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Native name: Otcho
Map of Bioko
Bioko is located in Equatorial Guinea
Bioko (Equatorial Guinea)
Location Gulf of Guinea
Coordinates 3°30′N 8°42′E / 3.5°N 8.7°E / 3.5; 8.7
Area 2,017 square kilometres (779 sq mi)
Length 70 kilometres (43 mi)
Width 32 kilometres (20 mi)
Highest point Pico Basile (3,012 metres (9,880 ft))
Equatorial Guinea
Population 124,000
Density 64.45 /km2 (166.9 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Bubi (58%), Fang (16%), Fernandino (12%), Igbo (7%) (2002)[1]
View of Bioko from satellite

Bioko (spelled also Bioco) is an island off the west coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, part of Equatorial Guinea. In colonial times it was known as Fernando Pó or Fernando Poo. There are two explanations for the current name of the island. One suggests that it is named after an ancient tribal leader of the Bubi people, King Bioko. Another explanation is that under the Africanization policy of dictator Masie Nguema Biyogo, it was renamed Masie Ngueme Biyogo Island (sp. Francisco Macías Biogo); on his overthrow in 1979 it was named Bioko. It is to be noted that Masie Nguema Biyogo is a name that the former bloody dictator Francisco Macías Nguema went by, thus a name he concocted, and not his birth name. Prior to the colonial era, it is believed that the Bubi people called the island Otcho.



At the top of Pico Basile

Bioko has a total area of 2,017 km2 (779 sq mi). It is 70 km long from NNE to SSW and about 32 km across. It is volcanic and very mountainous with the highest peak Pico Basile (3,012 m (9,882 ft)). It thus resembles neighbouring islands São Tomé and Príncipe. Like them it lies on the Cameroon Line.


The island has a population of 124,000 inhabitants, most of whom belong to the Bubi people. The rest of the population are Fernandinos, Spaniards and immigrants from Río Muni, Nigeria and Cameroon.


The island was inhabited in the middle of the first millennium BC by Bantu tribes from the mainland who formed the Bubi ethnic group. Unlike other islands in the area, Bioko had an indigenous African population. Still a distinct ethnic group on the island today, these indigenous people, the Bubi, speak a Bantu language. The island was probably inhabited by this or other Bantu-speaking groups since before the 7th century BC.

In 1472, the Portuguese navigator Fernão do Pó was the first European to visit the island. He named it Formosa Flora ('Beautiful Flower'), but in 1494 it was renamed after its discoverer (Fernando Pó or Fernando Poo).

In 1642, the Dutch East India Company established trade bases on the island without Portuguese consent, temporarily centralizing from there its slave trade in the Gulf of Guinea. The Portuguese appeared again on the island in 1648, replacing the Dutch Company by one of their own dedicated to the same trade and established in its neighbour island Corisco.

Parallel with this establishment, the Bubi clans began the slow process of establishing the core of a new kingdom on the island, especially after the activity of some local chiefs such as Molambo (approx. 1700–1760). During a period when enslavement was increasing in the region, local clans abandoned their coastal settlements and settled in the safer hinterland.

Bioko in the distance from Limbe, Cameroon

Under the Treaty of El Pardo in 1778, Portugal ceded to Spain Fernando Poo, Annobón and the Guinea coast (modern Equatorial Guinea). The treaty was signed by Queen Mary I of Portugal and King Charles III of Spain, in exchange for territory on the American continent. Spain then mounted an expedition to Fernando Poo, led by the Conde de Argelejos, who stayed for four months. In October 1778, Spain installed a governor on the island who stayed until 1780, when the Spanish mission left the island.

Chief Molambo was succeeded by another local leader, Lorite (1760-1810), who was succeeded by Lopoa (1810-1842). After abolishing their slave trade, from 1827 to 1843 the British leased bases at Port Clarence (modern Malabo) and San Carlos for their anti-slavery patrols.

In March 1843, Juan José Lerena planted the Spanish flag in Malabo, ending British influence on the island. Madabita (1842-1860) and Sepoko (1860-1875) were principal local chiefs during the reestablishment of Spanish rule on the island. This period was also marked by the immigration of several hundred Afro-Cubans as well as tens of Spanish scholars and politicians.

In 1923-30 the League of Nations investigated the transportation of migrant labour between Liberia and the Spanish colony of Fernando Po. Although the League concentrated its attention on Liberia, a closer examination revealed labour abuse as the product of conditions on Fernando Po. In the last quarter of the 19th century, black planters on the island had shifted from palm oil trading to cocoa cultivation. Their dependence on migrant labour and increasing competition with Europeans resulted in an economic crisis in the first years of the twentieth century. Planters detained labour but failed to pay contracts, resulting in a situation akin to slavery.

During the Nigerian civil war in the 20th century, relief agencies used the island as a base for flights into Biafra.


Coastline of Bioko

Malabo is the capital city of Equatorial Guinea and the largest city on the island. The island is mostly covered by tropical rainforest. The EG LNG plant, west of Malabo, produces natural gas for shipping. A rectangular transport route links the four main cities Malabo, Luba, Baney and Riaba.

Postal history

In popular culture

  • James Holman, the famous Blind Traveller of the 19th century, stayed at Fernando Po for several months, where he was one of just a handful of people to escape death from malaria.
  • Fernando Poo (without the accent) is featured in Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's The Illuminatus! Trilogy. It is the site of a fictional coup d'état and nuclear crisis in the first book (The Eye in the Pyramid). The second book (The Golden Apple) reveals that Fernando Poo is one of the last surviving remants of the sunken continent of Atlantis. Wilson also uses the motif in his earlier book The Sex Magicians.

See also


  • Room, Adrian (1994). African placenames. Jefferson, NC (USA): McFarland. ISBN 0-89950-943-6
  • Sundiata, Ibrahim K. (1990). Equatorial Guinea: Colonialism, State Terror, and the Search for Stability. Boulder, CO (USA): Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-0429-6
  1. ^ Minahan, James (2002). Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations: S-Z. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 330. ISBN 0-313-32384-4.  

External links

Coordinates: 3°30′N 8°42′E / 3.5°N 8.7°E / 3.5; 8.7



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