Born Nzinga Mbemba, King Alfonso I was the leader of theKongolese people in the early part of the 16th Century. Mbemba developed a strong trade relationship withthe Portuguese and adopted Catholicism as a result of this relationship. Theinfluence of the Catholic faith reached every aspect of the Kings life, fromhis name which was changed to Alfonso upon his acceptance of Catholicism, tohis understanding of governmental organization. Demonstrating his dedication to his religion, Alfonso named Catholicismthe state religion and built many Catholic churches throughout his kingdom. Inhis establishing the state religion, Alfonso called for the burning of anynon-Christian idols or objects related to magic and sorcery, erasing significantaspects of the Congolese cultural heritage.
The relationship between the Portuguese and the Kongo (which is now part of the modern state of the Congo formerly known as Zaire) wasbased in trade. Alfonso adopted the Portuguese court system, and aspired toeducate his elite in order to compete in international trade. The Kingcontrolled every aspect of the economic system of the Kongo, trading ivory andraffia fabric in exchange for currency he used to bring Portuguese priests,skilled tradesmen, and teachers to the Kongo to promote the education of thelocal elite and development of the country. The trading atmosphere wasinitially peaceful between the Kongo and the Portuguese nations, with lettersconstantly being exchanged between Alfonso and his European counterpart,Portuguese King Manuel.
This atmosphere changed when the Portuguese demanded slavesin return for their trade goods.
Although Alfonso was outspokenly opposed to slavery andinitially fought the Portuguese demand for human beings, he eventually relentedin order to sustain the economy of the Kongo. Initially Alfonso sent warcaptives and criminals to be sold as slaves to the Portuguese. Eventually Portuguese demand for slavesexceeded the countrys potential supply prompting their search for slaves fromneighboring regions.