Updated: Jan 15

Hello all, hope everyone has been well. I believe this is the first post of July, and we are basically at the end. I must apologise as we have been shipping out the paper back copies of The Dark Tales of Congo DR to all our keen readers. Now we're back with a new post, a look into the Matriarchy on Orango Island in Guinea-Bissau.

You probably saw the title and thought, what on earth? Are men being forced to get married? Well no not quite, but I must say I took to this particular information like a fish to water, at the idea of women being the hand of the law, and at the very top of the pecking order in this African society. This post explores the cultures and traditions of the 'Bijago' people (also spelled as Bissagos). For some background, the Bijago people originate from off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. This is also called the 'Bijago archipelago'. It is located in the Atlantic Ocean and made up of 88 islands, of which only 23 are inhabited. The population is composed mainly of the Bijago ethnic group. They make up just 2.5% of the Guinean population, which is approximately just 30,000 people, but their cultural influence and beliefs are still very strong. The Bijagos are a matriarchal and matrilineal society ... woman also play a key role in the family economy with their work, and fulfil the cultural task of transmitting the values and rituals of their ethnicity" (Anele, 2020).

A writer named Rukmini Callimachi interviewed a 90 year old native man from the Bijagos tribe, who was appalled at how men are "running after women and not waiting for women to come to them". He said that the world today is now "upside down" and has become so now that men are proposing to women. For the Bijagos, it's women who choose their spouses, and men are not permitted to propose. To make their proposal public, a woman must bring a plate of distinctively prepared fish, marinated in red palm oil. Once asked, men are more or less powerless to say no, as declining would bring shame to their families. In some cases, men recall never having any feelings for the women before the proposal but once they ate the meal, the woman was the most beautiful woman they had ever known and they felt like their soulmate had found them.

You might be wondering, how did this society find itself like this? Not that it is strange, it just isn't the norm and especially in Africa, you see tribes go to the extreme of men fighting each other with spears, bleeding from wounds just to appease his wife-to-be. So this just flips everything I have understood to be "tradition" as an African, on it's head. The Matriarchy in this society comes from an ancient religious belief. The next section will detail this a bit more.

Ancient Bijago Beliefs

In the beginning, the Bijago creator (Nindo) created Orango, the first Island, which was the world. He then formed a man and a woman named Akapakama. Similar to the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible. Akapakama had four daughters, who each had several children and a family of their own. The four daughters were named: Orakuma, Ominika, Oraga and Ogubane. They were each bestowed special birthrights. These were:

  • Orakuma Family - received the right to land and management of ceremonies to be held therein & the right to carve statuettes representing Ira, the fundamental spirits in the Bijago cults.

  • Ominika Family - received the sea, and thus set about fishing.

  • Oraga Family - received nature, fields and palm trees, which would provide them with great wealth.

  • Ogubane Family - received the power of rain and wind, thus enabling them to control the sequence of dry and rainy seasons.

So since the beginning of time for the Bijagos, women have been entrusted with powers of decision making, throughout the land and even when it comes to matrimony. The belief is that "love comes first into the heart of the woman. Once it's in the woman, only then it jump into the man".

Bijago men keep themselves fit and looking healthy, to increase their chances of being chosen as a husband by a woman. The elders believe that divorce rates will stay low if women continue to decide as "the choice of a woman is much more stable". Just like in this photo below, you can see the body language of the Bijago people, the men are behind their women. Where typically, in African culture you will see the men leading the women and firmly asserting themselves when around them. This is different.

Once a woman becomes a mother among the Bijagos, she is given the maximum respect and gets immense prestige. The birth of a female, is especially significant, given that she will grow to become a very powerful figure in the community. In the community, women rule the economy, the welfare and the law. They are also in charge of gardening, growing rice, processing palm oil, cutting straw for their houses & teaching the kids to do so.

While men still collect fish for food, they are treated more like "children", with minimal responsibilities who can enjoy some extra leisure time.

To accept the proposal, the man must eat all the food. He then leaves his family home to join the woman in her hut, and the two are officially married, in the eyes of the community. Everyone's happy.

I hope you enjoyed the read, what are your thoughts on this, does it need to become a more common thing? (lol) here is a link to the thread on Twitter:

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