Portuguese Guinea


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Portuguese Guinea is Number 118 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The book contains chapters on physical and political geography, political history, social and political conditions, and economic conditions. Portuguese Guinea (present-day Guinea-Bissau) was a small colony located on the west coast of Africa, surrounded by the larger French colonies of Senegal to the north and French Guinea to the south. The Portuguese presence in the territory went back to the middle of the 15th century, when explorers sent from Portugal by Prince Henry the Navigator sailed southward along the coast of Africa. In the 17th century the colony became a major source of slaves for Brazil and the Spanish colonies of South America. The main ethnic groups are identified as the Fula (or Fulani), Balanta, and Mancanha. The study notes that the “soil is fertile, the country well-watered, and the agricultural possibilities of the colony are therefore good.” The crops produced included cocoa, cotton, ground nuts, cola nuts, maize, palm oil, rice, rubber, sugar cane, and tobacco. “Agriculture,” the study notes, “is an impossible occupation for Europeans, but, with the exception of a few tribes, the natives, especially the Biafadas, take to it naturally. They practice an extensive cultivation….” Portuguese Guinea declared its independence on September 24, 1973, which was universally recognized the following year after a military coup overthrew the Portuguese dictatorship.

Last updated: February 4, 2016