The land now known as Guinea-Bissau was once the kingdom of Gabú (Kaabu), which was part of the larger Mali empire. After 1546 Gabú became more autonomous, and at least portions of the kingdom existed until 1867.
The first European to encounter Guinea-Bissau was the Portuguese explorer Nuño Tristão in 1446; colonists in the Cape Verde islands obtained trading rights in the territory, and it became a center of the Portuguese slave trade. In the 16th century the expansion of Mande-speaking peoples into the upper Guinea Coast area caused wars that greatly increased the number of prisoners available for export as slaves.
During the next four centuries, the people of Guinea had little difficulty in preventing or restricting the attempts of foreign powers to establish territorial claims. A post established at Cacheu by Cape Verde traders in 1588 was given periodic support by the government during the 17th century but did not expand. In 1687 a Portuguese post was established at Bissau, but failed to survive. In 1792 the English briefly and disastrously held a settlement at Bolama. Meanwhile the Portuguese had reestablished a base at Bissau and during the 19th century increasingly came to regard the coast on either side as sovereign territory.
The Portuguese territorial claim in Guinea was disputed by both the British and the French. Periodic negotiation first excluded the British (1870) and then settled the boundaries with the French-claimed territories (1886 and 1902–05). The final “pacification” campaigns were fought by João Teixeira Pinto in 1913–15. These wars were followed by nearly half a century of predominantly peaceful Portuguese administration.
In 1936 Guiné Bissau was declared a Portuguese colony  and in 1955 became a Portuguese overseas province.
As African nationalism rose after World War II and neighbouring territories gained independence, Guineans began to challenge their colonial rulers. Nationalist attacks on Portuguese administrative and military posts were instigated in July 1961 by guerrillas of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), led by Amílcar Cabral. By 1974 the rebels controlled most of the countryside, where they formed a government that was soon recognized by scores of countries. The military coup in Portugal in April 1974 brightened the prospects for freedom, and in August the Lisbon government signed an agreement granting independence to the province. Independence was proclaimed on 10 September 1974 and the new republic took the name Guinea-Bissau.
As early as the 14th century a
flag was attributed to a kingdom of Guinea, which has to be situated in
today’s Senegal. This flag was documented by a Franciscan monk who claimed to
have travelled the region. He writes:
… Afterwards I departed from Buda (a city south
of the Atlas mountains) and went, by the Zahara, to another mountain called
Ganahe in which there is a rich well supplied city of the saem name. It is
the head of the kingdom where they crown the kings. And the King of Guynoa
has a gold flag with a black mountain in the middle. …
As the settlements of Cacheu and
Bolana were in the sphere of influence of the Portuguese empire, early
heraldry of Guinea Bissau is largely the heraldry of the Portuguese Seaborne Empire.
By constitution of 1826 Guiné was officially incorporated in the Portuguese Empire
but only in 1935 its individuality was recognized by a coat of arms. This
consisted of the tierced coat of arms, crowned and supported by the armillary
sphere, common for all parts of the Portuguese overseas empire. In sinister
chief there is a golden staff surmounted by a negroes’ head which is said to have
been created by Dom Alphonso V (1438-’81) and is in memory of his annexation
of this part of Africa. 
Below the achievement there is a
listel with the legend COLONIA PORTUGUESA DE GUINÉ, in 1955
changed into PROVINCIA PORTUGUESA DE GUINÉ.
The flag of the Governor of Guiné
consisted of a white cloth with two vertical green stripes and the cross of
the Order of the Empire in the middle. 
The coat of arms and governors’
flag disappeared immediately after the proclamation of the Republic in 1973.
A new achievement was adopted in the same year. It consists of a black
five-pointed star, a golden shell and a green garland with the motto UNIDADE
LUTA PROGRESSO (Union, Struggle and Progress). From this emblem some
three versions are known the newest, about 1990, illustrated in the head of
The emblem is:
Arms: Gules, a five-pointed
star Sable in chief.
Garland: Two palm leaves
proper, on the junction a shell Or.
LUTA PROGRESSO in black
lettering on a white listel.
See illustration in the head of this essay
In the emblem the black star is
for the African black people and their strive for freedom. The palm leaves
are symbols of peace and the shell is for the Atlantic.
The black star, the garland and
the shell also figured on the emblem of the PAIGC, together with a flaming
torch, symbolizing the victory in the struggle for independence. After
independence was realized, the torch was omitted.
version of the emblem of Guinea Bissau
Red disc with shell, garland, motto and star. This
emblem is inspired by the emblem of the PAIGC. 
version of the emblem of Guinea Bissau
garland, motto in black lettering on a red listel, black star
The coat of arms of the city of
Gabú, named after the ancient empire of Gabú, was adopted in colonial times
when the city was still called Nova Lamego. It consists of a sword between
two machetes and is surrounded by a bordure with four quinas-escutcheons
and four crescents.  No explanation of the coat of arms is given, nor its exact
date of adoption.
Comando Territorial Inependente de Guiné Bissau
Arms: Sable, a commanders’
staff topped by a negroes’ head per pale Or, within a bordure Gules.
Crest: On a helmet to the
dexter, lambrequined Sable and Or, a
lions’paw Gules, holding the commanders’ staff of the arms
E LEALDADE (Courage and Loyalty)
The commanders’ staff
is the symbol of Guiné Bissau
The bordure symbolizes
the Independent Territorial Command
The lions’ paw
symbolizes the arms of the portuguese soldiers defending the Independent
and Banner 
© Hubert de Vries 2008-11-25
 By constitution of 31 may
1936: Artículo 3.° — Los dominios ultramarinos de Portugal se denominam
Colonias y constituyen el Império Colonial Portugués.
 Book of the Knowledge of all the kingdoms, lands, and lordships that are in the world. (ca
1350) Works issued by the Hakluyt Society. 2nd series N° XXIX. 1912. p. 30
 Der Herold, 1943 p. A3 - A4.
 By Whitney Smith about 1975.