Sitting on the far west coast of Africa, just south of Senegal, Guinea Bissau is a small yet vibrant African nation just beginning to take its place on the tourist map. Years of colonial rule followed by decades of political instability kept this once-Portuguese outpost a secret, known only by dedicated deep-sea fishermen and a handful of NGO workers. But it’s not going to remain a secret for much longer, as Explore begin running trips to Guinea Bissau in November 2016. We sent photographer Diana Jarvis to uncover Guinea Bissau – here are some of her best shots.
Bissau was founded by the Portuguese in the late seventeenth century and had various roles during the colonial era but didn’t officially become the capital of modern-day Guinea Bissau till 1942, taking the title from the island city of Bolama further south.
The country’s population is around about 1.7 million and although the official language is Portuguese, you’ll find relatively few people actually converse in it. An array of other languages and dialects are spoken including crioulo (a kind of Portuguese creole), tribal languages, as well as a smattering of French, particularly in the north, near the border with Senegal.
The fort was established in the sixteenth century, when the town was known as a centre in the slave trade. It was here that Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins fought against the Portuguese in 1567.
The fishermen in Cacheu, however, only have to cast their dinner-plate sized nets out into the harbour and, invariably, wait no more than a few minutes before hauling in an array of crustaceans and small fish.
The adobe mud houses are round and are designed with maximum shade in mind: at the centre of the building and in complete darkness is the grain store, off which you’ll find a couple of very compact bedrooms while everything else – cooking, eating and animal rearing – takes place under the wide thatched awning.
These rites of passages take place when it ‘feels right’ rather than at a set age. They generally happen once in a generation, so the ‘boys’ vary in age from 20–34 years old.
The process of initiation they go through isn’t exactly clear – it’s a secret, even to the village’s womenfolk – but once they return home, they take part in a ceremony known as the Vaca Bruto, which loosely translates as the ‘strong cow’.
The villagers of Agande on the island of Uno (shown here) are known to be more powerful in this dance than others. The spirits come to them while dancing and it’s the spirits, according to local lore, who give a man his power.
The turtle digs out a nest in the sand and lays her eggs – perhaps as many as 200 – covering them back up with the sand before returning to the sea. Between 50-70 days later, the hatchlings emerge from the nest and, when night descends and the moon is visible, they instinctively head out to sea.
Explore’s ten day Guinea Bissau and the Sacred Bijagos Archipelago tour travels by bus, boat and canoe across lagoons, rivers, forest, mangroves and the ocean to the tribal villages and islands of this captivating country. The trip departs in November and December 2016 and costs from £2959 per person. See more of Diana's photography on www.dianajarvisphotography.co.uk.