The Maputo district is a “living museum” of Mozambican culture

A young woman looks at photographs inside the Mafalala museum in the Mafalala district of Maputo on April 29, 2022. – AFP pic

Sunday, May 22, 2022 10:12 GMT

MAPUTO, May 22 – Turn a corner in Mozambique’s seaside capital, Maputo, and the horizon disappears. Portuguese colonial buildings and mid-century modernist apartment buildings give way to a maze of potholed alleyways filled with tin-roofed shacks.

This is Mafalala, Maputo’s most famous neighborhood – a place listed in guidebooks as the cradle of Mozambique’s post-independence culture.

But as a tough neighborhood in one of the world’s poorest countries, residents struggle to capitalize on their community’s heritage.

Three years ago, a group of students and professionals decided to change that by opening a museum to preserve the history and culture of the neighborhood.

“We usually say Mafalala is the capital of Maputo,” said Ivan Laranjeira, director of the Mafalala Museum.

“It’s the heart and soul of the city.”

The mustard yellow building stands out against a sea of ​​tin roofs.

Most young people in Mafalala survive hand to mouth, relying on informal labor, unable to fully exploit their heritage and creativity.

Yet the district has produced two Mozambican presidents, Samora Machel and Joaquim Chissano, legendary footballer Eusebio da Silva Ferreira and poet Jose Craveirinha.

Since the 19th century, Mafalala has attracted workers from rural Mozambique, lured by cheap rents and short commutes to the city center.

With 30 of Mozambique’s languages ​​spoken here, the district is a hub of cultural diversity.

Pubs sit alongside mosques and evangelical churches, between concrete block walls covered in colorful murals.

Tourists are welcome to take walking tours and sample the local cuisine, but they are rare.

Rich heritage

“There’s something special about Mafalala in particular, and that’s why it’s a historic place,” Laranjeira said, flanked by black-and-white photos of some of the country’s greatest past leaders. country on the wall behind him.

“Mafalala is a neighborhood that is actually a living museum.”

Signs pasted in the dusty streets list some of the local attractions. Machel’s house. Birthplace of Eusebio. And a tribute to the poetry of Craveirinha, capturing the spirit of the place.

But many houses of famous people in the neighborhood have fallen into disrepair or are now occupied by new residents.

It was in the back streets of Mafalala that revolutionary spirits were raised and nurtured against the Portuguese colonizers, culminating in a decade-long war that paved the way for independence in 1975.

Since then, revolutionaries have ruled the country, but the euphoria of liberation has died down.

Today, young barefoot players kick soccer balls in the sand, in front of a towering graffiti image of Eusebio.

Back at the museum, Laranjeira — who has spent the past 15 years working to preserve the neighborhood’s history — explains the exhibits.

One is a guitar handcrafted from a tin box, with strings made from motorcycle spokes. It was used by previous singers of “Marrabenta”, a popular national dance genre.

There are traditional costumes, as well as a rag soccer ball like the one used by Eusebio, who catapulted the Portugal team to world fame in the 1960s.

But it’s not just the collections on display that matter here. The museum is also a cultural education center for young people in the neighborhood.

Music is an integral part of the neighborhood culture.

“Mafalala was the cradle of musical creation,” said rapper Danilo Malele, known by his stage name “Kloro”. He composed a song dedicated to the neighborhood, titled Show na mayf.

The neighborhood’s musical potential is thwarted by poverty, he said. Musicians “don’t care about making music” but “start and then leave behind because they have other priorities”.

Jamal Age agrees. The 28-year-old boasts of being the best dancer in Mafalala, at least when it comes to breakdancing. But he says there is no future in this.

“We love our culture, be it dancing, singing, music. But the problem is that we don’t have enough money to fund these arts,” Age said.

When he’s not dancing and recording his performances on city rooftops, he makes sofas in a workshop down the street.

Now, gentrification is looming, threatening to push residents to the outskirts of the metropolis.

A few streets away are some of Mafalala’s most lavish villas and trendiest terraces, part of a major revamp of the old town center, now home to expats and wealthy elites. —AFP

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