Equatorial Guinea Is The Only Spanish Speaking Country In Africa – Here Is Why?

It is on record that Spain once controlled more than 35 countries all over the world, including a few African countries. While the reign of pain lasted, the indigenous people of their colonies spoke Spanish but a good majority soon reverted back to their indigenous languages after independence. However, this was not the case for all of them and especially so for Equatorial Guinea which remains the only country on the African continent that adopted Spanish as its official language at independence and has maintained it till this very day alongside French and later Portuguese.

Spain Ruled Equatorial Guinea For Over A Century 

Spain was not the original country to initially colonize the country and landmass entity that we currently know as Equatorial Guinea. The country was initially colonized by Portugal as far back as 1474 – just two years after the colony was discovered by the Portuguese explorer, Fernando Po. Portugal would go on to rule Equatorial Guinea for more than 300 years.

Subsequently, the country officially became a Spanish colony in 1778, when King Charles III of Spain and Queen Maria 1 of Portugal signed an agreement called the Treaty of El Pardo to officially transfer ownership of the colony to the Spanish. The Count of Arjelejos, Brigadier Felipe José, had to sail from his base in Uruguay to the region known as Bioko to formally and officially take possession of the colony. However, his administration of the colony was short-lived as he fell ill from a strange illness after arrival that eventually took his life as well as the lives of about 80% of the forces he took with him. As a result of the mysterious deaths that killed most of the early colonizers of the region, Spain did not send its citizens to the region, and no plans were made to develop the region for several decades.

Between 1829 and 1843, Spain intended to enter into an agreement with Britain to transfer ownership of the region but that move fell through, instead they resolved to lease Naval bases to the British forces to earn some revenue from the region. In 1844, total control of the region known as Fernando Po (formerly Bioko) returned back to Spain and it was known as Territorios Espanoles del Golfo de Guinea. As the unique diseases causing mysterious deaths amongst the colonizers began to subside, Spain assumed more control over the region and sent more of its administrators and troops to secure the region.

From 1900 to 1945, Spain went through a series of uncertainties and challenges in ruling the region, these include a shortage of labor to work in the coffee and cacao plantations and several others. During this period, it is worth noting that some of the ethnic communities such as the Fang began to grow restless and impatient with the administration of the Spanish and began clamoring for some sort of autonomy and self-rule. This agitation began to increase from 1945 and continued till the 1960s, culminating in the eventual independence from Spanish rule on October 12th, 1968, when the country became known as the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.

How Did Spanish Become The Official Language Of Equatorial Guinea 

Prior to the invasion and unification of the region currently known as Equatorial Guinea, it was made up of some fragmented islands and regions that had different indigenous people who spoke very different languages. Even to this day, there are still several ethnic groups in the country all speaking their own languages- such as Fang, Bubi, Ndowe, Annobonese, just to mention a few.

When Spain took over control of the territory from Portugal, it was able to successfully leave a strong impression of its reign on the region and its people. This feat was achieved through Spain’s massive investment in the education of the people of the region in the Spanish language.

Nonetheless, many people in the country believe that the Spanish language was imposed on them by their colonizers as it was not just limited to being the medium of instruction in the classroom but was also spread to the common man in the streets. People eventually adapted to this new language and it became a common ground for all irrespective of their native backgrounds. It was hereby inevitable for Spanish not to be recognized as the country’s official language many years later when they finally gained independence on October 12th, 1968.

However, over the years, the Spanish language spoken in the country has adopted certain aspects of the local languages and is now well modified from the original Spanish language and has been named Equatonian Spanish.

What Is The Difference Between Equatoguinean Spanish And Normal Spanish?

Technically, it can be said that both Equatoguinean Spanish and normal Spanish share quite a lot in common, and people who speak both versions are very much able to understand each other. More so, as Spanish is an “adopted” language in the country and is spoken by the majority across several ethnic groups, the difference from the normal Spanish is made more obvious by different accents and intonations.

The infusion of the local dialect into the Spanish spoken by Equatoguineans and the continuous evolution of language to reflect current contemporary culture and experiences are some of the factors that account for the difference in the Spanish spoken in Equatorial Guinea. Moreso, several words that are alien to normal Spanish have been infused into the local Spanish dialect spoken by Equatoguineans which mainstream Spanish speakers will not understand. Locals have infused local dialects such as Fang, Annabonese, pidgin English, etc, into the normal Spanish to create the Equatoguinean Spanish.

It is hereby pertinent to point out that the key difference between Equatoguinean and other types of Spanish is majorly in the pronunciations. This means that Equatoguinean Spanish has some unique variations in pronunciation which makes it stand out. For example at the end of a syllable or word, some persons will usually strongly pronounced the letter while in some cases such a word or syllable is omitted altogether.

Other prominent differences are verbal errors, inconsistencies in the subject-verb agreement, omission, and misuse of prepositions, and then non-agreement of nouns and adjectives. This is largely attributed to the fact that many locals did not get proper training in the use of the language as they might have learned it during the course of their daily activities rather than as a subject in the classroom.

What Language Did Equatoguineans Speak Before Colonization?

The place that is today known as Equatorial Guinea was said to have once been occupied by Pygmies. According to history, Bantu speaking people also began the migration to the area around 2,000BC. After they had settled down in the region, the Fang people who spoke the Fang Language migrated into the region and they reportedly moved into the area from regions around Central Cameroon.

Equatorial Guinea
Igbo People of Equatorial Guinea image source

History also has it that some Igbo people of Nigeria migrated into Equatorial Guinea and settled on the Bioko Island which is found in the northern part of the country. When the Portuguese colonized Equatorial Guinea, they are known to have introduced the Annobon people who are Angola natives via São Tomé island.

All these ethnic groups spoke their own native languages before their first European contact during the Portuguese rule and even when they were being ruled by the Spanish. It is hereby safe to say that the Equatoguineans never had any official language before they came in contact with the Europeans.

Spanish Colonies In Africa That Maintain Their Local Language

Considering the heavy influence of colonization in Africa, it was convenient for colonized countries to maintain the languages of their colonizers after independence for several political and economic reasons. According to history, many former Spain colonies still use Spanish as their official language to date and this has led to numerous Spanish dialects emerging all over the world.

However, there are still some countries that have kept and continued to maintain their native languages after colonization. Diverse reasons have been proposed for why such countries were able to keep their official languages despite the fact that their colonizers communicated in other languages and did well to teach the colonizers language in schools for better absorption. The places in Africa that did not fully adopt the Spanish language despite being colonized by Spain include Morocco and Western Sahara.

Morocco

Morocco also referred to as the  Kingdom of Morocco is a country located in the Maghreb region of Northern Africa. This magnificent country’s name in Arabic means ‘the place where the sun sets’. On its northern axis, you will find the Mediterranean Sea while the Atlantic Ocean lies on its western axis. It is also notable for sharing land boundaries with Algeria on its east and Western Sahara on the south.

The country was founded as a state in 788 AD by Idriss I and after his reign, several other dynasties ruled the state and it expanded during the 11th and 12th centuries to include some regions of Iberia. However, in the early 15th century, Portugal conquered some parts of Morocco but their rule was short-lived as the Marinid dynasty and Saadi were able to regain the sovereignty of the state towards the 17th century.

In the 1900s, the French and Spanish became interested in Morocco because of its strategic location close to the Mediterranean sea. By 1912, the country became a protectorate for both Spain and France but it eventually got its independence in 1956. As at this time, Arabic and the Berber language remained the widely spoken languages in the country with only a handful of people speaking French and Spanish.

Western Sahara Region

This region is still a developing area in the desert area of the northwest region of Africa. It was a Spanish colony for many years before Morocco began to rule it in 1975. However, their reign over the region was not a smooth one as the indigenous people of the region known as the Saharawi people have been in constant conflict with Moroccan authority.

In 1976, the leader of the Saharawi people Polisario Front renamed the region, The Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and it became a recognized nation by several governments and even joined the African Union as a full-fledged member.

It was not until the United Nation’s intervention with a truce agreement in 1991 that the conflicts subsided. This was so because the agreement promised the region a referendum to gain full independence but that is yet to happen. Notwithstanding, just like Morocco, the region is occupied by Arab-speaking people and though Spanish is also a recognized language in the land it is not as popular or widely spoken as Arabic.

Other Past Colonies Of Spain That Do Not Speak Spanish As An Official Language

During the time of Spain’s colonization, they were also known to have had a great influence in the other regions outside Africa like Asia, and several regions in America. Notable among the countries they colonized in these regions include The Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Belize. However in these countries, Spanish did not make it to be the official language even though it had been used then as the language of trade, education, and administration.

In the Philippines today, Spanish is virtually extinct, with only 0.5% of the population being able to speak the language proficiently. The official languages are Filipino and English. In Trinidad and Tobago, English is the country’s official language. They mostly speak the Trinidad and Tobago Standard English. However, the main spoken language is either of 2 English-based creole languages (Trinidadian Creole or Tobagonian Creole). These creoles are a reflection of the Amerindian, European, African, and Asian heritage of the nation. Spanish on the other hand is estimated to be spoken by around 5% of the population.

For Jamaica, even though English is the official language in Jamaica, the Jamaican Patois is the national language whereas students are taught Spanish in school from the primary level upwards and around 40–45% of educated people in Jamaica know and understand some form of Spanish. More so, the Central American country Belize is also known to have English as the official language although Spanish and Kriol are recognized languages.

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