In West Africa, off the coast of Guinea Bissau, on the Island of Orango Grande, lies the Bijago Archipelago society which have resisted Portuguese invasion for 5 centuries. Bijago is a matriarchal society where a woman is king, that is she holds the final authority on her household. Unlike most modern households, when she speaks men listen.
In a matriarchal society, women rule and men have a simple task of dressing up in a way that will attract the attention of a woman. In this community, women organize themselves into associations which manage the economy, social welfare and the law. Females have economic autonomy, since they work even more than men. They are also the main axis of ceremonies, rituals & religious celebrations that take place in the public space.
King-Queens, I mean women, are the ones who impose sanctions, direct, advise & distribute goods, and they are respected as the absolute owners of both the house and the land. It is they who hold the supreme power of divorce such that, when the matriarchal order was so strong, women selected their men and could force divorce on their husbands.
Apart from enjoying the role of ‘dolling’ up to catch a woman’s eye, the lucky men of Bijago also perform other tasks such as the tilling of the fields, hunting monkeys and fishing. But women in their power accommodates a value system that appreciates the man for his sensitivity and elegance, and values him through the tasks he performs.
After the matrimony, the whole family lives in the husband’s house but they will all belong to the clan of the mother as it is important for land allocation and typical Bijago’s responsibilities due to the matrilineal kinship. Living in the husband’s house after a matrimony leaves the village & its social structure in the real possession of the father relatives. This reinforces the role of the man in economic life, giving stability to task distribution in the farm work and maintains unity of extended family despite the divorce and polygamy.
Women determine the chiefs’ line of inheritance. The village chief holds the political power and is a leader of every community, he makes the decisions and in assistance of a council of elders, he controls the distribution of the land. The chief’s power is justified by his connection with the ancestors through matrilineal descent. Due to high costs of the state’s administration, today traditional power forms occurs only on the Canhabaque Island in Bijago Island.
The community’s source of food is self-grown rice, palm oil, palm wine and shellfish collected by women on mudflats.