Area: 122,7 km²
Location: South-West of Guinea-Bissau
Number of inhabitants: 3,324 (INEP/INEC, 2009)
Number of visitors: 120 (2018)
Protected island: yes
Terrestrial protection status: Orango Islands National Park
Orango is one of the Bijagos archipelago islands, located 60 km off the south-west coast of Guinea-Bissau. Being 122.7 km² wide, it’s the third biggest islands in this 88-island archipelago, after Formosa and Caravela.
Orango’s width and lenght is 22,5km. The main city, Etigoga, is located in the north-west of the island. The islands of Imbane, Canogo, Orangozinho and Meneque are separated from Orango by only a few thousands or tens of meters. The island is administratively attached to the Uno sector, region of Bolama, and represents the heart of the Orango islands National Park.
Orango is one of the rare places in the world to have a matriarchal society, which have a huge influence on local traditions. For example, marriage proposals are initiated by women, who must offer a plate of fish marinated in palm-oil to their beloved. If the latter takes it, it means that he has just accepted the proposal. Then the women must build their home on her own with floated wood and mud bricks.
Nevertheless, from a few years onwards, the matrimonial tradition is fading away, due to the growing cultural and religious influence coming from the outside. Indeed, many young men are leaving the island to find work on the continent, where they embrace the dominant culture, which they never give-up even after they get back to their home place. Furthermore, the arrival of Protestantism has also induced this evolution of the island’s traditions.
Most economic activities of the inhabitants of Orango are related to the exploitation of natural resources, including farming, fruits and shellfishes picking, and subsistence fisheries. The development of tourism, particularly ecotourism, helps the inhabitants generate further income, through catering and sport fishing.
Thanks to the Bijagos culture, which is very focused on nature preservation, certain natural sites have been sanctified and the natural resources have never been intensively exploited, at least until recently.
The island’s littoral consists of mangroves, small sandy bays, rocky points with orange shades, and long soft-sand beaches. Whereas the interior of the island consists of lagoons, savannas and palm groves. The development of the greatest biodiversity of the whole archipelago was made possible by these diversity of natural areas, which have been preserved through the status of Orango Islands National Park since 2000. It’s in total 1,582.4 km² although 576.9 km² terrestrial and 1,005.5 km² marine. The Orango National Park houses about 43% of the mangrove surface area of the Bolama-Bijagós Archipelago.
It is home to certain species of monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops), small gazelles (Tragelaphus scriptus), many migratory and tropical birds, marine turtles and crocodiles. On the ocean side, some great marine mammals like the African manatee, and many dolphin species can be found in the middle of a great variety of fishes and invertebrates. But Orango is most well-knowned for its unique hippopotamus, which is the only one in the world that live in salted waters.
The tourism industry is rising regularly in Orango, partly thanks to the national park. As a matter of fact, in the coming years the main challenge will be to encourage eco-touristic practices in order to make it compatible with the preservation of its wild nature and its inhabitants’ traditions.