In 1472, the Portuguese navigator Fernando Pó is credited with being the first European to find the island of Bioko while searching for a route to India. It was given the name Formosa (“Beautiful”) by him, but it was soon given the name of its European discoverer. In 1474, Portugal conquered the islands of Fernando Pó and Annobón.
The Treaty of El Pardo, signed in 1778 by Queen Maria I of Portugal and King Charles III of Spain, gave Spain Bioko, surrounding islands, and trade rights in the Bight of Biafra between the Niger and Ogoue rivers. As a result, Spain attempted to acquire access to a slave supply owned by British merchants. Between 1778 to 1810, the Viceroyalty of the Ro de la Plata, headquartered in Buenos Aires, was in charge of Equatorial Guinea.
The United Kingdom maintained a base on Bioko from 1827 to 1843 to fight the slave trade, which was relocated to Sierra Leone after an agreement with Spain in 1843. Following the restoration of Spanish authority in 1844, the region was dubbed “Territorios Espaoles del Golfo de Guinea.” Spain had failed to occupy the vast territory in the Bight of Biafra to which it had Treaty rights, while the French had been busy extending their occupancy at the cost of Spain’s claim. After the Treaty of Paris in 1900, Spain was left with the continental enclave of Rio Muni, a paltry 26,000 km2 out of the 300,000 km2 extending east to the Ubangi river that the Spaniards had originally claimed. The plantations of Fernando Po were mainly in the hands of a black Creole aristocracy, subsequently known as Fernandinos, around the turn of the century. During the British control of the island in the early nineteenth century, they settled 2,000 Sierra Leoneans and freed slaves, and a minor stream of immigration from West Africa and the West Indies persisted after the British left. Cubans, Filipinos, and Spaniards of different colors deported for political or other offenses, as well as some aided settlers, were added to this core of settlers.
In the form of fugitive slaves and potential planters, there was also a trickle of immigration from the neighboring Portuguese islands. Although a few Fernandinos were Catholic and spoke Spanish, on the eve of the First World War, approximately nine-tenths of the population was Protestant and spoke English, and pidgin English was the island’s lingua franca. While labor recruiting on the Windward shore continued, Sierra Leoneans were especially well positioned as planters since they had family and other ties there and could readily organize labor supply.
A new generation of Spanish immigrants began to put the Fernandinos on the defensive in the early twentieth century. In 1904-1905, new land laws favored Spaniards, and most of the larger planters subsequently came in the islands as a result of these changes. The Liberian labor agreement of 1914 favored rich individuals with easy access to the government, and the transfer in labor supply from Liberia to Rio Muni exacerbated this advantage. In 1940, it was believed that just 20% of the colony’s cocoa output came from African land, with Fernandinos controlling almost all of it.
The biggest impediment to economic growth was a persistent labor shortage. The indigenous Bubi people of Bioko, pushed into the interior of the island and devastated by alcoholism, venereal disease, smallpox, and sleeping sickness, refused to labor on plantations. Working on their own little cocoa plantations offered them a great deal of independence. Furthermore, starting in the late 1800s, the Bubi were shielded from planter demands by the Spanish Claretian missionaries, who were powerful in the colony and ultimately organized the Bubi into mini-mission theocracies like to the famous Paraguayan Jesuit Reductions. Two minor insurgencies in 1898 and 1910, both opposing the conscription of forced labor for the plantations, resulted in the Bubi being disarmed in 1917 and left completely reliant on the missionaries.
Between 1926 to 1959, Bioko and Rio Muni were included into the Spanish Guinea colony. The workforce was mainly immigrant contract labor from Liberia, Nigeria, and Cameroun, and the economy was centered on huge cocoa and coffee plantations and timber concessions. Between 1914 and 1930, an estimated 10,000 Liberians were sent to Fernando Po as part of a Labour Treaty that ended in 1930. Following the cessation of Liberian imports, Fernando Po’s cocoa farmers moved to Rio Muni. It was no accident that efforts to subjugate the Fang people were launched in the 1920s, just as Liberia was starting to reduce its recruiting. By 1926, the colonial guard had established garrisons across the enclave, and the colony had been declared ‘pacified’ by 1929.
Rio Muni had a tiny population, estimated to be about 100,000 in the 1930s, and crossing the border into Cameroun or Gabon was simple. Furthermore, the forestry businesses required an increasing quantity of labor, and the expansion of coffee production provided a new way to pay taxes. As a result, Fernando Po’s labor shortages persisted. The French only allowed recruiting in Cameroun for a short time, and Igbo smuggled in canoes from Calabar, Nigeria, became the primary source of labor. After World War II, it allowed Fernando Po to become one of Africa’s most prolific agricultural regions.
Politically, the postwar colonial history can be divided into three distinct phases: up to 1959, when its status was raised from ‘colonial’ to ‘provincial,’ taking a page from the Portuguese Empire’s approach; between 1960 and 1968, when Madrid attempted a partial decolonisation, which was hoped to preserve the territory as an integral part of the Spanish system; and after 1968, when Madrid attempted a full decolonisation, which was hoped to preserve the territory as an integral part The first of these phases was little more than a continuation of previous policies, which were very similar to those of Portugal and France, particularly in dividing the population into a vast majority governed as “natives,” or non-citizens, and a small minority (along with whites) admitted to civic status as emancipados, with assimilation to metropolitan culture being the only permision.
The beginnings of nationalism emerged during this ‘provincial’ period, but only among tiny communities who had sought shelter from the Caudillo’s paternal hand in Cameroun and Gabon. The Movimiento Nacional de Liberación de Guinea (MONALIGE) and the Idea Popular de Guinea Ecuatorial were founded (IPGE). Their pressures were light, but not throughout West Africa as a whole. The region was granted some autonomy and administrative advancement by a “moderate” organization, the Movimiento de Unión Nacional de la Guinea Ecuatorial, after a resolution on August 9, 1963, was ratified by a referendum on December 15, 1963. (MUNGE). This proved to be a weak weapon, and Madrid succumbed to the currents of nationalism in the face of mounting UN demand for reform.