Reading About Guinea-Bissau

Toughest country so far to find books for…especially at the library. There was really very little to choose from. Like almost nothing.

I finally did find something:  Guinea-Bissau: Power, Conflict, and Renewal in a West African Nation by Joshua Bernard Forrest. Written in 1992 so it’s woefully out-of-date, but is a good introduction to some of the important basics of the country. The book focused, in detail, on the struggles the nation has faced post-independence from Portugal (in 1974) but what I found most interesting was learning about the area before the Europeans went on a big land grab.

View of the harbour promenade and old city town of Bissau
(image by Haporuk (own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

The more I’m reading, the more I’m really absorbing how dynamic and diverse West Africa was (and is). Colonial boundaries were arbitrary, showing no respect to the cultural, linguistic and religious differences of the people living there. Differences in many cases that were exploited and amplified, generally with not-very-positive results in the long run. If you’ve got to ask why there were so many civil wars after independence…

Another interesting point made in the book was how many of the citizens of Guinea-Bissau, in the early days post-Portugal, didn’t have much attachment to the idea of a centralized government, the many reasons why that would be, and the common-sense alternatives that people have devised to get themselves through the day.

One example are mandjuandades, informal groups of women that form to deal with everything from helping a grieving family to setting up micro-loans. They serve as a mediating force, attempting to smooth out conflicts in the community – often softening a tough message by sharing it via song and dance.

Unfortunately, it’s tough to even find much on the internet about Guinea-Bissau, except about how it’s some sort of failed-state-drug-running haven. Nah. I seriously doubt that’s all that’s happening. I’m very glad to have learned the little that I have so far; now I can pay attention and find out so much more…

A link to some photos that just handily showed up in the Guardian today.

Make This And Your Vegan Friends Will Love You

Good stuff.

And that moment when you realize you already knew something, but just hadn’t inhabited it yet? That was me researching recipes for Guinea-Bissau. I had a solid click of knowledge, as in “hey, I eat West African food all of the time”. If you’ve lived in the American South, or just enjoy Southern food…you do too. Which totally makes sense, right? Also, I’m just 13 countries into this blog, and already on my third Portuguese colony (Macau and Angola being the first two.) So, there’s another layer of familiarity; I’m seeing threads of commonality that I probably wouldn’t have noticed before.

I thought I would get smarter from the books, but it’s really the food that’s showing me the way…We’re all connected. We really are.

Anyway…gettin’ all deep on you…here’s the recipe:

Guinean Peanut Sauce with Butternut Squash

adapted from a recipe at


  • 1 butternut squash (peeled seeded and cut into 2 inch cubes)
  • 12 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1 tomato (chopped)
  • 1 cup warm water (reserved from cooking the squash)
  • 2 tbsps coconut oil
  • 1 yellow onion (thickly sliced lengthwise)
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • black pepper and salt to taste
  • 2 tsps lemon juice


  1. Place the butternut squash in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid.
  2. Combine the peanut butter, tomato, and a cup of the reserved cooking liquid (or just warm water). (The original recipe mentions that the traditional way to combine the ingredients is to squish everything together by hand, but I used my food processor. A blender would be just fine too.)
  3. Heat the coconut oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the peanut butter mixture, the minced garlic, the bay leaf, black pepper, and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine, then bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the peanut sauce, adding the reserved cooking liquid as needed, for 15 minutes. The consistency should be similar to a thick soup.
  6. Stir in the butternut squash and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice, and adjust the seasoning as desired.

Serve with hot, medium-grained rice. Next time, I’ll add some chopped, fresh cilantro and a good hot sauce on the side as well.

NOTE: I way over-cooked the squash. I eat a lot of sweet potatoes, and since butternut squash is orange and of a similar texture while raw, my simple brain was quick to treat it the same. Don’t do that. My dining companions were very kind and said all was well…but it could have been better. Stick to the 20 minute cooking time and you should be just fine.

Butternut Squash – before I overcooked it
(image by The Global Reader)

Speaking of sweet potatoes, the peanut sauce would work great with them. It would be good with just about any veggie. Or chicken or beef, if you are in a meaty kind of mood.

(disclaimer: I KNOW. I KNOW. It’s getting to be the same shot, in the same cast-iron post. Every. Single. Time.
Must work on taking better photos)

Guinean Peanut Sauce with Butternut Squash
(image by The Global Reader)

Country #13: Guinea – Bissau

Country #13 is Guinea-Bissau. This is my first country that is actively experiencing some bad stuff. Not to say that Madagascar, or Moldova, or some of the other nations I’ve visited aren’t grappling with profound issues, but I’m mostly talking about the reality of armed conflict looming on the horizon. Certainly hope that isn’t the case, but it does seem to be a worrisome time.

I’ll proceed respectfully with that in mind, but will look for the positive things that make Guinea-Bissau unique. We’re all way more than the decisions made by a government…