Take it over and keep it with you-participatory governance from Urok islands, Guinea-Bissau

This is an award winning film that explores participatory governance in the Urok Islands, a marine protected area in the Bijagós Archipelago, Guinea-Bissau

Neram N’Dok is a Bijagó expression which means “take it and keep it with you”. The Urok Islands includes the islands of Formosa, Nago, and Chediã within the Bijagós archipelago off the coast of Guinea Bissau, West Africa. This river delta archipelago extends over approximately 10,000 km² and comprises 88 islands, only about twenty of which have permanent settlements with people totalling some 25,000 people, predominantly from the Bijagó ethnic group. The primary physical environments are mudflats, mangroves, savannah grasslands, palm groves and, on a few islands, vestigial sub-humid forest. The marine and coastal areas display remarkable levels of biological diversity, and are home to animals such as hippopotamus, manatee, shark, marine turtles and bird colonies.

The Bijagó are animists who enjoy a spiritual relationship with their environment. Decisions relating to the use of land and resources are taken by the elders during ceremonies in which specific animals and plants (manatee, oysters, mangrove fruits, etc.) are eaten. Certain islands are considered sacred and are often highly important sites in terms of biodiversity. Resources are managed in a fairly sophisticated manner thanks to the use of traditional zoning patterns and timescales.

Over recent decades, this balance has been upset by external forces, including the arrival of migrant resource-users who exploit abundant resources without following traditional rules. This is particularly true of traditional fishing. This is why that, starting from a request of the proper local community, it was created the Urok Islands Community Marine Protected Area (Community MPA). The creative process of the Community MPA made it possible to slow down the progressive disappearance of the Bijagó culture. To that comes to be added the dynamization of the education, which will make it possible to the young people to acquire more knowledge and thus to rebalance the social relations, setting a deficit of transmission of the traditions between the old ones and the young people, with their lack of interest for these cultural obligations.

Urok photo essay from Luís Melo on Vimeo

The film and the photo essay is shared here under the Creative Commons Attribution licence

Luís Melo is an audio-visual communications specialist from Portugal. The featured image is captured from his Urok photo essay above.