People & Culture

Local & European influences

There are over 90 different ethnic groups in Angola, speaking a variety of Bantu languages. The largest groups are the Ovimbundu, in the centre and south (who speak Umbundu), the Bakongo in the north west (speaking variants of Kikongo), the Mbundu in the north (speaking Kimbundu) and the Chokwe, Lunda and Nganguela peoples in the east.

Early Portuguese-built churches

Many of the early missionary churches remain today, such as the Church of Our Lady Cabo on the Island of Luanda and the Church of Our lady of Conception at Muxima, which was built near a 16th century Portuguese fort on the Cuanza/Kwanza River.

While most Angolans speak a local language as their mother-tongue, Portuguese is the official language. Children learn Portuguese from a young age.

Though there are Christian churches of different denominations, the majority of Angolans are Roman Catholic. Portuguese missionaries came to the country from the late 1500s and converted the king of the Kongo Kingdom to Catholicism – see History & Politics.

Poetry and art

Traditional sights and sounds

The Futungu market near Luanda is known for its handicrafts and is one of the best places to buy modern artworks. Around the marketplace, visitors may also see musicians playing traditional African instruments such as the marimba, kissange (also known as the mbira) and ngoma drums.

Angola is known for its traditional ethnic art, which is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. The masks and statues of the Chokwe people in the east are regarded as some of the finest wood carvings in central Africa. Ceramics, basketry and textiles are also well-practised art forms.

During the 19th century, Portuguese-educated Angolans began to write articles, novels and poems which explored Angolan history and folklore. The leader of the MPLA – see History & Politics – Agostinho Neto was famous through the Portuguese-speaking world for his poetry.


Today, it’s the modern culture of sport, particularly football and basketball, which best unites Angolans. Angolans were thrilled when their nation reached the Football World Cup final draws in 2006.

The sport of capoeria is also very popular among young people in Angola. It is said to have originated among Angolan slaves who were taken to Brazil. Here, the slaves practised this unusual combination of dance and martial arts as a way to channel aggression and express themselves.