GUINEA, AFRICA, the general name applied by Europeans to part of the western coast region of equatorial Africa, and also to the gulf formed by the great bend of the coast line eastward and then southward. Like many other geographical designations the use of which is controlled neither by natural nor political boundaries, the name has been very differently employed by different writers and at different periods. In the widest acceptation of the term, the Guinea coast may be said to extend from 13 N. to 16 S., from the neighbourhood of the Gambia to Cape Negro. Southern or Lower Guinea comprises the coasts of Gabun and Loango (known also as French Congo) and the Portuguese possessions on the south-west coast, and Northern or Upper Guinea stretches from the river Casamance to andinclusive of the Niger delta, Cameroon occupying a middle position. In a narrower use of the name, Guinea is the coast only from Cape Palmas to the Gabun estuary. Originally, on the other hand, Guinea was supposed to begin as far north as Cape Nun, opposite the Canary Islands, and Gomes Azurara, a Portuguese historian of the 15th century, is said to be the first authority who brings the boundary south to the Senegal. The derivation of the name is uncertain, but is probably taken from Ghinea, Ginnie, Genni or Jenne, a town and kingdom in the basin of the Niger, famed for the enterprise of its merchants and dating from the 8th century A.D. The name Guinea is found on maps of the middle of the 14th century, but it did not come into general use in Europe till towards the close of the 15th century. 1 1 Guinea may, however, be derived from Ghana (or Ghanata) the name of the oldest known state in the western Sudan. Ghana dates, according to some authorities, from the 3rd century A.D. From the 7th to the 12th century it was a powerful empire, its dominions extending, apparently, from the Atlantic to the Niger bend. At one time Jenn6 was included within its borders. Ghana was finally conquered by the Mandingo kings of Melle in the 13th century. Its capital, also called Ghana, was west of the Niger, and is generally placed some 200 m. west of Jennc. In this district L. Desplagnes discovered in 1907 numerous remains of a once extensive city, which he identified as those of Ghana. The ruins lie 25 m. W. of the Niger, on both banks of a marigot, and are about 40 m. N. by E. of Kulikoro (see La Geographic, xvi. 329). By some writers Ghana city is, however, identified with Walata, which town is mentioned by Arab historians as the capital of Ghanata. The identification of Ghana city with Jenn6 is not justified, though Idrisi seems to be describing Jennd when writing of " Ghana the Great."
Although the term Gulf of Guinea is applied generally to that part of the coast south of Cape Palmas and north of the mouth of the Congo, particular indentations have their peculiar designations. The bay formed by the configuration of the land between Cape St Paul and the Nun mouth of the Niger is known as the Bight of Benin, the name being that of the once powerful native state whose territory formerly extended over the whole district. The Bight of Biafra, or Mafra (named after the town of Mafra in southern Portugal), between Capes Formosa and Lopez, is the most eastern part of the Gulf of Guinea; it contains the islands Fernando Po, Prince's and St Thomas's. The name Biafra as indicating the country fell into disuse in the later part of the 19th century.
The coast is generally so low as to be visible to navigators only within a very short distance, the mangrove trees being their only sailing marks. In the Bight of Biafra the coast forms an exception, being high and bold, with the Cameroon Mountains for background. At Sierra Leone also there is high land. The coast in many places maintains a dead level for 30 to 50 m. inland. Vegetation is exceedingly luxuriant and varied. The palm-oil tree is indigenous and abundant from the river Gambia to the Congo. The fauna comprises nearly all the more remarkable of African animals. The inhabitants are the true Negro stock.
By the early traders the coast of Upper Guinea was given names founded on the productions characteristic of the different parts. The Grain coast, that part of the Guinea coast extending for 500 m. from Sierra Leone eastward to Cape Palmas received its name from the export of the seeds of several plants of a peppery character, called variously grains of paradise, Guinea pepper and melegueta. The name Grain coast was first applied to this region in 1455. It was occasionally styled the Windy or Windward coast, from the frequency of short but furious tornadoes throughout the year. Towards the end of the 18th century, Guinea pepper was supplanted in Europe by peppers from the East Indies. The name now is seldom used, the Grain coast being divided between the British colony of Sierra Leone and the republic of Liberia. The Ivory coast extends from Cape Palmas to 3 W., and obtained its name from the quantity of ivory exported therefrom. It is now a French possession. Eastwards of the Ivory coast are the gold and Slave coasts. The Niger delta was for long known as the Oil rivers. To two regions only of the coast is the name Guinea officially applied, the French and Portuguese colonies north of Sierra Leone being so styled.
Of the various names by which the divisions of Lower Guinea were known, Loango was applied to the country south of the Gabun and north of the Congo river. It is now chiefly included in French Congo. Congo was used to designate the country immediately south of the river of the same name, usually spoken of until the last half of the 19th century as the Zaire. Congo is now one of the subdivisions of Portuguese West Africa (see ANGOLA). It must not be confounded with the Belgian Congo.
Few questions in historical geography have been more keenly discussed than that of the first discovery of Guinea by the navigators of modern Europe. Lancelot Malocello, a Genoese, in 1270 reached at least as far as the Canaries. The first direct attempt to find a sea route to India was, it is said, also made by Genoese, Ugolino and Guido de Vivaldo, TedisioDoria and others who equipped two galleys and sailed south along the African coast in 1291. Beyond the fact that they passed Cape Nun there is no trustworthy record of their voyage. In 1346 a Catalan expedition started for " the river of gold " on the Guinea coast; its fate is unknown. The French claim that between 1364 and 1410 the people of Dieppe sent out several expeditions to Guinea; and Jean de Bethencourt, who settled in the Canaries about 1402, made explorations towards the south. At length the consecutive efforts of the navigators employed by Prince Henry of Portugal Gil Eannes, Diniz Diaz, Nuno Tristam, Alvaro Fernandez, Cadamosto, Usodimare and Diego Gomez made known the coast as far as the Gambia, and by the end of the isth century the whole region was familiar to Europeans.
For further information see SENEGAL, gold COAST, IVORY COAST, FRENCH GUINEA, PORTUGUESE GUINEA, LIBERIA, etc. For the history of European discoveries, consult G. E. de Azurara, Chronica de descobrimento e conquista de Guine, published, with an introduction, by Barros de Santarem (Paris, 1841), English translation, The Discovery and Conquest of Guinea, by C. R. Beazley and E. Prestage (Hakluyt Society publications, 2 vols., London, 1896-1899), vol. ii. has an introduction on the early history of African exploration, etc. with full bibliographical notes). L. Estancelin, Recherches sur les voyages et decouvertes des navigateurs normands en Afrique (Paris, 1832); Villault de Bellefond, Relation des cosies d'Afrique des pays situes sur la cote occidentale d'Afrique (Paris, 1842); R. H. Major, Life of Prince Henry the Navigator (London, 1868) ; and the elaborate review of Major's work by M. Codine in the Bulletin de la Soc. de Geog. (1873); A. E. Nordenskiold, Periplus (Stockholm, 1897); The Story of Africa, vol. i. (London, 1892), edited by Dr Robert Brown.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)