Bolama is the main town of Bolama Island and the capital of the Bolama Region. Though once the capital of Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau), it has a population of just 4,819 (2009 census)[1] and much of its colonial era architecture is in a state of severe decay. The town is almost surrounded by mangrove swamps and is now mostly known for its production of cashew nuts.

Italian plane crash monument with Governor's palace
Italian plane crash monument with Governor's palace
Bolama is located in Guinea-Bissau
Location in Guinea-Bissau
Coordinates: 11°34′36″N 15°28′58″W / 11.57667°N 15.48278°W / 11.57667; -15.48278
Country Guinea-Bissau
RegionBolama Region
 • Total65 km2 (25 sq mi)
0 m (0 ft)
 • Total4,819
 • Density74/km2 (190/sq mi)

History edit

Map of Bolama, ca. 1920

Although often visited by local people, the island was apparently uninhabited in 1792 when European colonists arrived. The Bulama Association, a philanthropic and financial organisation, hoped to create a colony that would remove the need for slave plantations in the Caribbean by resettling Black former slaves from the Americas on the island.[2][3] The expedition, which consisted of two ships and two hundred and seventy-five colonists, set sail from England on 14 April 1792.[4] Philip Beaver, president of the council of the colonization society, was commander of HMS Hankey; Richard Hancorn, vice-president, was commander of HMS Calypso. Most of the settlers died and the survivors abandoned the colony in November 1793.[5] Hancorn died on the island weeks after the other leaders had decided to return home, on 21 July 1792.[6][7]

Another colonisation attempt in 1814 also failed. Nonetheless, Britain continued to press its territorial claims to the town and island, hoping to annex the region to colonial possessions in Sierra Leone. Britain formally annexed the location, making it the capital of British Guinea.[8] This gave rise to the so-called Bolama Question, a diplomatic conflict initially raised at the Madrid conference of 1861, and dragging on until 1870 when it was eventually settled through an arbitration process overseen by United States President Ulysses S. Grant. The Portuguese negotiator, António José de Ávila, was rewarded by being declared duke of Ávila and Bolama.

In 1879, Bolama became the first capital of Portuguese Guinea and later became a logistical centre for seaplane transport. A seaplane crash in 1931 is commemorated by a statue in the town. However, a shortage of fresh water meant that Bolama could never hope to develop into a major city and on 6 December 1941 the colonial capital was moved to Bissau. Thereafter, the town of Bolama slowly fell into decay. Numerous abandoned houses now provide shelter for many thousands of enormous fruit eating bats. Every evening, these bats flock to the mainland, darkening the skies. The ruins, most notably that of the Bolama Governor's Palace, are something of a low key tourist attraction. The old colonial barracks are now used as a hospital.[9] A fruit processing plant was built on Bolama shortly after independence of Guinea Bissau, with Dutch foreign aid. This plant produced canned juice and jelly from cashew fruit. However, it could not expand and had to shut down its operations, due to the shortage of fresh water on the island.

Ulysses Grant Connection edit

A metal statue of American President Ulysses S. Grant stood in the town until August 2007 when broken up by scrap metal scavengers.[10] Grant had chaired an international arbitration committee that, in 1870, granted Bolama to Portugal rather than to Great Britain.[11] In gratitude, Grant's image was one of few colonial era statues to have survived into independence in the 1970s. The primary school in Bolama is still named the Ulisses Grant School in the president's honour.[12]

Twin towns – sister cities edit

Bolama is twinned with:

Gallery edit

Further reading edit

  • The history of the English colonisation attempt in 1792 is chronicled in the first six chapters of the 2013 book, "The Ship of Death: The Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World" by (professor of history) Billy G. Smith.[14]

References edit

  1. ^ a b "População por região, sector e localidades por sexo censo 2009" (PDF), Instituto Nacional de Estatística Guiné-Bissau (in Portuguese), archived from the original (PDF) on 31 March 2020, retrieved 15 November 2018
  2. ^ Cite error: The named reference Tyrannical Lieutenant Hancorn, 1790 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. ^ Humphries, Will (4 November 2020). "How Britain's colony without slaves ended in bloodshed". The Times. London.
  4. ^ Humphries, Will (4 November 2020). "How Britain's Colony Without Slaves Ended in Bloodshed". Archived from the original on 6 February 2021. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
  5. ^ Hiscocks, Richard (3 January 2019). "Lieutenant Beaver and the Colonisation of Bulama 1792-4". More than Nelson. Web and Prosper. Retrieved 12 August 2023.
  6. ^ Extracts describing the abortive colonization of Bulama island, in the mouth of the Rio Grande river (now Bolama island, Corubala river, Guinea Bissau), in 1792 at Glamorgan Archives
  7. ^ Beaver, Philip (1805). African Memoranda: Relative to an Attempt to Establish a British Settlement on the Island of Bulama, on the Western Coast of Africa, in the Year 1792. With a Brief Notice of the Neighbouring Tribes, Soil, Productions, &c. and Some Observations on the Facility of Colonizing that Part of Africa, with a View to Cultivation; and the Introduction of Letters and Religion to Its Inhabitants: But More Particularly as the Means of Gradually Abolishing African Slavery. C. and R. Baldwin. p. 433 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ Gomes, Américo (2012), História da Guiné-Bissau em datas (in Portuguese), Lisboa{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  9. ^ "Ilha de Bolama". Lonely Planet. Archived from the original on 4 October 2015. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  10. ^ Quist-Arcton, Ofeibea (5 October 2007). "Mystery: Who Took the Head of Ulysses S. Grant?". NPR. Archived from the original on 26 April 2021. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  11. ^ Hair, P. E. H. (1997). ""Elephants for Want of Towns:" The Interethnic and International History of Bulama Island, 1456–1870". History in Africa. 24: 186. doi:10.2307/3172024. JSTOR 3172024. S2CID 161642732.
  12. ^ "Remarks for U.S. Independence Day Reception – Bissau, June 8, 2017". U.S. Virtual Consulate in Guinea-Bissau. 9 June 2017. Archived from the original on 19 October 2020. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  13. ^ "Geminações de Cidades e Vilas". Associação Nacional de Municípios Portugueses (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on 24 December 2011. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  14. ^ Smith, Billy G. (2013). Ship of Death: A Voyage That Changed the Atlantic World. New Haven: Yale University Press.

External links edit