Guinea-Bissau has been beset by political unrest and widespread poverty for much of its recent history. Since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974 this small West African country has undergone a series of coups and been ruled by a progression of military dictatorships. This political instability, and the geographic characteristics of Guinea-Bissau’s archipelago of islands, has made it an important landing point for the drug trade from Latin America to Europe.
Guinea-Bissau was ruled by the Portuguese, under whom it was known as Portuguese Guinea, since the 16th century. It was a part of the Slave Coast for much of this time and was used as a disembarkation point for captive slaves on their journey to America. Portugal maintained control well into the 20th century, until an armed rebellion led by Amílcar Cabral and funded by the Soviet Union, Cuba and other left wing countries, gained independence in 1973. This independence was formally recognised a year later, following a coup in Portugal. The history and legacy of Portugal’s colonial incursions into Africa, including Guinea-Bissau, is discussed at length in Paul Southern’s Portugal: The Scramble for Africa and Malyn Newitt’s Portugal in Africa, whilst Basil Davidson’s West Africa Before the Colonial Era looks at the region prior to European invasion. The role of Amílcar Cabral, who is considered a national icon in Guinea-Bissau and a pioneer of African political thought, is discussed in Chris Marker’s film Sans Soleil and he is the subject of Patrick Chabal’s Amilcar Cabral.
The unrest which has plagued Guinea-Bissau has limited its cultural output and much of the literature and cinema surrounding the country focuses on its deeply entrenched social and political problems. Books which analyse the contemporary plight of Guinea-Bissau in some detail include Jonina Einarsdottir’s Tired of Weeping and Adekeye Adebajo’s Building Peace in West Africa. The Postcolonial Literature of Lusophone Africa, meanwhile, examines the Portuguese and ‘crioulo’ literatures of the five African Portuguese-speaking countries, including Guinea-Bissau.
The most prominent Bissau-Guinean cultural icon of contemporary times is the director Flora Gomes who has made a name for himself as a leading light of post-colonial cinema and has put Guinea-Bissau on the map with his films Udju Azul di Yonta and Mortu Nega. His films, along with other African directors, are discussed in Postcolonial African Cinema by Patrick Williams.