Learn more about Guinea Bissau

Guinea Bissau, truly original country of Western Africa. The first distinctive feature is its official language, Portuguese, acting as a linguistic island in Western Africa, which is shared between English and French-speaking countries. The country is like a piece of Brazil in Africa: the language, the sea, the rhythmic of music almost as a samba, the carnival that explodes with colors and rhythms in the islands and on the mainland.

The islands that form the Bijagos Archipelago, the biggest archipelago in Africa: almost 80 islands, for the most part inhabited. Salt-water hippopotamus, very rare elsewhere in the word, can be found on Orango Island; and also sea turtles that lay their eggs on Poilao Island. The population, with a homonymous name, Bijagos, preserve a strong matriarchy that ennobles the role of women, and long initiation rites, during which men live isolated on Canhabaque (Roxa) Island. During particular periods of the year, the masks bless the harvest and the villages.

Sailing from one island to the other, true and unique natural paradise, rarely visited by tourists stand waiting for your discovery. A swim in the crystalline waters, a walk along the splendid and deserted beaches, a pleasant stroll towards the interior, a visit to the isolated villages where the women still wear raffia palm skirts: surprising realities that absolutely justify travelling to the Bijagos Archipelago. Without forgetting the capitals.

Bolama, the first capital of the colony situated on the island of the same name. Here administrative buildings had been built, afterwards abandoned, when the capital was transferred to Bissau. All that is left is an abandoned semi-urban reality. Almost like the set for a film “The Day after”. The current capital, Bissau, is the most Mediterranean city of sub-Saharan Africa, understanding “Mediterranean” as a feel for the pleasure of living. All it takes is to take a seat at a restaurant and order a meal…

The mainland is also extremely interesting, with very traditional populations that preserve animistic cults and rites: Manjaco, Pepel, Balanta, Peul, to name just a few.

Besides: The Bijagos Archipelago (88 islands spread in the Ocean facing Bissau) is the widest archipelago in Africa and hosts – especially on Poilao Island – the largest colony of green sea turtles on the Atlantic side of the Continent.

In addition, more than one million birds migrate through Guinea Bissau on their way southward or back to Europe.

It is therefore a unique place offering many highlights such as its amazing traditional cultures or its unique wildlife.

Guinea Bissau can be divided in four different areas from East to West:

  • First of all the Bijagos Archipelago with its 88 islands, listed as a World Heritage site by the Unesco.
  • The swampy coastline characterized by five big estuaries which used to be the main access ways inside the country: rio Cacheu, rio Geba, rio Grande de Buba, rio Cumbija, rio Cacine.
  • The country itself made of savannah up north and lush green forest in the south.
  • The Western area with its plateau progressively melting into the Fouta Djallon range of mountains.

Guinea Bissau is one of the last countries to have gained its independence on September 24th 1973 after a long-lasting fight against the Portuguese colonial power. The national hero at the time was Amilcar Cabral, founder of the APIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde) in 1956. His memory is still deeply engraved in people’s heart.

Unlike in Dakar or Conakry, Bissau Capital city is never troubled – for its greatest pleasure – with traffic jams. Bissau is considered the most Mediterranean capital city in Africa or in other words a peace of Mediterranean in Sub-Saharan Africa. With its Portuguese colonial architecture, its lively and festive places called “verveinas”, its suburbs called “barrios” where Portuguese, Crioulo and local dialects blend together, its “foukoudourou” samba dances: Everything in Guinea Bissau is unique and enchanting.

The highly special event of Guinea Bissau local life is obviously the carnival with its many festivities happening everywhere from the capital to the islands of the Bijagos Archipelago. This ceremony is a great example of a successful combination between the Western culture (the carnival) and local traditions.

We also need to say a word about Bolama Island as it was where the Portuguese settled their first trading post before turning the city into the capital of their colony. That is how the city was enriched with beautiful colonial buildings until the capital was transferred to Bissau in the 1940’s, turning Bolama into a lethargic town and eventually a real ghost town. However, it remains interesting to visit Bolama precisely to feel this timeless atmosphere.

And for the pleasure of your taste buds you have to try the greatest speciality of Bissau: Oysters served with a hot lemon sauce… Yummy!

TO KNOW MORE

Guinea is a country in West Africa and one of the smallest states in continental Africa. It is bordered by Senegal to the north, Guinea to the south and east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The capital, Bissau, faces the Bissagos archipelago, hundreds of islands of different sizes, many of them uninhabited. Formerly a Portuguese colony under the name of Portuguese Guinea, Guinea-Bissau proclaimed its independence on 24 September 1973; independence was recognized by Portugal on 10 September 1974.

The original name of Guinea was added to the name of the capital, Bissau, to avoid confusion with the neighboring country of Guinea, a former French colony.

Population: 1,762,595  (UN, 2015)

Capital: Bissau

Area: 36,120 km2

Languages: Portuguese (official), Creole and other indigenous languages

National holiday: 24 September

Time zone: GMT

Calling code: +245

Currency: CFA Franc

Ethnic groups: In the north and northeast the people speak Fula (20%) and Manding (13%), while the Balanta (30%) and Papel (7%) live in the southern coastal regions, and in the center and in the northern coastal areas, the Manjaco (14%) and Mancanha live. Those with a mixed ancestry represent approximately 1% of the population.

Religious groups: 45% Muslim, 5% Christian and 50% animists.
In the Bissagos Islands (Bolama region), a matriarchal social system still survives with certain forms of female supremacy in inter-family relations, in which, for example, the women choose their husbands, who are forced to marry, and religious functions are performed by priestesses.

Passport: Passport with a valid expiration at least 6 months from the time of entry, and throughout the period of stay in the country.

Compulsory vaccinations: Yellow fever

Entry visa: Required

HISTORY

The current territory of Guinea-Bissau was the Kaabu Empire, which in turn belonged to the Mali Empire; some parts of this kingdom persisted until the eighteenth century. While Portugal first colonized the coasts and riverbanks, and exploited slaves bought from Arab slave traders starting in the seventeenth century, the innermost areas remained unexplored until the nineteenth century.

Guinea-Bissau began the fight for independence in 1956, the year in which the PAIGC (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde) achieved independence after an armed rebellion, consolidating their own position in the country. Unlike the other anti-colonial movements occurring in the other Portuguese colonies, the PAIGC was able to quickly expand its military control over large areas of the country. This was possible thanks to the geographical characteristics of the country, covered mostly by jungle, and large quantities of weapons supplied by China, the Soviet Union and other African countries. The PAIGC even managed to adopt an anti-aircraft force. In 1973, most of the Guinea-Bissau was in the hands of the PAIGC. Independence was declared unilaterally on 24 September 1973 and was recognized in November, the same year by the United Nations General Assembly. Portugal recognized the independence of the former colony following the military coup that culminated in the Portuguese Carnation Revolution.

Geography and climate

The country is slightly wavy. No point is higher than 200m above sea level. The coast looks very rugged; wide and long river estuaries (also known as inlets) penetrate inland for several kilometers. There are numerous wonderful beaches along the Atlantic coast.

There are three main zones:

  • The nearshore zone. Very rugged and often dominated by mangroves.
  • The depressions. Good for rice growing.
  • Slightly hilly area. Used for the cultivation of cashew and peanut.

The fauna varies depending on the plant environment: watercourses are home to hippos and many varieties of fish, while on the Orango Island, there are some rare examples of saltwater hippopotamus. In the interior, you can find chimpanzees, antelopes, buffalo and an extraordinary variety of birds, among them cranes and pilgrim hawks.

The climate is tropical, with an average annual temperature of 25° C (77º F). The rainy season runs from June to November; the average annual rainfall is about 1,600 mm.

Economy

The very poor economy, one of the poorest in the world, with a GDP of US$461 million and per capita income of US$264 (2008), that depends mainly on agriculture and fishing. Agriculture occupies a large part of the labor force (79.2%) and is divided into plantations and subsistence agriculture. The first produce peanuts, sugarcane, coconuts and palm oil; and subsistence agriculture produces rice (which is grown on the coastal plains), maize, sorghum, millet and mañoca. With regard to the forests, because of the extensive deforestation there has been a drop in timber production, especially in the most prized species. Guinea-Bissau has a discreet zootechnical heritage composed mostly of bovine cattle and goats. The fisheries sector contributes to exports. Fishing is widely practiced but is still done at the artisan level. The industrial sector, which occupies only 4.8% of the workforce, is mostly limited to the development of local agricultural products and raw materials, including food oil factories, breweries, sawmills, etc.. Regarding mining, the country is rich in resources but most (oil and phosphates) are not exploited because of the high costs of extraction. They have important deposits of bauxite. The country mainly exports peanuts, palm nuts and fish; imports are relative, especially, food, petroleum products, machinery and infrastructure for industry. Tourism could be a good source of income thanks mainly to the natural beauty of the Bissagos islands.

Transportation

Transport in the country is scarce and particularly difficult. There is no rail network and roads are often in poor condition. Only in recent years have several attempts been made to improve road connections in the country. The capital, Bissau, has an international airport.

Communications media

The media are the written press, radio and television, supported by the state, along with numerous private stations broadcasting music, news & sports.

EDUCATION

School education is compulsory from age 7 to age 13, however, approximately 80% of the population is illiterate, of which over 25% are women. The problems affecting schools are the acute shortage of textbooks and suitable structures with few facilities, in addition to the few professionally trained teachers.

HEALTH

Life expectancy:

  • Total 50 years
  • Men: 50
  • Women: 51

Infant mortality before 5 years: 200 of 1000

HIV/AIDS: 3.74%

Food

Bissau cuisine is typically African, based mainly on fish, chicken, rice and many varieties of tropical fruit. Cassava, yams and corn are the main ingredients. Among the specialties of the local cuisine is “jollof rice” a chicken and seafood dish with spices. In rural areas, it is possible to try monkey meat dishes; for the less curious, an alternative is goat or beef with vegetables.

MUSIC

The music of the Guinea-Bissau is typically associated with the genre gumbe poly-rhythmic, the main musical export of the country. Gourds are the main musical instruments and are used to accompany dances with an extremely fast and complex rhythm. The texts are almost always in Creole of Guinea-Bissau and are generally fun and current. The term Gumbe is sometimes used generically to refer to any type of music in the country, although it refers more specifically to a unique style that blends a dozen folk musical traditions. Tina and tinga are other popular genres, while the popular traditions include ceremonial music used during funerals, initiations and other rituals and Balanta Brosca and kussundé, Mandinka djambadon, and the sound of Kundere in the Bissagos islands.