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The Republic of Guinea-Bissau is a West African country on the Atlantic coast. It is bounded by Senegal and the Republic of Guinea, and includes the mainland area as well as the Bijagos Archipelago.

Also known as the Bissagos Islands, the Bijagos Archipelago is a group of eight-eight islands and islets in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. Only nineteen of the islands are inhabited year-round; they are Bubaque, Bolama, Carache, Caravela, Enu, Formosa, Galinhas, João Vieira, Maio, Meneque, Orango, Orangozinho, Ponta, Roxa, Rubnhe, Soga, Unhacomo, Uno, and Uracane. Most people on the islands survive through subsistence farming and fishing, although there is some tourism.

Prior to colonial times, the islands were important to trade along the West African coast. With a powerful navy, island residents were able to prevent the Portuguese from taking control of the islands in 1535. Although the Portuguese later constructed a fort on Bissao, the islands were not annexed by Portugal until 1936.

Due to communications difficulties, the Bissago people have enjoyed a large degree of autonomy, and from outside influences.

Like many African nations, the people of Guinea-Bissau are ethnically diverse, speak several languages, and have distinct customs and social structures.

The largest portion of its population are the Fula and the Mandinka-speaking people, who are found in the north and northeast. The Balanta and Papel people inhabit the southern coastal areas, and the Manjaco and Mancanha are in the central and northern coastal regions. Although Portuguese is the official language and the language of government and education, Portuguese are a small percentage of the country's population, as most Europeans left the country when Guinea-Bissau achieved independence.

The majority religion is Islam, which is practiced by about 45% of the population. More than 30% hold to indigenous beliefs, and just over 20% are Christians, although combining indigenous beliefs with Christianity is common. Christians are concentrated in the south and the coastal regions, and most are Roman Catholic.

The rivers of Guinea and the Cape Verde islands were among the first African areas explored by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Portugal claimed what became Portuguese Guinea in 1446, but had little presence there before 1600, and a Portuguese administrator was not appointed until 1630.

With willing cooperation from some local tribes, the Portuguese entered the slave trade, exporting huge numbers of Africans to the Western Hemisphere. Cacheu, in the northwestern mainland, was developed as a major slave center, and a small fort still stands there. When the slave trade declined in the 19th century, Portuguese Guinea became a commercial center.

Portuguese control of the interior areas didn't begin until the late 1800s. With assistance from its Muslim population, Portugal subdued the animist tribes of the interior, and established the borders of Portuguese Guinea after about thirty years of fighting. The region became the colony of Portuguese Guinea in 1952.

In 1956, a bid for independence began, with the independence party using French Guinea as a base for an armed rebellion against the Portuguese in the early 1960s. Despite reinforced Portuguese troops, independence forces controlled most of the country by 1968, establishing civilian control. Independence was declared in 1973, and granted in 1974.

Since gaining independence, Guinea-Bissau has experienced several coups and attempted coups, executions, assassinations, and a civil war, as well as periodic elections. No president has served a full five-year term since 1974.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's least developed nations, its people depending largely on subsistence farming and fishing. Some fish and seafood are exported, although most of the commercial fishing in the country's waters are not done by Guinea-Bissuans, and the country has no processing facilities. License fees for fishing provides some revenue for the country.

The country grows some cashews for export, and a variety of tropical fruits could theoretically provide revenue if the industry were developed. Rice is a staple in the diet of the people of Guinea-Bissau, and the country could become self-sufficient in rice if that crop were better developed.

Military conflicts have caused severe damage to the country's infrastructure, disrupting its economy, and the government is striving to rebuild. The government of Guinea-Bissau is open to foreign investment, but infrastructure and political instability have proven to be disincentives to potential investors. Private investment is subject to complex administrative regulations, although few of them are enforced in practice.



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