Sunday, December 14, 2014

Uige: Historic Province Series

Uíge (pronounced: "Weej") is one of the eighteen provinces in Angola and is located in the northwestern part of the country. Its capital city is of the same name, Uige.

During the Middle Ages, the Uige Province was the heartland of the Kongo Kingdom. The kings lived in the city of Mbanza-Kongo which had a population of about 50,000 in the 16th century and ruled with great authority in the region for several centuries.

The knowledge of metallurgy among the Bakongo was renowned as they became famous as iron blacksmiths; their king was even called the “Blacksmith King”. The arrival of Portuguese priests who lived at the king’s court and taught religion as well as literacy first strengthened their reign; their relationship with the Portuguese strongholds of the region was rather cordial and peaceful. Things changed incisively when the Portuguese started in the 19th century to conquer and occupy the territory of what at present is Angola..

In the early part of 20th century the province was on a economic decline due to its inhospitable terrain and poor accessibility.  The situation changed entirely when the Portuguese discovered that soil and climate were favorable to coffee production. The Uíge province (then called "district") became Angola’s major center for coffee production in the 1950s. While part of the production came from European (mostly Portuguese) owned plantations, most producers were Bakongo smallholders. In times gone by, Uíge had the honour of being “the land of the red beans.” It was the leading coffee bean production area, when Angola was the fourth biggest producer in the world.  Its market centre of Uige town, the district capital, prospered and was designated a city in 1956.

To encourage the principle of national integration with Portugal, many towns in Angola were renamed during Portuguese colonial rule, including the provincial capital of Uíge town, which was renamed Vila Marechal Carmona ("Marshal Carmona Town") after Marshal Óscar Carmona, the former President of Portugal, later simplified as Carmona.

Beginning in October 2004 and continuing into 2005, Uige Province was the center of an outbreak of Marburg hemorrhagic fever, a disease closely related to Ebola. Now under control, there were 374 cases with 88 deaths.  According to the UN and was, at the time, the world's worst epidemic of any kind of hemorrhagic fever.

One of the natural beauty features of Uige is the Grutas do Nzenzo (the Nzenzo Grottos, one of the “7 Natural Wonders of Angola”). The Grutas are inside a strangely-shaped mountain with pointed stones that give it a somewhat solemn air. The term “Nzenzo” means “spring” or “source” of water since there is actually a spring inside the grottoes, flowing down from the cave roof at the large 'mouth' entrance.  The internal rocky labyrinth is composed of various layers of stone, each overlapping the one below, giving it unmistakable rare beauty due to its distinct emerald green colors. (TAAG Austral Magazine, Wikipedia)

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