Culture: ‘Guinea-Bissau – A Matriarchy Rules’ (Video)

A matriarchy rules on one of the Bijagos Islands off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. The tribe of the same name lives on Orango, one of the most populated islands in the archipelago. Women dominate public and private life there. This documentary focuses on the women of the Bijagos tribe of Guinea-Bissau. Unlike many women in traditional and modern societies elsewhere, they pick their husbands, propose marriage and own their homes.

In addition to being responsible for raising children, they also act as high-priestesses in animist ceremonies, organize work, guard the keys to the rice stores, lead their families and ensure there are descendants to continue the line. The Bijagos revere women, who are believed to be in charge of the balance between the worlds of the living and the dead. A matriarchy of this kind is unusual, not only for Africa but around the world. Even though this culture has persisted for centuries, aspects of Western lifestyles are starting to gain a foothold. Rising rates of school attendance could contribute to the demise of the community’s traditions. Future generations will determine whether the Bijagos can retain their culture.

Guinea-Bissau is a tropical country on West Africa’s Atlantic coast that’s known for national parks and wildlife. The forested, sparsely populated Bijagós archipelago is a protected biosphere reserve. Its main island, Bubaque, forms part of the Orango Islands National Park, a habitat for saltwater hippos. On the mainland, the capital, Bissau, is a port with Portuguese colonial buildings in its old city center. 

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