Guinea-Bissau Yesterday… and Tomorrow
I had the pleasure of commenting on the articles in this issue when they were first presented as papers at the 2006 annual meeting of the African Studies Association, and the remarks that follow remain true to the character of those comments while acknowledging that the original papers have been reworked and updated. These provocative articles, coupled with my experiences doing ethnographic research in Guinea-Bissau—first among Manjaco in the village-cluster of Bassarel more than twenty years ago, and more recently (and briefly) among immigrant Manjaco in Lisbon—have led me to reflect upon anthropology's relationship to recent history, and to what anthropologists can contribute to an understanding of Guinea-Bissau: yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Anthropology has a peculiar relationship to events, especially events that affect whole nations or regions. Anthropologists wish to be current, and we want to illuminate the big picture. And yet we have to acknowledge that there are inherent constraints in our work: the investigations we engage in are usually time consuming, our reports are therefore always belated, and our conclusions are the product of an intimate engagement with relatively few people who are, moreover, often situated on the periphery or at the margins of the state. Thus, even when the articles in this issue were first presented, “today” was already history because their focus was on the period after the war of 1998–99, which began as an attempt by the military to oust President Vieira and ended up as a protracted conflict (largely restricted to the capital, Bissau) that destroyed important infrastructure, caused NGOs to cease operations throughout the country, and led to the mass exodus of at least a quarter-million people from the capital city to seek refuge as “guests” in rural villages (see Vigh 2006).