Congo, a country of Africa, extending from about lat. 4° 30' to 8° 30' S., bounded N. by the river Congo or Zaire, E. by a range of mountains parallel to the coast, S. by the river Dande, which separates it from Angola, and W. by the Atlantic ocean. Numerous rivers descend from the mountains on its frontier and flow through it to the sea. Of these, the Lilundo, Ambriz, and Onzo are the most considerable. The coast region of Congo is unhealthy because of its alluvial plains and forests, but the inland climate is comparatively salubrious. The soil produces in abundance an immense variety of tropical plants and fruits. Several species of grain unknown in Europe and America are raised on the banks of its rivers, the most valuable of which is the luko or luno, which yields a white and delicious bread. The principal products are, however, rice and maize, of which three crops are often raised annually. Of the forest trees, the most remarkable is the baobab. The oil palm is also common to this country with all the regions of western Africa. Prof. Smith, in the expedition of 1816 to Congo, brought home to Europe 620 species of plants and flowers, 250 of which are said to be altogether new. The elephant, lion, leopard, zebra, gazelle, and antelope are the principal animals.
The rivers are frequented by hippopotami, turtles, and crocodiles, with excellent fish, one of which, the spams, often weighs from 30 to 60 lbs., and is of very delicious flavor. No domestic animals are employed as beasts of burden or in the performance of agricultural labor. Sheep and horned cattle are scarce, but goats, hogs, and poultry are plentiful. Among the reptiles are the boa, the chameleon, and the flying lizard or palm rat, which is deified by the natives. Ostriches, peacocks, and parrots are abundant. Some of the insect tribes are very venomous. The sting of the lanzo is said to be mortal; the proboscis of the insondi penetrates the trunk of the elephant and inflicts madness and death. The imports are chiefly cloths, stuffs, carpets, and hardware and earthenware from Europe, together with fruits, grain, and various other kinds of American produce from Brazil. The exports consist principally of ivory, furs, and slaves, who were formerly shipped annually in large numbers to the western world. Congo was once exceedingly populous, but the ravages of the slave trade for three centuries have so wasted and diminished the people that the statements of the early Portuguese missionaries relative to its ancient populousness are now often discredited.
One of these relates that a king of Congo marched against the Portuguese at the head of 900,000 men; but Tuckey found no town with more than 600 inhabitants. The natives of Congo are of ordinary stature. Their color and features are less strongly marked than those of most other negroes, but they are both more indolent and less intelligent than the generality of their race. Polygamy is tolerated among them, but adultery is severely punished. Slavery is the penalty for all crimes save murder, the perpetrator of which is put to death. When a chief dies, they kill a certain number of slaves proportioned to his rank, that he may have attendants in the other world. The people practise fetish worship. They are unacquainted with the plough, and prepare the ground for the seed by scratching it with a hoe. The rights of property are rigidly observed among them, and its subdivision is sometimes carried to such excess that three or four persons will own a fowl or a hog between them. Society in Congo may be said to consist of the following classes: 1. The chenoos, or chiefs, and their families. The dignity of chenoo is hereditary in the female line; when a chief dies he is succeeded not by his son, but by a brother or maternal uncle.
The chenoo is little distinguished from his subjects by his dress or dwelling. His sceptre is a small staff of black wood, inlaid with lead or copper. 2. The mafoolcs, who collect the revenue and carry on trade. 3. The foomoos, or farmers, who have houses and lands of their own, two or three wives, and a few slaves to work for them. 4. Fishermen and laborers, who have no property of their own. 5. Domestic slaves, who are said to be not transferable, except when guilty of some great crime. The kingdom of Congo is divided into several provinces, each of which has its banza or capital and chief, who owes feudal allegiance to a lord paramount at the capital, Congo-banza, or San Salvador, near the Lilundo, about 50 miles from the sea. This potentate is styled the lindy of Congo; but, though once very formidable, he is now unable to check the encroachments of the provincial and village chenoos, most of whom are practically independent, and frequently at war with each other and the lindy. - Congo was discovered in 1484 by the Portuguese, under the command of Diogo Cam, who soon afterward made settlements and erected forts along its coast.