Caconda, town and mission

Lat: -13.734217013898000, Long: 15.060508001069000

Caconda, town and mission

Huíla, Angola

Historical Background and Urbanism

The prisidio of Caconda, the origin of the town, was established in 1682 by governor João da Silva e Sousa to the north at Hanha. There it must have been named after one of the Imbangala chiefs of the region. In 1769, governor general Sousa Coutinho transferred it to its definitive site at Catala, near the Catapi River, in the domains of the chief Citata (or Kitata) who moved west. Sousa Coutinho envisaged and ordered the establishment of Portuguese settlements in the interior of Benguela although until the late 19th century Caconda (then known as Linhares or Contins), on the south-western tip of the central Angolan plateau, was the western boundary of the Portuguese domain. Located near the river, the small fortress was composed of palisades reinforced with clay and stone. Inside the precinct were a number of shacks, two or three houses in wattle and daub and an ammunition warehouse, all of them with grass roofs. It was protected by some artillery and a limited garrison. The captain was a military and civilian chief and his power theoretically extended over the villages and African chiefs some dozens of kilometres away from the settlement. The town, with its precarious housing, was spread around it and was populated mostly by blacks and mixed people who lived from trade, agriculture and occasional pillaging expeditions to nearby lands.
A place of exile for criminals and political dissidents as well as a major commercial emporium between the interior and Benguela, it flourished thanks to the slave trade and followed the rise and fall of the ivory and rubber trades. The route that went through Caconda had the advantage of connecting Benguela to the plateau, avoiding fast-flowing rivers and low-lying swampy areas, heading towards Bié (Viye), a trading gateway to central Africa or to the lands said to belong to the Ganguelas. The concentration of goods led to assaults from the Nano people, mainly from Huambo, Bailundo and Galangue. In turn, the Portuguese troops and their allies invaded neighbouring territories to impose their servitude upon people or to obtain the spoils of war. The Rebelo da Silva Penal Colony was established there in 1885, but plans for the development of agriculture and fishing failed in spite of the efforts of an official agronomist, in the face of the rubber and wax trade fever and the persistence of slavery. Since liquor was used as the main currency, plantations of yam and stills became widespread. Over time, the presence of traders, soldiers, slaves, and expatriates from various countries gave the inhabitants of the border societies – as Caconda was – a specific identity. The town mixed genetic and cultural legacies from Africa, Europe, and America: agricultural practices, family names, clothing, weapons and war tactics, writing, construction techniques, religion. Because of this, outsiders named the inhabitants of Caconda vimbali (singular cimbali, in Portuguese quimbar), those who adopt the customs of white people. The action of the missionaries of the Holy Spirit and of the sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny, established near the town in the last decade of the 19th century, strengthened Christian and European influence which was spread by missionaries and Catholic families into several areas in the centre-south of Angola. Caconda lost its commercial importance when the Benguela Railway, against all expectations, was located over 100 km to the north. In 1930 agriculture and fishing supported 70 trading houses and there were 100 European plantations in the region. By that time, the town had already abandoned the ruins of the old fortress, the old adobe houses and the church, which had been destroyed time and again by rain or by fire. The town started to extend northward along an avenue flanked by walled houses and courtyards with vegetable gardens and fruit trees. On a higher location were set other houses, the elementary school and the new administrative buildings. Being a mandatory stopover on the highway from Huambo to Lubango, there were always customers for the Central Hotel and the modest Caconda Hotel.
The General Urbanization Plan by the Portuguese Overseas Urbanization Office was drawn up in 1954 by architects João António Aguiar and Fernando Batalha. This plan sought to respond to the needs of urban layout created by the significant commercial and agricultural development that Caconda experienced in the 1950s. The boundary of the urban area was defined by the road that went around its perimeter, with clear connecting roads to other cities. In 1973, a new plan was elaborated, designed by architect Vasco Morais Soares (Plano Parcial de Urbanização de Zonas de Ocupação Imediata/Partial Urbanization Plan for Areas of Immediate Occupation). In the following decades the town developed and modernized, was provided with a new church, public garden and recreational club. Apart from few exceptions, both in the “popular quarter” and the wealthier houses, the buildings were single-storey and the clusters of houses alternated with wastelands. After 1975, urban life in Caconda was devastated by war and isolation although it has been undergoing something of a revival since 2002.

Religious Architecture