Biafada people



The Biafada people is an ethnic group of Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and Gambia. This group is often considered as a subgroup of the Tenda people. They are also known as Beafada, Biafar, Bidyola, Dfola, Dyola, Fada, and Yola.


In Guinea Bissau, the Biafada are divided into four groups. A small group lives on the north bank of the Geba River and speaks the Gool dialect. Two large groups reside in Quinara Region, the southwestern part of the country, and they speak the Bubwas and Guinala dialects. The fourth group live in the southern province of Tombali, on the border with Guinea Conakry, and speaks the dialect Bagandada.

Biafada people

Introduction / History

The Biafada of Guinea-Bissau are commonly regarded as a sub-group of the Tenda. They are spread over a wide area, a small group located on the north bank of the Geba river (Gool dialect), the two large groups (dialects of Guinala and Bubwas) in the province of QuinarĂ¡, south western part of the country, and another small group, detached from the others, in the southernmost province of Tombali, extending over the border into Guinea Conakry, the Bagandada dialect.

Most of Guinea-Bissau is a low-lying, swampy coastal plain. The land rises gradually to form a plateau region in the east. The maximum elevation of about 1,017 feet is found in the southeast. Within the country, there are about 37 different ethnic groups, the major ones being the Balante, the Fulani, the Papel, the Mandinka, and the Mandyak. Cape Verdians form a small but significant, minority.

The official language of Guinea-Bissau is Portuguese, but Crioulo, a mixture of Portuguese and African, is more commonly spoken. The Biafada speak a Niger-Congo language that is also known as Biafada. (In their own language it is called Ganjoola and they name themselves Bijoola.)

The early history of Guinea-Bissau is obscure, but some of the major ethnic groups of the country were apparently established there by the 12th century. In 1446, the area was visited by a Portuguese slave trader and it became an important slave center.


Economy and culture

Like most of the people in West Africa, the Biafada are farmers. They grow a variety of crops, using very basic tools. Maize, manioc, and rice are the staples, but squash, melons, sweet potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes are also grown. Major tree crops include cashew nuts, bananas, mangoes, and papayas. The Biafada raise sheep and goats but do not use their milk. Hunting is of less importance than agriculture, but there is considerable gathering of wild fruits and roots, berries, and kola, shea, and palm nuts.

Their houses are rectangular. They do not live in compound clusters, but in villages, although family live often in adjoining houses. The villages are generally rectangular. There is generally one house of the village elder at one end of the rectangle; sometimes this place was occupied by the mosque. In recent years this model has changed as the Biafadas tend to build their villages along both sides of a road, with traffic going though the middle of the villages. There aren't any mudwalls or fences around compounds or villages.

In the Biafada community, men hunt, fish, clear the land. The women do the gathering and help in the agricultural work.

There is generally a village elder or chief, considered as the person of authority. There used to be a structure with chieftains governing larger areas. This had all but disappeared during the colonial days and the war of independence. In some areas it is in the process of being reinstated, though it's influence is limited to matters pertaining to traditional land rights and such.

Circumcision of males is practiced, and some female circumcision is also continued. These practices are mainly associated with initiation ceremonies at puberty and typically involve a period of instruction in an isolated "bush school." In years past, the Tenda (of whom the Biafada are a sub-group) practiced ceremonial cannibalism.

In family right there were always heavy punishments known as 'justisa di minjer' (literally: 'women's justice') for premarital sex resulting in pregnancy, both for the male and the female offender. This was outlawed by the government in the seventies. Though it is true that -- as with most people groups here -- premarital sex is not a great problem as long as you are not discovered and do not get pregnant. Nowadays there is a lot of promiscuity, resulting in many children born outside wedlock and also in an increasing percentage of HIV. Polygyny is very common among the Biafada, probably encouraged by their conversion to Islam. The man and his different wives all live in the same house, with each wife generally having her own room.



A large percent of the population of Guinea-Bissau are ethnic religionists, following their traditional beliefs. Less than half (primarily the Fulani, Mandinka and Biafada) are Muslims. A small number of the people are Christians. Among the Biafada, the majority are Sunni Muslims. The rest are either Christians or animists, believing that non-living objects have spirits.