Monday, October 3, 2011

The Culture of Guinea Bissau

What's in a Name  
"Guinea" was used by European explorers and traders to refer to the coast of West Africa. It comes from an Arabic term meaning "the land of the blacks." "Bissau," the name of the capital, may have been "Bijago," which is the name of of an ethnic group that inhabits the dozens of small islands along the coast. The combined name distinguishes it from its southern neighbor, Guinea.
In Guinea Bissau, rural Mandinga and Fula and the peoples of the coastal ethnic groups continue to practice arranged marriage in which a brideprice or groom service is given. However, young people can make matches on their own. Interethnic marriage rates are low but increasing. Men marry later than do women. Polygamy is accepted. Widows often remarry the husband's brother, thereby remaining in the same domestic household group.

Inheritance. Land passes from fathers to sons or from older brothers to younger brothers. Among the Manjaco and Papel, rice fields owned by domestic groups are inherited by a sister's sons, who act as caretaker-managers, dividing use rights to portions of the fields.

Kin Groups. All the ethnic groups are organized in fairly large kin groups known as clans or lineages. Most kin groups tend to be patrilineal and patrilocal, although there are also large categories of matrilineal kin who share rights to land and to local religious and political offices.
As reported to me, in the village of Djati, It is their custom to arrange marriages without the girls consent. Often a young girl is given to an older man, (a twelve or thirteen year old girl may be given in marriage to a fifty or sixty year old man). The girl is generally taken by surprise, tied up, hands and feet and delivered to her husband's home. At the home, the other women shave her head and she is not allowed to leave the house for three years. At times they are allowed to go to the well to draw water. During those three years they are shamed and forced to wear dark clothes.  The only one that seems to matter is their husband. Many girls run away, and some die.

The story was told that one of the girls in the village who looked like a model, was forced to be married, to her stepfather, (the man that raised her) she was tied, delivered to her husband, her hair shaved, the girl entered a deep depression.

At seventeen the girl became pregnant. She contracted malaria, and was given no medical help. Instead she was taken to the local healer to see what he had to say. When medical help finally arrived it was too late, she died.

I'm pretty sure there are other stories that might show a brighter side of life in the village. While in Djati I hope to obtain additional information on this situation and also find out about the ceremony that surrounds marriage. I'll report here what I learn.

Medical practices
Malaria and tuberculosis are rampant. Infant mortality rates are high and life expectancy is generally low because Western medicine is available only intermittently. Most residents seek out local healers, go to diviners, and make offerings at shrines. The government has made efforts to provide some primary nursing care in the villages, but the country continues to rely on foreign doctors. There is a hospital in Bissau

In Djati, the sick are brought in by canoe to the village of Quebo during the rainy season, sometimes they are brought out by motorcycle. Freddy and Raquel often try to reach the village by car, once they waited for one of the a sick villagers for two hours. The person was very ill, but the local healer must give approval before being taken to the clinic. Unfortunately the patient died.

There was a story of a man who was suffering with headaches, had tried everything, he had extremely high blood pressure. He was able to reach Quebo where medicine was given and he is living a normal life today.

Local healers treat headaches by using the metal that is in umbrellas. They pick one and sticks it up the persons nose to take care of the headache, ripping his nose and causing them to bleed.

At times if someone has fever, the local healer will scratch the persons face with a knife to let the bad blood out, cuts are about one inch long, sometimes the cuts get infected causing severe pain to the patients,

If a patient can reach Quebo for medical assistance there is often a good chance that they can be helped.

Djati desperately needs a medical clinic. It would serve people from nearby villages as well.

Sources: Freddy Schafer and Countries and their Cultures
Although Female Genital Mutilation is against the law in Guinea Bissau, I was saddened to hear that it is still practiced in the village of Djati.

FGM is a practice that cannot be tolerated but as for the other village practices, I'm sure that there are many stories that show a brighter side of life in the village. While there I hope to obtain additional information on all of the situations I've mentioned here. I will report back with my findings. So stay tuned!

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