King Alfonso I, also referred to as “the Apostle of the Kongo,” served as King of the Kongo in Africa from the early part of the 1500’s through 1542. He was the first of the Portuguese Kings to rule in the Kongo. He left a legacy as the king who worked to spread Catholicism throughout the Kongo, abandoning the rituals and customs that were practices in the land. King Alfonso I worked to keep the Christian practices through his son, Henrique, who was sent to Portugal to study the priesthood and returned as the first African Bishop to the Kongo in 1521. The Vatican recognized Henrique as a bishop.
King Alfonso I came into power through the death of King João I, who died in 1506. Alfonso’s mother kept the death of King João secret so as to give her son time to gain followers throughout the Kongo and take the throne.
The new king’s opposition came mostly from his own his half brother, Mpanzu a Kitima, who opposed the idea of Christianity.
According to the stories recited by Alfonso, he defeated his brother’s opposition when his brother and his men saw an apparition of Saint James the Great and five heavenly horsemen in the sky.
Throughout King Alfonso’s reign, letters in Portuguese were sent between other Kings describing the over-saturation of the Portuguese influence from the King’s officials.
During his reign, King Alfonso I established the Roman Catholic Church in Kongo. He utilized tax funds to build the church and accompanying schools, including a school for girls. He built schools and educated over 1,000 children, though the students were those of a noble stature. Poor children were not sent to the schools. Some of the children were sent to Europe for formal education. They were educated with a heavy Portuguese influence, including their speech and dress.
One of the other political battles fought under the rule of King Alfonso I was the illegal slave trade. It was brought to his attention that the Portuguese under his own rule were illegally trading freed slaves and kidnapping individuals at night, sending them to the coast and branding them with irons for trade. He sent letters out to the kings in Portugal about the brutality of the people within the Kongo, asking for an end to the practices. He mentioned his own declining population as more of the African people were forced into slavery. Though he tried to appeal to the sympathies of the leaders, the illegal trade only increased.
An unsuccessful attempt was made on King Alfonso’s life before he died in 1542. His son Pedro, who was eventually overthrown by his grandson Diogo three years later, succeeded him as king.