Barrio Mafalala Mozambique


Barrio Mafalala Mural

Yesterday’s three-hour walking tour of Barrio 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 the next five months researching a university project. She specializes in Social Anthropology and arranged the Mafalala tour through Iverca.

Mural Tufo da Mafalala Dancers

Iverca Association

Iverca Association is an NGO “guild led by young students and tourism professionals”. They promote and develop tourism, culture, and the environment in Mozambique. Ivan Laranjeira, Iverca Director, and an associate Anna guided our tour.

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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”.

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Segregation in Maputo

In the early 1970s, Lourenço Marques (Maputo) was a broken city – a Portuguese colony with whites and blacks forced to live separately. Whites lived in the ‘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 where no consideration was given to infrastructure, water, sanitation, or community facilities”.

The Portuguese required “indigenous people to wear identification cards” and limited their access to the cement city, public transportation, and recreational areas. These restrictions ended when Mozambique won independence from Portugal.

Samora Machel First President of Mozambique

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“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.

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José Craveirinha Activist, Poet, and Writer

Independence from Portugal

After Independence, the people renamed the capital city 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”.

Mia Couto Mozambican Writer Author of Terra Sonâmbula

Mafalala Resistance and Cultural Change

During the 40s and 50s Mafalala was the “nerve center of political agitation, and the place where a strong intellectual resistance movement began”. Poet Noémia de Sousa and writer José Craveirinha were key figures in the resistance movement and wrote Mozambique’s first “anti-colonialist manifesto”. At the same time, cultural events were changing in Mafalala, and the “Marrabenta became the barrio’s new music”.

Tufo da Mafalala Dancers

Festival Cultural da llha de Mozambique

Tufo da Mafalala Dancers1

Tufo da Mafalala Dancers

Barrio Mafalala suffers from “drug abuse, high unemployment, crime, and an overall sense of malaise”. Water is a problem. Electricity is available, but many can’t afford it.

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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.

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Noémia de Sousa Activist, Poet, and Writer

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:

Joaquim Chissano Second President of Mozambique

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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.

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Tufo da Mafalala Dancers

“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 the newspaper O Brado Africano from 1949 to 1951. Her poems were circulated in the 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.

Mafalala Children

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.

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During the 40s and 50s Mafalala was the nerve center of political agitation in Mozambique…….

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Sights along the walking tour included the:

  • House-museums of José Craveirinha and Noémia de Sousa
  • Massjid Baraza (mosque) built by Muslims from the Comoros Islands
  • Murals, graffiti, and craft markets

Eusebio Mozambican Soccer Player

During the colonial period, the Portuguese only allowed Catholicism to be practiced openly. It was necessary to camouflage Mosques like the Massjid Baraza. The mosque has existed since 1928 but was only marked as a mosque after independence in 1975.

Graffiti Mafalala Festival

Tufo da Mafalala

We ended with a performance by Tufo da Mafalala. The unique dance group earns a living with their performances and has appeared throughout the world. Makua women originally from northern Mozambique formed the dance group. At the end of their performance, Kari and I joined them for a fun short dance!

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José Craveirinha’s work represents an unequaled legacy for Mozambican literary, social, and political history.

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Mozambican Singer Mingas

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.

Tufo da Mafalala Dancers

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.

Maria Mutola, Mozambican Olympic Gold Medalist

The tour left me in a bit of a mental stupor but considerably more knowledgeable about Mozambique and its history and socio-economic environment. I’m still comprehending much about the 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 Eugene, Oregon in 2007 after living in San Francisco for almost 40 years.

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