When it comes to Africa in the media, the only stories one hears are almost always negative. African people are tired of hearing the same old stories of war, drugs, terrorists which the West enjoys to pander as if these were the only stories to come out of the continent. If truth be told it is mediocre on the West’s part who are not necessarily just too lazy to tell the truth, but more because, by portraying African people as bad and evil, they serve their political purpose of brainwashing young Black people into feeling inferior to them. (if you control a man’s thinking, you also control his actions).
The West portrayed Africa as savage, and backward, not that they actually believed that Africans were savage, because any intelligent person who had eyes to see and read books could tell that African civilizations (and I’m not just talking about Egypt) pre-date biblical times and are the oldest in the world. They said that Africans are savage so as to create in the mindset of the African, an inferiority which would enable they, the Westerners to thoroughly use us/abuse Africans, and they have succeeded to a great extent.
The only way they could do this was to tell lies, and to make people believe them. A lie told many times over becomes the truth if repeated often enough and if it goes unchallenged! Africans abandoning their traditional religions, traditional medicines and adopting other peoples, our neglect of our traditional African written languages, our traditions, culture and heritage are all examples of how we came to somehow believe them. These create a favourable environment for other peoples to use and abuse us, as we are seeing today. It is in fact Westerners who behaved like savages, slavery is savage, exploitation, creating human suffering is savage behaviour.
Within this context, this article is about Guinea Bissau, a country in West Africa, based on a documentary directed by Gorka Gamarra in 2013 who lived in the country for 4 years. It’s a positive story of how Creole has stood the test of time and united a people against the oppressive Portuguese. Also of how Creole has been used as a vehicle of expression, and bonding, in spite of the tough realities within the country.
Its official language is Portuguese, yet only 15% of the population speak the language, whilst 75% of the people speak Creole, the unofficial language widely spoken by the people. It is a language which the Portuguese tried to stamp out, when they realized it united the people, but failed, to a large extent. Creole isn’t recognised officially by the country, yet it is a language which unifies the people, from the hawker, to the taxi driver, the musician, teacher and the scholar.
It was and still is used as a form of resistance against the Portuguese, their Colonial rulers, oppression from their leaders and it has left a legacy. This is why UN statistics which speak of the illiteracy rate as a high percentage of the population have to be read with a pinch of salt as it only takes account of those who speak Portuguese whilst a high percentage speak and write in 4-5 local languages as well as Creole.
Teachers within the country have to teach in Creole for this very reason. There are quite a few people campaigning for Creole to be codified and made the official language. Scholars, musicians, local people all use the language. Musicians, such as Gumbe and traditionalists, use Creole to sing about identity, politics, culture, loss, hardship, love and so on. Through Creole, in their short history, they have made significant strides in building bridges and forged a shared identity, this, against the backdrop of an absence of investment or development for 500 years of occupation by the Portuguese.
A taxi driver complained about being unable to buy his son a pair of sandals for 500 francs, despite working long hours for whole days on end/months for 15 years and yet being unable to scrape a living for his family even though his wife also worked. The state does nothing for the poor, and he can’t afford to pay for private education. His 2 children have been expelled from school for lack of payment of school fees. This is the case for most people.
Some of the dominant groups live in the North of the country and the South. The Mandinka, the Fula, Balanta and Pepel are a few of the ethnic groups from the North and South, of the 50 within the country. Some of those who were interviewed for the documentary were musicians, scholars, and ordinary people, and just one woman.
When I asked why only one woman was interviewed, Gorka said it was because he made the documentary during the revolution and it was very dangerous for people to speak out at that time. The only female interviewed made significant points about how Creole had created a space for the people to be protected against the savage blows of imperialism, when Africa was carved up during the Berlin Conference of 1885, deliberately throwing together people who didn’t share any common languages, borders, cultures or traditions or identity.
There was bound to be trouble, and this is still the problem within African countries. She said that they are using Creole to rediscover themselves and to make their voices heard and that this was a very important time in their history that would define how far they go as a people. That if they can’t overcome in this battle, then their entire fight from the beginning would have been for nothing. This rings true for Africa as a whole.