Sunday, December 21, 2014


Guinea has recently made the news in a big way. It was one of three countries (along with Sierra Leone and Liberia) that were hit hard with the Ebola epidemic this year.  Although the situation seems to be fluctuating, the CDC in the US still lists these three countries under a Code Red Travel Advisory (as of last month). This outbreak actually started in Guinea and spread to the neighboring countries. So far, it’s estimated over 1500 people have died in Guinea alone from this horrible disease.

The name Guinea came from the Portuguese who were patrolling and exploring (and claiming) lands around West Africa during the 1500s. The Portuguese called this area Guiné, referring to the lands inhabited by the Guineus south of the Senegal River, as opposed to the people living in the lands north of the Senegal River who were called Moors or Azenegues.

The country of Guinea is in West Africa, surrounded by the countries of Guinea-Bissau to the northwest, Senegal to the north, Mali to the northeast, Côte d’Ivoire to the southeast, Liberia and Sierra Leone to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The country is made up of four distinct regions: the Basse-Coté lowlands, the mountainous Fatou-Djallon (this area tends to be cooler, and these mountains are the source of the Niger River, the Gambia River, and the Senegal River), the Sahelian Haute-Guinea (the largest region of the country), and the jungle-laden Forested Region of the southeast. 

This area was controlled by many different empires in its early history: the Ghana Empire, followed by the Sosso Kingdom, and then the Mandinka Mali Empire, followed by the most successful one, the Songhai Empire who eventually fell to the Moroccans, but it ended up splitting into many smaller kingdoms. Then the Europeans arrived, and this area was eventually divided up between different countries to handle: the French (Guinea), the British (Sierra Leone) and the Portuguese (Guinea-Bissau) and Liberia (which was founded by freed slaves from the United States). Guinea remained under French rule from around 1898 to 1958 (known as French Guinea during that time) when they declared their independence and set Sékou Touré as Guinea’s first president.  Guinea was the first African country to break from French rule. They eventually broke ties with France and aligned themselves with Russia and China.  The political situation in Guinea was periods of one coup after another with delayed elections and general civil unrest. Even as recent as 2010, Guinea was experiencing coups, and large protests in the streets took place just last year.

The capital of Guinea is Conakry, a city on the island of Tombo, but the population has grown so much, the city has spilled over onto the Kaloum Peninsula on the mainland. It’s the largest city in the country, and it’s estimated that nearly two million people live here – roughly a quarter of the population.  Conakry suffers from problems with its infrastructure: power shortages and cuts in water have angered many of the residents, resulting in protests and public outrage. However, the city is home to several hospitals, universities, parks, museums, and open-air markets that are popular to visit.

Guinea’s economy is mostly dependent on its bauxite mining. When bauxite is refined, it becomes alumina, which is then smelted into aluminum.  They also have a large reserve of high-grade iron ore as well as an unestimated source of uranium.  Guinea has contracts with Russian, Ukrainian, Australian mining companies (Rio Tinto, an Australian mining company, also has a contract with a Chinese mining company. Rio Tinto just made the news a couple weeks ago in the US because Congress just signed a deal giving sacred Native American land over to Rio Tinto to mine as it pleases. It’s a horrible move; I’ll be interested to watch this story develop, but it’ll most likely not be reported on ever again.) Guinea also has sizable diamond (most are 90% gem quality) and gold mining ventures as well. There has been some oil drilling exploration in Guinea in recent years, but infrastructure problems in the country tends to plague both domestic life and business in Guinea.

The vast majority of Guineans are Muslim (about 85%). Of those, the majority are Sunni, with influences of Sufism and Ahmadiyya. A small number of Christians are also found in the country, mostly Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There are also a small number of Baha’i, Hindus, and Buddhists in Guinea as well. Like other West African countries, there are many people who practice indigenous beliefs as well as either Islam or Christianity.

The official language in Guinea is French, which is used in the government and in education.  However, because Guinea is a multi-ethnic country, there are many local languages spoken in the home. Fula (also called Pular), Malinké (also called Maninka), Susu, Kissi, Kpelle (called Guerzé in French), and Toma are some of the most common indigenous languages spoken in Guinea and have been given a national language status.

Guinea has many interesting things about it. But I can’t help but asking this one question: what about Guinea pigs? I found out they are neither pigs nor from Guinea. They’re actually rodents from the Andes in South America, and there are a few theories about where the Guinea part came from (one theory is that these animals arrived in Europe via Guinea, and Europeans assumed they came from Guinea). Guinea has a rich musical history but one of the lowest literacy rates in Africa. Guinea’s cuisine is similar to many others in the region, and a couple of the recipes I chose are some that I’ve made similar dishes already, but these are with a Guinean flair. They were good the first time, and I’m sure these will be good as well.

Up next: art and literature

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