THE BIJAGOS: A TRIBE WHERE WOMEN CHOOSE AND MARRY THEIR HUSBANDS
Contrary to popular opinions that men rule a household and the community, a particular tribe in Guinea Bissau, named the Bijagos, proves that things can be done differently and nature will still survive.
Even more so, while the rest of the world believes that a male child is a blessing because they carry the lineage to the next generation, it isn’t so for the Bijagos. The birth of a woman, rather, is a blessing. Bijago is precisely a women-controlled society.
And in this article, we shall introduce you to this particular tribe in Africa.
History And Belief System
To start with, the Bijagos are a tribe of over 50,000 inhabitants located in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Guinea-Bissau.
The people are said to live on 20 solid islands and smaller ones amounting to 88 Bijago Islands. Their existence also dates back to the 1530s where the people built a strong navy led by Queen Pampa Kanyimpa – a queen who defeated the Portuguese colonialists at the time. Their attitude towards war portrayed them “as a seafaring people, fierce and warlike, immersed in both the slave trade and piracy” as revealed by a CBD-Habitat Foundation research.
Later in the 1900s, the Portuguese succeeded in colonizing the Bijagos.
Queen Pampa Kanyimpa later had a peace agreement with the Portuguese, which ended colonization. Pre-colonization, the Bijagos still stuck to their traditions and culture.
The tribe believes in smaller gods. Their religion is usually led by a Priestess because of the belief that women are the only beings able to communicate with ancestors and spirits. Reincarnation, mysticism, and rituals are the sole foundation of the Bijago’s religion.
But what makes their culture different from every other tribe’s?
You’ll find out in the oncoming subheadings.
Marriage And Matrimony
Bijago women choose their husbands and terminate the matrimony. When a girl is interested in a man, she is expected to put up a hut of mud and straw.
This means that she will be able to provide for her family. She then sends a bowl of food to the preferred man’s house and leaves it there. When the man eats the meal, it means a “yes” to the marriage proposal.
The girl makes a provision for the marriage ceremony to take place and the newly wedded husband packs into his wife’s home.
This marriage is deemed legal and until the woman packs the husband’s belongings out of the house in need of a divorce, the marriage still holds.
And that is the beginning of a fruitful marriage where the woman is the sole head of the family.
Family Up-keep And Responsibility
The Bijago economy relies heavily on women hence is an autonomic economy. The women own farms that cultivate cashew, rice, vegetables, and any other foodstuffs that can sustain the economy.
They also fish for the family. The men, however, are allowed leisure and in certain terms, treated like children who hold no responsibility in the home. The men sometimes fish, collect palm fruits and burn the fields for rice cultivation. With none of these duties to perform, the men are free to play, hence their comparison to children.
Furthermore, the Bijago women manage the household. It is surprising that aside from farming to provide for the family, they still come back home to cultivate small vegetable gardens and process palm oil to make meals for their families. They are also in charge of frequently cutting straws for the roof of their houses. Their responsibilities, it seems, never finish.
The education of the children is also the main responsibility of the wife. A girl child is most importantly educated well enough to carry the lineage on.
Religiously, women are left to instill such values into their children. Because women may relate well with ancestral spirits, wives are deemed the best person to teach children the depth of their religion and belief system. Every child is expected to take these lessons seriously as nobody knows who might end up being the next priestess.
Bijago is a beautiful sight to behold. The aquatic zones, mangroves swamps, palm forests, and sandbanks are like nowhere else in the world. The beauty of nature’s preservation is what makes Bijago a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1996.
In the nutshell, the Bijagos practice a matriarchal system contrary to what the rest of Africa and the world practices.
Even as this may sound weird to you, this has been their way of life since the tribe’s existence and it doesn’t seem like it will change any time soon.
Thankfully, research shows that their isolation from the rest of the world makes it hard for infections circulating the world to reach Bijago. This tribe is quite safe compared to the rest of the world.
If you are wondering, tourists don’t frequent Bijago that much because, despite the wonderful cultural elements exhibited by these people, there is hardly any infrastructural development to promote tourism in the area.
If you’re looking to visit this place, then you may have to come along with your personal tent or any other form of accommodation – which may be more fun than you’d ever imagine.
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