Spain's colonial footprint in Equatorial Guinea

The footprint left by Spain in Equatorial Guinea, a country that became independent in 1968, can be traced through several emblematic buildings that have stood the test of time on the island of Bioko.

Spain's colonial footprint in Equatorial Guinea
Colonial building in Equatorial Guinea. Image and text by P.Z. via Inclusion

The footprint left by Spain in Equatorial Guinea, a country that became independent in 1968, can be traced through several emblematic buildings that have stood the test of time on the island of Bioko.

Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, was founded in 1827 by English Captain William Fitzwilliam Owen, who named it Clarence, in honor of the Duke of Clarence, the future King William IV of England, but when it returned to Spanish hands in 1847, the city took the name of the Castiza Queen, Isabel II of Bourbon.

Clarence, in a commercial key

Under British rule, Clarence, which became an important commercial enclave, experienced days of splendor and prosperity thanks to a large market for palm oil, coffee, cocoa, sugar, thread, fabrics, shoes, wines and liquors. But it was after 1883, after the arrival of the Claretian missionaries, when the city, laid out in a string, began to rise and adorn itself with buildings that were to define an urban configuration marked around its Cathedral Church and the Plaza de España, today called Plaza de la Independencia (Independence Square).

The first great building erected in Santa Isabel was the Cathedral Church that emerged after a dreadful fire that turned the altar and the choir of the first wooden Catholic temple into ashes. It was then replaced by another iron one brought from Belgium, inaugurated on April 14, 1897, with a solemn mass at noon, officiated by four celebrants. On that base was built, little by little, year after year, what today is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of Spanish colonial architecture in Equatorial Guinea.

The sound of the bells

The tolling of the bells of the Cathedral Church of Santa Isabel was something like the definitive call for Spain to pay more attention to that distant African colony whose rights it had received from Portugal, thanks to the Treaty of El Pardo, signed between Spain and Portugal in 1761. Since then, the bells of all the bell towers began to ring in the villages of the South and North of Bioko, from Bariobé to Moka, from Musola to Santiago de Baney, while boarding schools and schools grew and multiplied around missions such as that of Banapá, founded in 1886 and built under the direction of Father Luis Segarra; the Parish of Our Lady of Montserrat, the Catholic church of Barrio de Las Palmas and the Claret School, in Luba; the Church of Our Lady of Montserrat, in Rebola and the Parish of St. Joseph, in Musola.

Later, with the arrival of the Spaniards who dared to cross the pond and settle in Guinea in search of the opportunities offered by coffee, cocoa, and timber, streets, squares, farms, factories, hospitals, and town halls proliferated, erected on buildings that have enriched the historical heritage of a country that ceased to be part of Spain on October 12, 1968.

Although, despite the progressive arrival of Spanish citizens, the Church continued to be the reference point and the driving force of colonial architecture, for obvious reasons, it had to resort on many occasions to work with native materials, as was the case of the church of Batete, built-in 1887, with wood from the country, or the mission of Annobón, built with lime extracted from wood spores.

Years before, with Captain Owen, had traveled natives from Freetown and Monrovia, artisans from Sierra Leone, Fanti from Cape Coast, and Kru workers and fishermen, who over the years would become what would later be called "Fernandinos" (because the island was called Fernando Poo), Clarence Creoles, with English habits that had little or nothing to do with those of the natives of the island of Bioko (the Bubis), and who would invent the Pichinglis, a new French language that came to replace English and with which both whites and Bubis and Creoles understood each other perfectly.

And it was precisely fernandinos, or Creoles, like Maximiliano Jones (better known as Magazine) who were the real promoters and dynamizers of a prosperity reflected in houses, mansions and monuments built in Luba (San Carlos) such as the house and Patio Magazine (built before 1944) or the construction of the Methodist church, to which must be added the layout and construction of the popular neighborhood of Las Palmas.

The footprint of the Joneses

While this was happening in neighboring Luba, in Clarence, (Santa Isabel, Bioko) it would be Creoles like Don José WalterioDougan who would leave the traces of the Creole strength in mansions like the Teodolita House, (named after the firstborn of misterDougan) and the patriarch's house (dating from 1922) Although it should be noted that the Jones also left their mark in Clarence with buildings like the Aunty Karen Jones (1911) but, above all, the Jones family mansion (1916) that after the Spanish Civil War would become the headquarters of the Falange Española Tradicionalista and the Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional Sindicalista (FET and JONS), and later, would become the headquarters of the newspaper Ébano, organ of the Press of the Movement in Spanish Guinea. And while the Jones, the Collins, the Vivour, the Dougan, and other illustrious fernandinos polished Luba and Santa Isabel with beautiful constructions, the newly arrived Spaniards built houses and mansions adjacent to the haciendas and the cocoa and coffee mills and dryers in Sipopo, Rebola, Baney, Batete, Bokoko, Moka and Musola, which would end up altering the typical landscape of these places although, in the end, they would end up being part of it. In this sense, the houses of the Amilivia family, in Banapá; in Batetela of José Rivas; in Bokokolos Drume and the Avendaño and, in Luba, the house of the Cendrós family, or the complex formed around the estate La Barcelonesa, were especially outstanding.

Buildings in Santa Isabel

However, it was in Santa Isabel (Malabo) where the Spaniards would be used more thoroughly when it came to building complexes such as the Sampaka estate (contraction of the pichinglis of the name and surname of the previous English owner, Mr. Sam Parker) built in 1906; the hacienda that is today the University of Equatorial Guinea; the Cayuco; the Casa Serrano (1936) and the Casa Verde, first conceived as the consulate of Portugal, then the company of Pérez e Hijos and finally a hardware store of the firm Muñoz y Gala.

Official buildings

There were also official buildings such as the hospital of Santa Isabel or the one built in Luba, which today bears the name of one of the fathers of Guinean-Ecuadorian independence, Don Enrique Gori Molubela; the Riaba Courthouse and lighthouse or the building that housed the former Cardenal Cisneros National Institute of Secondary Education, which later served to house the Spanish-Guinean Cultural Center, and which today has become the Guinean Cultural Center. However, the Governor's Palace, located in the Plaza de España next to the Cathedral Church, the building where the transfer of power from Spain to Equatorial Guinea was solemnized by Manuel Fraga to Francisco Macías-Nguema, has been demolished in order to expand the headquarters of the Presidential Palace and house the construction of the National Library. But it has also fallen victim to the pickaxe and the desire to modernize the old city created by the English two centuries ago, the boarding school and college of the Reverend Claretian missionaries to erect in its place the Sofitel Presidential Hotel.