Río Muni and Fernando Pó

July 16 2007


Equatorial Guinea is squeezed between Cameroon in the north and Gabon in the south and east. Offshore, on the same latitude, is the island of Príncipe.

Príncipe is part of another country, São Tomé and Príncipe. São Tomé, which you can just see on the map above, is a good deal further south, and if you continue southwest the same distance again, you reach Annobón – which is not part of São Tomé and Príncipe, but of Equatorial Guinea.

No part of Equatorial Guinea is on the equator. The mainland is north of it. Annobón is 100 miles south.

Equatorial Guinea is the only country whose capital is on a distant offshore island. The capital is Malabo. The island is Bioko, which used to be called Fernando Pó, and it is nearer to Nigeria than to the Guinean mainland.

Here are the four islands, Bioko, Príncipe, São Tomé, Annobón:


They begin in the Bight of Bonny, which is part of the Gulf of Guinea.

The mainland of Equatorial Guinea was called Río Muni.

Equatorial Guinea was the only Spanish black African colony. São Tomé and Príncipe was Portuguese.

Fernando Pó, Annobón and Río Muni were ceded by Portugal to Spain in 1778 in the Treaty of El Pardo, between Queen Mary I of Portugal and King Charles III of Spain, in exchange for territory in South America. The mainland was defined as commercial rights between the Niger and Ogoue Rivers. The Spanish did not exploit the territory until the middle of the nineteenth century.


Fernão do Pó had discovered what became Fernando Pó, and was at first called Formosa, in 1472. Rui de Sequeira discovered Annobón on January 1 1473.

Fernando Pó (Bioko) has its own ethnic group, a Bantu people called Bubi.

In 1642 the Dutch East India Company established a base for slave trading on Fernando Pó without Portuguese consent. The Portuguese returned in 1648, replacing the Dutch company with one of their own dedicated to the same trade, based on Corisco.


The Spanish did not remain for long after 1778. From 1827 to 1843 the British leased bases at Port Clarence (modern Malabo) and San Carlos for anti-slavery patrols. Many newly-freed slaves were settled there before Sierra Leone was established as a colony for them.


Then, in 1843, Juan José Lerena planted the Spanish flag in Port Clarence, and British influence waned. The city was renamed Santa Isabel in 1855. Wikipedia: “Madabita (1842-1860) and Sepoko (1860-1875) were principal local chiefs during the reestablishment of Spanish rule. This period on Fernando Pó was also marked by the immigration of several hundred Afro-Cubans as well as tens of Spanish scholars and politicians.” The blind traveller James Holman visited Fernando Pó and escaped malaria. Richard Burton was once consul there.

Early anti-Spanish sentiment in Annobón, its isolation from mainland Equatorial Guinea, and the proximity of São Tomé and Príncipe, which is about 110 miles from the island, have helped to preserve its cultural ties with Portugal.

For a time Annobón was part of a colony called Elobey, Annobón, and Corisco, administered from Fernandó Po. The other two islands are close to the mainland. It issued its own stamps between 1903 and 1910. Annobón has also been called Pigalu or Pagalú (parrot).

Río Muni became a Spanish protectorate in 1885 and a colony in 1900, in each case administered from Fernandó Po.

The colonies of Río Muni, Fernando Pó, and Annobón were united as Spanish Guinea in 1926. Fernando Pó and Río Muni became Spanish overseas provinces in 1959. Self-government was conceded (Governors gave way to High Commissioners), and the name Equatorial Guinea introduced, in 1963. The capital was now Bata. The Spanish left in 1968 and the country became independent as the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.


The first president was Francisco Macías Nguema, who was overthrown in 1979.

Fernando Pó was used as a base for flights into Biafra during the Nigerian civil war. (By which side?) Santa Isabel replaced the mainland town of Bata as the capital in 1969, and was renamed Malabo in 1973 as part of Nguema’s campaign to replace European place names with “authentic” African ones.

During his reign of terror, Nguema led a near-genocide of the country’s Bubi minority, which formed the majority on Bioko Island, and brought many of his own Bantu tribespeople, the Fang, to Malabo. Malabo has yet to recover from the scars of that period.

Large oil reserves were discovered in the Gulf of Guinea in 1996.

Annobón gives Equatorial Guinea claims to extensive maritime territory to the south of its neighbour, São Tomé and Príncipe. Oil represents more than 80% of Equatorial Guinea’s economy. (There is also cocoa, palm oil and coffee.) Although no drilling is yet taking place in São Tomé, there are estimated to be 34 billion barrels of oil within its marine borders. Equatorial Guinea claims rights in an area of sea surrounding Annobón larger than the entire land and sea areas of the rest of Equatorial Guinea.

In Der Spiegel of August 28 2006, it was claimed that the government of Equatorial Guinea had sold permits to UK and US companies to bury radioactive waste on Annobón.

The mainland, Río Muni, has a population of only about 300,000, mainly composed of Fang tribes. It is split into four political jurisdictions: Centro Sur, Kie-Ntem, Litoral and Wele-Nzas. The largest city is Bata. Other towns include Evinayong, Ebebiyín, Acalayong, Acurenam, Mongomo, Sevilla de Niefang, Valladolid de los Bimbiles and Mbini.

Bata is the second city of Equatorial Guinea, population c 70,000. Ferries sail to Malabo. Wikipedia says: “It is also known for its small (sic) nightlife, its market and its airport. The recent oil boom of the country has boosted the development of the city with more than 20 major infrastructure projects underway.”

Acalayong: “It is the main border crossing for Gabon, ferries sailing across the Mitémélé River to Cocobeach. Acalayong, the southernmost town of Guinea Equatorial, sees very few tourists. Getting there from Bata or Mbini is difficult and there is little to see during the eight hour journey from Bata. The road is in poor condition, practically swallowed up by the dense jungle which closes in on both sides. Acalayong consists of some fifty huts huddled on the shore of a broad estuary. Some pirogues (dugout canoes) can take passengers across the estuary to Gabon; some even have outboard motors.”

Evinayong: “A town in south eastern Río Muni, Equatorial Guinea, with a population of around 5,000 people. It lies atop a small mountain and is known for its nightlife, its market and the nearby waterfalls.”

5 Responses to “Río Muni and Fernando Pó”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Frederick Forsyth’s Zangaro in The Dogs of War (1974), about European mercenaries hired to stage a coup, was based on Equatorial Guinea.

    In 2004 Mark Thatcher was accused of providing “logistical assistance” in relation to an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea.

  2. […] only dedicated post here so far on an African country, Equatorial Guinea, gives us another example. During his reign of […]

  3. Paulo Says:

    Please note that the portuguese queen by the time of the Treaty of El Pardo was Maria (Mary) I, not II.

  4. davidderrick Says:

    Thank you. I have corrected this.

  5. davidderrick Says:

    A friend emails me:

    “Everyone speaks Spanish, to the exclusion of just about everything else.

    We’re holding a big conference on investment in EG. They’re taking it very seriously — biggest thing to happen here in years.

    Malabo is super modern (at least, parts of it are). Our hotel (Sofitel Sipopo Golf) would look good in California or Singapore. The conference center is beautiful. As you probably know, EG found oil in the ’90s and so has a vast gush of revenue each year. They’ve put a lot of it into infrastructure (as well, I’m sure, into Swiss bank accounts) and very little into building a sustainable economy. This conference is supposed to mark a change in that.

    Politically, I have to hold my nose here, even compared to our friends in Gabon. But in this corner of the capital, at least, they’ve built some impressive things.”

    I sent him a link to this post and he replied:

    “The Africa Cup of Nations in 2012 was held jointly in EG and Gabon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Africa_Cup_of_Nations. I might be wrong, but I have a recollection that they invested a lot in improving the road links between the two countries, so your evocative description of driving from Bata to Acalayong might be out of date.”

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