Facts About the Culture, Geography, and History of Guinea-Bissau
Guinea-Bissau is a former West African Portuguese colony along the Atlantic coast. It borders Senegal to the North and Guinea-Conakry to the East and South. It is a country with a long history and rich culture. We have compiled 12 interesting facts about Guinea-Bissau to help you have a glimpse into this Portuguese-speaking West African country.
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12. Independence Day celebrated on 24 September, is the major national holiday. Carnival in Bissau, once a festival associated with Catholic Criolu culture, has become a multi-ethnic celebration.
Guinea-Bissau won its independence on 24 September 1973 after years of protracted guerrilla war of independence against the Portuguese colonialists, which began in 1959. This day is marked by a carnival in Bissau, which borrows heavily from the Criolu cultural festival. It is a carnival that attracts visitors from far and wide just to have an experience of this unique West African culture.
11. Gumbe’ makes for the most popular form of music in Guinea-Bissau. The genre of music is derived from the countries folk singing tradition.
Gumbe is the authentic traditional genre of Guinea-Bissau. It is a unique style of music comprising polyrhythmic motifs between vocals and percussions. Gumbe drums, kulute (a traditional flute made from the gourd), kola (calabash) are the primary instruments. Traditionally, men beat the drums while women dance. The influence of gumbe can be traced to as far as the Caribbean. Popular genres include goombay (Bahamas) and souk (Caribbean). They were exported to these lands by slaves from the wider land of Guinea. Gumbe music is such vibrantly captivating music that you would not wish to miss out on your visit to Guinea-Bissau. Luckily, there are many performance artists playing it in various clubs within Guinea-Bissau.
10. Rice is a staple among the coastal peoples. It is also a prestigious food, and so Guinea-Bissau imports it to feed the urban population.
Rice has been grown in Guinea-Bissau for over one millennium. It started being cultivated during the Iron Age when iron hoes started being produced by blacksmiths. However, it remains a staple food for people in the coastal regions while millet is the staple food for those in the deep interior.
9. The land now known as Guinea-Bissau was once the kingdom of Gabú, which was part of the larger Mali Empire.
Prior to the Portuguese invasion almost 400 years ago, the current land of Guinea-Bissau was part of the Gabu kingdom, which was part of the several kingdoms that comprised the larger Mali Empire. Even with Portuguese dominion, Gabu experienced self-rule until the early 19th Century when it officially fell into Portuguese Guinea as a colony
8. Guinea-Bissau is now the world’s sixth-largest producer of cashews.
Guinea-Bissau produces plenty of cashew nuts. This is its chief foreign exchange earner. Apart from cashew nuts, Guinea-Bissau also exports peanuts, frozen seafood, fish, palm kernels, and timber.
7. Former President Vieira and his rival Military Chief Wai were both assassinated in January 2009, though a stable interim government is currently in place.
Guinea-Bissau has experienced political turmoil since independence. No president has ever completed his term without being dethroned. In January 2009, military Chief General Batista Tagme Wai was assassinated by a bomb at his barrack. The military suspected the involvement of the president. Within a short interval, the then President João Bernardo Vieira was assassinated through a bloody revenge attack by the military. Vieira had ruled Guinea-Bissau for close to 25 years spanning various regimes.
6. The Sporting Club Bissau is the biggest football club in Guinea-Bissau and is based in the country’s capital. The club enjoys a massive fan following across the country.
The Sporting Club Bissau (SC Bissau) was established on 30 January 1936 in Bissau. It is Bissau’s most successful club and has a fanatic following across the country. Its perennial rival is SB Benfica. SB Benfica also has a near fanatic following. Whenever they meet to play, it becomes a derby of eternal rivalry, which has been feverishly branded ‘Derby Eterno de Bissau’. SC Bissau has participated in almost a dozen major continental appearances.
5. Guinea-Bissau’s flag draws its inspiration from the flag of the Republic of Ghana. It was the struggle of the Ghanaian's for freedom that inspired the people of Guinea-Bissau to put up a fight for their very own.
After Ghana won independence in 1957, its president, Kwame Nkrumah embarked on an ambitious project of helping other African countries attain independence as part of his ‘United States of Africa’ dream. Guinea-Bissau’s independence struggle gained a lot of moral and material support from Nkrumah’s Ghana. This inspiration is evidenced by the colors of Bissau’s independence symbol – its flag. The flags of Ghana and Guinea-Bissau have a striking resemblance. They have the same colors and same star – only the arrangement of the stripes differs.
4. Guinea-Bissau and the Islands of Cape Verde until 1980 were a single country. It was a coup that successfully separated the countries into two separate nations.
The first president of Guinea-Bissau, Luís Cabral, came from Cape Verde. The independence guerrilla struggle was led by his brother, Amílcar Cabral, who was assassinated prior to the attainment of independence. The party for independence was known as the ‘African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC)’, which began an armed rebellion in 1959. After the coup led by João Bernardo Vieira, who was his Prime Minister, PAIGC split into two. The Cape Verdean PAIGC branch declared the independence of Cape Verde.
3. The Archipel de Bolama, located near the ancient ruin complex in Guinea-Bissau, is designated as one of the UNESCO MAB Biosphere Reserves.
Bolama is part of 88 Bijagós Islands and the closest to the mainland. It not only has attractive beaches but also UNESCO MAB Biosphere Reserves. This comprises a habitat of thousands of bats that reside in abandoned ruins of the old capital established by the Portuguese. Other species in this reserve include hippopotamus, bottle-nose dolphin, African manatee, green turtle, Nile crocodile, various mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish species. This is a must-tour site on your visit to Guinea-Bissau.
2. Once hailed as a potential model for African development, Guinea-Bissau is now one of the poorest countries in the world.
Guinea-Bissau is the world’s fifth poorest nation. It also has the fifth-lowest HDI. It is a country whose two-thirds of the population lives in extreme poverty. There is hardly any infrastructure worth talking about as most of it rests in ruins thanks to civil war and persistent state of anarchy. It has been declared by the UN as the first narcotic state in Africa. It has become a transit point for cocaine from Colombia to Europe and heroine from South East Asia to the United States. There are no prisons, and no air and sea control worth taming this criminal catastrophe. From a promising nation at independence to wasted ruins of modernity, Guinea-Bissau remains in a sorry state of affair save for the beautiful landscape, natural resources, and its hearty resilient people.
1. Guinea-Bissau has a swampy coast, with forests changing to grasslands in the east.
Most of Guinea-Bissau’s coastal lands are swampy and dominated by mangrove trees. The mangrove trees make an important habitat for various species of birds and animals. They also provide a rich feeding ground for various species of fish. Over 70% of Guinea-Bissau is forested with primary forest taking up 45%. This protects rich biodiversity that provides habitat to over 1,000 plant species, 459 bird species, 108 mammal species, and 110 freshwater fish species. However, logging, large-scale rice fields, coal mining, and fuel-wood harvesting are threatening this indigenous cover.
Guinea-Bissau is a country of diversity and extreme contrasts. There rests serene natural beauty that can seem to camouflage decades of political turmoil. The flourishing grasslands and beautiful fauna beg for peace and tranquility. They ooze out melodies of reason that seems not to disturb the dumb political ears. It is hoped that the current peaceful political season will last long enough to allow Guinea-Bissau’s abundant natural wealth to be tapped for the benefit of its impoverished people.