Fashion, tradition and modernity collide at Guinea Bissau Carnaval

Acrobats breathing fire, dancers dressed as bulls and men wearing condoms as earrings - Guinea Bissau Carnaval certainly has its own special style. Organisers of this year's festival in the former Portuguese colony chose as its theme Rescue and Promote our Culture. “We saw that the culture of our people is getting a little lost so we wanted to make people think about what is really important as a nation that is divided into many ethnic groups," says Rita Le, spokesperson for the Carnaval committee.

This clash between tradition and modernity is evident in Guinea Bissau's street fashion. During Carnaval, ceremonial costumes from around the country were on display, most often made from indigenous natural materials. These rare outfits were originally designed for male circumcision, coming-of-age and harvest rituals. At Carnaval such styles were donned by teams of performers competing to best represent their heritage. “There are a lot of pressures to improve the economy, so people might want to cut down trees, or increase tourism so that they can buy the latest cell phone or Nike product,” warns Lay Seck, ecotourism coordinator at the Institute of Biodiversity of Protected Areas. As if to prove this point, Carnaval spectators were decked out in everything from contemporary sportswear to dashikis and partied long into the night.

Photography and Words Ricci Shryock