Standing close to the harbor, this welcoming Baobab is one of hundreds to spread its root-like naked branches
over the island of Bubaque. It is said that God turned these trees upside down as punishment for being too vain.
In early 2012 I was invited to join a film crew on assignment to one of Africa's least known archipelagos - the Bijagós. The plan was to make a feature film by director Sana N'hada about these islands' ancient culture and the dangers it faces nowadays. As I boarded the airplane my mind was filled with exciting expectations about my first experience in Africa and as part of a cinema production team.

Our trip included two sites - Iembérem, a small village located in the South of Guinea-Bissau, where we stayed for a few days to film in the lush subhumid forest of Mata de Cantanhez; and Bubaque, the main island in the Bijagós Archipelago, where we stayed the remaining 6 weeks.

As my work required access to electric power, not necessarily available at all times in Bubaque, I found myself having some extra time to document the behind the scenes action. Here is a small selection of photographs and a few notes on what I learned about these islands.
Bijagós' society is built upon ancient and mystical beliefs, portrayed in the story of "Kadjike". The actress
wearing a costume made of raphia plays a descendant of the daughters of Akapakama, the first woman
to inhabit the world.
Em Fevereiro deste ano tive a oportunidade de viajar até ao largo da costa ocidental Africana e passar algumas semanas nas ilhas dos Bijagós, entre tabancas, praias paradisíacas, geradores e uma equipa de produção de cinema. Fomos gravar "Kadjike", um filme de ficção do realizador guineense Sana N'Hada, sobre a cultura única destas ilhas, hoje tão ameaçada como o equilíbrio natural do arquipélago.
The 88 islands that form the archipelago are located on the coast of Guinea-Bissau. Its surrounding waters
are exceptionally productive and have always provided the people with precious resources.

According to Bijagós beliefs, Akapakama had four daughters to whom were attributed powers over nature,
the earth, the sea and the weather. Nowadays, women still hold considerable power in society, taking
many of the important decisions that regard their families and villages.
Not long after our arrival, I was able to take a few hours off to attend one of the most popular events
in the archipelago. Every year, on a warm saturday afternoon in February, the streets of Bubaque are
filled with dancers, actors and musicians that come to show their skills at the anual Carnival parade.
Each island sends its best performers as the goal here is to win the chance of representing the archipelago
in the National parade, taking place the day after in Bissau.
Our characters' story was closely entwined with the native traditions, which enriched without doubt our own
experience of Bijagós' culture. In this scene, the preparation of "chabéu" - the fruit of the palm tree - took the spotlight.
A few of the sets were located inside villages, giving us the opportunity to observe their daily lives.
In each of them, we were welcomed by the most curious, responsive and judgmental of all audiences.
A lot of children were thrilled to have their picture taken and would gladly, often insistently, ask for more. 
For this little girl however, my camera and I also made up for the perfect opportunity to momentarily escape
her mother's attempts of undoing her intricate braiding.  
A pirogue rests by the beach of Bruce, located on the opposite side of the island. These popular boats
are carved from the trunks of Kapoks (Português: poilão), considered to sacred in Guinea-Bissau.
Opening scene of "Kadjike".
Preparations for the opening scene.
As we walked along the beach at low tide, the soil rumbled and vibrated as if the sand itself were moving.
Hundreds if not thousands of Fiddler crabs were quickly leaving their sand bubbling lives and crawling back to
the safety of their burrows. I decided to wait for a few to come back out and I was thrilled to find that some of my
images were included in the film, making my sunburn all worthwhile.
While we were filming at Bruce, I noticed several Village weavers were feeding in the vegetation that limits
the beach. I decided to walk further east and after 300m I started hearing an incredibly loud chatter - a nesting
colony was just ahead, filled with dozens of males in a busy frenzy to finish their suspended nests.
While the archipelago's remoteness and the difficulty in navigating between its islands have meant many pros
and cons for the culture of the Bijagós, they have always worked in favor of the preservation of its unique biodiversity.

Even the shoreline of Bubaque, today so visibly polluted in many places, still has much to offer for nature enthusiasts.
The greatest diversity in animal species is concentrated in the intertidal habitats and in the shallow waters
that separate the islands. The Western Reef Heron was a constant sight whenever we filmed close to the
sealine, always absorbed in its task of searching for prey - fish, molluscs and crustaceans.
An Eurasian curlew forages the mudflats, rich in polychaete worms and molluscs, only meters away from one
of our sets. Every boreal winter, the islands are estimated to welcome between 700 and 900 thousand shorebirds.
The incredible abundance of fish in the archipelago and its diversity - about 155 different species - have
always been an important means of subsistence for the Bijagós.
Today, one of the biggest threats to this traditional activity and to the islands' biodiversity is the arrival of foreign
illegal fleets that not only overexploit fishing stocks but also destroy vast areas of mangrove in order to smoke the fish.
In every rock and tree of Bubaque there is bound to be an Agama lizard and I found this one hunting just two
steps from my door. Hopefully my next visit to the island will coincide with its breeding season as I can only
imagine how amazing the sight of so many beautifully colored lizards must be.
Although I wasn't as lucky to spot wild snakes in the island as some of my colleagues, I had the chance to
get really close to this African rock python, which played an important secondary role in the film.
The vegetation around the beaches was as impressive in its whole as it was in the details. I found this spherical
flower in the island of Rubane but haven't yet got a confirmation on the species.
The Bijagós also harbor important populations of threatened species like the African manatee, the Atlantic
hump-backed dolphin, the Green sea turtle and the hippopotamus. In 1996, the entire archipelago was
recognized by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve and since then, two National Parks and one Community
Marine Protected Area have been created.
In the first week of production, before taking the boat to Bubaque, we headed south of Bissau to film a few
scenes in the heart of the jungle, at Mata de Cantanhez. On our second morning of filming, we were more
than thrilled to see a group of Red Colobus monkeys grooming in the trees nearby our house.
The reason behind our journey to Cantanhez was not just the mystical atmosphere below its dense canopy but
one tree in particular - the largest most majestic kapok I came to know during my stay in Guinea. And though
there are certainly others that resemble it in beauty, it was really important to Sana that we found just the perfect
one. That we understood upon learning the meaning behind "Kadjike".
As night begins to fall, the team prepares the set of probably the hardest scene to make in the film.
One of the challenges in making this scene was the fair amount of special effects it involved.
Wound detail by makeup artist Rita Anjos.
Scarification, a crucial feature in the scene.
There are several rites of passage in the lives of both Bijagós women and men and there's a lot of secrecy
regarding the events that such rites include. "Kadjike" is the place where a transformation occurs through the
sharing of knowledge, in this case the majestic kapok whose anchoring roots embrace the actors and team.
"Kadjike" and I. Must return for a wildlife documentary as soon as possible...

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