Pygmies probably once lived in the continental region that is now Equatorial Guinea, but are today found only in isolated pockets in southern Río Muni.
Bantu migrations between the 18th and 19th centuries brought the coastal ethno-linguistic groups as well as the
Fang people. Elements of the latter may have generated the
Bubi, who migrated from Cameroon to Río Muni and Bioko in several waves and succeeded former Neolithic populations. The
Annobón population, originally native to
Angola, was introduced by the Portuguese via
São Tomé island.
First European contact (1472)
Fernando Pó, seeking a path to
India, is credited as being the first European to discover the island of Bioko in 1472. He called it Formosa ("Beautiful"), but it quickly took on the name of its European discoverer. The islands of
Fernando Pó and Annobón were colonized by
Portugal in 1474.
In 1778, Queen
Maria I of Portugal and King
Charles III of Spain signed the
Treaty of El Pardo which ceded
Bioko, adjacent islets, and commercial rights to the
Bight of Biafra between the
Ogoue rivers to
Spain. Spain thereby tried to gain access to a source of slaves controlled by British merchants. Between 1778 and 1810, the territory of Equatorial Guinea was administered by the
Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, based in
From 1827 to 1843, the
United Kingdom had a base on
Bioko to combat the
 which was moved to
Sierra Leone under an agreement with Spain in 1843. In 1844, on restoration of Spanish sovereignty , the area became known as the "Territorios Españoles del Golfo de Guinea." Spain had neglected to occupy the large area in the Bight of Biafra to which it had right by
treaty, and the French had busily expanded their occupation at the expense of the area claimed by Spain. The
treaty of Paris in 1900 left Spain with the continental
enclave of Rio Muni, a mere 26,000 km2 out of the 300,000 stretching east to the
Ubangi river which the Spaniards had initially claimed.
 At the turn of the century, the
Fernando Pó were largely in the hands of a black
Creole elite, later known as
Fernandinos. The British had settled some 2,000 Sierra Leoneans and freed slaves there during their brief occupation of the island in the early nineteenth century, and a small current of immigration from West Africa and the West Indies continued after the departure of the British. To this core of settlers were added Cubans, Filipinos and Spaniards of various colours deported for political or other crimes, as well as some assisted settlers.
There was also a trickle of immigration from the neighbouring Portuguese islands, in the form of escaped slaves and prospective planters. Although a few of the
Fernandinos were Catholic and Spanish-speaking, about nine-tenths of them were Protestant and English-speaking on the eve of the First World War, and
pidgin English was the
lingua franca of the island. The Sierra Leoneans were particularly well placed as planters while labor recruitment on the
Windward coast continued, for they kept family and other connections there and could easily arrange labor supplies.
From the opening years of the twentieth century, the Fernandinos were put on the defensive by a new generation of Spanish immigrants. New land regulations in 1904–1905 favoured Spaniards, and most of the big planters of later years arrived in the islands from Spain following these new regulations. The
Liberian labor agreement of 1914+ favoured wealthy men with ready access to the state, and the shift in labor supplies from Liberia to Rio Muni increased this advantage. In 1940, it was estimated that only 20 per cent of the colony's cocoa production came from African land, nearly all of it in the hands of Fernandinos.
The greatest constraint to economic development was a chronic shortage of labour. Pushed into the interior of the island and decimated by alcohol addiction, venereal disease, smallpox, and sleeping sickness, the indigenous
Bubi population of
Bioko refused to work on plantations. Working their own little cocoa farms gave them a considerable degree of autonomy. Moreover, beginning in the late nineteenth century, the Bubi were protected from the demands of the planters by the Spanish
Claretian missionaries, who were very influential in the colony and eventually organised the Bubi into little mission theocracies reminiscent of the famous Jesuit
Reductions of Paraguay. Catholic penetration was furthered by two small insurrections in 1898 and 1910 protesting the conscription of
forced labour for the plantations. Afterwards the Bubi were disarmed in 1917, and left dependent on the missionaries.
Between 1926 and 1959 Bioko and Rio Muni were united as the colony of
Spanish Guinea. The economy was based on large
coffee plantations and
logging concessions and the workforce was mostly immigrant contract labour from
 Between 1914 and 1930, an estimated 10,000 Liberians went to Fernando Po under a Labour Treaty that was stopped altogether in 1930.
When Liberian workers were no longer available, the cocoa planters of Fernando Po turned to Rio Muni for their laborers. Campaigns were mounted to subdue the
Fang people in the 1920s, at the time that Liberia was beginning to cut back on recruitment. There were garrisons of the colonial guard throughout the enclave by 1926, and the whole colony was considered 'pacified' by 1929.
Rio Muni had a small population, officially put at a little over 100,000 in the 1930s, and escape across the frontiers into
Gabon was very easy. Also, the
timber companies needed increasing numbers of workers, and the spread of
coffee cultivation offered an alternative means of paying taxes . Fernando Pó thus continued to suffer from labour shortages. The French only briefly permitted recruitment in Cameroun, and the main source of labour came to be
Igbo smuggled in canoes from
Nigeria. This reolution to the worker shortage allowed Fernando Pó to become one of Africa's most productive agricultural areas after the Second World War.
Politically, one can divide the post-war colonial history into three fairly distinct phases: up to 1959, when its status was raised from 'colonial' to 'provincial', following the approach of the
Portuguese Empire; between 1960 and 1968, when Madrid attempted a partial decolonisation which as aimed at conserving the territory as an integral segment of the Spanish system; and onwards from 1968, when the territory became an independent Republic. The first of these phases consisted of little more than a continuation of previous policies; these closely resembled the policies of Portugal and France, notably in dividing the population into a vast majority governed as 'natives' or non-citizens, and a very small minority (together with whites) admitted to civic status as
assimilation to the metropolitan culture being the only permissible means of advancement.
This 'provincial' phase saw the beginnings of nationalism, but chiefly among small groups who had taken refuge from the
Caudillo's paternal hand in Cameroun and Gabon. They formed two bodies: the
Movimiento Nacional de Liberación de la Guinea (MONALIGE), and the
Idea Popular de la Guinea Ecuatorial (IPGE). The pressure they could bring to bear was weak, but the general trend in West Africa was not.
A decision of 9 August 1963, approved by a referendum of 15 December 1963, introduced the territory to a measure of autonomy and the administrative promotion of a 'moderate' group, the
Movimiento de Unión Nacional de la Guinea Ecuatorial
(MUNGE). This proved a feeble instrument, and, with growing pressure for change from the UN, Madrid gave way to the currents of nationalism.
Independence was conceded on 12 October 1968 and the region became the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.
Francisco Macías Nguema was elected as president.
In July 1970,
Macias Nguema created a single-party state and made himself
president for life in 1972. He broke off ties with Spain and the West. In spite of his condemnation of
Marxism, which he deemed "neo-colonialist", Equatorial Guinea maintained very special relations with socialist countries, notably
Cuba, and the
USSR. He signed a preferential trade agreement and a shipping treaty with the Soviet Union. The Soviets also granted loans to Equatorial Guinea.
The shipping agreement granted the Soviets permission to establish a pilot fishery development project and also a naval base at
Luba. In return the USSR was to supply fish to Equatorial Guinea. China and Cuba also gave different forms of financial, military, and technical assistance to Equatorial Guinea, which gave them a measure of influence there. For the USSR, despite the unsavoury background of Macias Nguema, there was an advantage to be gained in the
War in Angola by having access to Luba base and later on to
Malabo International Airport.
Towards the middle 1970s the Macias regime saw accusations of
mass killings. In 1974 the
World Council of Churches affirmed that large numbers of people had been murdered since 1968 in a 'reign of terror' which continued. The same body claimed that a quarter of the whole population had fled abroad, while 'the prisons are overflowing and to all intents and purposes form one vast concentration camp'. On Christmas 1975, Macías Nguema had 150 alleged coup plotters executed.
 Out of a population of 300,000, an estimated 80,000 were killed.
 Apart from allegedly committing
genocide against the ethnic minority
Bubi people, he ordered the deaths of thousands of suspected opponents, closed down churches and presided over the economy's collapse as skilled citizens and foreigners fled the country.
Teodoro Obiang deposed Macías Nguema on 3 August 1979, in a bloody
coup d'état. Macias Nguema was tried and executed soon afterward.
Mobil, an American oil company, discovered oil in Equatorial Guinea and the country has subsequently experienced rapid economic development. Nevertheless, the earnings from the country's oil wealth have not reached the population and the country ranks low on the UN human development index, 20% of children die before age 5 and more than 50% of the population lacks access to clean drinking water.
President Teodoro Obiang is widely suspected of using the country's oil wealth to enrich himself
 and his associates. In 2006, Forbes estimated his personal wealth at $600 million.
In 2011, the government announced it was planning a new capital for the country, named
As of February 2016, Obiang is Africa's longest serving dictator.