Guinea-Bissau

Flowers? Nuts?

By Jheri St. James

Guinea-BissauThe West African Republic of Guinea-Bissau is bordered by Senegal north, Guinea south and east, and the Atlantic Ocean west. Once part of the kingdom of Gabu, and of the Mali Empire, parts of this kingdom persisted until the 18th century while a few others became part of the Portuguese Empire in the 16th century.

Map of Guinea-Bissau

 

Map of Guinea-Bissau

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Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing.
Where have all the flowers gone? Long time ago.
Where have all the flowers gone? Girls have picked them every one.
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

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João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira was President of Guinea-Bissau from 1980 to 1984; from 1984 to 1999; and from 2005 to 2009—total of19 years. Vieira was killed by soldiers in March 2009, apparently in retaliation for a bomb blast that killed Guinea-Bissau's military chief General Batista Tagme Na Waie. The military officially denied these allegations, after army officials claimed responsibility for Vieira's death. Vieira described himself as "God's gift" to Guinea-Bissau during his tenure in office.

Since gaining recognized independence in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has created a history of political instability; no elected president has successfully served a full five-year term. On 12 April 2012 members of the country’s military staged a coup and arrested the then interim president and a leading presidential candidate. The military has yet to declare a leader for the country.

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Ministry of Justice, Bissau

Ministry of Justice, Bissau, Guinea-Bissau

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Where have all the young girls gone? Long time passing.
Where have all the young girls gone? Long time ago.
Where have all the young girls gone? Taken husbands every one.
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

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(The name of our volunteer collector in Guinea-Bissau is Domingos Carlos Carvahlo, who came to us through Victoria Carvalho via Manfred Stoppok, below.)

Volunteer Collector in Guinea-Bissau

“I saw the volunteer form and there is an address needed . . . In Bissau does hardly exist any address. I only know one person who has a P.O. box address . . . There doesn’t exist a service where anyone is bringing post to the houses in Bissau! . . . So you see, things are a bit tricky in Bissau. Tell me how you want to do it?” Manfred (7 May 2009)


“OK, I submitted the volunteer form. I spoke with my friend there and told her that you will send some money within the package, and she said she will participate. She lives in the old capital of Guinea-Bissau, Bolama. She also can come to Bissau to collect the package there, but this can take some time. I filled in her telephone number on the volunteer form. Regards and good luck.” Manfred (11 May 2009)

 

 

 

 

“Hi. Okay, I think it will work. You sent the mail to my address, because Victoria has no Internet there . . . for that reason I left mine in the volunteer form. I told her that you already sent the package. She says it will work also without any street address. Bolama is not a big city. Everyone knows everyone. She will go to Bissau this weekend, if the package is very fast, she will already send it back then, if not it may take some time. I explained everything to her so it should work everything. I am from Germany, and I stay now here. I think she will collect soil in Bolama or if she get the package in Bissau, she will collect in Bissau. She was also asking if she can collect from the beach?” (12-14 May 2009)

“Thanks for the update—I can have someone translate to Portuguese, the simple directions. Yes, they already called her. But it is for her all more difficult than for us. It is the first time in her life getting a package, so she don’t know nothing and everything is very complicated for her. I hope you give some instructions in the package in Portuguese language, otherwise she will get desperate… All Family also helps her … but I guess it will take some time until they will send it back … I hope not too long.” (18 May 2009)

“Domingos Carlos is the brother of Victoria. It seems to be he will collect the soil. I only have contact with them by phone, because they don’t know how to use internet and computer . . . I will call them tonight or tomorrow to ask them if they have any questions, I tried to explain as good I could before. Probably it is a bit strange for them, someone spending so much money only to get a bit of soil of Bissau. I will write you if I have some news.” (20 May 2009)

“Yes, she called me today to say that her brother tried to bring back the package, but DHL in Bissau told him that he has to pay about $25. They don’t have to pay anything, no? And they told me they don’t have your address. Was there nothing in the box to send back with your address? Please tell me how it works, then I will try to explain them . . .” (2 June 2009)

“Hi. Okay, I am always a bit slow in answering emails . . . No, there is no photo of Domingos, one is of Victoria and the other one is me in Bissau. I don’t have a photo of Domingos, although he was the collector, and Victoria and me only the ‘organisers.’ It is better to send the money to me and then I will send it to Victoria, because she is not always in Bissau, only every three or four weeks, and in Bolama is no Western Union and next problem she has to know you Name and communication with her is not so easy. I would have to spell it, and this would take so much time, like with the experience of the package…She will be very happy to hear you also will support her a bit. How you want send it to me, by Western Union, or bank transfer, or perhaps easiest and cheapest if you send it by Paypal. So this all will be a good story for your journal of collection. I also can ask Victoria if there is any ‘story’ which happened to Domingos the collector for the soil.” (11 July 2009)

“Hm, no, not more than I already told you. Domingos Carlos Carvalho collected the soil, in Bissau, Bairro de Ajuda in the garden of his house. But there is no more about it…only the difficulties they had to send, I already told you…” (14 July 2009)

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Where have all the young men gone? Long time passing.
Where have all the young men gone? Long time ago.
Where have all the young men gone? Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

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Guinea-Bissau house

More than 2/3's of Guinea-Bissau residents live below the poverty line.

Guinea-Bissau is larger in size than Taiwan, Belgium, or the U.S. state of Maryland. This small, tropical country lies at a low altitude; its highest point is 984 feet. The interior is savanna, and the coastline is plain with swamps of Guinean mangroves. Its monsoon-like rainy season alternates with periods of hot, dry harmattan winds—dry dusty trade winds—blowing from the Sahara. The Bijagos Archipelago extends out to sea. Guinea-Bissau is warm all year round and there is little temperature fluctuation.

Bula, Guinea-Bissau

Bula, Guinea-Bissau

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Where have all the soldiers gone? Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone? Long time ago.
Where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to graveyards every one.
When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

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Crossing the river at low tide

Crossing the river at low tide.

The World Health Organization estimates that there are fewer than five physicians per 100,000 persons in the country, down from 12 per 100,000 in 2007. The prevalence of HIV infection among the adult population is 1.8%, with only 20% of infected pregnant women receiving anti-retroviral coverage. Malaria is an even bigger killer; nine percent of the population have reported infection, and it is the specific mortality cause-- almost three times as often as AIDS. Life expectancy at birth has climbed since 1990, but remains short. The WHO’s estimate of life expectancy for a child born in 2008 was 49 years. Despite lowering rates in surrounding countries, cholera rates were reports to be on the rise, with 1,500 cases reported and nine deaths. In Guinea-Bissau, the number of midwives per 1,000 live births is three; one out of 18 pregnant women die as a result of pregnancy.

 

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Music of Guinea-Bissau

The word gumbe is sometimes used to refer to any music of this country, although it mostly refers to a unique style that fuses about ten of the country’s folk music traditions. The calabash gourd kora is the primary musical instrument.

Music of Guinea-Bissau
 

According to Eric Charry, a historian of West African music, the instrument originated in the late 18th century. The traditional kora, writes West African-music specialist Lucy Durán, was made by hand with materials from the West African savanna: a calabash gourd cut in half for the resonator; rosewood for the neck, handles and bridge; and cow or antelope leather for the sound table, tuning rings and strings. Until the 1970s, most kora players attached a metal rattle (nyenyemo) to the end of the raised bridge, which acted as a natural amplifier and added a percussive buzzing sound. Today, many elements of the traditional kora have changed. The metal rattle is gone, and wooden tuning pegs—sometimes even guitar machine-heads—have replaced the leather tuning rings. The strings, which were traditionally made from thin strips of finely twisted antelope hide, are now made with nylon fishing line. Charry writes that kora players switched to fishing line because it’s durable and resistant to changes in weather. Kora master Toumani Diabate offers a more ecological explanation: “We had to save the antelopes!” (Greg Slater, www.pastemagazine.com)

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Where have all the graveyards gone? Long time passing.
Where have all the graveyards gone? Long time ago.
Where have all the graveyards gone? Covered with flowers every one.
When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn? (Pete Seeger)

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The soil collection process from Domingo’s garden in Guinea-Bissau was nuts! How very grateful we are to Manfred Stoppopk for all his emails and efforts. And thank you to Victoria and Domingos Carlos Carvalhos for their work on behalf of our project. The story of this little nipple on the African coastline is not easy to write without resorting to the greater narrative of Mother Earth and the endless cycles of life, death and rebirth on her fruitful breast, always represented by flowers. The growing cashew nut even looks like a fetus. Let us remember, the kori instrument is the result of the calabash gourd flower, and the music of the spheres plays on earth as well!

(The flower pictures in this journal entry are all cashew nut tree flowers in Guinea-Bissau (www.humanflowerproject.com), and other photos are from Manfred and Wikipedia.)

Cashew Nut Tree

 

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