Guinea — History and Culture
Guinea’s history is marred by dark periods, from the slave trade to long stretches of colonialism, yet Guineans have managed to keep their diverse culture intact and look past their differences to live peacefully as a nation. It is largely a Muslim country, but a small percentage of the population adheres to Christian and animist beliefs. Local people remain true to their ethnic backgrounds, but West-African influences as well as French customs are also evident due to the country’s geography and years under the crown.
Guinea was part of a series of empires before being colonized by France in the 1890's. Despite several attempts by locals to overthrow the French government, Guinea was still incorporated into the French West Africa in the early 1900's and was called French Guinea. During the time, railroad and port facilities were established, and the territory became a major export channel. Further industrialization came in the 1950's, when Guinea discovered iron mining.
French Guinea declared independence in 1958, taking advantage of the fall of colonial empires after WWII. However, power struggles plagued Guinea’s post-independence politics, leading to mismanagement, repression, numerous coups, and general instability. A new constitution was signed in 1990, and the first presidential election was won by Conté, who died in office in 2008. Succeeding heads of state managed to retain peace and a semblance of stability, though Guineans are still working towards escaping the poverty line as a whole.
In recent years, Guinea became involved in territorial struggles and quarrels over mineral wealth against neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia. Conflicts in bordering countries also affects the country indirectly, aggravating the safety issues throughout the region. Still, Guinea is one remarkable place that needs to be made known for the right reasons—its natural and cultural riches. The best of Guinea’s history is on display at Conakry’s National Museum, while other landmarks and remnants of the past are scattered throughout the country, awaiting discovery.
Guinea’s culture is layered and interesting, inhabited by a wide range of ethnic groups, each with their own distinct traditions and many variations in language. Despite these differences, Guineans are predominantly Muslim, adhering to the teachings and religious observances of Islam.
Among the major ethnic groups in the country are Peuhl or Fula (in the Fouta Djalon region), the Maninka (in the forests and savannahs of Upper Guinea), Susus (in Conakry), and smaller groups like Toma, Kissis, Kpelle, and Gerzé (in the forests and coastal areas).
Music is one of the biggest aspects of Guinean culture, and locals celebrate a lot of festivals to commemorate this prevalent art form. Guineans play a wide range of string and percussion instruments, including the ngoni, balafon, kora (a hybrid of a lute and harp), and the guitar. Folk music is also accompanied by dunun, paired with the djembe (drums).