Guinea Bissau Carnival: Celebration in Diversity and Nature

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Carnival organisers in Guinea Bissau celebrate conservation of tradition and biodiversity through fashion and dance.

Guinea Bissau – With instruments made of bamboo, plant-based face paints, and skirts woven from local fauna, groups at Guinea Bissau’s Carnival dance competition displayed the biodiversity of their country.

Watching the contest, spectators dressed up in a colourful modern street style lined the streets of the capital Bissau. This fashion fusion of past and present reflects how modernity and tradition co-exist – yet sometimes clash – in Guinea Bissau.

Teams of performers competed in ceremonial dances from the country’s many ethnic groups in a carnival  themed Rescue and Promote Our Culture. The dances represented traditional events such as the harvest and coming-of-age ceremonies.

The emphasis on biodiversity was a common thread throughout. “I think when you protect your culture, you are protecting the environment, at least from our perspective as a Guinean. There’s a strong connection between the environment and the culture of this country, and you can’t disassociate the two,” said Rita Le, a spokeswoman for the carnival committee.

Organisers chose the theme because they said they see their traditions disappearing. “We saw that the culture of our people is getting a little lost,” added Le, “We [wanted to] choose a theme that would make people think about what is really important as a nation that is divided into many ethnic groups.”

Despite the eclectic mix of styles, the revellers had another thing in common – they were all intent on having a good time.

Members of the Iris Carnival group in Bissau wait while their team mates prepare to practise their dance for the big party.

Elmo, a member of the Iris Carnaval group, poses dressed in his modern clothing while holding the traditioanl outfit he will wear for Carnaval. The clothing he will wear is a ceremonial outfit used for dances that celebrate the harvest and announce the beginning of a fanado, the initiation rites into manhood.

A girl shows off her golden mask and witch’s hat as the carnival kicks off. Those taking part compete to see who can outperform and outdress the rest in traditional dances from Guinea Bissau’s various ethnic groups.

A man dressed as Kankouran, the traditional Mandinka creature that chases away evil spirits after circumcision ceremonies in Mandinka tradition, is pictured with his family in Bissau.

The carnival blends traditional clothes and dances with modern party elements – dyed-blonde hair, bright pink wigs and plastic party hats. A spectator in wire glasses waits for the party to start.

Carnival spectators in Bissau are dressed in funky T-shirts and fun sunglasses.

A woman selling sweets on the a green cowboy hat sells candy on the sidelines of Bissau’s carnival, wears a rather stunning green cowboy hat.

Spectators line up to watch the first day of carnival competition which features traditional dances and songs from different parts of Guinea Bissau.

A woman from Bissau holds up a sign announcing her troupe’s performance of a ‘Mancanhe dance’, as they parade down the streets of the capital.

A group in vividly coloured costumes performs a dance from the Bijagos ethnic group in Bissau, as they compete in carnival.

A group performs a traditional dance from the Bijagos ethnic group in Bissau.

Two girls from the Bijaos ethnic group show off their carnival outfits and shell necklaces.

Fenda, from the island of Bubaque in the Bijagos island chain off of Guinea Bissau, with the traditional skirt she and her troupe will be wearing during a performance of the Cundere ceremony. The ceremony is to celebrate virgin women.

Sene, Aliu, Mamdou and Jonas, from the Bijagos island chain off of Guinea Bissau, pose with their traditional costumes for the Fanado ceremonies on their islands. The ceremony is to celebrate a man’s coming of age.

A traditional Fula entertainer breathes fire at Guinea Bissau’s carnival celebrations.0aac9cc9-28bb-43b8-a376-cfc7f1e12d4a 3d014b7a-7d64-409e-a35a-9e6e78bef6ce 11e186aa-1f0f-4c4e-b8e3-1027f7f75d23 fc513e0d-73c1-46f8-8efb-fe79c4b1f429

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