Mozambique Today

In Mozambique's hotly contested 2014 national elections, Frelimo insider Filipe Nyusi won at the national level. However Renamo, which won at the parliamentary level in five central and northern provinces, alleged widespread irregularities and rejected the results.

Since then, ongoing low-level conflict between Frelimo and Renamo – fuelled also by the discovery of major coal and natural-gas deposits in the country's north – has marred Mozambique's once glowing image as a post-war success story. While economic forecasts remain positive overall, other challenges include corruption and lack of free political debate in the public arena.

Population

Mozambique has 16 main ethnic groups, including the Makua (Cabo Delgado, Niassa, Nampula and parts of Zambézia), Makonde (Cabo Delgado), Sena (Sofala, Manica and Tete), and the Ronga and Shangaan (Gaza and Maputo). Smaller groups include the Lomwe and Chuabo (both Zambézia), Yao and Nyanja (Niassa), Mwani (Cabo Delgado), Nyungwe (Tete) and Tswa and Chopi (Inhambane).

About 1% of Mozambique’s population is of Portuguese extraction, most of whom are at least second generation and consider themselves Mozambicans first.

Feature: Traditional Religions & Traditional Healers

Traditional religions based on animist beliefs are widespread in Mozambique. The spirits of the ancestors are often regarded to have significant powers over the destiny of living people. In connection with these beliefs, there are many sacred sites, such as forests, rivers, lakes and mountains, that play important roles in the lives of local communities.

Closely intertwined with traditional religions is the practice of traditional medicine, which is found throughout the country, sometimes in combination with Western medical treatment. Curandeiros (traditional healers) are respected and highly sought after. They are also often relatively well paid, frequently in kind rather than in cash. In some rural areas far from health clinics or a hospital, the curandeiro may be the only provider of medical assistance. In addition to curandeiros, you may encounter profetas (spirit mediums or diviners) and feticeiros (witch doctors).

The Arts

Dance

On Mozambique Island and along the northern coast, watch for tufo (a dance of Arabic origin). It is generally performed by women, wearing matching capulanas (sarongs) and scarves, and accompanied by special drums (some more like tambourines) known as taware.

In the south, one of the best-known dances, particularly in Maputo, is marrabenta, which combines Mozambican rhythms with Portuguese folk-music influences. Its energetic swaying and infectious rhythms embody Mozambique's history of struggle and optimistic determination.

The casas de cultura (cultural centres), found in every provincial capital, are good places to get information on traditional dance performances. Another excellent contact is Maputo's Centro Cultural Franco-Moçambicano.

Literature

During the colonial era, local literature generally focused on nationalist themes. Two of the most famous poets of this period were Rui de Noronha and Noémia de Sousa.

In the late 1940s José Craveirinha (1922–2003) began to write poetry focusing on the social reality of the Mozambican people and calling for resistance and rebellion, which eventually led to his arrest. Today he is honoured as Mozambique’s greatest poet, and his work, including ‘Poem of the Future Citizen', is recognised worldwide.

As the armed independence struggle gained strength, Frelimo freedom fighters began to write poems reflecting their life in the forest, their marches and the ambushes. One of the finest of these guerrilla poets was Marcelino dos Santos.

With Mozambican independence in 1975, writers and poets felt able to produce literature without interference. This newfound freedom was soon shattered by Frelimo’s war against the Renamo rebels, but new writers emerged, including the internationally acclaimed Mia Couto, whose works include Voices Made Night and The Last Flight of the Flamingo. Contemporary female writers include Lilia Momple (The Eyes of the Green Cobra) and Paulina Chiziane (Niketche – A Story of Polygamy).

Music

The timbila orchestras of the Chopi people in southern Mozambique are one of the country’s best-known musical traditions.

Modern music flourishes in the cities and the live-music scene in Maputo is excellent. Marrabenta is considered Mozambique’s national music. It developed in the 1950s in the suburbs of Maputo (then Lourenço Marques) and has a light, upbeat style and distinctive beat inspired by the traditional rural majika rhythms of Gaza and Maputo provinces. It is often accompanied by a dance of the same name.

Sculpture & Painting

Mozambique is known for its woodcarvings, particularly for the sandalwood carvings found in the south and the ebony carvings of the Makonde.

The country’s most famous painter is Malangatana Valente Ngwenya – universally known as Malangatana – whose style is characterised by dramatic figures and flamboyant yet restrained use of colour, and by its highly symbolic social and political commentary. Other internationally acclaimed artists include Bertina Lopes and Roberto Chichorro.

Mozambique's Natural Environment

Mozambique has extensive coastal lowlands forming a broad plain 100km to 200km wide in the south and leaving it vulnerable to seasonal flooding. In the north, this plain narrows and the terrain rises to mountains and plateaus on the borders with Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. In central Mozambique, the predominant geographical feature is the Zambezi River valley and its wide delta plains. In many areas of the north, particularly in Nampula and Niassa provinces, towering granite outcrops (inselbergs; literally 'island mountains') dominate the landscape.

Wildlife

Animals

While more than 200 types of mammal wander the interior, challenging access, dense vegetation and skittishness on the part of the animals can make spotting them difficult, and Mozambique shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘Big Five’ destination. Work is proceeding in reviving several parks and reserves, especially Gorongosa National Park, which offers Mozambique’s most accessible wildlife watching. However, poaching is taking a heavy toll, especially on the country's elephant population.

Birds

Of the approximately 900 bird species that have been identified in the Southern Africa region, close to 600 have been recorded in Mozambique. Among these are numerous aquatic species found primarily in the southern wetlands. On Inhaca Island alone, 300 bird species have been recorded. Rare and unique species (most of which are found in isolated montane habitats such as the Chimanimani Mountains, Mt Gorongosa and Mt Namúli) include the dappled mountain robin, the chirinda apalis, Swynnerton’s forest robin, the olive-headed weaver and the green-headed oriole.

Marine Life

Coastal waters host populations of dolphins, including spinner, bottlenose, humpback and striped dolphins, plus loggerhead, leatherback, green, hawksbill and olive ridley marine turtles. The coast also serves as a winter breeding ground for the humpback whale, which is found primarily between Ponta d’Ouro and Inhambane. Between July and October it’s also common to see whales in the north, offshore from Pemba.

Dugongs have been sighted around Inhambane Bay, Angoche, Mozambique Island, Nacala and the Quirimbas and Bazaruto Archipelagos.

Plants

Almost 6000 plant species have been recorded, including an estimated 250 that are thought to be found nowhere else in the world. The Maputaland Centre of Plant Diversity, straddling the border with South Africa south of Maputo, is one of the most important areas of the country in terms of plant diversity and has been classified as a site of global botanical significance. The Chimanimani Mountains are also notable for their plant diversity, with at least 45 endemic species. Other important highland areas include the Gorongosa Massif (Sofala province) and Mt Chiperone, Mt Mabu and Mt Namúli (all in Zambézia province).

National Parks & Reserves

Mozambique has seven national parks: Gorongosa, Zinave, Banhine, Limpopo and Mágoè in the interior; Bazaruto National Park offshore; and Quirimbas National Park, encompassing both coastal and inland areas in Cabo Delgado province. Mágoè, Zinave and Banhine have no tourist infrastructure, although restocking of Zinave with elephants and other wildlife from South Africa's Kruger National Park is currently under way.

Wildlife reserves include Niassa, Marromeu, Pomene, Maputo and Gilé. The Chimanimani National Reserve has a network of rustic camps for hikers.

Environmental Issues

From rampaging elephants destroying farmers’ crops, to massive flooding, uncontrolled elephant poaching and the plundering of natural resources by unscrupulous timber harvesters and commercial fishing operators, Mozambique’s challenges in preserving its ecosystems read like a high-adventure novel. Fortunately, these natural resources have come increasingly under the international spotlight, and some strides have been made in protecting the country’s wealth.

Positives include the creation of Quirimbas and Mágoè National Parks, the extension of Bazaruto National Park, and the creation of a protected marine area around the Primeiras and Segundas Islands.

Feature: Mozambique’s Coastal Lakes

Mozambique is one of two countries in East Africa with major coastal barrier lakes or lagoons (the other country is Madagascar). The lakes are separated from the sea by well-developed longshore dune systems, most no more than 5m deep. They include Uembje Lagoon at Bilene, Lake Inhampavala north of Xai-Xai, Lake Quissico, just east of Quissico town, and Lake Poelela, about 30km north of Quissico and traversed by the EN1.

With the exception of Uembje, none of the lakes have links with the sea and their brackish waters are rich with marine and birdlife. These include numerous freshwater fish species, and white storks, little egrets and pink flamingos. At Lake Quissico alone, between 50 and 60 bird species have been recorded.

Feature: Sacred Forests

An example of the contributions made by local traditions to biodiversity conservation is seen in the foothills of the Chimanimani Mountains. Communities here recognise various types of sacred area. One is the dzimbahwe (chief’s compound), where each chiefdom has its own spot, generally in a densely forested area, and access is strictly limited. Another is the gwasha, a forest area used by chiefs, elders and spirit mediums for rainmaking and other ceremonies. Both the dzimbahwe and the gwasha are treated with great respect and no development, wood cutting or harvesting are permitted. Hunting is under the control of the chiefs, as is the gathering of medicinal and other plants.