Why Are There Four Countries Named Guinea?

On May 24, 2004, a massive landslide buried two thousand people in the country of Papua New Guinea. Not sure where the country is located, I google mapped the name and was confused. I noticed that it is an island adjacent to Indonesia. but I thought Guinea was in Africa, so I googled it. THAT opened up a can of worms: Apparently, there are three other countries with Guinea in their names. These three ARE in Africa. So why are there four countries have the word Guinea in them on different parts of the globe?

The African Guineas

Determined to find out more, I started reading different online articles on this topic. Essentially, as the narrative goes, the word Guinea comes from an old Berber word which means dark skin. The word described the general area and population along the coast of West Africa. As Europeans started to explore and colonize Africa, they adopted the name for areas they claimed in that part of the continent.. First, there was Portuguese Guinea, then Swedish Guinea, Danish Guinea, British Guinea, and French Guinea.1 In the mid 1950s, amid a wave of decolonization, French Guinea was the first to become independent and took the name Guinea for its country name. In 1968, To the south, a region colonized in succession by Portuguese then Spain, Britain and France also gained independence and named itself Equatorial Guinea. Finally, 1974, the United Nations recognized Portuguese Guinea as a sovereign nation and the country named itself Guinea Bissau.

The Asian Guinea

What about Papua New Guinea on the other side of the globe? Apparently the natives called the island Papua. However, Spanish explorers who didn’t make a distinction between the dark skinned Papuan natives and the dark skinned Africans, named the region New Guinea. The Netherlands claimed the western part of the island while Britain and Germany each carved up and claimed the eastern part of the island. After the Second World War, with the defeat of Germany, the eastern part of the island was ceded to Britain. It was later administered by Australia, a British Commonweath country a short hop from the island’s south. In 1975, it gained its independence and kept the name Papua New Guinea. Technically, it is still a dependency of the United Kingdom. As for the western part of the island under Dutch control, the Netherlands ceded it to Indonesia in the 60’s and it is currently a province of Indonesia.2

Fun Fact:

Papua New Guinea is the third largest island nation in the world at 462,840 square kilometers, behind Indonesia and Madagascar. It is larger than the Japan, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Iceland, and Ireland.3 Who knew?

  1. “Why So Many Guineas?” A British account on Youtube called History Matters has a nice animated story about this phenomenon: https://youtu.be/7Zed-g6dbZ8?si=btxzn29OCL9hMkNZ ↩︎
  2. Five Differences Between West Papua vs. Papua New Guinea” at westpapuadiary.com:
  3. Which Are the Island Countries Of The World?” l ↩︎


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