Sunday, January 25, 2015

GUYANA: THE FOOD

So, I had a light week of working (as in I spent it waiting on more work to come), so I used this time writing my business proposal for my next project, continuing on through the final edit on my book, and finalizing the book proposal as well. Needless to say, I’ve been super busy.  And I also discovered that Nestle makes a coffee creamer flavored like Abuelita’s Mexican Chocolate.  So, life is good for the moment. Plus, the BBC and Netflix will remain friends, and that alone makes me giddy. In a very distinguished sort of way, of course.

It's so pretty. And I got to use my new cooling racks!
Today, I’m cooking food from Guyana, the last “G” country. And I’m starting today off with some Guyanese Plait Bread. (I’ve always pronounced the word plait as “platt,” but I think it’s also pronounced as “plate.”) In a large bowl, I mixed my warm water, sugar, and yeast together and let it sit for 10 minutes to proof.  Then I added in my flour, melted butter, and salt into the yeast mixture.  I mixed all of this together, adding a little flour to it as I kneaded it. When I got the dough so that it wasn’t too sticky anymore, I put it in the bowl, covered it, and let it rest for about 45 minutes. After it rested, I put it out on a floured surface to knead for a couple more minutes.  Dividing the dough into three pieces, I took each piece and made it into a rope about 14 inches long. Then I laid each piece side by side, pinching the ends together, and braided them. At the end I pressed all the pieces together again and tucked it under to secure the end of the braid. Then I let it sit for another 45 minutes. Just before I put it in the oven, I mixed together an egg yolk and some water together and brushed it on top.  This is what will give it a golden look when it’s baked. After it bakes for 27-30 minutes, it’s time to view my masterpiece.  It turned out really well. It was a nice yeast bread with a crispy crust and soft inside, just how I like my bread.  My braid swelled some during baking, but it was still pretty. 

Who cares about authenticity? This was pretty dern good the way it was. 
The main dish today is probably one of the most iconic dishes of Guyana: pepperpot. I have seen this dish mentioned before in some African and Caribbean recipe lists. Even when I was listening to the song “Guyana Don’t Fear” by Bing Serrão and the Ramblers, he mentions all the reasons why you should move to Guyana, and pepperpot is one.  This dish calls for a variety of meats (mostly beef and pork) slow cooked in a pot with spices and peppers. I will tell you up front that my pepperpot will only resemble a true pepperpot in name only, a shadow of what it is supposed to be. For one, I left out the following suggested pieces of meat: cow’s feet, oxtail, salted pig’s tail, and beef shin.  This was mostly because even if I COULD find these items, it would probably be expensive. (I suppose I could’ve tried to go to the international market, but I forgot.) So, I went with stew beef, a pork tenderloin cutlet that I cubed, and smoked pork hocks. I put all of these (except the smoked pork hocks) in a large bowl, seasoning it with salt, black pepper, garlic, onion, ginger, brown sugar, cloves, and dried bouquet garni (in lieu of thyme, oregano, and basil.) I let this marinate for about a half hour. Then I put a little oil in the bottom on a large pot, and I added in my marinated meat to cook until it was browned. Once this was done, I added in the hock and let it simmer for about five minutes. I added in the cassareep. (I don’t have access to actual cassareep, but I did find out how to make it myself: ½ c vinegar, 2 Tbsp molasses, 2 Tbsp of fresh lime juice.) Then it was time to pour enough water to cover all of the meats. After it comes to a boil, I brought it down to a simmer and let it cook for about four hours. It’s time to throw in the peppers at the three-hour mark. And… my family can’t handle as many peppers the recipe calls for (which were a few habaneros or Scotch bonnets), so I left them out. (If I take the peppers out of pepperpot, am I just essentially serving my family pot?) I did sprinkle some crushed red pepper and cayenne pepper on top at this point and let it simmer for another hour. The meat was so tender and the blend of spices made this delightful. It actually needed much more spiciness to balance out the sweet spices (cloves, brown sugar, ginger). But otherwise, it was quite good. 

Not much to look at here, but it was pretty good, if I might say so. 
To go with the pepperpot, I also served a dish called cabbage and yam pie. I cut up my cabbage, almost like for cole slaw, then sautéed it with butter and onions with a little salt and pepper and garlic. Then I peeled and boiled my yams (ok, technically I’m using sweet potatoes) until they were soft and mashed them with an egg yolk when they were done. I took the egg white and beat it until it was creamy and set it off to the side. In a buttered pie tin, I added a layer of yams, then a layer of cabbage, then a layer of grated Italian cheese. The top layer was yams again, except I brushed it with the beaten egg white.  I baked this until it was golden brown around the edges and garnished this with parsley flakes when it was done. I really liked this, but I think if I were to make this again, I might try boiling the cabbage instead. The cabbage was a bit too crunchy still, even though it was sautéed and baked it for about 10-15 minutes.  But I think boiling it would make it a bit softer and blend better with the cheese and sweet potatoes.  I also don’t think I made quite enough potatoes either.  But otherwise, I liked this, even though the kids were tortured with having to endure five bites. 

I have to admit, I was quite impressed with this meal. It'll make for some great leftovers. 
I have to say, I really enjoyed this meal.  It seemed like the perfect meal (once I fix the few things I mentioned) that I could serve if we were to have company over for dinner.  Not that that ever happens; we pretty much stay to ourselves, and we kind of like it that way.  But if we were ever in a different situation and had friends like that, I would serve this.  I think I have many dishes that I have made for this blog in the past would fall into that category.  You know, my imaginary dinner party menu.  I know it’s not exactly like it was intended to be made.  Maybe one day I’ll be fortunate enough to travel to Guyana to taste what real pepperpot is like.  But until then, I’ll just enjoy my Hoosier version. 


Up next: Haiti

Saturday, January 24, 2015

GUYANA: MUSIC AND DANCE

The music of Guyana is a reflection of its people and its environment.  Not surprisingly, the music here has a strong Caribbean flair but also heavily mixed with Latin and Brazilian as well as Indian music. 


Because of its location, Guyanese music is very much influenced by some of the styles from Trinidad and Tobago. Calypso music is a fairly popular genre in Guyana, and relies heavily on the lyrics, mostly satirical in nature.  Generally the lyrics to many of the calypso songs are sung in English and Hindi. Another style borrowed from Trinidad is called chutney-soca. This particular styles combines soca music with styles from India and utilizes certain Indian instruments such as the dholak and dhantal. Like Guyanese calypso, the lyrics are also sung in English and Hindi. Likewise, steel drum bands are also pretty popular in Guyana as well. 



Shanto is a type of Guyanese music that is also related to calypso and another style known as mento (a type of Jamaican folk music that was the predecessor of reggae and ska). Shanto music, often accompanied by a guitar, is most often performed in vaudeville shows, characterized by its light-hearted lyrics.



There are many dances of African origin that were brought over to Guyana.  The Kwe-Kwe event is a pre-marriage ceremony involving a lot of singing and dancing and borrowed from many of these traditions. It’s mostly seen in the Afro-Guyanese communities, and the songs are sung in Guyanese Creole. Both music and dance are intertwined in this famous ceremony.  From what I can tell from this video, women dance in a circle with subtle movements while singing. There is one person in the middle with a variety of (possibly sacred?) items on a mat.  

I actually found a lot of Guyanese music on Spotify: some old, some new. There were several albums/artists listed who performed calypso and other styles.  Most of the music is sung in English. Bing Serrão and the Ramblers have a very Latin Caribbean sound.  Most of the lyrics are either love songs or about Guyana. Aubrey Cummings is one of the most famous Guyanese musicians. He has been involved with many bands in the past as well as his own solo work.  



Yoruba Singers sing mostly in Creole from what I can tell. Also highly influenced in calypso and similar Caribbean styles, the music often features a lead singer with backup singers in response, a style often utilized in African music.



In listening to the music of today, a lot of what I found was highly upbeat dance music that seemed to be a cross between Bollywood and reggae or dancehall.  Two artists who fall into this category are Terry Gajraj and Ravi B. As a general fan of Bollywood style music and dancehall, I really liked it. Eddy Grant is a reggae musician who also has a few songs that I liked.  


Up next: the food

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

GUYANA: ART AND LITERATURE


Guyanese art has a strong influence from Amerindian traditions. Their diverse population is also integrated into the visual arts field here as well. After Guyana gained independence, many artists chose to study abroad, either in Britain, the United States, or other places. And after these artists graduated, it was pretty common for them to come back to Guyana. As they studied in Europe and North America, it opened their eyes to the world. They no longer had to paint in the styles of the colonial days.  Artists were now free to stretch the boundaries of what they could paint, and often looked to their national identity for inspiration. 
by Carl E Hazelwood

In looking at what many of the popular Guyanese artists were known for, many were attracted to and excelled in abstract expressionism. This style of art emerged during the late 1940s after WWII in New York and had significant followings in the US, Germany, and other areas in Europe. Jackson Pollock was probably one of the most well-known US artists of this genre. It’s characterized by all-over designs and often look like someone just splattered paint all over the canvas. So, many of these Guyanese artists took what was popular and combined it with symbols and objects that were notable in the art of the indigenous peoples to create something that was truly their own. With the use of geometric shapes and the contrast between bright colors and pastels, Guyanese art can be quite visually appealing.

by Aubrey Williams
Some of the most famous artists from Guyana include Stanley Greaves (painter and writer), Donald Locke (known for his drawings, paintings, and wood sculptures), Frank Bowling (known for his abstract paintings; was born on Leap Day), Hew Locke (sculptor; eldest son of Donald Locke), George Simon (Lokono Arawak artist and archaeologist), and Aubrey Williams (known for his large paintings that combine abstract expressionism with pre-Columbian themes).

The vast majority of literature from Guyana is written in English. It includes literature from authors who currently live in or lived most of their life in Guyana and authors who emigrated to other countries to live.

One of the first authors to write about Guyana was Sir Walter Raleigh. He was a British explorer, among other things.  While traveling to this area during the late 1500s, he wrote a book about his experiences. Typically referred to as the The Discovery of Guiana, the actual title is The Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Beautiful Empyre of Guiana (With a Relation of the Great and Golden Citie of Manoa (Which the Spanyards call El Dorado) and of the Provinces of Emeria, Aromaia, Amapaia, and Other Countries, with Their Riulers, Adjoyning. Say that three times fast. I believe it may have won the Longest Title Award of 1596. 




It wouldn’t be until the 1940s until author Edgar Mittelholzer would emerge, bringing to the forefront topics surrounding the relationship between the European Guyanese and the non-European Guyanese.

Notice the movie was directed by James Clavell, who wrote the novel Shogun, which I read years ago. 

The 1950s—1970s brought forth the first wave of famous authors and poets: E.R. Brathwaite (author, most famous for his autobiographical novel To Sir, With Love, which was later made into a movie starring Sidney Poitier), Wilson Harris (poet, novelist, essayist; characterized by his abstract and metaphorical writing), Jan Carew (novelist, playwright, poet, educator), Roy Heath (novelist), Martin Carter (considered Guyana’s greatest poet by many), Walter Rodney (intellectual and historian), and Michael Gilkes (dramatist, filmmaker, educator).

Dr David Dabydeen

(By the way, I think David Dabydeen looks an awful lot like A.R. Rahman, the Indian composer and producer. What do you think?)
  
A.R. Rahman

The 1980s and 1990s introduced a new generation of Guyanese writers: Beryl Gilroy (novelist, educator), John Agard (playwright, poet, children’s lit), Grace Nichols (poet), Jan Shinebourne (novelist), Dennis Adonis (novelist, biographer, journalist, textbook author, children’s lit), Cyril Dabydeen (editor, poet, novelist, short stories), Sasenarine Persaud (poet, short stories, novelist, essayist), and David Dabydeen (writer, critic, educator, Guyana’s ambassador to China). 

Pauline Melville, her father was from Guyana
Several authors have made their way to the top in recent years, such as Pauline Melville (novelist and actress), Oonya Kempadoo (novelist; her father, Peter Kempadoo, was also a writer and broadcaster), and Sharon Maas (novelist).


Up next: music and dance

Sunday, January 18, 2015

GUYANA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE

You can put a blank map of South America in front of me, and I can fill it out – with capital cities – except for the three countries that sit in a row: Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. I can never keep those three straight, but maybe doing this blog will help me figure it all out.



Of those three countries, Guyana is the largest of the three and the one to the left. It’s bordered by Suriname to the east, Brazil to the south and west, Venezuela to the northwest, and the Atlantic Ocean to the north.  Although it’s located in South America, it is actually a full member of CARICOM (the CARIbbean COMmunity). (Suriname is the only other South American member, although there are three other Central/South American observers.) Guyana’s capital, Georgetown, is the secretariat headquarters for CARICOM. If you pull up a Google map of Guyana, you can tell that 80% of the country is forested, allowing for it to have a high biodiversity and haven for many species that are borderline risk for extinction. There aren’t too many towns that pop up here, mostly lying on the coast. Guyana has one of the largest areas of unexplored rainforests in the world. It is also quite mountainous. Mount Roraima (Guyana’s tallest mountain) and its table-top mountains are often considered to be the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. (If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. I read it many years ago and absolutely loved it. I also recommend reading Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.)

Essequibo River


The word “Guyana” is stemmed from an Amerindian word that means “land of many waters.” The Essequibo River (the longest river in Guyana), the Demerara River (yes, the same as the brown sugar), the Cuyuni River, the Berbice River, and the Mazaruni River all wind their way from the coast hundreds of miles inland through rain forests.  The official name for the country is the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, which sounds like a really large farmer’s market. Their motto is, “One People. One Nation. One Destiny.” I was really sure this was a subtitle for some movie or book or something.

Jim Jones
Originally there were nine indigenous groups living in this area.  But then the Dutch came and named it Dutch Guiana. They controlled the area for a while until they divided it up and handed this area over to the British, later renaming it British Guiana (you know, in their grand originality. I wonder how they didn’t confuse this with British Guinea.). This area has long been the subject of land and border disputes (even today), and when Venezuela gained its independence, it certainly tried to take as much land as they thought they were entitled to, which happened to be partly in British Guiana. After several decades, it was ruled it “belonged” to Great Britain. During the time Guyana was under British control, the British brought in many people from India and Africa to help work in the plantations, changing the Guyanese makeup. In 1966 Guyana was finally granted its independence; however, it remained part of the Commonwealth. In 1978, local crackpot Jim Jones (literally for me: he’s from Indiana and got his start in Indianapolis and even worked for the mayor’s Human Rights Commission ironically enough) took his cult-like church to Guyana and set up a settlement named after himself, Jonesville. Congressman Leo Ryan went on a fact-finding mission regarding human rights violations and was killed with others as they were boarding the plane to leave, taking with them a number of people who wanted to escape. Shortly afterward that same day, Jones killed all 918 residents (276 of them children) via cyanide-laced grape Flavor Ade. Until the September 11 attacks, this was the single largest loss of American civilian lives. Jones killed himself with a bullet to the head. (I guess he was too good for grape Flavor Ade.)



Georgetown is the nation’s capital and largest city.  This port city lies on the Atlantic Ocean as well as the mouth of the Demerara River. It’s a city of many names, originally called Longchamps when the French occupied this particular area for a short while; then it became Stabroek after it was handed over to the Dutch; and later renamed Georgetown when the British gained control.  It is the center for government and also boasts theatres, museums, universities, markets, large parks, airports, and many historical buildings.

Demerara sugar
The largest economic drivers are sugar (as in Demerara sugar, a type of brown sugar with courser crystals), rice, gold mining, and shrimp fishing. The Omai Gold Mines are not only the largest gold mins in the country, but one of the largest open-pit mines in South America. Currently, Guyana is looking into oil drilling and has granted permission to explore off-shore drilling. The mining company Rio Tinto (which I don’t trust – they always seem to be mining for minerals and raw materials in places where the people who own the land [as in black and brown people] are most at risk for being exploited and receive nothing in return) has its hand in the Guyanese mining industries as well.



The majority of Guyanese are Christian, mostly Protestant or Roman Catholic. Because of the large number of people from East Indian background, there are also a large number of Hindus here, and a smaller number of Muslims. About 4% of the people don’t follow any religion at all.

Although English is the official language for use in the government and schools (the only English-speaking South American country), most people speak Guyanese Creole at home and to each other casually. This language is based on English with quite of bit of influences from African and East Indian languages. In fact, because of the large number of East Indians brought here, there are actually a small pockets of people who still speak Hindi and Urdu here as well. The indigenous languages of Akawaio, Wai-Wai, Macushi, Arawak, Patamona, Warrau, Carib, Wapishana, and Arekuna are still spoken by a small number of people and are recognized as regional languages along with Portuguese and Spanish. 



Cricket is hugely popular in Guyana, which makes sense considering Guyana is a former British colony. In fact, Guyana hosted the 2007 Cricket World Cup. I don’t know much about cricket except that it seems to have a million player positions, the rules are moderately complicated yet seems like a hybrid between soccer (which is also very popular in Guyana) and baseball, and it only seems to be played in countries that are former British colonies (EXCEPT the US. In the US, a cricket is an annoying bug that keeps you up at night). Guyana is also home to the second largest single-drop waterfall in the world, Kaieteur Falls. It has a drop of 741 feet, compared with Niagara Falls at 167 feet – that makes it almost 4 ½ times longer than Niagara Falls!  But you know what else is incredible? Guyanese food. The diversity of this country has led to diverse culinary traditions as well: it’s a mix of Caribbean, South American, British/Dutch, East Indian, and Amerindian traditions. And it all sounds absolutely amazing (rest assured, my meal will be served sans grape Flavor Ade).


Up next: art and literature

Sunday, January 11, 2015

GUINEA-BISSAU: THE FOOD

So, the kids went back to school this past week after spending over two weeks off for Winter Break.  Well, they kind of went back. We were off for two days because of extremely cold weather.  The wind chills were around -15 to -20º F (-26.1 to -28.9º C), and even though I drive the kids to school every morning, there are many kids who have to wait for busses in that dangerous weather.  The awesome part is that we’re predicted to get a quarter inch of ice tonight and into tomorrow. (Ok, please tell me you picked up on my sarcasm, because ice storms are about as awesome as being served with a subpoena or paying taxes.) So, if the schools are sensible, we’ll be off more this week.  And then it’s a 3-day weekend! So maybe cooking food from Guinea-Bissau will warm us all up.

I was about 20 minutes away from calling this a cake. Instead, I made my husband scrape burnt cakelets off the bottom of the oven.
The first thing I made today is Bolo à Moda da Guiné-Bissau, which is “Cake in the Style of Guinea-Bissau.”  This was supposed to be a simple cake. I tried to beat together four eggs with two sticks of butter and sugar until it all came together and was smooth. However, even though I set my butter out to warm up, it was still cold in the middle, and therefore took WAY too much effort to mix everything together. But I did it. Then I added in the flour little by little with just enough milk to make a loose batter. I usually don’t use my electric mixer, but I had to get it out today, because I had to mix this batter vigorously for about 7-8 minutes in order to incorporate a lot of air into it. Just about the time my arm was going to fall off, I poured the batter into my springform cake pan (that was buttered and floured first). It was supposed to be in the oven for about 30 minutes, but that’s where the major problems arose. The ONE TIME I didn’t thoroughly check to see if the bottom of my springform cake pan was secure is the time when it’s not, and ten minutes into baking, I realized the batter is dripping out of the sides and cooking on the bottom of the oven.  Uuuugggghhhhh… Really? And I didn’t have enough eggs to try it again. I’ll have to try to make this again when there’s not an impending ice storm coming and everyone is basically reenacting The Hunger Games at the grocery store.  Oh, well. C’est la vie.

Good, but would've been better with rum. I wonder what it would taste like with pinot griogio in it? Because that's all I have.
So I took another recipe I found for Batido de Abacaxi (“Pineapple Shake”) to amend this situation. This recipe calls for pineapple (I used canned crushed pineapple), milk, sweetened condensed milk, crushed ice, and rum or vodka. I left the alcohol out, though. I know I’m not a contender for Mother of the Year, but I’m pretty sure adding in rum and giving it to the kids will definitely knock me out of the Top 10. And as I put everything in the blender, I realized I never made any ice cubes for this (I don’t typically use ice cubes), so I blended everything and put it in the freezer to get partially frozen. It was still good, though. 

Not even sure what to think. It could've been good. It could've had class. It could've been a contender.  
I chose two main dishes this time. The first one was Bolinhos de Mancarra com Peixe (“Fish Peanut Balls”). I took my tilapia filets and marinated them with lemon juice, salt, pepper, and onion slices for 30 minutes. In the meantime, I measured about ¾ cup of peanuts and ground them until it was a paste. Once the fish was done marinating, I pan fried it until it was completely cooked through. After letting it cool, I flaked the fish and put it in a bowl. Then I added some diced onions, parsley flakes, salt, and the ground up peanuts, mixing it together with some of the leftover lemon juice from the marinade to bind it all together. Then I shaped it into balls about the size of a large hush puppy or a meatball and fried it in vegetable oil. Well, I tried to fry it. It just wouldn’t stay together. I ended up scooping it up and forming it into a pretend meatball. The flavor was good, maybe a little strong on the peanut side, and the texture was a little odd. But it wasn’t horrible. It was just one of those dishes that didn’t quite come together.  Not sure if I’ll be attempting that one again, though. 

For the sake of my wimpy kids, I left out a lot of the heat, but I really wanted to light this up with cayenne pepper. 
The second of the main dishes I made was Camarâes à Guineense, or Guinean Prawns. I went with cooked shrimp instead on this one.  I started out frying some onions until they were soft, then adding in the shrimp and julienned cucumber. I added in a little salt, lemon juice, and a little cayenne pepper and chili powder. Since my shrimp was already cooked, I just let it all sauté until it was warm. This one actually was the best part of the meal, albeit my shrimp got a little tough. 

And to go with these dishes, I went with a basic West African recipe of beans and rice. Here’s where I got a little lazy.  I made rice as I would normally do, except I added a little garlic powder to the water. When the rice was done, I opened up a can of pigeon peas and mixed it in with the rice. I seasoned the entire dish with salt, pepper, and a little chili powder. I tried to find black-eyed peas because I read that it’s pretty popular there, but for some reason, I couldn’t find any at all. So, I went with pigeon peas instead, which I think taste similar anyway (although my husband vehemently disagrees).

Overall, I'd have to say this meal was "Meh." Not bad, but not that great. Definitely going to make the shrimp again. With fire.

So, it just wasn’t a meal that came together as planned. Like Tonya Harding, it had so much potential to be really good. But, you know, that happens sometimes.  I still want to redo that cake.  I want to try to amend the pineapple shake recipe a bit to create a topping for the cake. I may still try to do that next weekend, perhaps. But it wasn’t all bad. The shake was good. And so was the shrimp. So, there you go.  Do you really need more than that? Now to settle in and brace myself for a good ol’ fashioned Indiana ice storm (and hope the schools have enough sense to call off tonight instead of tomorrow morning, just so I can sleep in, but I don't think that's happening.).


Up next: Guyana

Saturday, January 10, 2015

GUINEA-BISSAU: MUSIC AND DANCE

Gumbe is a style of music that is stemmed from several musical traditions in Guinea-Bissau. It’s typically associated only with this country.  Gumbe music is primarily characterized by its use of polyrhythmic motifs between the guitars and percussion, although originally it was mainly performed with vocals and percussion. It’s likely that the goombay music of the Bahamas is related to gumbe music of Guinea-Bissau and was brought over during the slave trade. It’s also related to Caribbean zouk music as well. There are times when listening to this kind of music certain rhythms and melody lines resemble those of Latin music. Other genres popular in Guinea-Bissau include Tina and Tinga.


One of the more common instruments you’ll find in traditional music like gumbe is called the kusunde.  This is like a lute that is made from a gourd.  It’s characterized by a short drone string at the bottom (one that typically plays the same note throughout the piece), a medium string at the top, and a longer string in the middle. The medium and longer strings can be stopped to create a secondary note one whole step higher.  The calabash, or kora, is another instrument played in the music of Guinea-Bissau, especially used in fast dance music. Today, a variety of guitars and modern percussion instruments are also used in their music.    



One of the most iconic dances from Guinea-Bissau comes from the Bijagos Islands.  They are famous for their warrior dances, which are fast-paced and tend to show off the dancer’s athletic skills. In other areas, people dance to the popular gumbe music. Typically, women do the dancing while the men use water drums (gourds) to beat out the rhythms. Today, traditional dancing is generally performed for holidays and festivals like Carnival.

The lyrics to music in Guinea-Bissau tend to have strong themes of the fight for independence, African identity, fighting oppression, and other similar sentiments. Because of this, most lyrics are sung in Crioulo as opposed to Portuguese. Many of the musicians who emerged used their music to criticize the government and its failure to take care of its citizens and provide infrastructure and jobs. However, because of the tyranny at the top, many of these musicians who sang their opinions were arrested or killed for their vocal opposition.



I found three examples of Bissau-Guinean musicians on Spotify.  While I really like this style, all three albums have a similar sound.  I like it, but they are all similar. The first album I listed to was Aló Irmao! by Narf and Manecas Costas.  I seriously laughed at the Narf part because it reminded me of that cartoon I watched in high school called Pinky and the Brain. I miss that show. (It’s available on Netflix but not as streaming.) Anyway, this album’s acoustic guitar and lilting melodies remind me of Gilberto Gil. I liked this album.



Ze Manel’s album Povo Adormecido uses a variety of acoustic guitars and some percussion, along with the occasional organ or brass instrument that sneaks into the background of the music. I noticed that he has songs on this album in Crioulo, English, and French.




Finally, I listened to Super Mama Djombo’s self-titled album.  There were many times while listening to this album that made me think I was listening to Cuban music, or at least some other Caribbean or Latin music. I think it was the polyrhythmic beats and descant soprano above the main vocalist that just made this so reminiscent of Cuban music. But there were also tracks that had a distinct African sound to them as well. I really liked this album. 


Up next: the food

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

GUINEA-BISSAU: ART AND LITERATURE

In Guinea-Bissau sculpture has been the dominant form of art since the earliest of times. The types of sculpture and materials vary slightly based on the ethnic group and location. The most common types of sculpture are in various figurines, which are highly integrated into local religion and spiritualism. One type of figurine or statue is one that is designed to represent a family’s ancestors with the intention of communicating with the ancestors it’s designed after. And because of this, there are many rules that go into creating these figurines; I imagine it must take these sculptors years to perfect this art. There is also a type of half-bird/half-man creature that Bissau-Guineans worship called Iran (not to be confused with the name of the country).  It’s believed that it protects those who worship it, but goes after those who look down on it.


The people in Guinea-Bissau are also adept at a variety of handicrafts. Typically, the materials used reflect what is available in a particular area.  Shells, wood, metal, stone, ceramic, and fabric are all commonly used in their handicrafts. Many of these items include jewelry, ornaments for dancers, and woven goods (such as baskets, mats, fabric-making, etc.).



The Bijagos Islands are particularly known for their art. Much of their sculpture is described above, but they have many pieces that are well-preserved.  Masks representing animals are often used in coming-of-age ceremonies. These coming-of-age ceremonies also utilize many handicrafts and tools that are created by people in the community: masks, headgear, shields, spears, and bracelets.  Stylized dolls are often given to girls to teach them about taking care of children. 



Most of the literature from Guinea-Bissau is written in Portuguese, and almost all of it was written in the 20th century up until today.  After 1990, the question of writing in Portuguese vs. Crioulo came into question.  Expressions and terms were different in Portuguese than in the vernacular and the question was how to best express themselves. Bissau-Guinean literature was slow to develop in comparison with other Afro-Lusophone countries. While other countries, such as Cape Verde (sorry, I think they’re officially known as Cabo Verde now, but it’ll take me forever to get used to that), had developed schools and libraries during the mid-1800s, it wasn’t so in Guinea-Bissau.

Amilcar Cabral
There are generally four phases of Bissau-Guinean literature.  The first period is the time up until 1945.  During the early days, many writers came over from the Cape Verde islands. Most of the topics during this time spoke of the societal transformations of colonialism. The second period was between 1945-1970.  Many poets emerged during this time.  The themes were generally characterized by “combat poetry that denounced domination, the misery and the suffering, inciting to fight for liberation.” The third period of literature was between 1970 and the end of the 1980s. This was during the first years of independence. A new generation of revolutionary poets emerged. The theme of identity is still present, but it’s under different circumstances now. Added to that were topics of assimilation and alienation and the idea of a national identity. Poetry is still the primary form of literature during this time. The final phase is from 1990 to the present. It generally focuses on the dreams of what post-independence life should be and what they would like it to be. Prose in the form of short stories and novels finally began to be published at a greater rate than before.

Abdulai Silá
While doing research on this, I came across a blog written by a woman who read her way around the world and has a great list of novels, short stories, and poetry collections from every country in the world.  She wrote that she had several people searching the globe high and low for anything written by a Bissau-Guinean that has been translated into English, but to no avail.  There have been translations into French, but none into English. Luckily, I can read a pretty good amount of Portuguese (assuming Bissau-Guinean Portuguese is anything close to Brazilian Portuguese), so it wouldn’t necessarily be a problem for me.

One of the most influential writers is none other than the political leader Amilcar Cabral. Other notable writers from Guinea-Bissau include Vasco Cabral (poet, politician), José Carlos Schwartz (poet, musician), Fausto Duarte (novelist from Cape Verde), Carlos Lopes (educator, economist, writer, worked for the UN and other similar organizations), and Abdulai Silá (engineer, economist, novelist.)



Guinea-Bissau also has made a small footprint in the film industry. Internationally renowned film director Flora Gomes directed such films as Nha Fala and the 1988 award-winning Mortu Nega. He also directed a film called Udju Azul di Yonta, which was screened at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.

Up next: music and dance