Identification. The origin of the word "Guinea" is unclear. The name came into use among European shippers and map makers in the seventeenth century to refer to the coast of West Africa from Guinea to Benin. Some Guineans claim that the word arose from an early episode in the European-African encounter. In Susu, the language spoken by the coastal Susu ethnic group, the word guinè means "woman." When a group of Europeans arrived on the coast they met some women washing clothes in an estuary. The women indicated to the men that they were women. The Europeans misunderstood and thought the women were referring to a geographic area; the subsequently used the word "Guinea" to describe coastal West Africa.
The French claimed the coast of present-day Guinea in 1890 and named it French Guinea ( Guinée française ) in 1895. Neighboring colonies also bore the name "Guinea." The British colony of Sierra Leone to the south was sometimes identified as British Guinea, and to the north, Portugal's colony was named Portuguese Guinea.
After Guinea gained independence, the first president, Sekou Touré, named the country the People's Revolutionary Republic of Guinea. The second president, Lansana Conté, changed the official name to the Republic of Guinea. The capital city is Conakry, and the country often is referred to as Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from other nation-states with the same name.
Location and Geography. Guinea is located on the west coast of Africa, and is bordered by Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. Its area is 94,930 square miles (245,857 square kilometers). There are four geographic zones. The coastal maritime region is filled with mangrove swamps and alluvial plains that support palm trees. Lower Guinea receives heavy rains, and Conakry is one of the wettest cities in the world. The coastal belt is home to one of the country's dominant ethnic groups, the Susu, and to many smaller groups, such as the Baga, Landoma, Lele, and Mikiforé. Other important towns include the bauxite mining centers of Fria and Kamsar.
In the interior is the Futa Jallon. This mountainous region has cool temperatures, allowing for the cultivation of potatoes. The Niger, Senegal, and Gambia rivers originate in the Futa Jallon. Many other streams and waterfalls run through this area's rocky escarpments and narrow valleys. The Fulbe ethnic group, also referred to as Peul, is the major population group. Smaller ethnic groups include the Jallonke and the Jahanke. Labé is the largest city, and the town of Timbo was the region's capital in the precolonial era.
To the east of the Futa Jallon is Upper Guinea, a savanna region with plains and river valleys. The Milo and Niger rivers are important for fishing, irrigation, and transportation. Most of the population consists of members of the Maninka ethnic group. Siguiri and Kankan are the major cities, and there are many smaller agricultural settlements in the countryside. Kankan sometimes is referred to as the nation's second capital, although in recent years it has been dwarfed in size by cities in southern Guinea.
The southernmost region is Forest Region. Rainfall is heavy, and the area is dense with rain forests with mahogany, teak, and ebony trees. Agricultural exploitation and the demand for tropical hardwoods have increased the rate of deforestation. Many valuable resources are found, including gold, diamonds, and iron ore. Larger ethnic groups include the Guerzé, Toma, and Kissi. Since the early
Demography. The population is approximately 7.5 million, according to 2000 estimates. The Susu ethnic group accounts for 20 percent of the population; the Peul, 34 percent; and the Maninka, 33 percent. Smaller groups, mostly from the Forest Region, such as the Bassari, Coniagui, Guerze, Kissi, Kono, and Toma, make up the remaining 19 percent. There are about five hundred thousand refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia, although in the year 2000, some started to leave.
Almost half of the population is under the age of fifteen. This generation has known only the rule of the second president, Conté, who came to power in 1984 and is still in office. Fifteen percent of the country was born while the first president, Touré, ruled from 1958 to 1984; only 12 percent of the population witnessed colonial rule.
Many Senegalese merchants, artisans, and tailors live in the country, and they are joined by foreign nationals from other African countries. Some of these are refugees, others come seeking opportunities in Guinea. A substantial number of Europeans and Americans reside in Conakry, most of whom work for embassies and development organizations. Expatriates also live in the mining towns of Fria and Kamsar (bauxite) and Siguiri (gold). An economically influential Lebanese population conducts commerce in the cities. A tiny group of Korean immigrants operates photo development shops in Conakry.
Linguistic Affiliation. More than thirty languages are spoken, and eight are designated as official national languages: Bassari, Guerzé, Kissi, Koniagui, Maninka, Peul, Susu, and Toma. In the 1960s, President Touré wanted to promote African cultures and languages and abolished the use of French. Schoolchildren started to be taught in local languages. President Conté reversed this policy and resuscitated French as the official language in 1985.
Many people, especially men, speak more than one language. In Conakry, Susu is most commonly spoken on the streets and in the marketplaces, although in certain sectors Peul is more common. Elsewhere, Maninka is the preferred language of commerce. French is used in schools and in high governmental and business circles.
Symbolism. Official national symbols include the flag and the coat of arms. The flag has bands of red, yellow, and green and was first flown during Touré's regime. The coat of arms displays the slogan "Work, Justice, Solidarity." The nimba, a wooden headdress that represents fertility among the Bagas in the coastal region, has gained currency as a national symbol. It is found on the Guinean franc and is used as a logo by governmental agencies, businesses, and private organizations. Wood carvers, artisans, and artists reproduce nimbas in various forms and media. Important national sites include the grand mosque in Conakry and the tombs of Alfa Yaya and Samori Touré, two African leaders who confronted the French during the colonial period. The mosque of Dinguiraye in the Futa Jallon is an important monument. Al Hajj Umar Tall, a Muslim state builder in the mid-nineteenth century, constructed the mosque.
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. Guinea's complex history reflects the diversity of its geographic zones. In the early eighteenth century, Islamic Peul migrants arrived in the Futa Jallon, displacing the ancestors of the Susu, who pushed westward to the coast and encroached on the lands and settlements of coastal peoples, including the Baga and the Landoma. Over the next two centuries, the Susu gained control of the coast by building a series of small states based on clan and town affiliation. The Susu supported themselves by fishing and trading with Europeans. They traded locally produced goods such as beeswax and hides as well as slaves for European cloth, arms, and other manufactured goods. The region participated in but was not a major contributor to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
In the Futa Jallon, the Peuls constructed a centralized theocratic Muslim state. Two families, the Soriyas and the Alfayas, headed the government of the Futa Jallon. Male members of those families occupied the position of Almamy, or leader, for alternating terms of two years. The Futa Jallon was divided into nine diwals, or provinces, and people supported themselves through cattle herding, farming, and trade. Slaves lived in small hamlets and did most of the heavy labor.
The savanna of West Africa has been the site of great Maninka kingdoms since the eighth century. The exploits of Sundiata, the builder of the Mali Empire in the thirteenth century, are still recounted by griots, or bards, throughout Upper Guinea. Islam also has played an important role in Upper Guinea's history. In the seventeenth century, Muslim migrants came to the banks of the Milo River and formed the small city-state of Baté, with the town of Kankan as its capital. Baté emerged as an enclave of Islam and became a magnet for Muslim traders and scholars. Slaves supported agricultural and commercial activities. Animist Maninka populations tended to have fewer slaves, whom they incorporated into the household. Slaves owned by Maninka Muslims often resided in separate farming villages.
In the Forest Region, political and social affiliations functioned on a small scale because of the density and fragility of the rain forest. Because the ecosystem could not support large population centers, the forest's populations lived in dispersed villages of about one hundred to two hundred people. These villages, often situated on the top of a high hill, could be moved or replaced easily in response to environmental challenges or warfare. The forest stimulated isolated independence. Islam did not make significant inroads in this area.
In the nineteenth century, warfare intensified in several geographic regions. In the 1870s, a Maninka warrior, Samori Turé, created a vast empire through Upper Guinea and present-day Mali. Samori provisioned his armies and administration by trading cattle and slaves for European arms. The French, who were moving eastward to the interior from Senegal, clashed with Samori in the 1880s. They drove him out of Upper Guinea in 1891 and captured him in northern Côte d'Ivoire in 1898. Samori is remembered as a great colonial resistor. In the Futa Jallon, civil war in the 1890s arose over French annexation of Middle Guinea. The French built alliances with disaffected elites and incorporated the area to French Guinea by treaty in 1896. In 1900, the French fixed the borders of the colony.
The French set up a bureaucracy to administer the colony and collected taxes and requisitioned forced labor. The tried to capitalize on the area's natural resources, such as gold, but were largely unsuccessful. The French built schools, courts, and medical clinics. While they brutalized some sectors of the population, colonialism was ameliorated by the lack of French personnel. The French depended on local chiefs and institutions for the day-to-day administration of the colony; as a result, colonial policies were often implemented incompletely.
Sekou Touré led the nation to independence in the 1950s. A postal clerk and union activist, Touré was head of the Democratic Party of Guinea (PDG), which drew support from market women and low-level African bureaucrats. Declaring, "We prefer poverty in freedom to riches in chains," Touré conducted a campaign against the proposed French Union, which would have kept French colonies in a federation.
In September 1958, France's president, granted the nation's independence and ordered a swift withdrawal. All French personnel were deployed back to France, public works in progress were demolished, and the medicines, textbooks, and records used in colonial hospitals, schools, and offices were removed or destroyed. Taking office as the country's first president in 1958, Touré faced immense challenges. Only a handful of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and accountants were left, and the country had only two high schools and no university. Having created an enemy in a powerful Western nation at the height of the Cold War, Guinea was thrust into international isolation.
Touré turned to the Soviet Union and later to the People's Republic of China for help. Those countries provided financial support and expertise and opened their universities to Guinean students. Touré embarked on a socialist program, which he termed African communalism. Advocating unity, egalitarianism, parity between the sexes, and Guinean cultural production, Touré attempted to blend indigenous African institutions with a Marxist agenda. Touré used his presidency to strengthen ties to other African leaders and was hailed internationally as a spokesperson for pan-Africanism. The country's situation varied under those programs of economic centralization, improving with the export of bauxite starting in 1960 but suffering as schemes to collectivize markets and agricultural production foundered in the 1970s. In implementing his programs, Touré tolerated no dissent. He outlawed other political parties and punished his critics severely. Some dissidents lived in exile, and others were interred in detention camps. Economic and political repression prompted many people to flee to neighboring countries.
When he died in 1984, Touré was remembered internationally for his firm stance against colonial rule. But in Guinea, some members of the population celebrated his death. After a brief period of political disarray, Conté, a military general, seized power. After constitutional reform in 1990, Conté instituted civilian rule. Under the auspices of the Party for Unity and Progress, he advocated economic liberalization and privatization, which brought Western donors and aid agencies to the country.
National Identity. At the time of Touré's death, the standard of living was one of the worst in the world, but some people contend that they owe their identity as citizens of a common country to Touré. His legacy is tangible. Buildings, roads, and schools, as well as professionals who speak Chinese, Russian, and Romanian, testify to the assistance he extracted from Eastern bloc nations. Guineans born during Touré's regime who are able to read and write in their own language are proof of Touré's commitment to the use of African languages.
Ethnic Relations. Despite Touré's attempts to minimize ethnic divisions, poverty, a feeble economy, a weak infrastructure, and limited educational and medical resources have exacerbated ethnic tensions. President Conté's has been accused of favoring his own ethnic group, the Susu.
Ethnic and national tensions have coalesced around the issue of refugees. Conté initially welcomed the victims of the Sierra Leonean and Liberian wars in the early and middle 1990s. However, when the country's border towns were attacked in 2000, Conté made a radio address in which he accused the refugee population of harboring rebels and ordered the refugees to leave the country. In the days after that speech, Sierra Leoneans and Liberians were attacked and robbed, and many tried to leave the country.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
Colonial rule left an imprint on cities and towns, as did the assistance given by the Soviet bloc. The older sections of Conakry are built in a grid pattern interspersed with boulevards and round points. Newer buildings, such as Palace of the People, built by the Chinese, reflect the architecture of the Eastern bloc countries. Conakry radiates fifteen miles outward from the narrow downtown peninsula. Most residential structures there are low buildings with one to four rooms, although some families live in government-owned and privately-owned apartment buildings. Wealthier residents reside in modern, luxurious homes.
Older forms of African and French architecture are better preserved in the interior cities. French-built sections of Kankan, Dalaba, and Siguiri reveal the colonial concern with plotting buildings, houses, and market centers along straight lines. Quarters of towns that were not subject to French intervention reflect the priorities of Africans in arranging their physical space. In Kankan, many people live in small mud huts with thatched roofs, structures that are cool and easy to maintain. Members of the same household often sleep in separate dwellings, but their doors open onto a communal space where cooking and social interaction take place. These family compounds accommodate the large extended families and polygamous marriages that are common among the Maninka ethnic group. This arrangement is repeated in other cities and towns.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. An array of taboos and customs affect food consumption. It is impolite to eat while walking. A visitor who arrives in a compound while a meal is in progress will be invited to join in the meal. Food often is served in large communal bowls and eaten with spoons. In large families, the men will eat from one bowl and the women from another.
The main meal typically is served in the middle of the day and consists of a sauce placed over a staple carbohydrate such as rice or millet. The sauce and staples differ according to region, season, and the wealth of the household. Rice, sorghum, millet, and cassava are common foods. Sauces are made with groundnuts, okra, and tomatoes. They may contain fresh or smoked fish, meat, or poultry. Many people can afford to eat only once a day. Their meals are frequently low in protein, and many children and adults suffer from malnutrition.
Little pork is eaten except in the Forest Region, where there are fewer Muslims and bush pig is favored. Variations in region, ethnicity, and wealth also affect milk and bread consumption. In Middle Guinea, milk is made into a yogurt like sauce that is sweetened and served alone or over sorghum or millet. Wealthier families often eat bread as a morning meal, accompanied by instant coffee or tea with sweetened condensed milk or sugar and powdered milk.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Meals often are served at weddings, baptisms, and funerals. Among the wealthier people in large cities, meals on special occasions may include expensive imported goods such as canned peas and costly locally-produced staples such as potatoes. Ramadan is observed, and Tabaski is celebrated with the slaughtering of a sheep, goat, or chicken. Alcohol usually is not served at family celebrations, except for in the Forest Region, where palm wine is frequently consumed.
Basic Economy. Guinea is one of the world's poorest countries. Despite its natural resources and abundant rainfall, Guinea has low life expectancy, a low doctor-patient ratio, and a high rate of infant mortality. The country remains largely rural, and 80 percent of the population is involved in agricultural production. The farming and cattle-herding sectors of the Futa Jallon support 40 percent of the population, while 11 percent of the people are employed in industry and commerce, 5 percent in the service industry, and 4 percent in the civil service. These statistics mask the strategies that people use to support themselves. Many civil servants own livestock or a small store, and some agriculturalists migrate to urban centers to work as day laborers or trade in the dry season.
Land Tenure and Property. A rural–urban divide affects land access and ownership. In rural areas, land is abundant and ownership usually is dictated by local custom. These traditional laws are often highly complex, and in the Futa Jallon, efforts by nongovernmental agencies and the government to streamline property rights have had little success. In urban areas, especially Conakry, demand for land is greater than supply and residents rely on the civic code and legal titles to determine land ownership. Conflict over land rights caused a devastating confrontation in Conakry in 1997, when the government clashed with residents over the building of a road.
Commercial Activities. Most people are not employed in the formal sector, and those who do not engage in agriculture earn a living in an array of occupations. These occupations include auto and motorcycle repair, iron and leather working, marketing, and selling prepared meals.
Major Industries. Guinea has the second largest known deposits of bauxite and produces 25 percent of the bauxite used in the world. The mine in Kamsar was opened in 1960; in the 1990s, bauxite constituted 75 percent of the country's exports. There are also reserves of iron ore, gold, and diamonds. British interests have built a gold mine in Siguiri, but the depressed price of gold has damaged its prospects. Guinean interests have kept careful control over the country's diamond mines, but intermediaries sell to international diamond buyers. Beer, cigarettes, and soft drinks are manufactured in Conakry for local consumption. Tourism is minimal.
Trade. The major export is bauxite. Aluminum, coffee, diamonds, fish, and fruits and vegetables also are exported. Manufactured goods are imported from China, Europe, and the United States. Regional trade networks deal in locally produced agricultural goods, such as potatoes, rice, shea butter, and kola nuts. China supplies bedding, bicycles, buckets, kerosene lamps, motorcycles, and pots, but the abysmal transportation system hinders commerce. The rainy season, aging bridges and roads, and interregional conflicts slow and sometimes stop the movement of goods and people through the country. As a result, the price of goods imported by sea increases dramatically from Lower Guinea to Upper Guinea and the Forest Region. In rural areas, people depend largely on what they can produce or accumulate to support themselves.
Division of Labor. Labor traditionally is divided along lines of class, level of education, gender, and age. Literacy and formal schooling tend to separate manual laborers and petty traders from bureaucrats and professionals, although many successful businesspeople are neither literate nor highly educated. In agricultural settings, boys usually herd livestock, men plow, and women and girls weed and plant gardens for petty trade. The division of labor within a household often is complicated by marital hierarchies and the needs and contributions of elderly parents and grandparents.
Classes and Castes. While Western education and employment in the formal sector have limited the strength of traditional social orderings, the legacies of caste groupings and domestic slavery continue to shape social relations. In Middle and Upper Guinea, professional artisans such as blacksmiths, leatherworkers, and bards form a social caste. Precolonial social categories are also evident in areas where the descendents of slaves live in the farming villages that were inhabited by their bonded ancestors. In most of the country, marriage between noble women and men of lower status is frowned upon. These traditional rankings have weakened as education, employment, and monetary wealth have created new social hierarchies.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Under the regime of Touré, most people were poor and corruption and embezzlement were forbidden and punished. With the opening of the country under President Conté, the gap between rich people and poor people has increased. A small but significant segment of the population has benefitted from the investment programs that have been started since the mid-1980s. Automobiles and large houses, sometimes equipped with electric generators and swimming pools, symbolize the wealth of the elite sector. Expatriate professionals form a significant part of this sector. The affluence of the wealthy contrasts sharply with the lifestyle of the rest of the people, many of whom do not have access to electricity, running water, and sanitary services.
Outside of Conakry, symbols of success vary according to region and relative means. In small villages, a wealthy household may invest in a concrete house with a corrugated aluminum roof. In this setting, acquiring a bicycle or a motorcycle can demonstrate prosperity while fulfilling practical needs. Sometimes villages or neighborhoods pool their resources to build mosques or schools. In both urban and rural areas, men may use their wealth to take another wife.
Government. The constitution, the Loi Fundamental, was ratified in 1990. The government is based on the French Napoleonic civil law system and traditional law. The president is democratically elected to five-year terms, and the holder of this office appoints the prime minister and the other ministers. Representatives to the People's National Assembly, the unicameral parliament, are elected by popular vote.
Leadership and Political Officials. Postcolonial Guinea has had only two presidents: Touré (1958–1984) and Conté (1984–present). Under the leadership of Conté, the country went from a one-party state to a multiparty democracy with constitutional reform in 1990. A bill legalized political parties in 1992. Some have questioned whether these reforms have been put into effect, in light of the alleged fraud that marred the presidential elections of 1993 and the parliamentary elections of 1996. Government corruption has increased during Conté's regime, and well-paid contacts are needed to get results from the lethargic and inefficient bureaucracy.
Social Problems and Control. Theft is a problem, and fraud ranges from the banal to the brutal. The regional flood of arms has increased the incidence of armed robbery and other forms of violence. Government officials, particularly soldiers, customs officials, and low-level police officers, sometimes extort money and goods from people. Many Guineans believe that payoffs and embezzlement characterize the country's governance at higher levels. When people have disputes, some seek redress through governmental authorities; others try to settle their differences by resorting to the practices and rules common to their ethnic group or region.
Military Activity. The government is heavily militarized. Conté came to power through the army, and the armed forces continue to be an important source of his support. Soldiering offers a viable, if low-paying, form of employment for many young men, and regional hostilities have reinforced the nation's investment in training and arming its forces. Guinean troops have served in peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone and with the United Nations.
Social Welfare and Change Programs
Aid from Western donors has increased significantly during Conté's presidency. Projects initiated by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Union have privatized utilities, such as water and electricity, and improved the infrastructure. Local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have set up programs that target health, education, and women's and business issues.
The dispersal of donor money and governmental assistance programs varies by region. Historically, Lower and Middle Guinea have received more assistance, and the Forest Region and Upper Guinea have received less. This pattern shifted in the Forest Region in the 1990s as international relief organizations such as the United Nations High Commission of Refugees arrived to contend with the refugee crisis.
Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations
While aid organizations and international donor agencies play a large role in the economy, other types of associations thrive. Many ethnic groups practice initiation rights that ritualize the passage to adulthood. Churches and mosques mobilize their members for projects such as the construction of new buildings and schools. A driver's union negotiates the fares charged for long-distance transportation. Veterans clubs testify to the high number of men who served as soldiers in the French army in World War II. Women's trade associations lend money and advocate for demands involving access to and rental of market stalls in major marketing centers.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Divisions of Labor by Gender. Women are on average less educated and less financially secure than men. A woman often spends part of her life in a polygamous marriage and has only a 22 percent likelihood of being literate. She will live on average
President Touré recognized the importance of women to cultural, social, and economic production, and instituted programs to promote the education and prosperity of women. Some of Touré's strongest supporters were market women, who, however, successfully led a strike against his marketing reforms in 1972. Touré promoted equal access to education and the enrollment of females in primary, secondary, and professional schools climbed to nearly half in some regions. Touré was the first postindependence leader in Africa to appoint women to key ministerial positions. During the regime of President Conté, these strides have slowed. Women are much less prominent in government, and the rate of female education has declined significantly. Currently, only about 10 percent of students at the university level are women.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. There is a persistent bias in the social hierarchy toward males, and boys are more likely to be educated and as adults are more likely to have a range of economic and employment options. Household heads are almost always men and custom allows them to exercise absolute authority over their wives, sisters, and daughters. These patriarchal structures conceal the power that many women wield on a day-to-day level in family compounds and market stalls, in raising children, earning an income, and allocating household resources.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage. Marriage is considered a union of two families, not the choice of two individuals. Family approval and ritual gifts are considered very important in laying a firm marital foundation. The groom typically pays bridewealth to the family of the bride in some combination of cash, cloth, and livestock.
Marriage customs vary widely by region, ethnicity, and social status. In the Futa Jallon, a marriage may be arranged while the wife is still an infant. The couple does not take up residence together until the wife has reached puberty. It is not unusual for a wedding ceremony to take place in the absence of the groom, especially if he lives in a different region than his betrothed. After the ceremony, the bride is sent to her husband. In urban areas, some couples go to the mayor's office to sign official documents, but most couples do not seek civil recognition of their unions. Divorce is not uncommon, and local custom typically prevails over the civil courts.
Domestic Unit. The domestic unit is frequently large and composed of many generations. Polygamy is common and can both complicate and strengthen a household. Custom dictates that the first, or senior, wife mediates conflicts and oversees the division of labor within the household. In rural areas in particular, harmonious polygamous households help ensure sufficient allocations for child care, cooking, marketing, and working in the fields. These large households function less well in urban settings, where space is limited and more challenges exist in dividing scarce material and monetary resources. Tensions, favoritism, and jealousy in either setting can jeopardize a household's viability. Some women, as well as men, reject polygamy. Monogamous unions are most common among Christians and western-educated men and women.
Inheritance. Titles and property typically pass through the male members of a family, from father to son or from brother to brother. Specific patterns and customs of inheritance vary by ethnic group. According to Islamic law, which is sometimes followed, a man inherits the wife or wives of his deceased brother. This rule of inheritance is not always implemented, but this practice can produce results that range from the disastrous to the beneficial for a widow and her children.
Kin Groups. Different types of kin groupings affect social relations. Many people have the same last name and share a common ancestor in the lineage's founder. Family names often inspire jokes and camaraderie; they also can serve as the basis for assumptions about the status and class of their bearers.
Terms such as "cousin" and "sister" frequently are applied to people who are not blood relations. These terms convey respect and affection or indicate certain commonalties. Distance often expands kin relationships: Two acquaintances from the same village in Upper Guinea may refer to each other as "cousin" in the streets of Conakry, and a Guinean studying in France may introduce a neighbor from Conakry as a sister. To distinguish fictive kin from blood ties, people frequently explain their exact relationship to their "real" brothers or sisters. A man may describe his blood brother as having the "same mother, same father" or his half sister as having the "same father, different mother."
Infant Care. The mother is typically the primary caretaker of a child, although it is not unusual for a grandmother, aunt, or sister to take charge of the child of one of her relations. Children usually breast-feed until two years of age, a practice that helps them remain healthy while promoting birth spacing. According to custom, a man is not supposed to have intercourse with a woman who is breast-feeding.
At birth, children are given charms to wear around the wrist and waist to protect them from evil spirits. Infants spend most of their waking and sleeping hours with their primary caretaker, usually the mother. A mother typically ties her baby on to her back in a wrapper and carries the child as she goes about her daily tasks.
Child Rearing and Education. Many children, particularly girls, do not have the opportunity to attend school because families cannot afford school fees and uniforms, and because the family needs the child's labor in the fields or the family compound. Girls are more likely than boys to stay home. Children who cannot attend a governmental school may be sent to an Islamic school to learn the Koran. Regardless of whether they are enrolled in school, children tend to work very hard at a young age. Children carry water and firewood, help with food preparation, and go to the market to buy and sell.
Children are brought up by their elders, not just their parents, and are supposed to show respect to their elders at all times. This means that it is culturally acceptable for relatives, friends, and acquaintances to reprimand a child who misbehaves. It is rare for a child to openly confront or contradict an adult.
Higher Education. There are universities in Conakry and Kankan. Students are awarded university scholarships on a competitive basis, but lack of funding severely constrains the universities. Library and computer resources are scarce, and strikes by dissatisfied students and underpaid professors are common. These limitations on higher education mean that students often spend many years completing their university degrees.
Greetings are very important, and it is rude to ask a question or make a request without first inquiring about someone's health and the well-being of his or her family. These questions are formulaic and may be repeated several times. These questions and responses are accompanied by a firm handshake or, among the upper classes, by brief kisses on the cheeks. People still sometimes refer to each other as "comrade," a legacy of Touré's efforts to promote equality and eliminate social hierarchies. It is impolite to use the left hand in any social interaction, whether to shake hands, point, pay, or hand an item to someone.
Rules of etiquette also dictate intergenerational communication. It is not proper for young people to look straight into the eyes of a respected elder; they should instead cast their eyes downward. Under certain circumstances, elders must be approached through an intermediary. A son-in-law is always supposed to approach his mother-in-law with great respect and never treat her with familiarity. It is considered unlucky to compliment the beauty of an infant, and people may instead tell a mother that her child is ugly.
Religious Beliefs. The vast majority of the population (85 percent) identifies itself as Muslim, while 8 percent of the people are Christians and 7 percent practice traditional religions. Most of the Christians are Roman Catholics. Friday afternoon prayers are widely attended and Muslim holidays are observed. With very rare exceptions, Muslim women do not live in seclusion ( purdah ) or wear the full covering worn by women in other Islamic countries. Most Christians are either from the Forest Region or the Coastal Region, where Catholic missions were more successful. While few people adhere exclusively to animist beliefs, many traditional beliefs are widely practiced and combined with other forms of religious worship. It is not uncommon for a Muslim or a Catholic to wear an amulet or charm.
Medicine and Health Care
There are both traditional and Western practitioners of medicine. Medically-trained doctors and nurses staff government clinics and a few private clinics throughout the country. Every district has a medical dispensary, although many lack supplies and medicine. In recent years, "pay as you go" reforms have placed Western medical care out of the reach of many members of the population. Traditional health practitioners may use a combination of herbal treatments, magic, and counseling to treat patients. Many people are not reluctant to use both traditional and Western methods of care in healing themselves, and some are forced to for financial reasons.
Independence Day is celebrated on 2 October.
The Arts and Humanities
Support for the Arts. Poverty and scarce material resources compel the vast majority of artists and craftspeople to produce goods that serve a practical purpose.
Literature. Traditional literature, particularly among the Maninka, is preserved in a body of oral traditions that are remembered and passed down by bards. Radio broadcasts and recordings of epic tales and local histories told by leading griots have helped transport this literature into the twenty-first century. Authors and academics use the printed word to convey their message, such as Camara Laye, the author of Dark Child, a novel about a boy growing up in the colonial era.
Graphic Arts. Woodworkers build and carve furniture such as stools, cabinets, and chairs. Metal workers collect and melt old aluminum cans to make utensils and pots. Villagers weave mats and baskets and dry out and decorate gourds that they use for household tasks. Weavers and dyers sell their cloth to men and women, who take it to tailors to make it into clothing. Most of the graphic arts are thus born of necessity and are evident in daily life.
Performance Arts. A thriving music industry supports a wide range of music. Some artists specialize in traditional music, accompanied by stringed instruments. Others combine the musical forms of their ethnic group or region with influences from Europe or the Middle East. Cassette tapes are cheaper in Guinea than in the rest of West Africa and most of the world, making Guinea a mecca for buyers of recorded music. Festivals and celebrations, whether public or private, usually feature dancing and music. In the 1960s, Touré founded Les Ballet Africains to highlight Guinea's rich cultural tradition. This dance troupe continues to tour nationally and internationally.
The State of the Physical and Social Sciences
The physical and social sciences are not strong as a consequence of a weak and impoverished educational system. The government has developed a program at Conakry's university to train engineers and geologists to work in bauxite, diamond, and gold mines. But many of the Guinea's best students and scholars in all fields seek education and employment outside the country. Those who are able to often move to France, other European countries, the United States, or to the Middle East or Asia.
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