Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bolama, Bijagós islands of Guinea Bissau

The beautiful island of Bolama has an area of about 45 sq miles and a population of 10,014.  Geographically it is closer to Bissau than any other island in the Bijagós.

Bolama was founded in 1687 by Portugal as a fortified port and trading center. It was the 1st Portuguese capital of Portuguese Guinea from 1879 until 1943. The  transfer to Bissau was necessary due to the shortage of fresh water in Bolama.  The island is almost surrounded by mangrove swamps and is known for its cashew nuts. Although often visited by local people, the island was apparently uninhabited when British colonists settled it in 1792.

Tree-lined boulevards are mapped out by lamp posts that no longer shine, and the colonial barracks have been recast as a hospital, now – like much of the island – in a dark and desolate state.

Bolama's impressive and decaying colonial buildings remain from the time when Bolama was capital of Guinea Bissau now crumbling relics that were abandoned after independence.

The former town hall, flanked by Greek style pillars, was built in 1870; today the huge splinters hang like stalactites from its ceilings. The turrets of the once grandiose Hotel Turismo sit in an overgrown nest of lianas weeds and snakes. If you venture out to  Ofires Beach, (about an hour's stroll from the town), you can see the spooky sweeping staircase of a beach hotel that no longer exists.

The abandoned houses of the old capital provide a shelter for many thousands of enormous fruit eating bats. Every evening, these bats flock to the mainland, darkening the skies.

Bolama is designated as a biosphere reserve
History of GB (as it has been written)- The rivers of Guinea and the islands of Cape Verde were among the first areas in Africa explored by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Portugal claimed Portuguese Guinea in 1446, but few trading posts were established before 1600. In 1630, a "captaincy-general" of Portuguese Guinea was established to administer the territory.
With the cooperation of some local tribes, the Portuguese entered the slave trade and exported large numbers of Africans to the Western Hemisphere via the Cape Verde Islands. Cacheu became one of the major slave centers, and a small fort still stands in the town. The slave trade declined in the 19th century, and Bissau, originally founded as a military and slave-trading center in 1765, grew to become the major commercial center.
**note:  Most African countries did not sell slaves and some even fought against it. But because Europeans back then could control the supply of guns there was little Africans could do to stop it.
Portuguese conquest and consolidation of the interior did not begin until the latter half of the 19th century. Portugal lost part of Guinea to French West Africa, including the center of earlier Portuguese commercial interest, the Casamance River region. A dispute with Great Britain over the island of Bolama was settled in Portugal's favor with the involvement of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.


shelly earnshaw @ribbon in the sky said...

this is an awesome post. thanks so much!

devon said...

You're welcome!