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Guinea-Bissau

The country is named after the Guinea region of West Africa that lies along the Gulf of Guinea and stretches north to the Sahel. Bissau (name of its principal city) distinguishes the country from neighboring Guinea.

Year:  2017

Area: 36,125 sq. km.

Population: 1,759,159 -- 152nd in World

Flag: Two equal horizontal bands of yellow (top) and green with a vertical red band on the hoist side; there is a black five-pointed star centered in the red band; yellow symbolizes the sun; green denotes hope; red represents blood shed during the struggle for independence; the black star stands for African unity.

The pre-colonial history of Guinea-Bissau has not been fully documented in the archaeological record. The area has been occupied for at least a millennium, first by hunters and gatherers and later by decentralized animist agriculturalists. In the case of what is now Guinea-Bissau, this state was known as Kaabu, and the agriculturists often suffered in their subordinate relationship to its economic and military needs. The Fulani entered the region as semi-nomadic herders as early as the 12th century, although it was not until the 15th century that they began to arrive in large numbers. The Fulani herdsmen followed a version of Africanized Islam.

Contacts with the European world began with the Portuguese explorers and traders who arrived in the first half of the 15th century. Notable among these was Nuño Tristão, a Portuguese navigator who set out in the early 1440s in search of slaves and was killed in 1446 or 1447 by coastal inhabitants who were opposed to his intrusion. The Portuguese monopolized the exploration and trade along the Upper Guinea Coast from the latter 15th and early 16th centuries.

Tens of thousands of Guineans were taken as slaves to Cape Verde to develop its plantation economy of cotton, indigo, orchil and urzella dyes, rum, hides, and livestock. Weaving and dyeing slave-grown cotton made it possible to make unique textiles woven on a narrow loom and usually constructed of six strips stitched together, which became standard currency for regional trade in the 16th century.

In Guinea-Bissau and neighboring territories, slaves were captured from the coastal peoples or interior groups at war. Cape Verde was used as a secure offshore post for the trade of goods from Africa.

From the islands of Cape Verde, the Portuguese maintained their coastal presence in Guinea-Bissau. Tens of thousands of slaves were exported from the coast to the islands and on to the New World, destined for major markets such as the plantations in Cuba and northeastern Brazil.

Despite the five centuries of contact between Guineans and the Portuguese, one cannot truly speak of a deeply rooted colonial presence until the close of the 19th century. The long-lasting joint administration of Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau was terminated in 1879 and both became separate colonial territories.

The struggle for dominance around Guinea-Bissau fell within the context of the greater scramble for Africa that characterized the 1884-1885 Berlin Congress. The Berlin Congress had called for the demonstration of “effective occupation,” and, in an attempt to satisfy this condition, the brutal “pacification” campaign of Capt. João Teixeira Pinto—with the support of an African mercenary force—was conducted from 1913 to 1915.

During World War II, many Africans gained military and political experience while fighting with and for the colonial powers. In the wake of that war came the emergence of African nationalist movements, In 1956, a group of Cape Verdeans founded the national liberation party for Guinea and Cape Verde—the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC). Most notable of its leaders was Amílcar Cabral, a brilliant revolutionary theoretician. Despite being confronted by large numbers of Portuguese soldiers and their accompanying military technology, the PAIGC gained control of two-thirds of the country. Full independence was achieved by Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974.

Subsequent to independence, Guinea-Bissau has been convulsed by political turmoil. Coups and counter-coups, civil wars, and military takeovers have retarded economic and political development. On June 23, 2014, finance minister José Mário Vaz was elected in a campaign deemed to be fair by election monitors. It is hoped that the new government can begin the process of reconciliation and reconstruction for its people.

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