The land now known as Guinea-Bissau was once the kingdom of Gabú (Kaabu), which was part of the larger Mali empire. After 1546 Gabú became more autonomous, and at least portions of the kingdom existed until 1867.

The first European to encounter Guinea-Bissau was the Portuguese explorer Nuño Tristão in 1446; colonists in the Cape Verde islands obtained trading rights in the territory, and it became a center of the Portuguese slave trade. In the 16th century the expansion of Mande-speaking peoples into the upper Guinea Coast area caused wars that greatly increased the number of prisoners available for export as slaves.

During the next four centuries, the people of Guinea had little difficulty in preventing or restricting the attempts of foreign powers to establish territorial claims. A post established at Cacheu by Cape Verde traders in 1588 was given periodic support by the Lisbon government during the 17th century but did not expand. In 1687 a Portuguese post was established at Bissau, but failed to survive. In 1792 the English briefly and disastrously held a settlement at Bolama. Meanwhile the Portuguese had reestablished a base at Bissau and during the 19th century increasingly came to regard the coast on either side as sovereign territory.

The Portuguese territorial claim in Guinea was disputed by both the British and the French. Periodic negotiation first excluded the British (1870) and then settled the boundaries with the French-claimed territories (1886 and 1902–05). The final “pacification” campaigns were fought by João Teixeira Pinto in 1913–15. These wars were followed by nearly half a century of predominantly peaceful Portuguese administration.

In 1936 Guiné Bissau was declared a Portuguese colony [1] and in 1955 became a Portuguese overseas province.

As African nationalism rose after World War II and neighbouring territories gained independence, Guineans began to challenge their colonial rulers. Nationalist attacks on Portuguese administrative and military posts were instigated in July 1961 by guerrillas of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), led by Amílcar Cabral. By 1974 the rebels controlled most of the countryside, where they formed a government that was soon recognized by scores of countries. The military coup in Portugal in April 1974 brightened the prospects for freedom, and in August the Lisbon government signed an agreement granting independence to the province. Independence was proclaimed on 10 September 1974 and the new republic took the name Guinea-Bissau.




As early as the 14th century a flag was attributed to a kingdom of Guinea, which has to be situated in today’s Senegal. This flag was documented by a Franciscan monk who claimed to have travelled the region. He writes:


… Afterwards I departed from Buda (a city south of the Atlas mountains) and went, by the Zahara, to another mountain called Ganahe in which there is a rich well supplied city of the saem name. It is the head of the kingdom where they crown the kings. And the King of Guynoa has a gold flag with a black mountain in the middle. …[2]


Modern Times


As the settlements of Cacheu and Bolana were in the sphere of influence of the Portuguese empire, early heraldry of Guinea Bissau is largely the heraldry of the Portuguese Seaborne Empire. By constitution of 1826 Guiné was officially incorporated in the Portuguese Empire but only in 1935 its individuality was recognized by a coat of arms. This consisted of the tierced coat of arms, crowned and supported by the armillary sphere, common for all parts of the Portuguese overseas empire. In sinister chief there is a golden staff surmounted by a negroes’ head which is said to have been created by Dom Alphonso V (1438-’81) and is in memory of his annexation of this part of Africa. [3]

Below the achievement there is a listel with the legend COLONIA PORTUGUESA DE GUINÉ, in 1955 changed into PROVINCIA PORTUGUESA DE GUINÉ.



The flag of the Governor of Guiné consisted of a white cloth with two vertical green stripes and the cross of the Order of the Empire in the middle. [4]


The coat of arms and governors’ flag disappeared immediately after the proclamation of the Republic in 1973. A new achievement was adopted in the same year. It consists of a black five-pointed star, a golden shell and a green garland with the motto UNIDADE LUTA PROGRESSO (Union, Struggle and Progress). From this emblem some three versions are known the newest, about 1990, illustrated in the head of this article.

The emblem is:


Arms: Gules, a five-pointed star Sable in chief.

Garland: Two palm leaves proper, on the junction a shell Or.

Motto: UNIDADE LUTA PROGRESSO  in black lettering on a white listel.


ð See illustration in the head of this essay


In the emblem the black star is for the African black people and their strive for freedom. The palm leaves are symbols of peace and the shell is for the Atlantic.


The black star, the garland and the shell also figured on the emblem of the PAIGC, together with a flaming torch, symbolizing the victory in the struggle for independence. After independence was realized, the torch was omitted.



Oldest version of the emblem of Guinea Bissau

Red disc with shell, garland, motto and star. This emblem is inspired by the emblem of the PAIGC. [5]



Second version of the emblem of Guinea Bissau

Shell, garland, motto in black lettering on a red listel, black star



The coat of arms of the city of Gabú, named after the ancient empire of Gabú, was adopted in colonial times when the city was still called Nova Lamego. It consists of a sword between two machetes and is surrounded by a bordure with four quinas-escutcheons and four crescents. [6] No explanation of the coat of arms is given, nor its exact date of adoption.



Armed Forces



Comando Territorial Inependente de Guiné Bissau



Arms: Sable, a commanders’ staff topped by a negroes’ head per pale Or, within a bordure Gules.

Crest: On a helmet to the dexter,  lambrequined Sable and Or, a lions’paw Gules, holding the commanders’ staff of the arms

Motto: CORAGEM E LEALDADE (Courage and Loyalty)


·         The commanders’ staff is the symbol of Guiné Bissau

·         The bordure symbolizes the Independent Territorial Command

·         The lions’ paw symbolizes the arms of the portuguese soldiers defending the Independent Territorial Command.



Arms and Banner [7]



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© Hubert de Vries 2008-11-25

Updated 2011-11-17

[1] By constitution of 31 may 1936: Artículo 3.° — Los dominios ultramarinos de Portugal se denominam Colonias y constituyen el Império Colonial Portugués.

[2] Book of the Knowledge of all the kingdoms, lands, and lordships that are in the world. (ca 1350) Works issued by the Hakluyt Society. 2nd series N° XXIX. 1912. p. 30

[3] Der Herold, 1943 p. A3 - A4.

[4] Governors from 1875 until  September 1973. See: List of Colonial Heads of Guinea.

[5] By Whitney Smith about 1975.

[6] Rentrieved from Wikipedia commons: Gabú arms. See also:

[7] From: Guerra do Ultramar: Brasões, Guões e Crachás