Background: Bijagós society

The archipelago of the Bijagós belongs to Guinea Bissau on the west coast of Africa. It has distinctive continental origins, resulting from the flooding of the river delta Geba. It consists of 88 islands and islets but only 20 of them are populated. The others are managed and protected by the Bijagós. Some are dedicated to seasonal agricultural activities or simply considered sacred and used for ceremonies.

The Bijagós' social organization has three basic principles: kinship (clan and lineage), seniority (age status), and gender. The social and land organization is based on matrilineal principles giving women an unusual power reflected in their contribution to decision-making and them having their own religious rituals and responsibilities.

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Due to its geographical isolation, the Bijagós led a sustainable way of life, and retained their original rituals and traditions, where every activity is a communication with the sacred. But the most striking is the role of women who transgress into dead male warriors during several months of their initiation, giving them a unique spiritual power that will allow them to be respected and feared by men for the rest of their life.

The Bijagós retain a vision of the world where mankind, nature and spirits form a cohesive system where everything is holistic and interlinked. One should only extract the strictly necessary from nature. Waste is a crime, solidarity is unquestionable and old age respected and protected. In many ways it is the opposite vision of our homogenized world of globalization, where the cult of competition imposes the primacy of individual success above the collective and where consummation and accumulation of goods is equal to happiness.


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