Furthermore, an equally satisfying brandy made from grapes—that was commonly known as Portuguese Brandy—arrived in the region. The sugar cane liquor gained significant popularity among the Brazilian-born and the Brazilianite Portuguese population in Benguela, who made it their choice of drink.

The sugar cane liquor was cheaper than the Portuguese brandy or grape wine, due to a faster shipping time.[14] The wine imported from Portugal turned into a luxury product due to its longer shipping time and high taxation prices.

The alcohol import tax introduced in 1696 remained unchanged until the 1770s.[15] During this period, the import tax duties on the sugar cane liquor, grape wine, and Portuguese brandy were “collected by the local representatives of merchant capitalists in Portugal,” who had acquired offloading rights in Cattle Bay.

In 1764, these taxes brought a huge amount of revenue to Benguela.[16] However, these sums were still not as high as the ones acquired from the Rio de Janeiro shipments of sugar cane liquor. This rule was changed in 1771, when the Governor of Angola, Sousa Coutinho, declared the taxes would be “directly collected by the colonial civil servants” with a reduction of the previously set tariffs to be levied on alcohol.[17]

The tax on sugar cane liquor was reduced significantly, as well as the tax on wine and Portuguese brandy. This led to a decline of the previously collected revenues. Since the colonial administration was lowly funded in Benguela, the sums collected were not insignificant.

Nevertheless, the colonial administration was not the only entity responsible for collecting import tax on alcohol in Cattle Bay. The Municipal Council of Benguela had also started to collect taxes on imported alcohol to finance their operations in the town. Nonetheless, the taxes on alcohol imports remained a significant source of revenue for the administration in Benguela

The availability of wine in Cattle Bay led to the growth and development of local bars. The foreign settlers in the region would enjoy their wine and alcoholic drinks at these bars. Inn-keeping business in Benguela also started gaining popularity, and the drinking establishments supported it in these regions.

Since the highest population of black people in Benguela was comprised of slaves rather than the free people, the bar business was maintained by the urban and developed regions. Nevertheless, the Africans gradually began adopting the drinking patterns of the white people. Similar to Luanda, the establishments in Benguela marked spaces where the economic, social, and color barriers in a slaving society were overlooked during the drinking activities.

Consequently, this environment led to the development of a multicultural urban population where people could socialize and be entertained. By the late 1700s, a significant transformation in Benguela could be noted, and the adoption of the Atlantic Creole drinking culture was highly recognized.[18]

Benguela’s multicultural population could not consume the full amount of alcohol delivered in Cattle Bay. As a result, a considerable amount of booze was transported to the interior for various purposes. The bars also facilitated the supply of imported alcohol to the interior locations. Furthermore, the establishments were rarely set in the main colonial centers, but instead were located inland.

Meeting the rising demand for slave labor, the dealers relied on the army to capture slaves in the heavy populated areas in the Central Angolan highlands. The individuals helping acquire slaves were given a non-stop supply of wine and alcoholic beverages. The demand could not be met with the supply of the caravans that transported the acquired slaves.

Sugar cane liquor, for example, was transported as a parcel present for the rulers and colonial officers. The primary objective of awarding these gifts was to motivate the rulers to continue the supply of slaves. As a result, the act of gift-giving further grew the slave trade in Benguela due to the connections and relationships formed by the suppliers from both sides.

Additionally, imported alcohol was transported to the coast by Africans already serving in various colonial enterprises. Some of the African workers were paid partially with the sugar cane liquor. This motivated other Africans to become part of the region’s labor supply.

Nevertheless, the working Africans were not the only locals who could access the imported alcohol. The Portuguese authorities rewarded the African political leaders with imported alcohol for providing the required labor to work in various business ventures. A tremendous amount of wine was allocated to these political leaders, which led to the development of a relationship between the foreign and local authorities.


The intersection of colonialism and wine in African countries like Angola led to significant changes in socioeconomic relationships and the cultures of the African people. Many varieties of intoxicating beverages were available to Africans, even before the colonial era. 

However, these locally produced drinks were low in alcohol. When the European colonizers entered Africa, they introduced new beverages like wine, brandy, and sugar cane liquor, which were all higher in alcohol. These alcoholic drinks were utilized for colonial consumption, currency for slave trading, and to develop peaceful relationships between colonial authorities and local leaders.

Also read:

Angola’s Glossary of Dates

1617– The arrival of Manuel Cerveira Pereira and his men in Cattle Bay, which marked the beginning of a change in Benguela.

1610s – A relationship between wine importation and export of slaves was formulated. The more wine was imported, the more slaves could be exported to Europe.

1618– The transportation of slaves became popular, and by the end of the year, about 350 vessels had transported slaves out of Benguela.

1621 – A new tax was introduced to wine offloaded in Cattle Bay, which would also help deal with fortifying costs.

1696-1770s – The high taxes imposed on wine importation remained unchanged, making the beverage very expensive.

1771– The tax collection rules were changed by Sousa Coutinho, Angola’s then-governor, which led to a reduction of taxes on wine. These steps led to changes in the drinking culture in Angola, from local beers to wine and sugar cane liquor.

Want to read more? Try these books!

Ancient Wine- The Search for the Origins of Viniculture (Princeton Science Library, 66) Wine from Grape to Glass


[1] Abbink, Jon. “Competing Practices of Drinking and Power: Alcoholic” Hegemonism” in Southern Ethiopia.” Northeast African Studies 4, no. 3 (1997): 7-22.

[3] Curto, José C. Alcohol under the Context of the Atlantic Slave Trade. The Case of Benguela and its Hinterland (Angola) . No. 201. Editions of the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, 2011.

[5] Estermann, C. “The Ovimbundu of Angola. By Wilfrid D. Hambly. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History. 1934. Publication 329. Anthropological Series, Vol. xxi, No. 2. Pp. 362. Illustr. 1 map.” Africa 8, no. 3 (1935): 391-393.

[6] Hancock, David. “Commerce and conversation in the eighteenth-century Atlantic: the invention of Madeira wine.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 29, no. 2 (1998): 197-219.

[9] Curto, José C. Alcohol under the Context of the Atlantic Slave Trade. The Case of Benguela and its Hinterland (Angola). No. 201. Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2011.

[10] Eltis, David, Paul E. Lovejoy, David Richardson, Robin Law, and Silke Strickrodt. “Slave-trading ports: Towards an Atlantic-wide perspective, 1676–1832.” In Ports of the Slave Trade (Bights of Benin and Biafra), Papers from a Conference of the Centre of Commonwealth Studies, University of Stirling June, pp. 12-34. 1988.

[14] Pirio, Gregory Roger. “Commerce, industry and empire: the making of modern Portuguese colonialism in Angola and Mozambique, 1890-1914.” PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1982.

[15] Curto, José C. “The legal portugueses slave trade from Benguela, Angola, 1730-1828: a quantitative re-appraisal.” África 16-17 (1994): 101-116.

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