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Behind the story: why so many Guineas?

The English ‘Guinea’ may possibly come from the Portuguese word Guiné which originated during the mid-15th century.


Figure Image
map: iStock

The word Guinea was used to refer to the lands owned by the Guineus, which was a collective term for the African people who came from regions south of the Senegal River. Many European colonists who arrived in the Guinea region of West Africa applied names such as ‘German Guinea’, ‘Spanish Guinea’, ‘French Guinea’, or ‘Portuguese Guinea’. Some countries retained portions of these names after independence. French Guinea became Guinea, Spanish Guinea became Equatorial Guinea, and Portuguese Guinea became Guinea-Bissau. However, German Guinea entirely dropped the Guinea part of the name to become Cameron and Togo. Papua New Guinea, located in southeast Asia, was given its name by a Spanish explorer who saw a resemblance of the people in Papua New Guinea with those who he had seen along the Guinea coast in Africa.