National Dance Festival: A Celebration of Movement
By:
Mabel Fatokun

Guinea Bissau: A Summer Festival You Don’t Wanna Miss

Guinea-Bissau

  • 2,186,868
  • 36,125 km²
Guinea-Bissau

Situated on the coast of West Africa, Guinea Bissau is a hidden treasure that is sometimes eclipsed by its more well-known neighbours. However, underneath its easygoing charm—especially in the summer—is a bubbling pot of energy. Guinea-Bissau comes alive with a plethora of celebrations as the temperature rises and the days grow longer, each offering a distinct glimpse into the heart of this fascinating country.

If you’re seeking an unforgettable holiday experience brimming with energetic rhythms, and a contagious zest for life, look no further than Guinea-Bissau’s festival scene:

1. Carnaval: A Riotous Celebration of Life

Guinea-Bissau’s Carnaval isn’t just a celebration; it’s a national obsession. Held just before Lent, the festivities reach a fever pitch in Bissau’s capital. The streets transform into a pulsating kaleidoscope of colour. Elaborately costumed dancers weave through the crowds, their movements a layer of traditional and modern influences. Ear-splitting music fills the air, combining pulsating drum beats, soulful vocals, and electrifying modern beats. Food stalls overflowing with culinary delights tempt every corner, and the air crackles with an infectious energy that’s impossible to resist. Be prepared to be swept away by the sheer exuberance of Guinea-Bissau’s Carnaval – a celebration of life unlike any other.

2. Canchungu Festival: Honoring Ancestral Roots (May)

Travel to the Quinara area in May and see a world rich in customs. The lively Canchungu Festival honours the rich historical record of the Cassanga people. Villages are brought to life by the melancholic tones of the one-stringed “gumbe” and the steady pounding of the huge drum “djambadon.” Intricate masks and body paint are used by costumed dancers as they honour their ancestors with captivating performances. Witness the ‘luta cachena,’ a satirical yet symbolic demonstration of power and solidarity between men and women in a fake fight. An important reminder of the value of ancestors’ customs and the Cassanga people’s enduring spirit is provided by the Canchungu Festival.

3. Bubaque Bijagos Arts Festival: A Fusion of Art and Nature (June)

Escape to the idyllic Bijagos archipelago in June and immerse yourself in the Bubaque Bijagos Arts Festival. This unique event showcases the artistic talents of the Bijagos people, their creativity deeply intertwined with the natural world. Carvings from precious rosewood, intricate woven baskets, and vibrant paintings depicting island life come alive under the dappled sunlight. Witness the creation of these remarkable artworks firsthand, and gain a deeper appreciation for the artistic heritage of the Bijagos people. The festival also features traditional music and dance performances, creating a true experience amidst the breathtaking beauty of the Bijagos Islands.

4. National Dance Festival:

"National Dance Festival: A Celebration of Movement"

The National Dance Festival takes place in July, bringing the country together to celebrate movement. The festival, which is held in a new location every year, highlights the astounding variety of dance traditions practiced in Guinea-Bissau. Watch the elegant ‘kumpo,’ a Fula-style dance of celebration. The dynamic ‘bruku’ dance of the Mankanya people is accompanied by the throbbing rhythms of ‘djumbai’ drums, which will make the earth quiver beneath your feet. Every show is an enthralling exhibition of artistic expression and pride that provides a window into the diverse ethnic groups that make up Guinea-Bissau.

5. Cacheu Carnival: A Local Gem (July)

While Bissau’s Carnaval receives most of the attention, Cacheu, a historical town on the Geba River, boasts its own vibrant celebration in July. The festivities here are less frenetic, with a focus on traditional music and dance. Witness the mesmerizing ‘djambadon’ drumming performances and be captivated by the intricate footwork of the ‘cãncan’ dance, a playful display of courtship and flirtation. The Cacheu Carnival offers a more intimate and authentic experience, perfect for those seeking a glimpse into the heart of Guinea-Bissau’s cultural traditions.

6. Comunhão Luso-Guineense:

"Women clad in palm fronds dancing in the Comunhão Luso-Guineense Festival"

Guinea-Bissau’s colonial past is acknowledged and celebrated in the Comunhão Luso-Guineense festival . The capital, Bissau, transforms into a platform of cultural exchange. Traditional Portuguese ‘fado’ music mingles with the pulsating rhythms of Guinean ‘gumbe’ melodies. Savour the unique flavours of ‘cachupa,’ a hearty stew with Portuguese origins, alongside ‘caldo de mancarra,’ a stew prepared with peanuts, indigenous to Guinea-Bissau. Art exhibitions showcase a fusion of Portuguese and Guinean artistic styles, reflecting the lasting influence of their shared history. The Comunhão Luso-Guineense fosters a spirit of understanding and appreciation for the cultural tapestry that defines modern Guinea-Bissau.

7. Bafata Music Festival:

If you prefer modern music, don’t miss the exciting Bafata Music Festival in August when you visit Bafata. The brightest stars in Guinea-Bissau’s music industry are on display at this thrilling event. The basslines of well-known Afrobeat and “kuduro” music genres make the earth pound. Watch as seasoned musicians work with up-and-coming artists to create an enthralling fusion of contemporary sounds and classic rhythms. The Bafata Music Festival is evidence of Guinea-Bissau’s dynamic cultural environment, where heritage coexists peacefully with modern influences.

8. Anuak Festival: The Fertility Carnival

<anuak festival>

September witnesses the colourful Anuak Festival. The Bijago people commemorate the earth’s ability to sustain life and the value of fertility with this yearly festival. There’s a festive vibe in the air thanks to traditional music and dance performances. Take in the sight of the symbolic ‘fanho’ dance, in which women drum rice mortars in time to a demonstration of agricultural prowess and a prayer for great harvest. The Bijago people’s strong ties to the land and their respect for the natural environment are poignantly brought to light by the Anuak Festival.

9. Arts and Crafts Festival at Prabis

The Prabis Artisanal Centre, located near Quinhámel, comes alive in September with the Arts and Crafts Festival. This vibrant event showcases the remarkable skills of Guinea-Bissau’s artisans. Witness the intricate braiding techniques used to create stunning baskets and mats. Admire the delicate beadwork adorning traditional masks and clothing. Potters showcase their craft, shaping clay into functional and artistic pieces. The Prabis Arts and Crafts Festival is a treasure trove of Guinea-Bissau’s artistic heritage, offering a unique chance to witness traditional skills passed down through generations.

10. Bissau International Film Festival:

As summer draws to a close in October, Bissau explodes with a celebration of global cinema – the Bissau International Film Festival. This prestigious event showcases a diverse selection of films from around the world, with a particular focus on African and Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) cinema. Immerse yourself in thought-provoking documentaries, captivating dramas, and exhilarating comedies. Engage with filmmakers and fellow cinephiles in discussions and workshops. The Bissau International Film Festival is a cultural melting pot, fostering a deeper understanding of the world through the power of storytelling.

Guinea-Bissau: A Summer Odyssey Awaits

The summer months in Guinea-Bissau are filled with an array of colourful festivities, each providing a different view into the character of this fascinating country. Guinea-Bissau’s summer festivals offer a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience, with everything from the soulful melodies of the Canchungu Festival to the thrilling rhythms of the National Dance Festival. Thus, gather your belongings, welcome the spirit of exploration, and be ready to be mesmerised by Guinea-Bissau’s contagious energy and rich diversity.

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