Bairro Mafalala Maputo Mozambique


Bairro Mafalala Mural

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.

Mural of Tufo da Mafalala Dancers
Iverca Association

Iverca Association is an “NGO guild led by students and tourism professionals”. They promote and develop Mozambican tourism, culture, and environment. Iverca Director Ivan Laranjeira and his 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 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 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. These restrictions ended when Mozambique won independence from Portugal in 1975.

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, Writer
Independence from Portugal 1975

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”.

Mia Couto Mozambican Writer and Author of Terra Sonâmbula (Sleepwalking Land)
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”.

Tufo da Mafalala Dancers
Festival Cultural da llha de Mozambique

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 anger and frustration about repeatedly losing electricity.

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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, 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 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.

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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Tufo da Mafalala Dancers

Sights along the walking tour included the:

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 Masjid Baraza. The mosque has existed since 1928, but it was only marked as a mosque after Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

Graffiti Mafalala Festival
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!

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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 MafalalaIverca 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 famous 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, energy, sanitation, transportation, and other infrastructure problems.

Emblem of Mozambique

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.

Masjid Taubah Maputo
Maria Mutola, Mozambican Olympic Gold Medalist
Maria Mutola

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.

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