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 Written in 1992 so it’s woefully out-of-date, but is a good introduction to some of the important basics of the country.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.