The complex and unknown history of relations between Spain and Equatorial Guinea has left many of its figures in a no-man’s-land, rendering them emotionally stateless beings, lost halfway between two worlds. It is hard for most of them to tell their stories and some, after doing so, would rather not give their names or show their faces. Something similar has happened with the photographs, records, and documents: many have disappeared or are permanently damaged, and it has not been easy for them to withstand the passing of time, the scourge of humanity, or the rigors of the climate.
1778-1929 From the Treaty of Cession from Portugal to the Ibero-American Exposition in Seville
It all began with a lie: the Kingdom of Spain needed somewhere in Africa where it could obtain slaves, so it traded some unexplored lands with Portugal. After an initial attempt to take possession, the territory was abandoned for almost a century. Following the Berlin Conference, the mother country commenced its civilizing mission, under the traditional sword-and-cross model.
Writing and photography arrived almost simultaneously in many of the territories of the Gulf of Guinea. From then on, images became a powerful documentary tool, appearing in everything from corporate reports to supplements in technical and scientific publications, or as part of collections designed to satisfy the curiosity for the exotic of the inhabitants of the mother country.
Engraving showing the meeting between Luis Sorela and King Moka. Fernando Po, 1887. La Ilustración Española y Americana. OQNVCQNS collection.
Claretian missions. Fernando Po, c. 1920. Arxiu Pairal / Archivo Claretiano de Vic.
Teodora, Lorenza, and Teófilo Dougan, the last-named of whom was to be the first black lawyer in Spain. Santa Isabel de Fernando Po, c. 1900. Trinidad Morgades collection.
Estuary of the Muni River. Kogo, Equatorial Guinea, 2017.
The first black woman to study philosophy and literature at the University of Barcelona. In the 1960s she taught at the Instituto Cardenal Cisneros de Santa Isabel. She lived in exile in Spain during the Macías period, returning to Equatorial Guinea only in the 1980s. Founder of the Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial (UNGE) and a promoter of the Academia Ecuatoguineana de la Lengua Española.
“Without Spain, we are not going anywhere. Spain is our key: if we do not get along well with Spain, Europe will not admit us. If Europe does not admit us, where will we get the money to become independent of Spain?”
1929-1968 From actual organization as a colony to the Declaration of Independence
The distinction between public and private gradually faded during the Franco years, once the mechanisms of extractive colonial exploitation had been put into operation. The small Spanish population created a bubble of well-being, but anti-colonial movements forced the Spanish dictatorship to grant Equatorial Guinea its independence, paradoxically, after democratic elections had been held.
The production of images moved beyond the professional realm, as amateur photographers came onto the scene, most of whom were white Spaniards. Photography studios were opened, family albums began to fill with potential nostalgia, photography missions were tainted with propaganda, and the postcards that reached Spain prolonged in the mother country the image of a strange and savage place.
José Menéndez (Madrid, Spain, 1928)
Journalist and lawyer, property registrar in Equatorial Guinea in the 1960s, and Supreme Court justice. In 1968 he was declared persona non grata by Francisco Macías.
“Of all the colonial systems I am familiar with, the most humane, by far, is the Spanish one."
Cacao dryer on the Sampaka estate. Island of Bioko, Equatorial Guinea, 2017.
Mural of Copito de Nieve (Snowflake) Equatoguinean white gorilla symbol of the Barcelona Zoo. Barcelona, Spain, 2018.
Arrival of Spaniards in the port of Bata. Bata, Spanish Territories of the Gulf of Guinea, c. 1930. Arxiu Fotogràfic, Barcelona, Spain.
Claretian map of Continental Guinea (detail), c.1950. OQNVCQNS collection.
1968-1979 From the proclamation of Macías to the so-called Freedom Coup
The independence process went somewhat awry shortly after the proclamation of Macías. The atmosphere created after an alleged coup d’état, which was supported by the former mother country, led some seven thousand Spaniards to leave Guinea. Thousands of people were assassinated or forced into exile under the iron-handed, personalist, single-party dictatorship, which had fallen into a catastrophic economic situation.
Photography disappeared from Equatorial Guinea and, during the period of “sad memory,” images are lacking. Most photographers, whether professional or amateur, left the country, there were hardly any cameras, and photographic materials gradually expired. Macías’s government ordered the destruction of archives and images of the country’s colonial past, while at the same time Spain categorized everything related to Equatorial Guinea as classified material.
Donato Ndongo (Alén, district of Niefang, Equatorial Guinea, 1950) Equatoguinean journalist, writer, and intellectual who has resided in Spain for more than fifty years. Member of the ANRD and author of the so-called Trevijano Dossier. Former director of the Colegio Mayor Nuestra Señora de África and the Centro Cultural Hispano-Guineano. Stripped of his citizenship, he now travels with the blue passport of a political refugee.
“I have always defined myself as a person occupied by and concerned with the problems facing us Equatoguineans at the present time and all Africans in general, because being black in times to come is becoming ever more complicated.”
Proclamation of the Independence of Equatorial Guinea in the Plaza de España, now the Plaza de la Independencia. Santa Isabel (now Malabo), Equatorial Guinea, 12 October 1968. Claretiano de Luba archive.
Revolutionary painting depicting the departure of the Spanish and the Guardia Civil from Equatorial Guinea. Painted by Fili in Mongomo, Equatorial Guinea, 1972. Ramón Sales collection.
La Gaceta Ilustrada, issue 656 (4 May 1969). OQNVCQNS collection
The Casa Pinto factory following the procession of the “Young People on the March” with Macías. Santa Isabel, Equatorial Guinea, 1969. Pinto family archive.
Atanasio Ndongo, injured after falling out of a window of the Presidential Palace. Bata, Equatorial Guinea, 5 March 1969. Photograph supposedly taken by President Macías.
1979-1999 From Spain’s support for President Obiang to the discovery of oil
The situation in Equatorial Guinea was dramatic, and the Suárez government in Spain supported the so-called Freedom Coup that had overthrown Macías. The new strongman, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, asked for help from the former mother country, leading large numbers of Spaniards to return to the country. Some time later, oil was discovered, hopes for democracy faded, and relations with Spain slowly weakened. Images returned to Equatorial Guinea as the Spanish press and television once again began to broadcast about the African country. Professional photographers began to experience greater freedom in their work and the large Equatoguinean population living in middle-class neighborhoods in Spain bolstered its identity, inspired more by an African-American esthetic than by an African one.
Baldw X Lulumba (?)
Panafricanist of Equatoguinean origin. Arrived in Spain in 1979 to study at a university. He has not returned to Equatorial Guinea since 1986. Active on social networks. “[Equatorial] Guinea has only been decolonized in administrative terms. That is why I often laugh when I hear Africanists say: ‘It’s just that Spain has decolonized poorly.’ It depends on what you mean by ‘decolonize’: we Pan-Africanists speak of decolonizing in psychological terms, but when people talk about decolonizing they are speaking only in administrative terms.”
Primeras aulas del Colegio Virgen María de África. Malabo, Guinea Ecuatorial, curso 1983-1984. Archivo Teresianas.
Final remains of the archive of photographer Jacinto Nsué. Nsomoyong-Esseng, Equatorial Guinea, 1982. Archive of the Nsué-Biyogo studio, safeguarded by his Nsué’s son Manuel.
Obiang Nguema on a video image from a news program broadcast from TVE newscasts in 1979-1980.
1999-2018 From the turn of the century to the commemoration of fifty years of Independence
Equatorial Guinea began to exploit its oil through non-Spanish companies. GDP skyrocketed and it became the richest country in Africa in per capita income. Democracy, life expectancy, and the human development index did not, however, increase at the same pace. The economic crisis in Spain prompted a number of people, many of them with Equatoguinean origins, to travel to Equatorial Guinea, where they have achieved varying degrees of success.
Control over information is impossible in the digital world. The internet and mobile phones have fostered the democratization of photography and the free flow of opinion. Rumors and visual noise on social networks have replaced silence and censorship. Words and images fly between Spain and Equatorial Guinea virtually unfiltered, although the attention paid and the interest shown by each of the two countries vary greatly.
Melibea Obono (Afaetom, Equatorial Guinea, 1982)
Writer. Obono studied journalism and political science at the Universidad de Murcia, where she also earned a master’s in international cooperation and development. She has been a professor at the Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial (UNGE) since 2013 and in 2016 she became a member of the Academia Ecuatoguineana de la Lengua Española.
“In [Equatorial] Guinea there is a double identity: Bantu and Spanish… The closest thing we have culturally is Spain… but I normally lead a double life: here I’m white and there I’m black…”
Images taken secretly with cell phone in Malabo and in Bata. Equatorial Guinea, 2017.
Horizon 2020: morning on the Paseo Marítimo in Bata. Bata, Equatorial Guinea, 2017.