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Guinea-Bissau: Women, Citizenship and “Mandjuandades”

In a country which has experienced constant political instability, how can civil society mobilise itself to prevent further coups d'état and to build a participative democracy based upon its communities? Some possible ways forward were suggested [pt] by a group of 70 young people at a meeting promoted by the Movimento Ação Cidadã (Citizen Action Movement) in Cacheu, Guinea-Bissau, at the end of July, in which they debated the April 12th 2012 coup d'état.

The blog [pt] Ação Cidadã (Citizen Action), created by the Movement in May this year in response to the “bustle of the political and historical context resulting from the unpredictable changes which the country has seen in the last two decades especially”, records the conclusions arising from the meeting, which include issues such as the reform of organised power (the Armed Forces and the State Administration), but also the importance of strengthening other values such as “living without ethnic divides, forgiveness, sharing and dialogue, love of one's country and living guinendadi (a Guinean way of life)”.

The meeting was attended by students, teachers, journalists, youth organisations and “mandjuandade” groups.

Netos de Bandim. Photo by Rising Voices on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Netos de Bandim. Photo by Rising Voices on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mandjuandade?

The blog of Luis Graça and Camaradas da Guiné presents [pt] the “mandjuandades” as ”[feminine] associative organisations, with a voluntary and egalitarian foundation, sustained through solidarity and the sharing of individual and collective interests”.

An academic article [pt, .pdf] on “Relations of Otherness and Identities” by Manuela Borges, of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, with Joseania Miranda Freitas and Luzia Gomes Ferreira, of the Universidade Federal da Bahia, goes further:

Enterramento Unido mandjuandade women's group. Photo by Bairro Enterramento on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Enterramento Unido mandjuandade women's group. Photo by Bairro Enterramento on Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A partir dos anos 1990, houve um recrudescimento da iniciativa e dinamismo da sociedade civil [da Guiné Bissau] em todos os campos – político, social, econômico e também organizativo –, crescendo rapidamente as associações informais voluntárias com participação predominante de mulheres. Essas associações femininas, denominadas em crioulo mandjuandades, acumulam várias funções, perseguindo diversos objetivos: poupança e compra coletiva de bens de consumo (por exemplo, a compra de um tecido para fazer, no mesmo padrão, o vestuário usado nas festas e cerimônias), crédito individual aos membros, celebração de cerimônias familiares e religiosas e ainda organização de acontecimentos lúdicos.

Since the 1990s, there has been an intensification of the initiative and dynamism of Guinea-Bissau's civil society in all areas – political, social, economic and also organisational -, with informal voluntary associations predominantly made up of women growing rapidly. These feminine associations, called ‘mandjuandades’ in creole, assume various functions and pursue diverse objectives: saving and the collective purchase of consumer goods (for example, buying fabric with which to make, using the same pattern, clothes used at parties and ceremonies), individual credit for members, the celebration of family and religious ceremonies and even the organisation of leisure activities.

The Portuguese ex-soldier Luis Graça, in the collective blog referred to above, makes a comparison with the Kixikilas in Angola, “a term which, in kimbundu, means the contribution of money for a particular collective goal”:

Em África, em geral, e em Angola, em particular, é aquilo que se designa pela expressão inglesa Rotating Savings and Credit Associations (ROSCA), um sistema informal de poupança e crédito, um grupo de ajuda mútua, liderado em geral por uma mulher, a “mãe de kixikila”. O pequeno grupo, de cinco a dez elementos, tende a ser constituído por pessoas que estão ligadas entre si por laços de amizade, parentesco, vizinhança ou profissão. Cada elemento faz periodicamente uma determinada contribuição para um fundo comum que é depois utilizado rotativamente por cada um, com uma taxa de juro nula ou de valor reduzido. Na ausência de sistemas de crédito bancário acessíveis à generalidade da população, o kixikila voltou aos hábitos dos kaluandas como forma de atenuar ou reduzir o impacto da pobreza.

In Africa in general, and in Angola in particular, it is what is referred to by the English expression Rotating Savings and Credit Associations (ROSCA), an informal system of saving and credit, a mutual help group, generally led by a woman, the “mother of the kixikila”. The small group, between five and ten members, tends to be comprised of people who are linked by friendship, family relations, neighbourhood or profession. Each member periodically makes a specified contribution to a common fund which is then rotated around the members, with a zero or minimal interest rate. In the absence of bank credit systems accessible to the general population, the kixikila returns to the customs of the kaluandas as a way of mitigating or reducing poverty.

But let's return to the “mandjuandades” of Guinea-Bissau, their roots and their evolution. According to an article in Lusa republished [pt] on the blog of Aly Silva, Dictatorship of Consensus, “Mandjuandade is a culture” and it originated in the complaints inherent to  married life:

Quando a mulher tinha queixas do marido procurava uma amiga ou amigas, a quem contava os seus desgostos, e criavam uma música sobre isso. Depois, quando a aldeia se reunisse, as amigas cantariam a música, ao mesmo tempo recados para o marido e lamentos da mulher.

“Basicamente mandjuandade é uma forma de as mulheres transmitirem os seus sentimentos, e uma fonte de conselhos, porque o marido quando ouve a musica já sabe que a mulher está a dizer o que se passa em casa” (…). Hoje já não é sobre a relação entre casais e já não se usam metades de barris mas sim tambores e tabuinhas para acompanhar os cânticos. Hoje são grupos de bairro que se juntam, que organizam festas, que animam cerimónias alegres (casamentos) ou tristes (funerais), ou mesmo cerimónias tradicionais como a do fanado (circuncisão e excisão).

When a woman had complaints about her husband she sought out a friend or friends to whom she could tell her discontents and they created a song about them. Later, when the village met, the friends would sing the song, which comprised of a message for the husband and the complaints of the wife.

“Basically mandjuandade is a way for women to express their feelings, it is a source of advice, because when the husband hears the song he knows what the women is saying or what is happening at home” (…). Today it is no longer about the relationship between married couples and they no longer use half barrels but rather drums and tablets to accompany the chants. Today they are neighbourhood groups who get together, who organise parties, who enliven both happy ceremonies (weddings) and sad ones (funerals), or even traditional ceremonies like the “fanado” (circumcision and excision).

Aliu Barri, musician, intellectual and politician in Guinea-Bissau, gives some examples of the festivities organised these days by the “mandjuandades”, in an article [pt] published in the Journal of African Music and Popular Culture, underwritten by the researcher  Christoph Kohl:

Por exemplo: num bairro junta-se toda esta comunidade da juventude para, nos domingos, organizarem festas. Organizarem convívios. Se houver um casamento vão animar o casamento, se houver alguma cerimónia tradicional eles vão lá e cantam, se houver choro alguém morreu, cotizam, tiram o dinheiro, arranjam tudo que é necessário. Vão ficar lá por uma semana a animar a família do defunto. Então isso [diz-se] “mandjuandade”: arranjam até [trajes] quando houver um funeral.

For example: in a neighbourhood this whole community of young people comes together to organise parties on Sundays. If there is a wedding they will provide entertainment, if there is a traditional ceremony they will go and sing, if there is a mourning for someone who has died they contribute money and use it to make the necessary arrangements. They will stay there for a week to cheer up the dead person's family. So this is [what is called] “mandjuandade”: they even arrange [the clothes] when there is a funeral.

Aliu Barri continues:

Tradicionalmente, “mandjuandade” é uma coisa que não pára. Existe em todos os bairros da cidade. Nas “tabancas” [aldeias] também organiza-se. Isso é que se chama “mandjuandade”. Há pessoas que se destacam nessas “mandjuandades”, ganham muita fama, é isso é que nós dizemos “mandjuandade”. São manifestações culturais que existem em cada etnia.

(…) Há muitas festas que a “mandjuandade” faz. Mas se for um país progressista, um país que está a andar bem, “mandjundades” teriam possibilidades de apresentar toda a nossa cultura tradicional. Porque os tradicionalistas, os folclores nativos lá têm dificuldade de manifestar aquilo que eles têm. Mas como a “mandjuandade” está composta de várias etnias cada qual faz a apresentação da sua etnia, com isso e apreciando a “mandjuandade” vai conhecendo a manifestação de todas as culturas da Guiné. Eles cantam, canções de todas as etnias, porque a composição da “mandjuandade” tem todas as raças [etnias].

Traditionally, “mandjuandade” is a thing which doesn't stop. It exists in all the districts of the city. In the “tabancas” [villages] it is also organised. This is what is called “mandjuandade”. There are people who stand out in these “mandjuandades”, they win a lot of fame, it is this that we call “mandjuandade”. They are cultural manifestations which exist in each ethnic group.

(…) There are many parties which the “mandjuandade” organises. But if it was a progressive country, a country which was working well, the “mandjuandades” would have the possibility to present our traditional culture. Because the traditionalists, the native folklores have difficulty in showing everything that they have. But since the “mandjuandade” is made up of various ethnic groups, each of which presents her own ethnicity, by appreciating the “mandjuandade” we can get to know all of the cultures in Guinea. They sing songs from all ethnicities because the “mandjuandade” is composed of all races [ethnicities].

In spite of the apparently uniting character of the cooperativism of the “mandjuandades”, according to the Citizen Action blog obstacles to female public participation still exist in Guinea-Bissau, as “women are viewed badly when they participate in action of this kind, their husbands can be jealous” or they may have an “excess of work in the home which doesn't leave them time to get involved in associative dynamics”. However, greater feminine participation features on the list of “pro-development and peace” initiatives which can be carried out, “so that there may be more opportunities and space for participation and protagonism in associations and greater solidarity amongst their members”, independently of their gender.

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