Mozambique: seashores and carnations
he Mozambican poet Noémia de Sousa begged them to take everything except the music. ‘You can send us into exile, take us to faraway lands, sell us like goods, tie us up from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn’, she wrote. ‘But we will always be free if you let us have our music.’ She was referring to the coasts that Vasco da Gama could see after his flagship São Gabriel had sailed round the Cape of Good Hope, where the map ended and dreams of India began. Those same shores where the carnations of revolution first sprouted in the 1970s, marking the beginning of independence from Portugal.
This is the beach her compatriot Mia Couto wrote of years later, ‘In the confines of the world, where time stands still, the earth strips itself and the gods come to pray.’ Mozambique, a country that continues to bloom today. In Maputo, the capital, there are still echoes of revolutions and the rhythm of marrabenta music, the fusion of traditional rhythms and the influence of the west.
This mix of old and new is best found in Mafalala, the symbolic heart of the revolution. At the beginning of the 20th century, the children of the migrants who arrived in the city used to run barefoot along the narrow alleys. Halfway through the century, the intellectuals who were crying out against the Portuguese colonisation would meet beneath the zinc roofs of the Mafalala neighbourhood, in the historic centre of Maputo. Once a hotbed of revolution, today the neighbourhood is a tourist attraction full of places where you can enjoy live music and a culture that remains as intact as the spirit that fuelled a revolution.
Several centuries of Portuguese occupation will not vanish overnight, and Mozambican gastronomy is rich with evidence of this colonial history. However, there are many dishes that were enjoyed way before the first Portuguese ships arrived, and which are still eaten today, including one of the most typical, matata, a clam and peanut stew accompanied by rice. Practically everything in Mozambique is eaten with rice, from the clams, which are also served with coconut milk, to chicken usually accompanied by the famous spicy piri piri sauce.
Finally, the shores offer the certainty of the warmth of the Indian Ocean that both takes and provides. Because this East African country is famed for its beaches and islands, and its white sand dunes are like chameleons that transform with the sun. The islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago lying to the north, with names like Quipaco, Quisiva or Mefunco, all remind you of the famous fictional village of Macondo. Discover the magic realism of a land of fishermen and farmers where you can dive in search of coral and hundreds of species of fish, or stop the clock and sail in a wooden dhow, the same boat the Arabs used for exporting Islam to the world.
Or stretch out on the sands of the Bazaruto Islands lying to the south, where there are no streets and urban life seems so far away. Here you can discover flocks of flamingos in their mangrove swamps and end by rediscovering the poet, but this time begging them not to take away this land we have just discovered.