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Republic of Guinea-Bissau
República da Guiné-Bissau (Portuguese)
Unidade, Luta, Progresso
"Unity, Struggle, Progress"
Esta É a Nossa Pátria Bem Amada
"This is Our Beloved Homeland"
Location of Guinea-Bissau (dark blue) – in Africa (light blue & dark grey) – in the African Union (light blue)
Location of Guinea-Bissau (dark blue)

– in Africa (light blue & dark grey)
– in the African Union (light blue)

and largest city
11°52′N 15°36′W / 11.867°N 15.600°W / 11.867; -15.600
Official languagesPortuguese
Spoken languages
Ethnic groups
GovernmentUnitary semi-presidential republic
• President
Umaro Sissoco Embaló
Nuno Gomes Nabiam
LegislatureNational People's Assembly
Independence from Portugal
• Declared
24 September 1973
• Recognized
10 September 1974
• Independence
5 July 1975
• Total
36,125 km2 (13,948 sq mi) (134th)
• Water (%)
• 2022 estimate
2,026,778[6] (150th)
• Density
46.9/km2 (121.5/sq mi) (154th)
GDP (PPP)2018 estimate
• Total
$3.8 billion[7]
• Per capita
GDP (nominal)2018 estimate
• Total
$1.480 billion[7]
• Per capita
Gini (2010)Negative increase 50.7[8]
HDI (2019)Increase 0.480[9]
low · 175th
CurrencyWest African CFA franc (XOF)
Time zoneUTC (GMT)
Driving sideright
Calling code+245
ISO 3166 codeGW

Guinea-Bissau (/ˌɡɪni bɪˈs/ (listen) GHIN-ee biss-OW; Portuguese: Guiné-Bissau; Fula: 𞤘𞤭𞤲𞤫 𞤄𞤭𞤧𞤢𞥄𞤱𞤮, romanized: Gine-Bisaawo; Mandinka: ߖߌߣߍ ߺ ߓߌߛߊߥߏ߫ Gine-Bisawo), officially the Republic of Guinea-Bissau (Portuguese: República da Guiné-Bissau [ʁɛˈpuβlikɐ ðɐ ɣiˈnɛ βiˈsaw]), is a country in West Africa that covers 36,125 square kilometres (13,948 sq mi) with an estimated population of 1,726,000. It borders Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south-east.[10]

Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Kaabu,[11] as well as part of the Mali Empire.[11] Parts of this kingdom persisted until the 18th century, while a few others were under some rule by the Portuguese Empire since the 16th century. In the 19th century, it was colonised as Portuguese Guinea.[11] Portuguese control was restricted and weak until the early 20th century with the pacification campaigns, these campaigns solidified Portuguese sovereignty in the area. The final Portuguese victory over the remaining bastion of mainland resistance, the Papel ruled Kingdom of Bissau in 1915 by the Portuguese military office Teixeira Pinto, and recruited Wolof mercenary Abdul injai was the event to solidify mainland control.[12] The Bissagos, Islands off the coast of Guinea Bissau were officially conquered in 1936, ensuring Portuguese control of both the mainland and islands off of the region.[13] Upon independence, declared in 1973 and recognised in 1974, the name of its capital, Bissau, was added to the country's name to prevent confusion with Guinea (formerly French Guinea). Guinea-Bissau has a history of political instability since independence, and only one elected president (José Mário Vaz) has successfully served a full five-year term.[14] The current president is Umaro Sissoco Embaló, who was elected on 29 December 2019.[15]

Only about 2% of the population speaks Portuguese, the official language, as a first language, and 33% speak it as a second language. However, Guinea-Bissau Creole, a Portuguese-based creole, is the national language and also considered the language of unity. According to a 2012 study, 54% of the population speak Creole as a first language and about 40% speak it as a second language.[16] The remainder speak a variety of native African languages. The nation is home to numerous followers of Islam, Christianity and traditional faiths, though no single religious group represents a majority of the population.[17][18] The country's per-capita gross domestic product is one of the lowest in the world.

Guinea-Bissau is a member of the United Nations, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Community of Portuguese Language Countries, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, and the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, and was a member of the now-defunct Latin Union.


Pre-European contact[edit]

The People and Society[edit]

Archaeology has insufficiently explained the Guinea-Bissau pre-history. In 1000 AD, there were hunter-gatherers in the area, hundreds of thousands of years after they traversed the rest of Africa. This was shortly followed, in the archaeological record, by agriculturists using iron tools.[19]

Guinea Bissau has always been connected to the African interior, trade routes connected commerce in Guinea Bissau to the Sudanese states (p. 18)[20]. Megaliths were discovered in Guinea Bissau sharing similarity with rock paintings in the Sahara, detailed with horses and camels, ancient gold workings, and the presence of Sudanese ethnicities in Guinea Bissau such as the Mandinka and Fulani, evidence the relation between the coast and the interior (p. 19)[20].

Moreover, evidence points to the current population of Guinea Bissau originating from the interior, likely pushed to the coast by the Sudanese states from as early as the 3rd century (p.19, 25)[20]. The oldest inhabitants of this region were the Jolas, Papels, Manjaks, Balantas, Biafadas, and Bijagos later on the Mandinka and Fulani migrated into the region (p. 20)[20]. The Mandinka migrated to the region in mass around the 13th century, off the back of the invasion and subsequent incorporation of Senegambia into the Mali Empire, by General Tiramakhan Troare under the orders of Sundiata Keita, Tiramakhan was responsible for the establishment of Kaabu as a imperial province of Mali[21]. Prior to the conquest of Tiramakhan Troare, Mandinka were present in small numbers in the region, as early as 1000 AD Mandinka hunters, fishermen, and traders migrated from the river Niger to the Senegambia via the savannah, accepted by the locals due to their cultural and commercial benefits the locals began to become 'Mandinkized' (p. 6)[22]. The Fulani are believed to of arrived as early as the 12th century in the form of semi-nomadic herders, in the 15th century their population increased[23].

The Papels inhabited the Biombo region, Balanta to the east of them in the Oio region, Manjaks the Cacheu region, Mandinka overlap in the north eastern part of Oio but mainly in the Bafata region, Biafada in the Quinara region, Bijagos in the Bijagos, and Fulani in Gabu, though the Mandinka and Fulani overlap with each other. (p. 23)[20]. In terms of languages the Manjaks and Papels have always been able to understand each other, causing European sources use the label Buramos/Papels for the Manjaks as well (p. 6)[24].

The population of Guinea Bissau varied in their political structuring with the Mandinka, Fulani, Papels, Manjaks, and Biafadas possessing highly stratified societies, while the Balantas possessed no institution of kingship based on property, authority, or power with a stronger emphasis on heads of villages and families, the Jola possessed kings but lacked clear institutions of kingship, of which was not as important as the family in term of the social and political unit (p. 64)[20].

The rest of the population had a social design of provinces possessing chiefs, chiefs payed allegiance to a king, examples were the Biafada who had three kingdoms Biguba, Guinala, and Bissege which had multiple chieftains under a king, and the Papels in Bissau who had multiple chieftains under a king (p. 65)[20]. Kingship varied in the region in terms of customs, rites, coronation, and ceremonies. However, one ceremony noted to be shared by the groups was the binding and beating of the future king, the idea behind the ceremony was that the king should know what punishment was like before he could administer justice, evidencing the importance of kings for judicial functions (p. 66, 67)[20]. The Portuguese went further noting how these societies held courts with officials, such as 'mayors', 'governors', 'ambassadors', and 'generals' (p. 68)[20]. The social classes were divided from the king, chiefs, nobles, and then the common people of which could be further divided, these hierarchies would transcend ethnic boundaries with other groups recognising nobles from another (p. 73)[20]. The law of the land was the kings law, and the law was administered by the king and his judges, these judges all coming from noble stock (p. 227)[20]. This was seen with the Beafada who would only allow those from the noble class (Jagras) to have any claim to the throne, Jagras from the Papels possessed property, and in legal matters justice was administered by first the king and then the nobles (p. 74, 75, 76)[20]. The idea of private property was firmly established by all of these groups amongst the Papel, Manjaks, and Biafadas in Guinea Bissau for millennia. However, the Balantas were distinct in that all the Balantas owned small parcels of land, and labour was done through the use of reciprocation such as being awarded the pieces of land that they worked on (p. 75)[20]. The Papels contrasted the Balanta in this, as land development was done by those who could afford the necessary labour, and land was not administered to labourers but other forms of payment would be provided (p. 75)[20]. Class divide was further seen in the clothing of the populations with stratified societies, the poorest of society adorned themselves in grass skirts, those better off animal skin usually composed of goatskin, kings and nobles wore shirts and trousers made of cotton fabrics. An iron ring with two bells attached to give commands was worn by kings and nobles, a bombalon a type of drum used for communication was concentrated in the hands of the kings and nobles, though this is more to do with financing the specially trained bombalon player. Differences were further seen in the houses with better construction material available to kings and nobles, and in few in numbers as they were horses were owned by kings and nobles while common people used castrated ox's as a form of transportation (p. 77, 78)[20].

In terms of inter-ethnic relations trade was the main form it took, for example the Balantas possessed the most superior agricultural techniques in the region, and this made the Beafada and Papel societies reliant on Balanta produce, later on due to Balanta unwillingness to trade with Europeans their goods reached Europeans through the Papel and Beafada and vice-versa (p. 69)[20]. The items traded in the in the region were as such, Biafadas traded pepper and kola nuts from the southern forests, the Papel, Felupe, and Banhun traded kola nuts, iron, and iron utensils from the savannah-forest zone, coastal regions provided salt and dried fish, the Mandinka themselves produced cotton cloth (p. 4)[25].

Markets and fairs were held weekly as both commercial and social events, these were usually held in the territories of the Papel and Beafada, opening to the public on allocated days of the week or every eight days (p. 69)[20]. These markets and fairs could be attended by several thousand buyers and sellers from as far as 60 miles away, the organisation of these fairs went as such, each section of the market was allocated to specific produce with the exception of wine, made from a fruit of the mompataz and honey could be sold anywhere, the exception given to wine vendors highlighted the markets social ethos (p.70)[20]. Markets typically opened up on the morning of the day, and finished in the evening to be repeated the week after, weapons were prohibited in the market place and soldiers were positioned around the area to keep order throughout the day (p. 70)[20].

A culture of naval navigation was integral to the region due its many river systems, canoes were routinely used to navigate the riverways, the importance of the canoes are highlighted in a local proverb used in the region: "the blood of kings and the tears of the canoe-maker are sacred things which must not touch the ground" (p. 42-44)[20]. These vessels varied in size with the use of canoes only able to fit one man, and those that could carry up to 60 men at a time with the capability of open sea travel, though only the Bijagos canoes were ever deemed sea-worthy (p. 42, 43)[20]. The Jolas regularly used the one man canoes for travel across flooded rice fields, while the Bijagos preferred the large canoes that could carry a large platoon of their troops to the mainland in their coastal raids (p. 42)[20]. A description of the canoes used in this region was made by British explorer John Hawkins:

"Fashioned from a single trunk the final proportions were 24 x 3 feet, with a prow in the form of a beak, a proportionately raised stem, and an exterior artistically carved and painted blue. Each held about twenty to thirty men, but the active crew comprised a helmsman and four rowers, using very long oars with relatively small blades," (p. 42)[20].

Though, the construction and design of these canoes varied between regions and peoples, the Bijagos having the best canoes were described as such:

"hewn from the giant silk cotton tree, and measuring about seventy feet in length. A number of boards, called falsas by the Portuguese, were added to the sides, and, thus modified, each almadia (Canoe) carried twenty-four men and their weapons, and had room for prisoners and cattle when returning from their expeditions on the mainland." (p. 42)[20].

The technique of rowing employed by the Bijagos was effective against the insular conditions as described:

"It was also propelled in a different manner from the canoes lower down the coast in Sierra Leone, according to a nineteenth century reference. All the individuals on board were rowers, who squatted at the bottom of the boat, and rose at the beginning of each stroke of their short oars," (p. 43)[20].

The construction of canoes varied in the region, in the forest regions canoes tended to be imported from other ethnical groups who had specialties in its construction, the Jola would employ Mandinka boatbuilders for theirs (p. 43)[20].

Kingdom of Bissau (1300-1915)[edit]


The Kingdom of Bissau was a Papel Kingdom started by the son of a monarch from the Kingdom of Quinara, whom began the kingdom when he moved to Bissau with his pregnant sister, six wives, and subjects from his fathers kingdom[26]. The seven clans of the Kingdom are said to of all came from the sister and six wives of Mecau, these being the Bottat, Bossuzu, Boiga, Bosafinte, Bodjukumo, Bosso, and Bossassun the latter of which descends from the sister of Mecau, and characteristic of the region this line is the one who inherited the throne of the kingdom, and were part of the nobility alongside the Bodjukumo who were the also nobles [26]. The Kingdom of Bissau possessed multiple vassal states such as Prabis, Antula, Safim, Quisset, Tor, and Biombo.


The Kingdom of Bissau was noted for its highly stratified society, the top of society was the king, then jagras, and finally common people and was strictly enforced (p. 73, 79)[20]. The King of Bissau would have to go through a process of coronation before legally being the king, the badge of office for this kingdom was a spear, though other surrounding Papel run kingdoms had bows instead (p. 66)[20]. The coronation also involved the practice of binding and beating the king, as the king should know what punishment felt like before he administered it (p. 66)[20]. Nobles would be assigned to principalities and act as governors, though they were all subject to the King of Bissau and were part of his court (p. 364)[27]. The houses of the kingdom would be made with clay, and roofs of leaves from the surrounding trees, and the inhabitants were pretty much all pagans (p. 366)[27].

The Papels suffered slave raids from the adjacent Bijagos who would stage maritime expeditions into Bissau for the procurement of slaves (p. 204)[20]. However, the Papels themselves were prolific slave traders, actively staging slave expeditions against the Balantas, Biafadas, and Bijagos with the direct assistance of the Europeans and Lançados who they were in allegiance with (p. 207)[23].


After centuries of warfare between the Kingdom of Bissau and the Portuguese Empire of which the kingdom strongly defended its sovereignty, defeating the Portuguese in the years of 1891, 1894, and 1904 (p. 9)[12]. However, in the year of 1915 after 30 years of the Portuguese Pacification Campaigns, aimed at dominating and subjecting the kingdom to taxes, the Portuguese defeated the Kingdom of Bissau under the command of Officer Teixeira Pinto, and Warlord Abdul Injai, and for the first time in the kingdoms existence they were overcome and conquered by them[12].

Beafada Kingdoms[edit]

Kingdom of Guinala[edit]

Records on this kingdom are not as thorough as the other states in the region, though descriptions were created by European explorers and traders in the region.

The King of Guinala was said to always possess a grandiose appearance, being attended when he leaved his kingdom by a guard of archers, alongside them would be a retinue of 50 guard dogs of which the dogs themselves would be armed with tough Sea-Cow skin (p. 365)[27]. The formation of these dogs was in response to slave raiders who broke into peoples homes, at night to kidnap and enslave them (p. 365)[27].

The King of Guinala possessed under him seven governors who would wear a hat given to them by him as a sign of honour, it should be noted these were not only governors but his slaves (p. 365)[27]. He extended his jurisdiction over six kingdoms which is characteristic of kingdoms in the region, and the governors would gathered under him in the form of a council, there is one position below the rank of king who was described as a President by European traders (p. 365)[27].

The religion of the kingdom was idol worship with the population giving reverence to their idols, which in the region was and is called 'Xina', though some converted to Roman Catholicism in the early period of European contact (p. 366)[27].

Funeral procession of kings went as such, streets would see twelve men in long coats made of feathers, behind a retinue of pipers playing mournful music, in this way they declared his death to the masses (p. 366)[27]. People possessing white clothes would wear them and leave their houses, doing nothing all day except walk the streets in mourning, at this time the late kings friends, relatives, and servants would call an assembly to appoint a successor (p. 366)[27]. The body of the king would be washed, and his entrails burnt before one of their idols, the ashes of his entrails preserved and put with the body of which would lie in state for a month, of which then all the subjects of the kingdom would bring balsam, myrrh, ambergris, musk, and other perfumes to be burned and smoked around the corps (p. 366)[27]. Six of the most eminent persons then would carry the body to the burial site while clothed in white silk, followed by a band of musicians playing mournful music, who are in turn followed by a great many people singing mournfully or crying aloud, and the prince would follow them on horseback dressed in white (p. 366)[27]. Around the grave would be his women, servants, horses, and favourite people who would all be put to death to then be buried alongside the deceased king, to serve the king in the afterlife, their executions were brutal with the toes and fingers severed, bones crushed by stamping, it is not surprising many servants would try to leave the service of the king while he was still alive, or hide somewhere when they realised he would not recover (p. 366)[27].

Kingdom of Biguba[edit]

The people of this kingdom lived in the same fashion as those from the Kingdom of Guinala. Noted by European observers was once a king died, the crown would fall into the hands of the strongest family member, though this would and did lead to confrontations at time, armed they would at times do battle until the strongest contestant for the throne would reduce his opponent to obedience (p. 367)[27]. They followed the same religion as those from the Kingdom of Guinala (p. 367)[27]. The Kingdom of Biguba had less chiefs underneath them than the Kingdom of Guinala, holding administration over four kingdoms with four governors (p. 65)[20].

There were a sizeable population of mixed Afro-Portuguese citizens in this kingdom, though it was noted that these Afro-Portuguese swore allegiance to the native population, and not to the Portuguese as seen with the fact they would follow local religions, dress like the locals, and undergo scarification like the others in the kingdom (p. 366)[27].

Island States of the Bijagos[edit]


The Bijagos have had major impacts on the mainland population. The Bijagos are believed to originally have lived in the region that the Biafada currently inhabit, leaving their original home for the Islands, the population that migrated were not a homogenous with some Islands having affinity to Papels, Jolas, or other mainland ethnicities (p. 25)[20]. Each Island was governed by a lord whom swore allegiance to the King of Isla do Po (p. 364)[27]. All the Islands in the Bijagos were inhabited except for the Island of Bolama which was inhabited by the Biafadas, however control of the Island of Bolama has traded hands multiple times (p. 7)[24] (p. 5)[28].


The Bijagos were described as large in stature, and noted for their courage and hardy disposition, they were known for their boat crafting, sailing and harassment of the surrounding waters, regularly staging raids on the mainland of Guinea Bissau. One event is mentioned where they attacked a Spanish ship of which was forced to call for assistance, and the Bijagos earlier destroyed a Portuguese force that attempted to claim the Islands (p. 364)[27]. As mentioned before the Bijagos canoes were sea worthy unlike the canoes of the coastal people, this meant when they raided coastal regions and returned back to their Islands they did not have to fear retaliation.

Bijago society was geared for war. The women would cultivate the land, construct the houses, and do the task of fishing and gathering food (p. 204)[20]. Men dedicated their time to the crafting of war canoes and waging war on the mainland, indiscriminately attacking the coast, with the Jolas, Papels, and Balantas being their main targets, and with the belief that on the sea they had no king, attacks on other Islands were common (p. 204)[20]. These warriors were said to be excellent swimmers, sailors, and soldiers reputed for their dexterous use of weapons, in this society women chose their husbands, only chose warriors with the greatest reputation, particularly successful warriors could be in possession many wives and canoes, the owner of these canoes were entitled to 1/3 of the spoils of any expedition (p. 205)[20].

The Bijagos military expeditions went as such, warriors anointing their body in red ochre, coal and white clay, placed feathers in their hairs, hung horse tails from their breasts with little bells attached to them. Prior to the expedition a priestess would break an egg over the stern of each canoe, after they would set off timing their journeys to arrive on the coast at night (p. 205)[20]. Rowing with rapid speed they would arrive on the coast and surround a coastal village, set fire to the thatched huts, and if occupants resisted they would be cut down, usually occupants would surrender (p. 205)[20]. So efficient were they that the Portuguese traders tried to enlist the help of the Portuguese authorities to stop their raiding, as they were decimating the Biafadas, however, so successful were the Bijagos, that the Portuguese were getting a large amount of slaves from them, Lemos Coelho a Cape Verdean trader described how in only 25 trips over a couple of years over a 1,000 slaves were captured by the Bijagos (p. 206)[20]. In the early 17th century due to the monetary benefits they were making from the slave trade, the Bijagos decided to join together in their raids of the mainland, this meant amassing fleets of war canoes and troops for the purpose of raiding (p. 206)[20]. The fierceness of these raids resulted in the King of Guinala losing six of his kingdoms, and the king himself fleeing into the forest for safety (p. 364)[27]. The Portuguese influenced the Bijagos by appealing to their honour, if the Bijagos slave ports had little or no slaves they would say that this was a stain on the Bijagos good name, other Europeans would ignore their ports saying that they had grown weak, these appeals to the Bijagos pride along with the distribution of alcohol would be enough to get them to resume their raids (p. 207)[20].

The Bijagos were relatively safe from themselves being enslaved, their location kept them out of the reaches of the mainland slave raiders, and Europeans did not like to take them as slaves (p. 218)[20]. According to Portuguese sources the children from the Bijagos made good slaves but the adults did not, they were likely too and frequently did commit suicide, as a result of their belief that their spirits return back to the Bijagos, they were known for starting slave rebellions on ships, and in the New World they were reputed as having a ferocious nature with a tendency to escape (p. 218, 219)[20].

Kaabu Province of Imperial Mali (1200-1537) - Kaabu Empire (1537-1865)[edit]


Kaabu was established as an imperial province of the Mali Empire through the conquest of the Senegambia in the 13th century, by the one of the generals of Sundiata Keita called Tiramakhan Troare[29]. Oral tradition says that the reason Tiramakhan was sent to the region was to retaliate against an insult given to Sundiata by the Wolof King, this resulted in the conquest of the Wolof's, his conquest then carried on down past the Gambia river into the Casamance region[29]. Conquest of the Senegambia initiated a migration of Mandinka into the region in the 13th century, though there was a small population of Mandinka already living there[29]. By the 14th century a lot of Guinea Bissau was under the Mali Empire and ruled by a Farim Kaabu (Commander of Kaabu), whose loyalty lied with the Mansa of Mali[29].

The decline of the Mali Empire in the 14th century with southern Mossi raids, and eastern Songhai victories lead to Kaabu becoming an independent kingdom in the 16th century [30]. The right to rule came from the kingdoms history as an imperial province, the title of Farim Kaabu was replaced with Kaabu Mansaba[30]. The capital was put at Kansala, modern day Gabu, eastern Guinea Bissau in the Geba region displacing the Banhuns who previously lived there (p. 4)[25]. All in the region except the Papels, Manjaks, and most western Biafadas obeyed and paid dues to the Mansaba, the former ethnicities were just out of Kaabu's influence (p. 367)[27].


The empire ran different to the Mali Empire, being more militaristic in nature with strict social stratifications, the ruling classes of the Empire was composed of elite warriors from the Nyancho ( Ñaanco) clan tracing their patrilineal lineage to Tiramakhan Troare, and matrilineal to a still mysterious native woman called Baleba who was believed to possess supernatural powers, justifying their control of the Empire (3)[21][31]. The Mansaba was established through a commonly seen method in Guinea Bissau, and that was matrilineally through the sister of the Mansaba whose son would be next in line (p. 3)[21].

The Nyancho were immersed in a warrior lifestyle who were above all else excellent horse riders and warring raiders, slaves were in charge of their farming and of maintaining their mounts, for the Nyancho the highest honour was to achieve the rank of Mansaba (p. 6)[22]. Nyancho young men would often travel solely for the goal of marauding and finding war. It was noted by Europeans that these Mandinka were expert horsemen that other kingdoms would request them to join their forces, and were noted to rapidly succeed position in other force and occupy high military ranks (p. 369)[27].

The society being militaristic had a focus on controlling the slave trade in the region of Guinea Bissau, and this they did with the warrior clans becoming rich off the trade they did with the Europeans (p. 6)[22]. In efforts to stave off any military northern incursions from the Serer and Wolof states, and have a firm control of the trade in the area they went about causing states surrounding them to submit to their authority, giving them the ability to better protect and secure economic gain from the surrounding trade markets (p. 7)[22].Trade would get the noble classes spirits, imported cloth, beads, metal ware, and most important firearms as these commodities enhanced the prestige of the rulers and warriors, and a surplus of foodstuffs would provide security and secure political alliances when required (p. 8)[22]. This life of luxury maintained by the elites had to of course be sustained, this is where the lower class became useful especially the slaves, who maintained horses and did the agricultural work, peasants were the majority crop growers, artisans created farm equipment and tools for horse riding, and the marabouts and non-Islamic priests dealt with magic and divination (p. 8)[22]. In summary the organisation of the empire went like this, the central government was based in Kansala, the Kaabu Mansaba was the emperor with the Farim Mansa being the governors of each province, these leaders of the province swore allegiance to the Mansaba, these provinces had the responsibility of providing soldiers during times of war, and were further divided into administrative units who were thus presided over by aristocratic families (p. 5)[25].

The empires essence was wholly Mandinka, the lingua franca was Mandinka, the social institutions was Mandinka, the political institutions was Mandinka, and the historical traditions was Mandinka, the empire prided itself on its Imperial Mandinka history and this showed in the of its fabrics of society (p. 11)[22]. 'Mandinkization' was big in the empire, individuals from any ethnic background and commonly did become Mandinka culturally, and the frequent inter-ethnic marriages between the Mandinka and other ethnicities assisted the process, even Europeans and Afro-Europeans living in the region could and would become 'Mandinkized' to a certain extent, due to the loose ethnical boundaries it became that kinship was more important than ethnicity (p. 12)[22]. This sense of kinship was seen at the highest echelons of society, the elite classes were more likely to identify with elites from non-Mandinka origins than from non-elite Mandinka's, Soninke who practiced Soninkeya is how they identified themselves, the word Soninke referring to someone of who did not practice Islam, it was these terms that bound together this elite class of people together, regardless of origins or the state they reside in (p. 12)[22]. Their religion was said to be the worship of stocks and stones, regularly being in communication with sorcerers and witches, with the high priest of the religion having residence in the main capital of the empire and said to be skilled in sorcery (p. 368)[27]. Kaabu the most powerful Western Mandinka state in the region at the time after the fall of the Mali Empire (p. 13)[22].

The lower class had to live through the employing of their skills for safety and protection, such as growing crops, rearing livestock, giving the elites their produce, becoming their traders, or marabouts that could make magical charms for the elite warriors (p. 15)[22] . Those who could find no way of providing for the elite families found themselves in bleak situations, and slavery was likely to be their end either on a European vessel, caravan headed to North African slave markets, or under a far off African aristocracy (p. 15)[22].

Moreover the Kaabu Empire integrated more closely the trade networks of Guinea Bissau to the North Africa in the 14th century, and also with the Europeans in the 15th century (p. 3)[25]. The trade that Kaabu tapped into in the Guinea Bissau was economically enrichening (p. 4)[25]. Slaves were a big source of income for the Kaabu Empire, with reports estimating in the years between the 1600s and 1700s, 700 slaves annually left the region, so 70,000 slaves in a 100 years were exported, of which Kaabu would of had a big hand in supplying (p. 5)[25] The Arabians (North Africans) and surrounding merchants were noted for trading specifically in the region for gold, which the country was said to have much of (p. 367)[27].


Unconquered for 800 years with a succession of 47 Mansa's the hegemony of the Empire started to decline, during the 18th and 19th centuries surrounded by Muslim states and being a pagan state itself, the surrounding Empire of the time the Imamate of Futa Jallon declared Jihad on them, with the backing of Muslim Soninke and Mandinka chiefs. Futa Jallon gained support from the local Fula's who wanted to be released from Animist Mandinka dominance, as they were forced to pay taxes for centuries to them (p. 5, 6)[25]. The two states waged war on each other for a number of years with Kaabu being able to repel the Imamate for a long period, always stopping the invading army at the fort of Berekolong until in the 1860s they were defeated at the fort of Berekolong[30]. This war ended in a final confrontation between the Imamate of Futa Jallon and the Kaabu Empire in the year 1867, known as the Battle of Kansala, due to a civil war between the clans the Empire had become weaker, an army led by General Alfa Molo Balde laid siege to the earthen walls of Kansala for 11 days[30]. The Fulani forces consisted of 35,000 ground troops and 12,000 cavalry men[30]. It was said that a Timbo marabout told the Fulani forces that if they fired the first shot they would lose, and a Jakhanke marabout told the Nyancho if they fired the first shot they would lose[30]. This siege was in a stalemate until a Nyancho enraged and offended by the presence of the Fula outside their walls, seeing it cowardly not to attack shot at the Fulani forces erupting the area into intense conflict, though the Mandinka kept the Fulani from climbing the walls for a time, the sheer numbers of them overwhelmed the walls of Kansala[30]. The current Mansaba was Dianke Walli who seeing that the fight could not be won, gave the Imamate a pyrrhic victory by ordering his troops to set the cities gunpowder alight, killing many Mandinka soldiers alongside Imamate ones[30]. The loss at Kansala marked the end of the Kaabu Empire, alongside Mandinka dominance in the region with the incorporation of these lands into the Imamate of Futa Jallon (p. 3)[21]. However, smaller Mandinka states did continue to exist in the region until their eventual incorporation into the Portuguese Empire (p. 7)[25].

European Contact[edit]

Slave Trade[edit]

The slave trade in Guinea Bissau was not as prominent as it was in the Bight of Benin or the Congo, however, still it was a significant region in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade (p. 186)[20]. The captives of the slave trade at the start of it were mainly sent to Cape Verde and Iberian Peninsula, moreover, the Madeira and Canary Islands saw an influx of Bissau Guinean slaves though at much lower volumes (p. 187)[20].

In the region there was five main ways individuals found themselves enslaved, as punishment for breaking the law, selling themselves or their relatives in times of famine, kidnapped by native marauding gangs or European raiders, previously been a slave in the region who was sold to Europeans by their previous master, or finally as prisoners of war (p. 198, 199)[20]. Europeans at times risked kidnapping natives on the coast but this was rare, the selling of themselves into slavery was especially rare, and in most cases slaves were bought by Europeans from local rulers or slave raiders (p. 199, 200)[20].

The diverse number of ethnicities in Guinea Bissau made the exportation of slaves from the region flourish, wars meant a large amount of prisoners of war could be sold to the Europeans, however, a lot of these wars were mainly waged for the sole purpose of capturing slaves (p. 204)[20]. The Bijagos were an example of the latter, regularly staging naval expeditions onto the coasts with the aim of capturing as many slaves as possible, victims of such expeditions were the Biafadas, Papels, Jolas, and Balantas (p. 204)[20]. The Papels would stage slave raiding expeditions against the Balantas, Biafadas, and Bijagos with the direct assistance of the Portuguese (p. 209)[20]. The Mandinka wielding great political and military power in the region, especially in the Kaabu Empire, staged slave expeditions against the coastal groups (p. 219, 220, 221)[20]. The Biafadas were particularly singled out for the amount of criminals they sold to the Europeans, neighbouring groups accused them of introducing slavery into the area (p. 217)[20]. In the era of the slave trade no group of people were safe from being enslaved, though the Balantas and Jolas did not venture on slave raiding expeditions like the others and were hostile towards it, they were still liable to be captured and enslaved, the Balantas by the Papels and Bijagos, and the Jolas by the Mandinka (p. 208, 217)[20]. In the Jolas case the method used to capture them was similar to the Bijagos, with Mandinka sailors from Gambia travelling south to capture Jolas, though later on the Jolas would become more prepared for this and in turn capture Mandinka slave raiders (p. 208)[20]. In the case of the Bijagos as has been previously mentioned their distance from the mainland groups, ferocious natures, proclivity to commit suicide, stage rebellions on ships, and tendency to escape plantations meant the Europeans did not favour them as slaves unless as children (p. 218)[20].

The inter-ethnic wars were noted to never be about territorial gain or political dominance, and only rarely happened because of any real animosity (p. 208)[20]. The incentive of European goods fuelled these wars, that European observers from the time deemed little more than robberies and man-hunts (p. 209)[20]. Slave raiding in this way started to take the form of a profession, individuals would wholly dedicate themselves to the act of capturing slaves for profit, the heir of the throne of the Kingdom of Bissau in the 1600s was himself a professional slave raider (p. 210)[20].

The other avenue that one could end up a slave was through the breaking of indigenous laws, though not any type of criminal could be condemned to slavery, those who broke a law worthy of the death sentence were the ones regularly sold into the slave trade (p. 210, 211)[20]. Some of these laws were poisoning or placing curses on others, adultery with one of the kings wives, conspiracy against the king, and asking the Xina (Idols) to bring about the kings death (p. 210, 211)[20]. Debts could also lead to slavery, alongside failing to comply to local prohibitions (p. 211)[20]. Conviction of a crime could also at times lead to the enslavement of the criminals family, with there being reports of even whole settlements being enslaved for the supposed crimes of one individual, later on the slave trade the crimes that could result in enslavement increased (p. 213)[20]. The process of being charged for a crime in the region went as so, judges in the presence of the king would make decisions on the basis of evidence, though at times certain other methods were used to decide if someone was guilty that did not use evidence as the basis (p. 216)[20].

In terms of the slave trade and its relationship to the class divisions present in the region, the victims of the slave trade were almost always those of the lower classes, the common people, the laws that could end in enslavement were always made up and implemented by the higher class, the nobles and the king, this was summarised by Mateo de Anguiano an observer to such procedures:

"the rich and powerful enjoy the privilege of making captives, because there is nobody to resist them. They (the nobles) look upon so many persons with dislike, and when they feel so inclined, they easily exercise their privilege, because their own interests are not harmed by their greed. The king proceeds with the same licence." (p. 228)[20].

Even when captured the nobles had a higher chance of being released, as when released the captors would be paid a ransom, even the Bijagos were willing to offer back captured nobles for a price, and this practice continued until the end of the 18th century, were captured nobles would be released on payment of a ransom (p. 229)[20]. This practice of nobles escaping slavery even carried over to the Europeans, when native nobles were captured they were usually released once their noble lineage was discovered (p. 230). Nobles in summary in most circumstances avoided servitude.

The relationship between local kings and European traders was one of partnership and cooperation, with the two regularly making deals on how the trade was to be conducted, who was to be enslaved and who was not, and the prices of the slaves (p. 230, 233, 234)[20]. It was noted by Fernão Guerreiro and Mateo de Anguiano when they questioned multiple kings on their part in the slave trade, they recognised the trade as evil but reasoned that they did it because the Europeans would buy no other goods from them (p. 234)[20]. The trade would carry on until the 19th century when it was abolished


Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Kaabu, part of the Mali Empire in the 16th century.[32] Parts of this kingdom persisted until the 18th century. Other parts of the territory in the current country were considered by the Portuguese as part of their empire.[33][better source needed] Portuguese Guinea was known as the Slave Coast,[34] as it was a major area for the exportation of African slaves by Europeans to the western hemisphere.[35][34]

Early reports of Europeans reaching this area include those of the Venetian Alvise Cadamosto's voyage of 1455, the 1479–1480 voyage by Flemish-French trader Eustache de la Fosse,[36] and Diogo Cão. In the 1480s this Portuguese explorer reached the Congo River and the lands of Bakongo, setting up the foundations of modern Angola, some 4200 km down the African coast from Guinea-Bissau.[37]

Flag of the Portuguese Company of Guinea

Although the rivers and coast of this area were among the first places colonized by the Portuguese, who set up trading posts in the 16th century, they did not explore the interior until the 19th century. The local African rulers in Guinea, some of whom prospered greatly from the slave trade, controlled the inland trade and did not allow the Europeans into the interior.[34] They kept them in the fortified coastal settlements where the trading took place.[38] African communities that fought back against slave traders also distrusted European adventurers and would-be settlers. The Portuguese in Guinea were largely restricted to the ports of Bissau[34] and Cacheu. A small number of European settlers established isolated farms along Bissau's inland rivers.[38]

For a brief period in the 1790s, the British tried to establish a rival foothold on an offshore island, at Bolama.[39] But by the 19th century the Portuguese were sufficiently secure in Bissau to regard the neighbouring coastline as their own special territory.[34]

An armed rebellion, begun in 1956 by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) under the leadership of Amílcar Cabral[34] gradually consolidated its hold on the then Portuguese Guinea.[40] Unlike guerrilla movements in other Portuguese colonies, the PAIGC rapidly extended its military control over large portions of the territory, aided by the jungle-like terrain, its easily reached borderlines with neighbouring allies, and large quantities of arms from Cuba, China, the Soviet Union, and left-leaning African countries.[41] Cuba also agreed to supply artillery experts, doctors, and technicians.[42] The PAIGC even managed to acquire a significant anti-aircraft capability in order to defend itself against aerial attack. By 1973, the PAIGC was in control of many parts of Guinea, although the movement suffered a setback in January 1973 when Cabral was assassinated.[43]

Independence (1973)[edit]

PAIGC forces raise the flag of Guinea-Bissau in 1974.

Independence was unilaterally declared on 24 September 1973, which is now celebrated as the country's Independence Day, a public holiday.[44] Recognition became universal following 25 April 1974 socialist-inspired military coup in Portugal, which overthrew Lisbon's Estado Novo regime.[45] Nicolae Ceaușescu's Romania was the first country to formally recognise Guinea-Bissau and the first to sign agreements with the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde.[46][47]

That same time upon independence, Esta É a Nossa Pátria Bem Amada, the national anthem of Guinea-Bissau, was shared alongside Cape Verde, which later adopted its own official national anthem Cântico da Liberdade in 1996, separating it.

Luís Cabral, brother of Amílcar and co-founder of PAIGC, was appointed the first president of Guinea-Bissau.[34] Independence had begun under the best of auspices. The Bissau-Guinean diaspora had returned to the country en masse. A system of access to school for all had been created. Books were free and schools seemed to have a sufficient number of teachers. The education of girls, previously neglected, was encouraged and a new school calendar, more adapted to the rural world, was adopted. In 1980, economic conditions deteriorated significantly, leading to general discontent with the government in power. On 14 November 1980, João Bernardo Vieira, known as "Nino Vieira," overthrew President Luís Cabral. The constitution was suspended and a nine-member military council of the revolution, chaired by Vieira, was established. Since then, the country has moved toward a liberal economy. Budget cuts have been made at the expense of the social sector and education.[48]

The country was controlled by a revolutionary council until 1984. The first multi-party elections were held in 1994. An army uprising in May 1998 led to the Guinea-Bissau Civil War and the president's ousting in June 1999.[49] Elections were held again in 2000, and Kumba Ialá was elected president.[50]

In September 2003, a military coup was conducted. The military arrested Ialá on the charge of being "unable to solve the problems".[51] After being delayed several times, legislative elections were held in March 2004. A mutiny in October 2004 over pay arrears resulted in the death of the head of the armed forces.[52]

From Vieira years to present[edit]

In June 2005, presidential elections were held for the first time since the coup that deposed Ialá. Ialá returned as the candidate for the PRS, claiming to be the legitimate president of the country, but the election was won by former president João Bernardo Vieira, deposed in the 1999 coup. Vieira beat Malam Bacai Sanhá in a run-off election. Sanhá initially refused to concede, claiming that tampering and electoral fraud occurred in two constituencies including the capital, Bissau.[53]

Despite reports of arms entering the country prior to the election and some "disturbances during campaigning", including attacks on government offices by unidentified gunmen, foreign election monitors described the 2005 election overall as "calm and organized".[54]

Three years later, PAIGC won a strong parliamentary majority, with 67 of 100 seats, in the parliamentary election held in November 2008.[55] In November 2008, President Vieira's official residence was attacked by members of the armed forces, killing a guard but leaving the president unharmed.[56]

On 2 March 2009, however, Vieira was assassinated by what preliminary reports indicated to be a group of soldiers avenging the death of the head of joint chiefs of staff, General Batista Tagme Na Wai, who had been killed in an explosion the day before.[57] Vieira's death did not trigger widespread violence, but there were signs of turmoil in the country, according to the advocacy group Swisspeace.[58] Military leaders in the country pledged to respect the constitutional order of succession. National Assembly Speaker Raimundo Pereira was appointed as an interim president until a nationwide election on 28 June 2009.[59] It was won by Malam Bacai Sanhá of the PAIGC, against Kumba Ialá as the presidential candidate of the PRS.[60]

On 9 January 2012, President Sanhá died of complications from diabetes, and Pereira was again appointed as an interim president. On the evening of 12 April 2012, members of the country's military staged a coup d'état and arrested the interim president and a leading presidential candidate.[61] Former vice chief of staff, General Mamadu Ture Kuruma, assumed control of the country in the transitional period and started negotiations with opposition parties.[62][63]

José Mário Vaz was the President of Guinea-Bissau from 2014 until 2019 presidential elections. At the end of his term, Vaz became the first elected president to complete his five-year mandate. He lost the 2019 election, however, to Umaro Sissoco Embaló, who took office in February 2020. Embaló is the first president to be elected without the backing of the PAIGC.[64][65]

On 1 February 2022, there was an attempted coup d'état to overthrow President Umaro Sissoco Embaló.[66][67][68] On 2 February 2022, state radio announced that four assailants and two members of the presidential guard had been killed in the incident.[69] The African Union and ECOWAS both condemned the coup.[70] Six days after the attempted coup d'état, on 7 February 2022, there was an attack on the building of Rádio Capital FM,[71] a radio station critical of the Bissau-Guinean government;[72] this was the second time the radio station suffered an attack of this nature in less than two years.[71] A journalist working for the station recalled, while wishing to stay anonymous, that one of their colleagues had recognized one of the cars carrying the attackers as belonging to the presidency.[72]


The Presidential Palace of Guinea-Bissau
Public Order Police officer during a parade in Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is a republic.[73] In the past, the government had been highly centralized. Multi-party governance was not established until mid-1991.[73] The president is the head of state and the prime minister is the head of government. Since 1974, no president had successfully served a full five-year term, until recently when Jose Mario Vaz ended his five-year term on 24 June 2019.[64]

At the legislative level, a unicameral Assembleia Nacional Popular (National People's Assembly) is made up of 100 members. They are popularly elected from multi-member constituencies to serve a four-year term. The judicial system is headed by a Tribunal Supremo da Justiça (Supreme Court), made up of nine justices appointed by the president; they serve at the pleasure of the president.[74]

The two main political parties are the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) and the PRS (Party for Social Renewal). There are more than 20 minor parties.[75]

Foreign relations[edit]

Guinea-Bissau is a founding member state of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), also known as the Lusophone Commonwealth, and international organisation and political association of Lusophone nations across four continents, where Portuguese is an official language.[76]


A 2019 estimate put the size of the Guinea-Bissau Armed Forces at around 4,400 personnel and military spending is less than 2% of GDP .[77]

In 2018, Guinea-Bissau signed the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.[78]

Administrative divisions[edit]

Bafatá RegionBiombo RegionBiombo RegionBissau RegionBissau RegionBolama RegionCacheu RegionGabú RegionOio RegionQuinara RegionQuinara RegionTombali RegionA clickable map of Guinea-Bissau exhibiting its eight regions and one autonomous sector.
About this image

Guinea-Bissau is divided into eight regions (regiões) and one autonomous sector (sector autónomo).[79] These, in turn, are subdivided into 37 Sectors.[80] The regions are:[80]

  1. ^ Autonomous sector.


Rare salt water Hippopotamuses in Orango Island
Caravela, Bissagos Islands
Typical scenery in Guinea-Bissau

Guinea-Bissau is bordered by Senegal to the north and Guinea to the south and east,[80] with the Atlantic Ocean to its west.[80] It lies mostly between latitudes 11° and 13°N (a small area is south of 11°), and longitudes 11° and 15°W.[81]

At 36,125 square kilometres (13,948 sq mi),[80] the country is larger in size than Taiwan or Belgium. The highest point is Monte Torin with an elevation of 262 metres (860 ft). Its terrain is mostly low coastal plains with swamps of the Guinean mangroves rising to the Guinean forest-savanna mosaic in the east.[82] Its monsoon-like rainy season alternates with periods of hot, dry harmattan winds blowing from the Sahara. The Bijagos Archipelago lies off of the mainland.[83] The country is home to two ecoregions: Guinean forest-savanna mosaic and Guinean mangroves.[84]


Guinea-Bissau is warm all year round with mild temperature fluctuations; it averages 26.3 °C (79.3 °F). The average rainfall for Bissau is 2,024 millimetres (79.7 in), although this is almost entirely accounted for during the rainy season which falls between June and September/October. From December through April, the country experiences drought.[85]

Climate diagram of Bissau, Guinea-Bissau.svg

Environmental problems[edit]

Severe environmental problems include deforestation, soil erosion, overgrazing, and overfishing.[82] Guinea-Bissau had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 5.7/10, ranking it 97th globally out of 172 countries.[86]



A proportional representation of Guinea-Bissau exports, 2019
Seat of the Central Bank of Guinea-Bissau
Petrol station in São Domingos

Guinea-Bissau's GDP per capita is one of the lowest in the world, and its Human Development Index is one of the lowest on earth. More than two-thirds of the population lives below the poverty line.[87] The economy depends mainly on agriculture; fish, cashew nuts, and ground nuts are its major exports.[88]

A long period of political instability has resulted in depressed economic activity, deteriorating social conditions, and increased macroeconomic imbalances. It takes longer on average to register a new business in Guinea-Bissau (233 days or about 33 weeks) than in any other country in the world except Suriname.[89]

Guinea-Bissau has started to show some economic advances after a pact of stability was signed by the main political parties of the country, leading to an IMF-backed structural reform program.[90]

After several years of economic downturn and political instability, in 1997, Guinea-Bissau entered the CFA franc monetary system, bringing about some internal monetary stability.[91] The civil war that took place in 1998 and 1999, and a military coup in September 2003 again disrupted economic activity, leaving a substantial part of the economic and social infrastructure in ruins and intensifying the already widespread poverty. Following the parliamentary elections in March 2004 and presidential elections in July 2005, the country is trying to recover from the long period of instability, despite a still-fragile political situation.[92]

Beginning around 2005, drug traffickers based in Latin America began to use Guinea-Bissau, along with several neighbouring West African nations, as a transshipment point to Europe for cocaine.[93] The nation was described by a United Nations official as being at risk for becoming a "narco-state".[94] The government and the military have done little to stop drug trafficking, which increased after the 2012 coup d'état.[95] The government of Guinea-Bissau continues to be ravaged by illegal drug distribution, according to The Week magazine.[96] Guinea-Bissau is a member of the Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).[97]



Population Guinea-Bissau 1950-2020
(Left) Guinea-Bissau's population between 1950 and 2020. (Right) Guinea-Bissau's population pyramid, 2005. In 2010, 41.3% of Guinea-Bissau's population were aged under 15.[98]

According to the 2022 revision of the World Population Prospects[99][100], Guinea-Bissau's population was 2,060,721 in 2021, compared to 518,000 in 1950. The proportion of the population below the age of 15 in 2010 was 41.3%, 55.4% were aged between 15 and 65 years of age, while 3.3% were aged 65 years or older.[98]

Ethnic groups[edit]

Ethnic Groups in Guinea-Bissau[101]
Ethnic Groups percent
Bijagós [pt]
Felupe [pt]
Balanta Mane
Not Stated
Guinea-Bissau present-day settlement pattern of the ethnic groups

The population of Guinea-Bissau is ethnically diverse and has many distinct languages, customs, and social structures.[73]

Bissau-Guineans can be divided into the following ethnic groups:[73]

  • Fula and the Mandinka-speaking people, who constitute the largest portion of the population and are concentrated in the north and northeast;[73]
  • Balanta and Papel people, who live in the southern coastal regions;[73] and
  • Manjaco and Mancanha, who occupy the central and northern coastal areas.[73]

Most of the remainder are mestiços of mixed Portuguese and African descent.[102][103]

Portuguese natives are a very small percentage of Bissau-Guineans.[102] After Guinea-Bissau gained independence, most of the Portuguese nationals left the country. The country has a tiny Chinese population.[104] These include traders and merchants of mixed Portuguese and Cantonese ancestry from the former Asian Portuguese colony of Macau.[102]

Major cities[edit]

Main cities in Guinea-Bissau include:[105]

Rank City Population
2015 estimate Region
1 Bissau 492,004 Bissau
2 Gabú 48,670 Gabú
3 Bafatá 37,985 Bafatá
4 Bissorã 29,468 Oio
5 Bolama 16,216 Bolama
6 Cacheu 14,320 Cacheu
7 Bubaque 12,922 Bolama
8 Catió 11,498 Tombali
9 Mansôa 9,198 Oio
10 Buba 8,993 Quinara


Languages in Guinea-Bissau[101]
Languages percent
Portuguese Creole

Despite being a small country Guinea-Bissau has several ethnic groups which are very distinct from each other, with their own cultures and languages. This is due to Guinea-Bissau being a refugee and migration territory within Africa. Colonisation and racial intermixing brought Portuguese and the Portuguese creole known as Kriol or crioulo.[106]

Although the only official language of Guinea-Bissau since independence, Standard Portuguese is spoken mostly as a second language, with few native speakers and its use is often confined to the intellectual and political elites. It is the language of government and national communication as a legacy of colonial rule. Schooling from the primary to tertiary levels is conducted in Portuguese, although only 67% of children have access to any formal education. Data suggests that the number of Portuguese speakers ranges from 11 to 15%.[102] In the latest census (2009) 27.1% of the population claimed to speak non-creole Portuguese (46.3% of city dwellers and 14.7% of the rural population, respectively).[107] Portuguese creole is spoken by 44% of the population and is effectively the lingua franca among distinct groups for most of the population.[102] Creole's usage is still expanding, and it is understood by the vast majority of the population. However, decreolisation processes are occurring, due to undergoing interference from Standard Portuguese and the creole forms a continuum of varieties with the standard language, the most distant are basilects and the closer ones, acrolects. A post-creole continuum exists in Guinea-Bissau and crioulo 'leve' ('soft' creole) variety being closer to the Portuguese-language norm.[106]

The remaining rural population speaks a variety of native African languages unique to each ethnicity: Fula (16%), Balanta (14%), Mandinka (7%), Manjak (5%), Papel (3%), Felupe (1%), Beafada (0.7%), Bijagó (0.3%), and Nalu (0.1%), which form the ethnic African languages spoken by the population.[106][108] Most Portuguese and Mestiços speakers also have one of the African languages and Kriol as additional languages. Ethnic African languages are not discouraged, in any situation, despite their lower prestige. These languages are the link between individuals of the same ethnic background and daily used in villages, between neighbours or friends, traditional and religious ceremonies, and also used in contact between the urban and rural populations. However, none of these languages are dominant in Guinea-Bissau.[106]

French is taught as a foreign language in schools, because Guinea-Bissau is surrounded by French-speaking nations.[102] Guinea-Bissau is a full member of the Francophonie.[109]


Religion in Guinea-Bissau (CIA, 2020 est.)[110]>
Religion Percent
Folk religions

There are different reports of religious demographics. The CIA World Factbook has a 2020 estimate of 46.1% Muslim, 30.6% folk religions, 18.9% Christian, 4.4% other or unaffiliated.[110] In 2010, a Pew Research survey found that the primary affiliation of the population is 45.1% Muslim and 19.7% Christian, with 30.9% Folk religion and 4.3 for other affiliations.[18][111] A 2015 Pew-Templeton study claims a different distribution in 2010, consisting of 45.1% Muslim, 30.9% folk religions, 19.7% Christians, and 4.3% unaffiliated.[112]

Men in Islamic garb, Bafatá, Guinea-Bissau

According to another Pew report, concerning religious identity among Muslims, it was determined that in Guinea-Bissau there is no prevailing sectarian identity. Under this same category were other Sub-Saharan countries like Tanzania, Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria and Cameroon. Other nations around the world claimed to be either predominantly Just Muslim, Mix of Sunni and Shia, or predominantly Sunni (pg. 30).[113] This Pew research also stated that countries in this specific study that declared to not have any clear dominant sectarian identity were mostly concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa.[114] Another Pew report, The Future of World Religions, predicts that from 2010 to 2050 Islam will increase its percent of the population in Guinea-Bissau.[112]

In 2020, the ARDA projected most of the total population to be Muslim at 44.7%. It also estimated 41.2% of the population to be practitioners of Ethnic Religions and 13% to be Christians.[115]

Many residents practice syncretic forms of Islamic and Christian faiths, combining their practices with traditional African beliefs.[82][116] Muslims dominate the north and east, while Christians dominate the south and coastal regions. The Roman Catholic Church claims most of the Christian community.[117]

The 2021 US Department of State Report on International Religious Freedom[118] mentions the fact that leaders of different religious communities believe that the existing communities are essentially tolerant, but express some concerns about rising religious fundamentalism in the country. An incident in July 2022, when a Catholic Church in the overwhelmingly Muslim region of Gabú was vandalised, raised concern amongst the Christian community that Islamic extremism might be infiltrating the country. However, there have been no further similar incidents, and no direct links to Islamic extremists have surfaced.[119]



Universidade Lusófona of Bissau (up). Students at Biblioteca Jovem, Bairro da Ajuda, in Guinea-Bissau. (down)

Education is compulsory from the age of 7 to 13.[120] Pre-school education for children between three and six years of age is optional and in its early stages. There are five levels of education: pre-school, elemental and complementary basic education, general and complementary secondary education, general secondary education, technical and professional teaching, and higher education (university and non-universities). Basic education is under reform, and now forms a single cycle, comprising six years of education. Secondary education is widely available and there are two cycles (7th to 9th classe and 10th to 11th classe). Professional education in public institutions is nonoperational, however private school offerings opened, including the Centro de Formação São João Bosco (since 2004) and the Centro de Formação Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (since 2011).[106]

Higher education is limited and most prefer to be educated abroad, with students preferring to enroll in Portugal.[106] A number of universities, to which an institutionally autonomous Faculty of Law as well as a Faculty of Medicine that is maintained by Cuba and functions in different cities.

Child labor is very common.[121] The enrollment of boys is higher than that of girls. In 1998, the gross primary enrollment rate was 53.5%, with higher enrollment ratio for males (67.7%) compared to females (40%).[121]

Non-formal education is centered on community schools and the teaching of adults.[106] In 2011, the literacy rate was estimated at 55.3% (68.9% male, and 42.1% female).[122]


Usually, the many different ethnic groups in Guinea-Bissau coexist peacefully, but when conflicts do erupt, they tend to revolve around access to land.[123]


Guinea-Bissau's second largest city, Gabú
Port of Bissau
Bridge in São Vicente, Cacheu
Hotels at Bissagos Islands
Carnival in Bissau
National singer Manecas Costa



The music of Guinea-Bissau is usually associated with the polyrhythmic gumbe genre, the country's primary musical export. However, civil unrest and other factors have combined over the years to keep gumbe, and other genres, out of mainstream audiences, even in generally syncretist African countries.[124]

The cabasa is the primary musical instrument of Guinea-Bissau,[125] and is used in extremely swift and rhythmically complex dance music. Lyrics are almost always in Guinea-Bissau Creole, a Portuguese-based creole language, and are often humorous and topical, revolving around current events and controversies.[126]

The word gumbe is sometimes used generically, to refer to any music of the country, although it most specifically refers to a unique style that fuses about ten of the country's folk music traditions.[127] Tina and tinga are other popular genres, while extent folk traditions include ceremonial music used in funerals, initiations, and other rituals, as well as Balanta brosca and kussundé, Mandinga djambadon, and the kundere sound of the Bissagos Islands.[128]


Common dishes include soups and stews. Common ingredients include yams, sweet potato, cassava, onion, tomato, and plantain. Spices, peppers, and chilis are used in cooking, including Aframomum melegueta seeds (Guinea pepper).[129]


Flora Gomes is an internationally renowned film director; his most famous film is Nha Fala (English: My Voice).[130] Gomes's Mortu Nega (Death Denied) (1988)[131] was the first fiction film and the second feature film ever made in Guinea-Bissau. (The first feature film was N’tturudu, by director Umban u’Kest [fr] in 1987.) At FESPACO 1989, Mortu Nega won the prestigious Oumarou Ganda Prize. In 1992, Gomes directed Udju Azul di Yonta,[132] which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.[133] Gomes has also served on the boards of many Africa-centric film festivals.[134] The actress Babetida Sadjo was born in Bafatá, Guinea-Bissau.[135]


Football is the most popular sport in Guinea-Bissau. The Guinea-Bissau national football team is controlled by the Federação de Futebol da Guiné-Bissau. They are a member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and FIFA.

See also[edit]


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Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from World Factbook. CIA.

Further reading[edit]

  • Abdel Malek, K.,"Le processus d'accès à l'indépendance de la Guinée-Bissau", In : Bulletin de l'Association des Anciens Elèves de l'Institut National de Langues et de Cultures Orientales, N°1, Avril 1998. – pp. 53–60
  • Forrest, Joshua B., Lineages of State Fragility. Rural Civil Society in Guinea-Bissau (Ohio University Press/James Currey Ltd., 2003)
  • Galli, Rosemary E, Guinea Bissau: Politics, Economics and Society, (Pinter Pub Ltd., 1987)
  • Lobban Jr., Richard Andrew and Mendy, Peter Karibe, Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, third edition (Scarecrow Press, 1997)
  • Vigh, Henrik, Navigating Terrains of War: Youth And Soldiering in Guinea-Bissau, (Berghahn Books, 2006)

External links[edit]



News media



GIS information

Coordinates: 12°N 15°W / 12°N 15°W / 12; -15