Portuguese Guinea

Guinea Guinea-Bissau Portuguese Empire
Overseas Province of Guinea

Portuguese Guinea
Anthem: "Hymno Patriótico" (1808–26)
Patriotic Anthem

"Hino da Carta" (1826–1911)
Hymn of the Charter

"A Portuguesa" (1911–74)
The Portuguese
StatusColony; Overseas territory; State
of the Portuguese Empire
CapitalBolama (1879-1942)
Bissau (1942-1974)
Common languagesPortuguese (official), Guinea-Bissau Creole, Balanta, Fula, Mandjak, Mandinka, Papel
Head of state 
• Regent
Pedro, Duke of Coimbra
• President
Américo Tomas
• 1879–81 (first)
Agostinho Coelho
• 1974 (last)
Carlos Fabião
Historical eraImperialism
• Established
• Fall of Portuguese Empire
10 September 1974
CurrencyPortuguese real (to 1909)
Portuguese Guinean real (1909–14)
Portuguese Guinean escudo (1914–75)
ISO 3166 codeGN
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Today part of Guinea-Bissau

Portuguese Guinea (Portuguese: Guiné), called the Overseas Province of Guinea from 1951, was a West African colony of Portugal from the late 15th century until 10 September 1974, when it gained independence as Guinea-Bissau.

Era of the slave trade

Flag of the Guinea Company, a Portuguese company that traded in several commodities and slaves around the Guinea coast from the 15th century

The Portuguese Crown commissioned its navigators to explore the Atlantic coast of West Africa to find the sources of gold. The gold trade was controlled by Morocco, and Muslim caravan routes across the Sahara also carried salt, kola, textiles, fish, grain, and slaves.[1] The navigators first passed the obstruction of Cape Bojador in 1437 and were able to explore the West African coast as far as Sierra Leone by 1460 and colonize the Cape Verde islands from 1456.[2]

The gold ultimately came from the upper reaches of the Niger River and Volta River and the Portuguese crown aimed to divert the gold trade towards the coast. To control this trade, the king ordered the building of a castle, called São Jorge da Mina (now Elmina Castle), on the Portuguese Gold Coast in 1482 and other trading posts. The Portuguese government instituted the Company of Guinea to deal with the trading and to fix the prices of the goods.[3] Besides gold, ivory, Melegueta pepper and slaves were traded. It is estimated that the Atlantic slave trade transported around 11 million people from Africa between 1440 and 1870, including 2 million from Senegambia or Upper Guinea.[4]

This area was the source of an estimated 150,000 African slaves transported by the Portuguese, mainly from Upper Guinea before 1500, some used to grow cotton and indigo in the previously uninhabited Cape Verde islands.[5] Portuguese traders and exiled criminals penetrated the rivers and creeks of Upper Guinea forming a mulatto population using Portuguese-based Creole language as their lingua franca. However, after 1500 the main area of Portuguese interest, both for gold and slaves, was further south in the Gold Coast.[6]

At the start of the 17th century, the main Portuguese bases for the export of slaves were Santiago, Cape Verde for the Upper Guinea traffic, and São Tomé Island for the Gulf of Guinea. In the 1630s and 1640s, the Dutch drove the Portuguese from most of the Gold Coast, but they retained a foothold at São João de Ajuda, now called Ouidah in Benin, as they preferred to acquire slaves from the Gulf of Guinea rather than Upper Guinea before the 1750s. In the 17th century, the French at Saint-Louis, Senegal, the English at Kunta Kinteh Island on the Gambia River and Dutch at Gorée had established bases in Upper Guinea.[7]

The very weak Portuguese position in Upper Guinea was strengthened by the first Marquess of Pombal who promoted the supply of slaves from this area to the provinces of Grão-Pará and Maranhão in northern Brazil, and between 1757 and 1777, over 25,000 slaves were transported from the “Rivers of Guinea”, which approximates Portuguese Guinea and parts of Senegal, although this area had been largely neglected by the Portuguese for the previous 200 years. Bissau, founded in 1765, became the centre of Portuguese control.[8]

Further British interest in the area led to a brief attempt in the 1790s to establish a base on the island of Bolama, where there was no evidence of any continuous Portuguese presence. Between the retreat of the British settlers in 1793 and the official Portuguese occupation of the island in 1837, there were several attempts to establish a European presence on the island. Even after the Portuguese had asserted their claim in 1837, Afro-Portuguese lived and worked there alongside Afro-British from Sierra Leone, since Britain did not relinquish its claim to Bolama until 1870.[9]

The abolition of the slave trade by Britain in 1807 presented the slave traders of Guinea with a virtual monopoly of the West Africa slave trade with Brazil. Despite the Brazilian and Portuguese governments agreeing to stop this traffic in the 1830s, it probably continued at 18th-century levels, and only declined significantly after 1850, when the British government put pressure on Brazil to enforce its existing ban on the import of slaves. The last significant consignment of West African slaves reached Brazil in 1852.[10]

The later colonial period

Britain's interest in the Upper Guinea region declined with the end of the British slave trade in 1807 and became focused on Sierra Leone after the Boloma Island settlement was abandoned. At the start of the 19th century, the Portuguese felt reasonably secure in Bissau and regarded the neighbouring coastline as their own.[11] Their control was tenuous: for much of the 19th century the Portuguese presence in Guinea was mainly limited to the rivers of Guinea, the settlements of Bissau, Cacheu and Ziguinchor (the last now in Senegal). Elsewhere it was preserved, with little official assistance, by local Creole people and Cape Verde islanders, who owned small plantations (pontas).[12][13]

The existence of French- and Senegalese-run plantations brought a risk of French claims south of the Casamance River. After the Berlin Conference of 1885 introduced the principle of Effective Occupation, negotiations with France led to the loss of the valuable Casamance region to French West Africa, in exchange for French agreement to Portuguese Guinea's boundaries.[14][15]

At this time, Portugal occupied half a dozen coastal or river bases, controlling some maritime trade but few of Guinea's people. However, in 1892, Portugal made Guinea a separate military district to promote its occupation.[16] Had the doctrine of Effective Occupation been as prominent in 1870 as it was after 1884, Portugal might also have lost Bolama to Britain. However, Britain and Portugal agreed to international arbitration in 1868. President Ulysses S. Grant of the United States of America acted as arbiter, and in 1870 he awarded the island to Portugal.[17]

Portugal's precarious financial position and military weakness threatened the retention of its colonies. In 1891, António José Enes, the Minister of Marine and Colonies, rationalised taxes, and granted concessions in Guinea, mainly to foreign companies, which could increase its exports.[18] The increased revenue was designed to fund a gradual extension of control, to allow Portugal to tax trade and the indigenous people.[19] The modest increase in government income between 1895 and 1910 did not meet the costs of European troops used to impose taxes. Enes' policies largely failed; resistance continued in the interior, on the islands and at the coast. However, once military occupation had started, Portugal continued, hoping for future benefits.[20][21]

After the fall of the Portuguese monarchy in 1910, the new Republic set up a Colonial Ministry to improve colonial administration. Guinea's income increased with rising peanut prices, tax collection improved and its budget was in surplus.[22] Between 1913 and 1915, João Teixeira Pinto used Askari troops to impose Portuguese rule and to crush resistance to hut tax by destroying villages and seizing cattle, which caused many to flee to Senegal or the forests. The cost of his forces and the return to budget deficits led to his recall in 1915.[23][24]

Although the First World War increased world demand for tropical products and stimulated Guinea's economy, a post-war slump and frequent political crisis created a deep recession. By the time of the 1926 military uprising in Portugal, most of Guinea was occupied, administered and taxed, but its revenue was insufficient to pay for its administration, much less to expand it.[25] When the Estado Novo imposed police on the Bissagos Islands in 1935-36 it completed its control of Guinea.[26]

Between the 1930s and 1960s, the colony was a neglected backwater, whose only economic significance was to supply Portugal with about one-third of its vegetable oil needs by growing peanuts. It was unclear if its population of about 500,000 in 1950 was sufficient to grow enough peanuts to pay for its imports and administration and still grow all the food it needed.[27][28] In 1951, because of anti-colonialist criticism in the United Nations the Portuguese government renamed all of Portugal's colonies, including Portuguese Guinea, as Overseas Provinces (Províncias Ultramarinas).[29]

Development was largely neglected before the start of the liberation war. One paternalistic governor, Sarmento Rodrigues, promised to develop agriculture, infrastructure and health but did little to fight the upsurge in sleeping sickness in the 1940s and 1950s. Guinea saw little public investment in the first Portuguese Overseas Development Plan (1953–58), and a second plan (1959–64) concentrated on its towns. Adequate rural health clinics were only provided in General Spínola's programme of 1968-73. Educational provision was limited: in 1959 Guinea had some 200 primary schools with 13,500 pupils and 36 post-primary schools (mainly for urban assimilados) with 1,300 pupils.[30][31]

Independence movement

Portuguese-held (green), disputed (yellow) and rebel-held areas (red) in Guinea, 1970

The fight for independence began in 1956, when Amílcar Cabral founded the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC). At first, PAIGC organised a series of strikes by urban workers, especially those working in the port and river transport. On 3 August 1959, fifty striking dockworkers were killed. After this, the PAIGC changed strategy to avoid public demonstrations and concentrated instead on the organisation of the rural peasants. In 1961, when a purely political campaign for independence had made little progress, the PAIGC adopted guerrilla tactics.[32]

While heavily outnumbered by Portuguese troops (approximately 30,000 Portuguese to some 10,000 guerrillas), the PAIGC had safe havens over the border in Senegal and Guinea, both recently independent of French rule. The conflict in Portuguese Guinea involving the PAIGC guerrillas and the Portuguese Army was the most intense and damaging of all the Portuguese Colonial War, and several communist countries supported the guerrillas with weapons and military training. The conflict in Portuguese Guinea involved PAIGC guerrillas and the Portuguese Army.[33]

In 1972 Cabral set up a government in exile in Conakry, the capital of neighbouring Guinea. It was there that he was assassinated outside his house on 20 January 1973.[34]

By 1973 the PAIGC controlled most of the interior of the country, while the coastal and estuary towns, including the main populational and economic centres remained under Portuguese control. The town of Madina do Boe in the southeasternmost area of the territory, close to the border with neighbouring Guinea, was the location where PAIGC guerrillas declared the independence of Guinea-Bissau on September 24, 1973.[35]


The early colonial economy

From the viewpoint of European history the Guinea Coast is associated mainly with slavery. The Portuguese first sailed down the Atlantic coast of Africa in the 1430s in search of gold, as the region was synonymous with it. The trade from West Africa was controlled by the Muslim states which stretched along Africa's northern coast. Muslim trade routes across the Sahara, which had existed for centuries, involved salt, kola, textiles, fish, grain, and slaves.[36]

As the Portuguese extended their influence around the coasts Mauritania, Senegambia (by 1445) and Guinea, they created trading posts. Rather than becoming direct competitors to the Muslim merchants, the expanding market opportunities in Europe and the Mediterranean resulted in increased trade across the Sahara.[37]

There was a very small market for African slaves as domestic workers in Europe, and as workers on the sugar plantations of the Mediterranean. However, the Portuguese found they could make considerable amounts of gold transporting slaves from one trading post to another, along the Atlantic coast of Africa. Muslim merchants had a high demand for slaves, which were used as porters on the trans-Saharan routes, and for sale in the Islamic Empire. The Portuguese found Muslim merchants entrenched along the African coast as far as the Bight of Benin.[38]

For most of the period of Portuguese involvement, the people of Portuguese Guinea were subsistence farmers. In the 19th century, the coastal Balanta people, who were outside Portuguese control, had developed a sophisticated agricultural system, growing paddy-rice in reclaimed coastal swamps. Much of this rice was exported to surrounding territories, particularly after indigenous rice types were replaced by imported varieties. The Balanta also participated in the slave trade in this period.[39] Another crop developed in this period was peanuts, and exports from Portuguese Guinea began in the mid 19th century. As intensive plantation cultivation led to reduced soil fertility, peanuts were normally grown by peasants in the Portuguese-controlled areas who mixed them with food crops and maintained fallow periods.[40]

The later colonial economy

A Portuguese landing craft in Portuguese Guinea, 1973

Before the Estado Novo period, Portugal was weak internationally and stronger powers forced it to pursue Free Trade policies in its colonies. The Estado Novo replaced Free Trade by protectionism and state economic intervention. The colonies were to provide Portugal with raw materials, foreign exchange, taxes and labour, and absorb its manufactures and surplus people. Although Guinea produced some rubber at the end of the 19th century, its main export contributions were limited to vegetable oils and Balanta rice growing. It had a small domestic market and was unattractive to colonists. Most of its land and people were engaged in food production and it could not generate sufficient exports to support the colonial bureaucracy and the increasing population in Bissau and other towns, nor to promote its peoples’ social welfare.[41]

Peanut exports rose from 5,000 tons in 1910 to 20,000 tons in 1925. Under the Estado Novo exports averaged almost 30,000 tons a year in 1939-45, rising to 35,000 tons between 1946 and 1955, but falling in the next decade because of falling prices.[42][43] The peanut export trade improved Guinea's balance of payments up to the mid-1950s but had little effect on its peoples’ economic or social welfare as the Estado Novo granted an import and export trade monopoly to a Portuguese conglomerate, Companhia União Fabril.[44]

Until 1942 growers received prices at world levels, but they then declined. Forced labour was rarely used, but Africans were obliged to plant peanuts. However, the Estado Novo lacked sufficient coercive powers to force the peanut production it wanted, if this limited the production of rice for food. The lack of taxable export crops meant that the Portuguese administration remained unable to increase its income or its authority, in a self-limiting cycle.[45]

Low prices for exports and a rapid increase in imports after 1958 led to worsening trade deficits throughout the 1960s. Exports covered 42% of the cost of imports in 1964, but only 20% in 1968. Growing rice for food expanded in the 1950s and 1960s period, reducing the amount of land for cash crops.[46][47][48]

The migration of Balanta from northern Guinea to the south to cultivate rice intensified in the 1920s. Balanta rice cultivation greatly increased in the 1930s and 1940s, but the state granted legal title to the pontas to Europeans or Cape Verdeans. These bought rice from the farmers at low fixed prices and exported much of it, so by the 1950s the south of Guinea had a rice deficit.[49][50]

The decade up to 1973 was dominated by the war. In 1953, some 410,000 hectares were cultivated, only 250,000 hectares in 1972, and many farmers fled from Guinea or to Bissau and other towns.[51] Reduced food production and the loss of many rice paddies led to widespread malnutrition and disease.[52] An agronomic survey of Guinea by Amílcar Cabral contained a major critique of Estado Novo policies. He was concerned about the emphasis on peanuts, amounting to virtual monoculture, and abandonment of traditional techniques, but he urged state control and collectivisation, not smallholder farming.[53][54]

See also

Proposed flag for Portuguese Guinea


  1. ^ A.L. Epstein, Urban Communities in Africa - Closed Systems and Open Minds, 1964.
  2. ^ C.R. Boxer, (1977). The Portuguese seaborne empire, 1415-1825, pp. 26–7, 30 London, Hutchinson & Co. ISBN 0-09131-071-7
  3. ^ C.R. Boxer, (1977). The Portuguese seaborne empire, 1415-1825, pp. 26–7, 30 London, Hutchinson & Co. ISBN 0-09131-071-7
  4. ^ H Thomas, (1997). The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440-1870, pp. 804–5, New York (NY), Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0-684-81063-8
  5. ^ Bamber Gascoigne (2001). "History of Guinea-Bissau". HistoryWorld.
  6. ^ C.R. Boxer, (1977). The Portuguese seaborne empire, pp. 30-1
  7. ^ C.R. Boxer, (1977). The Portuguese seaborne empire, pp. 97, 112, 170–2
  8. ^ C.R. Boxer, (1977). The Portuguese seaborne empire, pp. 192
  9. ^ P. E. H. Hair, (1997). '"Elephants for Want of Towns": The Interethnic and International History of Bulama Island, 1456-1870', History in Africa, Vol. 24, pp. 183, 186
  10. ^ W. G. Clarence-Smith, (1975). The Third Portuguese Empire, 1825-1975, Manchester University Press, pp. 30–1
  11. ^ B Gascoigne, (From 2001, ongoing). “History of Portuguese Guinea”, HistoryWorld
  12. ^ J. L Bowman (1987) “Legitimate Commerce” and peanut production in Portuguese Guinea 1840s-1880s, The Journal of African History Vol. 28 No. 1, pp 89, 96.
  13. ^ W G Clarence-Smith, (1975). The Third Portuguese Empire, p 22
  14. ^ J. L Bowman (1987) “Legitimate Commerce” and peanut production in Portuguese Guinea 1840s-1880s, The Journal of African History Vol. 28 No1 pp 89, 96.
  15. ^ W G Clarence-Smith, (1975). The Third Portuguese Empire, p 22
  16. ^ J Barreto, (1938). História da Guiné 1418-1918, Lisbon, Published by the author, p 316
  17. ^ P. E. H. Hair, (1997). "Elephants for Want of Towns", p. 186.
  18. ^ W G Clarence-Smith, (1975). The Third Portuguese Empire, pp. 82-3, 85
  19. ^ J L Bowman, (1987). "Legitimate Commerce and peanut production in Portuguese Guinea", pp. 98-99
  20. ^ R Pélissier, (1989). História da Guiné: portugueses e africanos na senegambia 1841-1936 Volume II, Lisbon, Imprensa Universitária pp 25-6, 62-4.
  21. ^ R E Galli & J Jones (1987). Guinea-Bissau: Politics, economics and society, London, Pinter pp. 28-9.
  22. ^ R Pélissier, (1989). História da Guiné, pp. 140-1
  23. ^ J Barreto, (1938). História da Guiné, pp. 374-6, 379-82.
  24. ^ J Teixeira Pinto A occupação militar da Guiné Lisbon 1936, Agência Geral das Colónias pp 85-6, 120
  25. ^ W G Clarence-Smith, (1975). The Third Portuguese Empire, pp 114-7
  26. ^ R Pélissier, (1989). História da Guiné, pp 229-30, 251-61
  27. ^ W G Clarence-Smith, (1975). The Third Portuguese Empire, pp 151-2
  28. ^ J Mettas (1984) La Guineé portugaise au XXe siècle, Paris, Académie des Sciences d'Outre-Mer p 19
  29. ^ G. J. Bender (1978), Angola Under the Portuguese: The Myth and the Reality, Berkeley, University of California Press p.xx. ISBN 0-520-03221-7
  30. ^ L Bigman, (1993). History and Hunger in West Africa: Food Production and Entitlement in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, Westport (Conn), Greenwood Press pp 30-2. p 20.
  31. ^ R J Hammond, (1962). Portugal's African Problem: Some Economic Facets, New York 1962, Carnegie Endowment for Peace Occasional Paper No 2 pp 29-33
  32. ^ R H Chilcote, (1977). Guinea-Bissau's Struggle: Past and Present, Africa Today, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 33-4.
  33. ^ R H Chilcote, (1977). Guinea-Bissau's Struggle: Past and Present, Africa Today, Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 33-4.
  34. ^ G. Houser and L. W. Henderson, (1973) In Memory of Amilcar Cabral: Two Statements, Africa Today Vol. 20, No. 1, p. 3.
  35. ^ B Gascoigne, (From 2001, ongoing). “History of Portuguese Guinea”, HistoryWorld
  36. ^ A.L. Epstein, Urban Communities in Africa - Closed Systems and Open Minds, 1964
  37. ^ B.W. Hodder, Some Comments on the Origins of Traditional Markets in Africa South of the Sahara - Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 1965 - JSTOR
  38. ^ H. Miner, The City in Modern Africa - 1967
  39. ^ W Hawthorne, (2003). Planting Rice and Harvesting Slaves: Transformations along the Guinea-Bissau coast, 1400-1900, Portsmouth (NH), pp 184-7.
  40. ^ G E Brooks, (1975). Peanuts and Colonialism: Consequences of commercialisation in West Africa, Journal of African History Vol. 16 No 1 pp 37-42, G E Brooks, (1975). Peanuts and Colonialism: Consequences of Commercialisation in West Africa, Journal of African History Vol. 16 No 1 pp 37-42
  41. ^ W G Clarence-Smith, (1975). The Third Portuguese Empire, pp 151-5
  42. ^ G E Brooks, (1975). Peanuts and Colonialism, pp 37-42,
  43. ^ R E Galli & J Jones (1987). Guinea-Bissau, pp. 29, 41
  44. ^ W G Clarence-Smith, (1975). The Third Portuguese Empire, p. 88
  45. ^ W G Clarence-Smith, (1985). The Impact of the Spanish Civil War and Second World War on Portuguese and Spanish Africa, The Journal of African History Vol. 26 No. 4 pp 313, 318, 322
  46. ^ J Mettas (1984) La Guineé portugaise au XXe siècle, pp 75-6.
  47. ^ W G Clarence-Smith, (1975). The Third Portuguese Empire, p 153.
  48. ^ R E Galli & J Jones (1987). Guinea-Bissau, p. 51
  49. ^ L Bigman, (1993). History and Hunger in West Africa, pp. 30-2.
  50. ^ R E Galli & J Jones (1987). Guinea-Bissau, pp. 33-4, 42.
  51. ^ P. K. Mende, (1994). Colonialismo Portuguêse em África: a Tradição de Resistência (1879-1959) Bissau 1994, Instituto Nacional de Estudos e Pesquisa, pp. 320-1
  52. ^ L Bigman, (1993). History and Hunger in West Africa, pp. 63, 110-11
  53. ^ A Cabral (1956) quoted in J McCulloch (1981) Amílcar Cabral: A Theory of Imperialism, The Journal of Modern African Studies Vol. 19 No. 3 p 506
  54. ^ A Cabral and M H Cabral (1954) quoted in J McCulloch (1981) pp. 507-8.