bijagos islands

Bissagos Islands

The Bissagos Islands or Bijagós Archipelago are a group of some eighteen major islands and dozens more smaller ones in the Atlantic Ocean. They are a part of Guinea-Bissau. In pre-colonial times the islands were central to the trade along the coast of West Africa and they built up a powerful navy. In 1535 this enabled them to rout the Portuguese when they attempted to conquer the islands. The islands were not taken by Portugal until 1936.

Today, only twenty of the islands are inhabited and the others have only small populations of the Bijagós people. The southern islands are today a nature reserve. The islands of Bubaque, Bolama, and Caravela are the most populated and are visited by tourists. This continued even during the years of unrest in Guinea-Bissau as the islands remained isolated from those events.

They constitute a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, known for animals including marine turtles and monkeys and are mostly forested. The population mostly speaks Bijagó and has a considerable degree of autonomy. The islands include: Bolama, Bubaque, Carache, Caravela, Enu, Formosa, Galinhas, João Viera, Maio, Meneque, Orango, Orangozinho, Ponta, Roxa, Rubane, Soga, Unhacomo, Uno and Uracane.

Orango is run by a matriarchy, in which the women choose their husbands, making each spouse-to-be a single plate of food (often a traditional fish eye platter). Agreement is marked by the eating of the fish.

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