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Daily Life and Traditions

Page history last edited by sbsergio1@... 10 years, 4 months ago



Every day the Bijagos people work from sunrise to sunset.


The women go to the field to collect rice, work the land, sow the seeds, build houses and collect shellfish. 


The men do the fishing, collect palm wine from the trees and build boats.


The children also do work.  They help in the fields, collect mussels and crabs from the beaches, and also crush the palm kernals to create palm oil.


Palm Oil: main source of income

Palm kernals are smashed so that fibers separate from hard kernals, then the fiber mass is boiled and the oil is hand wrung


The oil is used in cooking, medicine and sold to the mainland







The Bijagos have one of the few functioning matriarchies - women traditionally choose their partners.  Anthropologists say that the men recognize in women a life force (Arebuko) that is superior to their own. 


In the village of Orango, women choose their husbands, making each spouse-to-be a single plate of food (often a traditional fish-eye platter). Agreement is marked by the eating of the fish.


Part of what has kept the region so pristine is that the Bijag√≥s animistic faith prohibits economic and subsistence activities in the many sacred areas, which include mangroves, beaches and small islands. Thus, large areas have never been inhabited and their resources never touched. Some sacred sites are monitored by family clans, who have close ties with the deities that govern those areas. These clans establish guidelines for ritual and other behavior within the sites, rules that are followed by other islanders. 

Other sites are also reserved for initiation rituals, with access restricted to those who have completed certain ceremonial duties. Still others are meant only for men or women. Many sites carry prohibitions, including bans on constructing permanent settlements, shedding blood and allowing access to uninitiated individuals.


There are many ceremonies for both men and women to test their level of maturity.  These are the markers for the stages in their lives and these ceremonies are conducted at intervals by the elders.  The elders enjoy power and respect of the people and carry out the will of the gods. 


One traditional ceremony is a ritual of manhood.  The men who are chosen must leave their families and go into the forest for six weeks, where they perform tasks and bring gifts to the elders.  Women are not allowed at these ceremonies.  After the six weeks, the men return and live life normally until the final separation.  Then the men must leave their wives for good.  For six more years the men go to the forest and form bonds and friendships with each other.  There they gain maturity by working and bringing gifts to the elders.  After the six years, they are allowed to see their previous wives and be informed of everything that has happened while they were gone.  For three days this takes place and then they slaughter a cow and the wife tells him of her new husband.  After this she helps him find a new wife and teaches her how to care for her former husband.  The husband and wife may not return to each other, or they will die.


It is believed that if anyone breaks the traditions, the gods will punish them with death.  This magic death comes in the form of sickness or an accident.

Comments (1)

Annette Diniz said

at 6:26 am on Feb 2, 2011

Arebuko! I like that. The pictures give a fair idea of what everyday life is like.

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