The historical roots of multicultural unity along the Upper Guinea Coast and in Guinea-Bissau

Walter Hawthorne, Jose Lingna Nafafe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Lusofonia or lusophony is often defined as an identity shared by people in areas that were once colonised by Portugal, which in Africa include Angola, Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. Lusofonia assumes that in these places people share something – a language, certainly, but also a history and culture rooted in the Iberian Peninsula. In some ways, it is a re-articulation of Gilberto Freyre’s lusotropicalismo, the idea that Portuguese were more adaptable than other Europeans to tropical climates and cultures and created more multicultural colonial communities. Those who espouse lusofonia often have a political agenda – the strengthening of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP). In this article, we argue that like lusotropicalismo, lusofonia is a dream; it is not rooted in a historical reality. It is luso-centric in that it ignores the power and persistence of local cultures and gives undo weight to Portuguese influence. With regard to Africa, lusofonia’s agenda is elite driven and assumes the inevitability of modernity and globalisation. And we demonstrate that it was through Upper Guinean institutions and languages, and not colonial ones, that community and fellowship were most commonly fostered in the past, as they are fostered today. Those seeking the roots of lusofonia cannot, then, look to this period of Portuguese-African engagement in Upper Guinea. There Portuguese embraced “black ways.” They operated in a peculiar multicultural space in which people possessed fluid and flexible identities. Portugal did not create that space. Lusofonia has not been the foundation for cultural unity. Rather, unity has been found in localised institutions and in Crioulo. In Guinea-Bissau, lusofonia is not an indigenous movement. If it is anything, it is the stuff of elites and foreigners and is not rooted in any historical reality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-45
Number of pages15
JournalSocial Dynamics
Issue number1
Early online date26 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Lusofonia
  • Upper Guinea Coast
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Portuguese
  • multicultural


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