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Story of mozambique

The country


Mozambique is a large southern African country, (800,000 km2) which forms one of the sides of the Mozambique Channel with Madagascar. It is bounded to the north by Tanzania, to the west by Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia and to the south by South Africa and Swaziland. It is a flat country of coastal plains making up a landscape of dunes and lagoons. Towards the interior, these rise into plateaus in the north and mountains in the centre corresponding with the southern end of the rift and dominated by Mount Binga (2436 m.), the highest point of the country. The Zambezi and the Limpopo, two of the largest rivers in the south of Africa, cross the country.

Mozambique benefits from a tropical climate, the dry and rainy seasons alternating with each other. Summer, from November to March, is the rainy season; the rains are more frequent in the north near the equator and over the outlying heights. On the coast is the mangrove area made up of coconut palms and mangroves. To the northwest, equatorial forest takes over, the centre is covered in light forest and the south is savannah.

Mozambique coastal forest

Mozambique coastal forest

[© Olivier Pascal l PNI]


The people


The story of the population of Mozambique in prehistory is not very well known. The first inhabitants of the region were undoubtedly the Bushmen and Hottentots, armed with arrows and bows and spears. They were to be chased from the territory by the Bantus who, after the desertification of the Sahara, undertook a large-scale and long migration (from the Christian age to the nineteenth century) south of the equator. Use of iron was the driver for this migration, enabling agricultural cultivation, something that gave the Bantu groups an advantage over the hunter-gatherer populations. They arrived in Mozambique in three successive waves. They first populated the north side of the Zambezi River, then the centre and south of the country when the third wave settled in South Africa.

The Bantus are of the same cultural stock and speak very similar languages. They make up an agro-pastoral society whose basic unit is the lineage, a group of families from a common ancestor, usually paternal. Each lineage is ruled by a chief who has total power: political, military, judicial and over property. He distributes lands, controls practical and moral life and ensures the observance of rites of birth, initiation, marriage and death. He directs the prayers for the rainy season and the harvest, addressed to the spirits of the ancestors. Lineages may be organised into clans, ruled by a chief sometimes given the title of king. Each lineage pays a duty and supplies soldiers. Many clans make up a people endowed with a territory, a language and customs of their own. Today, Mozambique is still made up of a dozen or so peoples such as the Makonde, the Makhuwa, the Yao to the north, the Tonga in the centre and the Tsonga and Shona in the south.

Makhuwa woman

Makhuwa woman

[O. Dubuquoy | © MNHN]


This organisation of society has not prevented kingdoms or empires being formed throughout the centuries (14th to 17th centuries), but every single one has been defeated during dynastic quarrels more or less confused, complicated or encouraged by foreign and European interference at the time when the commercial route was put across Mozambique linking the kingdom of Zimbabwe to the Indian ocean.
From the 10th century, the African’s eastern coast, Arabised and Islamised, was punctuated by a series of trading posts. These Swahili-speaking ports attracted a mixed mostly African population. Trade was very active: people came to get gold, slaves, turtles, beeswax, amber and seashells. At the close of the 15th century, Portuguese navigators looking for the route to the Indies discovered this coast.