034_G18_Spotlight_Mozambique

Global_18

Spotlight Mozambique Native arts begin to get international recognition Mozambique’s wood carvers, dancers and authors are starting to generate interest in their work in neighbouring countries and beyond, now that the country has put the civil war behind it A. H. Saleh Mozambique, which stretches from southern Tanzania to the northern edge of South Africa and is flanked by Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland along its western borders, is a vast territory brimming with a multitude of cultural traditions. Some 60 different ethnic groups, and 40 languages and dialects have been identified in the region. Both the ethnic and language groups spill over into the neighbouring territories. The Makua-Lomwe, the largest group in the country, sprawl over the northern areas which they share with the Makonde, who live nearer the coast, and the Yao near Lake Malawi. Major southern ethnic groups include the Tsonga, the Karanga, the Chopi, the Shona and the Nguni. With similar language groups scattered about the southern African countries, Mozambicans formed an important part of the The international pop star Beyoncé was so impressed by the dancing she saw on a visit to Mozambique that she flew a troupe of tofu dancers to the USA to teach her back-up dancers some of their moves labour force employed to work the mines in South Africa and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Large numbers of Mozambicans fled to neighbouring countries during the 16-yearlong civil war and many still live and work in their adopted countries. Despite a substantial exodus from the rural areas to the relative safety of the cities during the civil war, some 85 per cent of the population still live in the countryside in traditional villages composed of mainly round, earthen huts with thatched roofs and surrounded by thorn perimeters (boma) to keep out wild animals and enemies. This has preserved a traditional way of life in a more or less pristine state, although new experiences are constantly added on to the repertoire of songs and dances that form the collective history of the villages. While each group has developed its own form of cultural expression, every village adds a twist to the general theme. Mozambique, like many other African countries, is a treasure-trove for the anthropologist, especially as so much more is still to be discovered and recorded. The government has established the National Institute of Culture to collect and preserve traditional music, crafts, stories and myths. There is also a national performing arts company called Nambu Productions, as well as a national dance company; both stage contemporary productions based on traditional forms. In 2011, the international pop star Beyoncé was so impressed by the quality and vigour of the dancing she saw on a visit to Mozambique that she flew a troupe of tofu dancers to the USA so that they could teach her back-up dancers some of their unique moves. Music, song, dance and story telling are at the heart of the country’s traditional culture. They give formal expression to rites of passage, which include the transition to adulthood, births, burials, marriage and religious beliefs. Formal ceremonies involve all villagers and even members of the communities who have left for faraway places return to join in the celebrations. This is when the musicians, singers and dancers, who are ordinary farmers in their day jobs, take centre stage. Traditionally, musicians make their own instruments into which they impart their own personal and family nglo, or spirit. This, they say, enables them to beat out the ancient rhythms of their people and to play in harmony. A wide variety of drums, made from stretched animal skins, are used by the various groups. The creative Makonde people use wind instruments, called lupembe, made from animal horns, wood or gourds. The marimba, a sort of xylophone, is popular throughout the country and beyond, as is the mbira, made of metal strips of different pitch inserted into a hollow wooden box. Contemporary musicians, as far away as Zambia and Zimbabwe, use the marimba and mbira to produce tunes similar in style to West Indian calypso and reggae. The marrabenta style, which mixes traditional rhythm and instruments with the sounds of modern guitars, saxophones and trumpets is popular in urban centres and lends itself to contemporary international trends including hip-hop and rap. The dances used during ceremonies can be both spectacular and, at times, alarming. For example, the Chopi don lion skins and monkey tails and carry spears and swords to enact dangerous hunts as well as battles. Makua men, clad in multi-coloured rags and masks representing spirits, stomp around the villages on stilts. The Makonde, expert wood carvers, wear frightening masks and costumes and chase shrieking women and girls. Some believe that this dance symbolises the men’s attempts to wrest the power of women by terrifying them. While the dance has an element of fear surrounding it, it has clearly not worked – most Mozambican societies are matriarchal. On the Island second 34 l www.global -br ief ing.org quar ter 2014 global


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