Guinea Bissau - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Republic of Guinea-Bissau
Formation 1974 / 1974
Population 1.6 million / 147 people per sq mile (57 people per sq km)
Total area 13,946 sq. miles (36,120 sq. km)
Languages Portuguese Creole, Balante, Fulani, Malinké, Portuguese*
Religions Traditional beliefs 50%, Muslim 40%, Christian 10%
Ethnic mix Balante 30%, Fulani 20%, Other 16%, Mandyako 14%, Mandinka 13%, Papel 7%
Government Presidential system
Currency CFA franc = 100 centimes
Literacy rate 52%
Calorie consumption 2288 kilocalories
The early history of Guinea-Bissau (prior to its colonial era) is lost in the mists of antiquity, but there is evidence that some of the major ethnic groups of the region, namely the Balanta and Papel, had a conspicuous presence in the area by the 12th century C.E.
A Portuguese traveler named Nuсo Tristгo (d. 1446) landed in Guinea-Bissau in 1446 from the neighboring colony of Cape Verde. After his arrival Gabu, the largest town in eastern Guinea-Bissau, became a center for facilitating slave trade that was copied from its neighbor Cape Verde.
A Portuguese post was established at Bissau in 1687, but the Portuguese claim was disputed by the French and the British; in 1792 the British briefly had a settlement at Bolama. In 1879 the region was constituted as a Portuguese colony. Border disputes with the French were settled by treaty in 1886, but the Portuguese were unable to exercise effective control over the country until 1915.
In 1956 both the neighboring Portuguese colonies got back together to form the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau, while guerilla warfare for attaining independence was on the rise. In 1974 these rebels formed their own government, which some countries recognized, though not Portugal. By April of the same year, a military coup in Portugal increased the chances of freedom for both the colonies. In August the Portuguese government made Guinea-Bissau an independent republic, with Luнs Cabral (b. 1931) as president. Premier Joгo Bernardo Vieira (b. 1939) ousted him in a military coup in November 1980.
Vieira is known to have accepted the help of the Republic of Guinea and Senegal to suppress a rebellion before his ouster.
However he too was eventually overthrown in 1999 for unsatisfactory leadership and his failure to end poverty in the country.
After about a year of military rule a former teacher and the opposition leader Kumba Ialб (b. 1953) of the Social Renovation Party (PRS) was elected president. Ideally this democracy should have lasted, but it did not. Ialб is said to have become very authoritative.
In 2003 the chief of defense General Verrнsimo Correia Seabra (1947–2004) led the army in a coup to depose Ialб, who “volunteered” his resignation simultaneously.
While Ialб was kept under house arrest a 25-member Committee for Restoration of Democracy and Constitutional Order was created. A popular businessman Henrique Rosa (b. 1946) was elected president in September 2003, and Artur Sanha (b.
1965; president of PRS) was made the prime minister.
Following legislative elections held in March 2004 under international observation, Carlos Gomes Jъnior (b. 1949) became the prime minister. After six months ex-president Kumba Ialб was freed from house arrest in March 2004. He vowed to return to active politics, much to the dismay of the ruling party.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Guinea-Bissau shares borders with Guinea to the south and Senegal to the north. The mainland part of the country is a lowlying region of rain forests, swamps, and mangrovecovered marshlands with the savannah (tropical grasslands) toward the east. The Bijagos Islands (a group of 25 islands), which stretch 30 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, are considered an extension of the main landmass. One-third of Guinea-Bissau has been washed away by floods, while the lowest areas have been covered by high tides.
Guinea-Bissau has a hot and humid tropical climate.
Rains last from June to November along with southwesterly winds, while the dry season lasts from December to May, accompanied by the northeasterly Harmattan winds.
As one of the 10 poorest countries of the world, Guinea-Bissau has paid a heavy price for its civil wars and internal political disturbances. For instance during the 1998 civil war, the gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by a drastic 28 percent, though it was partially recovered in the following years.
Perhaps the biggest problem of the country’s economy lies in its extremely unequal income distribution.
The country is making use of the African Development Bank debt relief and the World Bank to solve its economic problems. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international agencies have also been trying to reshape the economy by energizing the private sector.
Most of the land is state-owned, limiting growth prospects for entrepreneurs. Utilizing offshore oil reserves would help the country’s economy in the long run. However, petroleum, mineral, and phosphate deposits remain unexplored due to high costs involved in exploiting them.
Farming and fishing are the two major commercial activities of the country, with cashew nut exports providing the bulk of foreign exchange earn ings. In fact Guinea-Bissau is the sixth largest cashew exporter in the world. During the 1998 political disturbances, the country’s cashew export had declined by 30 percent, damaging the economy drastically. Fish, seafood, peanuts, timber, and palm kernels constitute the other important exports. Rice, beans, corn, cassava (manioc), and cotton are the domestically consumed crops.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
The country has been divided into nine administrative zones. Bissau is the largest city and also the capital.
Cacheu, Oio, Gabu, and Bolama are the major towns. Most people are farmers with traditional religious beliefs (animism) with about 45 percent Muslims and a few Christians.
The basic ethnic groups of Guinea-Bissau include the Fulani, the Mandinka (Muslims inhabiting the north and northeast), the Balanta, and the Papel (residing in the southern coastal regions), the Manjaca, and the Mancanha, who occupy the central and the northern coastal regions. The official language is Portuguese, while Crioulo (or Kriolu, a mix of Portuguese and local words) is widely spoken along with other African languages.
The staple foods here are cassava, yams, and maize, all an integral part of every meal. Additionally, almost any kind of meat, fish, vegetable, or spice can be added. Guinea Bisseau’s specialties include Jollof Rice (a festive one-pot dish served with a variety of ingredients throughout West Africa), chicken, and fish dishes. There are many regional variations of Jollof Rice, depending on where it is cooked. However, the common basic ingredients are rice, tomatoes and tomato paste, onion, salt, and red pepper.
Imported brews and drinks are easily available, though the local flavors like caсa (120-proof rum) made from palm tree sap and caсa de cajeu (cashew rum from cashew nut fruit pulp) are widely consumed.
COMING OF AGE
In Guinea-Bissau about 50 percent of the women undergo the coming-of-age operation of genital cutting (or female genital mutilation, FGM), and both clitoridectomy and excision are widely practiced, although the practice has decreased to between 20 and 30 percent in urban areas. FGM is widespread among the Fulani and Mandinka. There is no legislation specifically prohibiting the practice, and in 1995 a proposal to outlaw FGM was defeated. The Guinea-Bissau Assembly, however, approved a proposal to hold practitioners criminally responsible if a woman dies as a result of FGM.
S The Balanta are one of the major ethnic groups of Guinea-Bissau. The people of this tribe are basically hunters who raise cattle for beef. When it comes to their rites of passage, these groups organize big dance parties. They wear fantastic costumes and colored masks. There are a number of activities associated with such occasions: For instance there is a Sunugal ballet that descibes the wedding of the prince of Mini-Ndame (a kingdom).
All the villagers bring their daughters to the wedding. They dance and vie for the prince’s attention. The prince then chooses his bride and the celebration continues.
The masks are of utmost importance when it comes to such occasions in terms of spiritual and family connections. Here for instance the dance masks are large and laden with cowry shells. There is an old woman’s mask, a young girl’s mask, and a young man’s mask. In the Balanta tradition, after the marriage the bride remains in her house for an entire month. Seven days after the marriage the newlywed woman has to be washed. It is a ritual that takes place at dawn, and it begins with a woman’s ululations (a high-pitched sound made while simultaneously moving the tongue rapidly from side to side) waking up the entire village, followed by the beating of drums. This is a sign that all the men and male teenagers must leave the village until sundown, because the women are gathering for sacred rites.