What Is The Culture Of Guinea-Bissau?

A night market in Guinea-Bissau. Editorial credit: Peek Creative Collective / Shutterstock.com.
A night market in Guinea-Bissau. Editorial credit: Peek Creative Collective / Shutterstock.com.

Officially known as the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Bissau is a country situated in the western region of Africa. The country has an area of about 13,948 square miles and a population of approximately 1,815,698 people. The capital city, which also doubles as the largest city, is Bissau. The country has had an interesting history since its days as a Portuguese colony. For example, since gaining its independence in 1973, the country has never had a president serve the full term of five years. This history has also helped to shape its culture in past and present times.

6. Religions Practiced

As is the case with most of the countries in the world, the two major religions are Christianity and Islam. A survey conducted by the Pew Research center in 2010 found that 62% of the population practices Christianity while the rest (38%) are Muslims. Muslims in the country are divided into two main groups namely Sunni and the Ahmadiyya sect. The former group is the larger one while the latter denomination has a share of only 2% of the total Muslim population of Guinea-Bissau. Most people practice syncretic forms of religion that combine modernity with traditionalism.

As of 2018, the CIA World Factbook reports that there have been some major changes in the country. Muslims make up a bigger portion of the population with a following of about 40% of the population with Christians coming in second with a share of 22%. Another 15% of the population is classified as animists while other religions make up 18% of the total population.

5. Festivals

Festivals and celebrations in the nation are celebrated throughout the country. While most of them revolve around music and art, there are festivals relating to the country itself as well as religion. Most of these celebrations do not have fixed schedules. Just like every other Muslim country in the world, Muslims in the country observe things like fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr, Eid Al-Adha, and others. Eid Al-Fitr is a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan while Eid Al-Adha is a celebration of the Feast of Sacrifice. Christian celebrations include the popular Easter and Christmas.

Music and art festivals include the likes of the Festival de Bubaque, which is celebrated to mark local music. The date for this event usually varies every year but it still attracts a nationwide audience. Another festival related to art is the Guinea-Bissau Carnival, which features things like ethnic traditions and Guinean talent. This celebration happens during Easter and lasts for around for four days.

4. Cuisine

Local cuisine features rice as the staple food for coastal areas while interior regions mainly eat millet. Due to food insecurity in the country, most of the rice has to be imported. This food insecurity is caused mainly by the country’s political insecurity, which has led to an increase in coups, inflation, and corruption. Despite all this, farmers are able to grow a number of foods for export such as cashews, palm nuts, olives, and coconuts.

Other foods include the likes of fish, vegetables, palm oil, black-eyed peas, and fruits, which go together with meals such as cereals, whey, curd, and milk. Peanuts, including Bambara groundnuts and Hausa groundnuts, are popular since colonial times. Common meals include stews and soups with common meal ingredients being spices, yams, cassava, onions, plantains, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes. One of the celebrations, Amilcar Cabral's birthday on September 12, involves eating foods like yassa and chicken.

3. Music And Dance

Most of the music in the country is related to the polyrhythmic gumbe category, which is the main genre in the nation. Unfortunately, the development of music has been curtailed by the political unrest since it is impossible for local talent to get international recognition. Primarily, musicians use the calabash as the main musical instrument to create some beautiful dance songs. Since the audience is mostly local, it is no surprise that songs are almost invariably composed in Guinea-Bissau Creole, which is a creole language based on Portuguese. Humor and current trends are some of the more common themes of the songs. Other genres also exist and include kussundé, which began in the 1980s. Other countries have been able to influence the music industry such as Kizomba music from Angola, which can support English and Portuguese artists.

2. Literature

The majority of the literature has been written in Portuguese. Most of the literature in existence in the country has been written as from the 20th century or later. The idea of writing in local languages arose in the earlier stages of the 1990s although there were a few challenges. First, a lot of Portuguese expressions lost their meanings after translation. In addition, the literature department of the country has developed at a slower rate compared to neighboring countries, which presents further challenges. In the middle stages of the 1800s, there were few schools in Guinea-Bissau. In comparison, neighbors such as Cape Verde had established such institutions at that time, which explains why their literature is more advanced. Current literature places an emphasis on life after independence and how the country should progress.

1. Social Beliefs And Etiquettes

Both traditional beliefs and modern ones have influenced the way of life of the people. However, some things have remained traditional such as marriage in rural areas. These people believe that the groom has to pay the bride price with the men getting married at later stages compared to men. Intercultural marriages have been low in the past but the number has been improving steadily. Modernity has affected these beliefs as evidenced by the fact that young men and women are now getting into marriage arrangements without following traditions. In other things, such as inheritance, traditional beliefs mostly apply where men are the only ones allowed to own land.

People are also steering clear of traditional education and healthcare systems and have embraced modern systems. For example, the government has been able to increase the number of learning institutions in order to further increase the literacy levels. Unfortunately, they are mostly inadequate and most people have to go abroad for further education. Usually, the few that go do not go back to the country after completing their studies.


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