Introduction

Perhaps you've never heard of Guinea Bissau. If so, you have been missing out on some of the friendliest people in Africa. Guinea Bissau is a small nation on the Western coast of Africa. Just off the coastline is the Arquipelago dos Bijagos, small beach islands that are home to a matriarchal society largely untouched by the colonial times. There are beautiful, mangrove-lined rivers throughout the country and beautiful beaches at Varula. In the southern rain forest you can even find elephants and chimpanzees. Truly, Guinea Bissau is an undiscovered treasure, and that is the key to its unique attraction. The country as a whole is relatively unspoiled and undiscovered. The capital city of Bissau has about 200,000 people and is rather relaxed. All things considered, this is the place to go if you want to get off the beaten track.

People

Approximately 1,611,000 people live in Guinea Bissau. Despite it's small size, it is an ethnically diverse land with three main groups: the Fula and Mandinka-speaking people live in the north and northeast; the Balanta and Papel people inhabit the southern coastal areas; the Manjaco and Mancauha people live in the central and northern coastal regions. There are a few people of Portuguese descent still living in the country. Though Portuguese is the official language, it is only spoken by an educated few. Kriol, an African-Portuguese dialect unique to Guinea Bissau, is much more likely to be spoken by the people you meet.

Geography

The average temperature of Guinea Bissau is a fairly consistent 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.3 degrees Celsius). The rainy season lasts from June to September/October with drought for the rest of the year. At 13,948 sq mi (36,125 sq km) this small country is actually larger than Taiwan or Belgium. Most of the country is savanna, though the coastline is a swampy plain, and there is rain forest in the south. Off the coast are the islands, mostly uninhabited and accessible from Bissau.

History

Before the advent of European domination, this land was a part of the Mali Empire that persisted until the 16th century. The Portuguese explored and settled the coast in the 16th century and it became part of the Slave Coast. While the Portuguese controlled the coasts, the inlands were fairly unknown to European conquerors. This was in part due to native slave traders protecting their livelihood. The Portuguese didn't get around to exploring the interior of Guinea Bissau until the 19th century, so until that time the cultures of the interior had limited exposure to the outside world.

In 1956 there was an armed rebellion led by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde. This resistance was funded by Cuba, China, and the Soviet Union. In fact, Cuba provided much support in the way of arms and supplies for most of the rebellion. By 1973 the PAIGC was in control and independence became official in 1974. Luis Cabral was appointed the first president of Guinea Bissau. Until 1984 revolutionary council ruled the country. Several coups traded power until the election of Viera in 2009, an election that remains in dispute.

Famous Attractions

There are several places of interest in Guinea Bissau, but a good first stop is the Arquipelago dos Bijagos just off the coast. As mentioned earlier, though largely uninhabited, this is the home of a matriarchal culture that is unique to Guinea Bissau. There are some ruins to explore and you can see the biosphere reserve.

The capital city of Bissau is noted for its lively cafes and laid back life. Though it is not perfect, Bissau does not suffer from crime like similar cities in Africa. The largest city in the islands is Ilha de Bubaque, the best place for comfortable accommodations if you want to stay on the islands. Otherwise, you may find camping as your only option.

Finally there is Oranyo Islands National Park in the south, home to rare saltwater species of hippo and crocodile. There is one hotel available here. This park is the burial site of the Bijagos king and queen.

Nightlife

Some say that Guinea Bissau has the best nightlife in Africa, but you must adjust your expectations to really enjoy it. There really are no nightclubs, as you may know them. Nightlife in Guinea Bissau is characterized by enjoying beers in the outdoor cafes. Natives and tourists alike seem to find gossiping in the cafes the best entertainment around, but it isn't the only entertainment. In Gabu there are street parties with music and dancing, or the Emporia Bar which features live music. You can find other music venues throughout the country, with both native music and modern.

Culture

The people of Guinea Bissau are noted for their friendliness and genuine helpfulness. They mainly practice traditional African animist religions, although Islam is gaining ground. Approximately 10% of the population is Christian, mainly Catholic, although there are some protestant missionaries living and working in Guinea Bissau.

Guinea Bissau is known for its gumbe music in which the calabash is the primary instrument. The songs are almost always about such contemporary topics as politics and current conditions. Education is compulsory from age 7 to age 13, but many children must work to help support their families.

Cuisine

Like any coastal country, fish and seafood figure prominently in the cuisine. Guinea Bissau has many local fruits and vegetables that are used throughout the country. Rice is available everywhere and widely used. The cuisine also relies heavily on milk and whey.

Do you like your food spicy hot? Good! Because in Guinea Bissau they believe in using hot spices and peppers. Fish and meat are frequently combined in traditional dishes, and the people of Guinea Bissau draw from a wealth of culinary influences. They draw from native African traditions as well as from Portuguese recipes. The more elite may also find inspiration in cuisines from Arabia and Asia. You will find that eating is a wonderful adventure in Guinea Bissau.