Yesterday’s three-hour walking tour of Bairro Mafalala was a thought-provoking experience. I went with a new friend Kari, whom I met through a local tour group – Maputo a Pé. Kari is from Norway visiting Maputo and Mozambique for five months researching a university project. She specializes in Social Anthropology and arranged the tour through Iverca, a tourism, culture, and environment guild.
Iverca Association is an “NGO guild led by students and tourism professionals”. They promote and develop Mozambican tourism, culture, and environment. Ivan Laranjeira, Iverca Director, and his associate Anna guided our tour.
Today, 22,000 people live in Mafalala’s “labyrinth of wood and zinc houses with streets of earth and alleys marked by metallic plate walls”.
Segregation in Maputo
In the 1970s, Lourenço Marques (Maputo) was a broken city – a Portuguese colony where whites and blacks were forced to live separately. Whites lived in a ‘cement city’ on the banks of Maputo Bay. Blacks lived in the ‘caniço (cane or reed) city’ – a set of “peripheral neighborhoods in precarious condition with extremely poor infrastructure and substandard community facilities like water, electricity, and sanitation”.
The Portuguese required “indigenous people to wear identification cards” and limited their access to the cement city, public transportation, and recreational areas. Restrictions ended when Mozambique won independence from Portugal.
“Marrabenta is not just a musical style, it’s a way of life. It has to do with how we dress, talk, and behave. It’s our history.” Mozambican Singer Mingas
Independence from Portugal
After Independence, the people renamed the capital city from Lourenço Marques to Maputo. The former border separating black and white regions, Caldas Xavier Avenue, became known as Marien Ngouabi Avenue, after the President of the People’s Republic of the Congo. Today, Marien Ngouabi Avenue is a busy road “in no way reminiscent of segregation”.
Mafalala Resistance and Cultural Change
During the 40s and 50s Mafalala was the “nerve center of political agitation, and the place where intellectual resistance began”. Writer José Craveirinha and poet Noémia de Sousa were key figures in the resistance movement and wrote Mozambique’s first “anti-colonialist manifesto”. As cultural events changed, “Marrabenta became the barrio’s new music”.
Bairro Mafalala suffers from “drug abuse, high unemployment, crime, and an overall sense of malaise”. Water is a continuing problem, and electricity is available, but many can’t afford it. During our tour we met a local resident expressing her frustration about losing electricity.
Mafalala is the historical home of Mozambican artists, intellectuals, and important cultural and political figures. It was home base for FRELIMO, the resistance movement that fought for independence.
As we walked the rough dirt streets and toured points of interest, Ivan provided narrative on history and life in Mafalala. Many of the intellectuals who played an important role in Mozambique’s history and culture lived in the Barrio:
- Samora Moises Machel first president of Mozambique
- Joaquim Chissano second president of Mozambique
- Eusébio da Silva Ferreira world-renowned soccer player
- José Craveirinha poet and writer
- Maria Mutola Olympic gold medalist and 800 meter runner
- Noémia de Sousa poet and writer
- Fany Mpfumo singer and composer
- Mia Couto writer
- Camilo de Sousa filmmaker nephew of Noémia de Sousa
To read Noémia de Sousa is to read Mozambique. Her father was a Luso-Afro-Goesa (Portuguese African) and her mother Afro-German, marking her deep experience of being Mestiço.
“Born in Mozambique and educated in Brazil, Noémia de Sousa was a poet and newspaper editor. Jailed briefly in Mozambique for her political activism, she later lived in Lisbon and France. She edited the women’s pages of newspaper O Brado Africano from 1949 to 1951. Her poems were circulated in mimeographed collection Sangue Negro. One of the first African women poets to gain a wide literary audience, de Sousa often published under the pseudonym Vera Micaia.”
Photographs are only permitted in a few areas of Mafalala. Some photos in this post are by our Iverca guide Ivan Laranjeira. Others are from the personal archives of Elarne and Fedo Cariano, and some from Alejando de los Santos Pérez’s book Mafalala, Cultural Guide of the Historic District of Maputo.
During the 40s and 50s Mafalala was the nerve center of political agitation in Mozambique.
Sights along the walking tour included the:
- House-museums of José Craveirinha and Noémia de Sousa
- Masjid Baraza (mosque) built by Muslims from the Comoros Islands
- Murals, graffiti, and craft markets
During the colonial period, the Portuguese only allowed Catholicism to be practiced openly. It was necessary to camouflage Mosques like the Masjid Baraza. The mosque has existed since 1928 but was only marked as a mosque after Mozambique’s independence in 1975.
Tufo da Mafalala
We ended with a performance by Tufo da Mafalala. Makua women originally from northern Mozambique formed the dance group. Their performances have enabled the unique dance group to earn a living. They’ve appeared throughout the world. At the end of the performance, Kari and I joined in for a short dance!
José Craveirinha’s work represents an unequaled legacy for Mozambican literary, social, and political history.
Festival da Mafalala
Iverca promotes a Mafalala Festival which lasts for a month each year. The 2017 Mafalala Festival “introduced an innovative program based on preserving the neighborhood’s traditional, historical, and cultural legacy”. The popular festival features Marrabenta shows and traditional singing and dancing.
I found Mafalala a smaller version of Soweto, a South African township near Johannesburg which I visited several years ago. Soweto was “at the forefront of the fight against apartheid”. Like Soweto, Mafalala struggles with water, waste, sanitation, energy, transportation, and other infrastructure problems.
The tour left me in a bit of a mental stupor but more knowledgeable about Mozambique and its history and socio-economic environment. I’m still comprehending much about this complex and fascinating country.
An interesting side note is that during the 1990s Maria Mutola, Mozambican Olympic gold medalist and 800m runner, attended high school in Springfield, Oregon USA. She lived and trained in the Eugene-Springfield area (known as “Track Town USA“). Mutola competed in six Olympic Games and was an Olympic gold medalist in 2000. I retired in Oregon in 2007 after living in San Francisco for almost 40 years.