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Read Around the World October 2021 – Guinea Bissau

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Welcome to October and Guinea-Bissau

Fun facts from this website: 

  • Guinea-Bissau takes its name from the Guinea region of West Africa. The country uses the name of its capital, Bissau, to distinguish it from its neighbour Guinea.
  • There are four countries in the world with the word Guinea in their name: Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Equatorial Guinea in Africa, and Papua New Guinea in Oceania and Asia.
  • In West Africa, Portuguese Guinea became Guinea-Bissa, Spanish Guinea became Equatorial Guinea and French Guinea would become Guinea.
  • Guinea-Bissau used to be under the influence of the Mali Empire and was a sub-kingdom known as Gabu.
  • Guinea-Bissau declared independence from Portugal following a guerrilla war in 1973. The country was formally recognised as an independent nation in 1974.
  • Guinea-Bissau’s flag features two horizontal stripes of yellow and green and a vertical red stripe with a black star. Yellow represents the savannas of the north, green the forests of the south, red represents the struggle for independence and the black star represents the people of Africa.
  • Guinea-Bissau is one of the few places in Africa you can still see traditional ancestral shrines. The totem-like wood-carved structures are intended to connect the human and spirit worlds.
  • On Uno Island in Guinea-Bissau, at some point in their lives, boys must go into the forest for several months to live alone in a ceremony called Vaca Bruto, which means ‘strong cow’. The rite of passages is supposed to transform the boys into men but only takes place when it “feels right” as opposed to at a set age or date.
  • The Bijagós archipelago is also one of the few places in the world where you can see saltwater hippos, particularly on the island of Orango (which is also a national park). During the day, the hippos sit in freshwater lagoons and then at night, they go down to the sea to bathe and disinfect their skin.
  • The island of Poilão is the most important green turtle nesting site in Africa and third in the world after Costa Rica and Ascension. From June to January, up to 30,000 turtles return to the island’s beach to lay their eggs.

I chose to visit Guinea-Bissau via The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila translated by Jethro Soutar.

What GR says: The first novel to be translated into English from Guinea Bissau, The Ultimate Tragedy is a tale of love and emerging political awareness in an Africa beginning to challenge Portuguese colonial rule.

Ndani leaves her village to seek a better life in the capital, finding work as a maid for a Portuguese family. The mistress of the house, Dona Deolinda, embarks on a mission to save Ndani’s soul through religious teaching, but the master of the house has less righteous intentions. Ndani is expelled from the house and drifts towards home, where she becomes the wife of a village chief. He has built a mansion and a school to flaunt his power to the local Portuguese administrator, but he abandons Ndani when he finds she’s not a virgin. She eventually finds love with the school’s teacher, but in tumultuous times, making a future with an educated black man involves a series of hurdles.

By turns humorous, heartrending and wise, The Ultimate Tragedy is a captivating novel that brings this little-known country to colourful, vivid life

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this book which showcases life for three very different but interconnected African people. I appreciated the way the author used these three characters to show how not only slavery but also native superstition can have a devastating effect on those affected by it.

This book does not have a happy ending or a particularly happy narrative (we are dealing with slavery after all) but it does show that being European doesn’t make you any better than being African and that education only divides people if not everyone has access to it.

The book also highlights the different injustices that are visited on men as opposed to women and vice versa.

Overall a powerful look at a country I hadn’t heard of before embarking on reading around the world.

Other readers visited in the following ways:

Rockpools from Litsy – Anos Ku Tu Manda by Yasmina Nuny a poetry collection that was rated a Pick.

Currey from Litsy – The Ultimate Trahedy rated Pick

Did you join our travels this month? What did you read?

November means it’s time to visit Brunei – share your reading plans with us.

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