The Bijago People of Guinea Bissau are a group of people that make up just 2.5% of the Guinean population (about 30 thousand people) but they have a strong cultural and ethnic identity.
Located in the Atlantic Ocean off the African coast, the Bijagos archipelago is made up of 88 islands, of which only 23 are inhabited. And due to difficulties of communication with mainland Guinea-Bissau that persist to this day, the population has a considerable degree of autonomy and has shielded its ancestral culture from outside influence.
The Bijago’s Creation Story
According to an ancient legend, in the beginning, the Bijagó creator, (Nindo) created Orango, the first island, which was the world. He then formed a man and a woman named Akapakama.
They gave birth to four daughters named Orakuma, Ominka, Ogubane and Oraga. Each of them had several children of their own, and they were bestowed special rights.
The Orakuma family received the land and management of the ceremonies to be held therein; also the right to carve statuettes representing Ira, the fundamental spirits in the Bijagò cults.
The Ominka family received the sea, and thus set about fishing.
The Oraga family received nature, fields and palm trees, which would provide them with great wealth.
The Ogubane family received the power of rain and wind, thus enabling them to control the sequence of dry and rainy seasons. The four sisters all played distinct yet complementary roles.
Their creation story is also the origin of matriarchy in the Bijago society where women play a key role in the family economy with their work and they also fulfil the cultural task of transmitting the values and rituals of their ethnicity.