07 November 2007

More photos from this October

River Road along the Futi River, Madjadjane, Mozambique.
Tihaca (Momordica balsamina) is an edible wild vegetable.
Xihaha (Opuntia ficus) is used in medicine for asthma treatments.
Waiting on the roadside to sell charcoal.
Me on the River Road.
Marracuja (Passiflora edulis) - passionfruit
Making mfuma - a paste of macuacua pulp that can be stored for future consumption.
Fire is used to clean fallow land in preparation for machambas (fields) where maize, cassava, and peanut will be grown.
A black catfish (~30 lbs.) harvested from the Futi River.
Little boys make carrinhos out of scrap wire, tin cans, and anything else they can find - including someone's old kewpie doll.
Building a new research lab/museum/office at the IUCN ecotourism lodge.
Selma and her cousin.
Constructing a new kitchen.
Dusk - a thunderstorm with heavy rain is blowing in.
Xavito making esteiras in his family's fabrica

In the field

Planting peanuts

It has been quite some time since my last post. I have been blogging in my field notebook, but I don't have an internet connection out at the reserve. So here are some excerpts from my notebook and photos to give you a sense of what I've been up to lately. It won't be a daily blow by blow, just some of the things that happen.
My new translator Salema and I

1 October 2007
"The rains started the night before last around midnight with a bang. Big thunder and lightning storm. The rains began at midnight last night and the night before. They finished yesterday before 6am. Today the rains were still going at 8:30am. They stopped by 8:45. It is 9:20 now, but the clouds still look very full of chuva [rain]. So I have a day to do… whatever. After lunch I called Sr. Mathe about a translator. I can’t be waiting around all day. I don’t have time. The more interviews I can do now the more I can accomplish. He has found me someone. So tomorrow I will need to contact Hussaine [current translator - always calling in sick]. I’m not contacting him until I meet the new person. TIA - there is always a chance something will go awry."
Inside Sr. Abraham's Office

2 October 2007
"While I was speaking with Jorge, Olga, and Mateus, Sr. Victoriano came by and requested that I stop by on my way home. I had a hunch that it had to do with the camera. It did. He was having trouble with using it. He had wanted to take a photo of Abraham (his son) wearing a cobra around his neck. I’m not sure if this was before or after they killed and skinned the snake (spitting cobra) or not. It was the problem of not advancing the film. Not a big deal. I finally got to meet his son who is a Rongan sangoma. He completed his training in South Africa, and… speaks English!!! Of all the individuals in the community to speak English I would never have imagined it to be the sangoma. Abraham invited me into his office. Holy mackeral. The real deal. Simba skins, an elephant legbone, various drums, other animal parts on the walls, bottles, jars, and containers full of unknown liquids and dried plants. There were some red, white and black capulanas hanging up too (colors of danger and magic I was informed when I asked). Then he said I could take all the photos that I wanted. I hope I didn’t come off as too excited, I really thought this sort of thing only happened on National Geographic. Abraham does divinations and from that helps diagnose social and relationship problems – a counselor, Marcia’s gonna love that. Wait til I tell her about the snakes. He also does medicine for the body and of course, rituals. Abraham told me that his family are always curandeiros."
Butterfly on esteira mat

4 October 2007
"At this point, Salema [translator] and I met up with Sra. Amelia (one of the very first people I interviewed, had a wound on her right ankle). She was holding a tortoise/turtle shell on the end of a stick as she walked along. From a distance I thought it was a big spoon. The turtle shell was about 10-11 inches long – it looked like the same species as Happy, the turtle Leocadia found in Gala. I asked if she had eaten it. Amelia said no and had this look of yuck on her face that was priceless. She found the shell and was taking it to the IUCN camp for sale there. Tourists buy strange things I was told. They are also building a office/museum/center of investigation so maybe it will find a home there. That is the building that Sr. Jeremias was working on."

6 October 2007
"Our first interview was with Stella, wife of Vus who works at IUCN doing construction. It went well, but little Albertina was terrified of me. She started crying when I tried to get close to take a picture for her mom. She is 1 years old and I probably look scary. The older toddlers call me mulungo still, but aren’t so afraid. Hey, I’m realistic. I know that all sorts of stories are told about white people – we eat little African children, we steal them, we are ghosts or evil spirits or the ancestors… It reminds me of the time my Uncle Fred visited. My dad told me he was born in Transylvania and that he was a vampire. Then Uncle Fred showed me his teeth and I didn’t sleep a wink all night. I was 7 or 8 at the time."

I traveled back to Maputo for a week, was a bit under the weather, and generally way too busy to blog here. Entering data is not fun.
Eating breakfast, Papai sits at the table

17 October 2007
"I had a larium dream last night. They're pretty rare because my dreams are intense for the most part anyway. I slept horribly, had a horrible nightmare where I was pulling my brains, or at least something more solid and stringy, out of my nose. One of those dreams where is was so real I could feel the hot, wet stringy tissue moving around in my nose and hanging down my chin."

Yeah, I probably didn't need to include this, but it was just way too weird. Larium is the malaria drug I'm taking. It comes with a lot of dire warnings about depression, intense dreams, hallucinations, etc. So far, I haven't noticed much of a difference between being on and off Larium and I've been on it for over 10 months now (with a month off in June). That's kind of scary.
Two year old fallow along a back road.

19 October 2007
"Salema explained that Sr. Tembe is the chief of Madjadjane. This is a hereditary position. He is the grandson of the old chief that was killed in the war. The son of the old chief is in South Africa working. The Induna is composed of all the community elders that are 55-70 years old. At this point they have a lot of knowledge about the region, the community, how things are supposed to work, etc. They are both men and women. Older people are still valued for their knowledge, but they are not necessarily a part of the Induna. From the Induna, people elect secretaries and namzadores (both men and women can act in these positions). The secretários resolve problems within the community and work with the induna to settle disputes. Sr. Joel, Sr. Edesse, Sra. Arminda are current secretários. Basically, they act as justices. Namzadores seem to be a cross between detective and lawyer. They discover information about particular problems in the community and then present the information to the chief, secretários, induna, and other namzadores. Currently, Srs. Jeremias and Lapião are namzadores. Interestingly, both investigators are immigrants to the community."
Ncathlo - Tabernamontana elegans

24 October 2007
"After the firing discussion, he said that the 2 guards that poached are still working for the reserve. Guards X and Y poached 12 reedbuck. I told him that some people in the community were really angry. They live very close to the reserve boundaries, along the path that elephants migrate to Salamanga, and see the poaching as driving elephants out of the reserve. It makes it worse that guards were doing it because they are supposed to be protecting the people in the community from wildlife. A. looked thoughtful and said he hadn’t thought of that. Then he wrote it down, presumably to talk to the administrator about. The relationship between the community and reserve is not great – the poaching makes it worse."
Meninas returning from a macuacua (Strychnos madagascariensis) fruit collecting trip inside the reserve

26 October 2007
So far, everyone has said that resources in Madjadjane are for all residents to use. People may harvest as much as they need – even for production of stuff that is sold to outsiders. Basically, all resources are common pool resources for the community. But this pool is closed to outsiders. Anyone who comes and harvests and is not a resident, or asked for residency and moved in, is considered a thief. The community will catch them (beating them up in the process – Salema was most insistent on this part), take the person to the chief, make the person pay a fine, and then call the police to have them arrested. Those are pretty good deterrents. But how do you identify outsiders then, I asked? I mean, it is obvious for me because I am white, but that isn’t true for everyone. Salema told me that when a relative from outside comes into Madjadjane for a visit or to stay, they first go to Chief Sr. Tembe to make themselves known, explain the circumstances, and ask for permission to stay. Then, the chief will call a community meeting to introduce the person to everyone. That way, if the person is seen walking around in the community people will not be scared of them or suspicious. If the person desires to stay and build a home, the chief will show them places that they could choose for living. Salema said, “you even did this.” People would not talk to you if you didn’t go to Chief Sr. Tembe and then arrange a meeting with the Induna to introduce yourself and why you wish to live and work in the community. Thinking over what Salema said, I’m glad I did meet with traditional leaders. I would really hate to have the shit beat out of me by some suspicious person when I am out harvesting knowledge. And here I was nervous because I thought that it was just about explainig my research project. I didn’t realize that my personal safety was at stake. Salema says that they would not beat me up. But then, what would they do? I asked if an outsider were injured or died how people would respond. He said that they might help, but it would take a while to get a response because the person would not be a known person. Not their responsibility since the person did not introduce themselves to the community. This situation might make ecotourism difficult in Matutuine District. Although given that most tourists are white, staying at the ecotourism lodges, and not harvesting local plants maybe it might work. Also, if they hire a guide then it would definitely work. The upside of all this, is knowing that I am considered part of the community however odd I am."
Rio Futi - where the hippos live among the cane and papyrus

27 October 2007
"Salema showed up at 7am bright and early. He was wearing bling. Big silver bling, saying 50 Cent. It was a little strange on him. Real gangsta thugs eat nice guys like him for breakfast. I’m ain't sayin' he ain’t got skilz, but his skilz is bush skilz, not street skilz. I’ve noted 50 Cent labeled clothing on a couple other young guys in the community. It stands in stark contrast to their respectful behavior and what their parents and younger siblings wear. Salema’s cousin was collecting sura – not Anton – Cecilia’s son Anmanjidiu. Anmanjidiu and Anton are working together on the sura production. Probably because it would be quite a hike every morning for Anton to the reserve, while Anmanjidiu lives next door. They are cousins so the sharing isn’t quite a difficulty. Anmanjidiu was wearing his “Osama is my hero. Islam is my choice.” T-shirt with a rasta knit touk hiding his crazy Alfalfa hair. He really has a big ‘fro. Anmanjidiu and the rest of his family are Wesleyan Methodist. I only had one cup of coffee this morning – a crappy instant cup of Ricoffe – so the irony was killing me. Salema and I stopped at Lucia’s home on the way to Fernando’s for the charcoal interview. Lucia has malaria. I wished her well, but this apparently was a strange thing to do. So many people get malaria that while it is still considered an illness, it is just something you deal with and get on with your life. Kind of like a head cold. Children still need feeding, laundry washed, machambas planted, etc. So wishing one good health is not seen as appropriate. People do stop by to see if there are things they can help with and to make sure you aren’t flat out in bed running a high fever, but there isn’t much else that can be done."
Turn off to Madjadjane

29 October 2007
"We passed through the vale that has the 2 big mango trees. I found out that the local name for this place is Incanducene. Every family in Madjadjane has a big space in Incanducene for a machamba. The area is currently fallowed, but next year it will be used again for crops. People have both tempo quente and tempo fresco machambas here. Milho, amendoim, manioca, muitas hortas, cana doce, banana, ananas, all will grow in this place. The name, Incanducene, comes from the fact that cana de açucar grows in this place according to Salema. Every family has a space along the Futi and in Incanducene."

Yes, this is a huge entry. Sorry about that. I hoped you liked the little slices from my October though.

16 September 2007


One of my favorite art forms in Mozambique is called Psikelekedana. It is a form of sculpture using wood and paint. The artist may draw on their personal experiences, or use the medium to comment on society in general. For example, last weekend I saw a piece that commemorated the bombs that exploded in Maputo last March. It depicted people running in the bairro and an undetonated bomb half buried in the street.

Psikelekedana is a uniquely Mozambican art form that originated in 1977 among sculptures working with white wood. I thought I'd just to share some interesting ones I've taken pictures of over the past 8 months.

This veterinarian scene is unusual because small pet veterinarians are unusual. Maputo, the capital, has only one veterinary hospital within city limits.

This piece shows the fleeing of people over the borders during the civil war. In all the pieces I have seen, women and children go first. A Mozambicano explained that this is because the men follow behind for safety. Notice too the stuff people carry - staple foods like corn and rice, pilhos for pounding meal, clothes, water.

This is my Mozambican park. It goes with my village. I have seen a number of parks with wild animals. Only white people ever depicted in these parks as visitors or otherwise.

15 September 2007

On the way to work

I was fiddling around with the moviemaker software on my laptop this afternoon and put this together. These are pictures I took on my way to and from work in the field over the past few months. The song that accompanies the video is by Brenda Fassie, a popular South African (Zulu) singer here in Mozambique and in South Africa. The song is Vulindlela.

The first time I visited Mozambique was in 2004, just after Brenda Fassie's death. Her songs were played almost non-stop on the radio for almost a week. My friend Jotamo liked playing them on the landrover's tape deck as we trundled across the coastal savanna of Matutuine District going from village to village to do interviews. Now I associate her music, and this song in particular, with the landscape here. It plays in my head as we bump along the sandy roads.

Interestingly, the name Vulindlela is also the name of a rural, coastal region in KwaZulu-Natal located just south of Durban. It is just a little too far south to be part of Maputaland though.

School in Madladlane

Children in Madladlane attend a primary school located by the community's meeting tree. There are two sessions per day so that all the children that are able have a chance to attend. None of the students wear uniforms, but each family must pay a fee at the beginning of the year. The money covers the teacher's salary and some of the classroom materials. The school has two teachers. Both are really good with the children - that's what the community tells me. :)

And the kids really seem to like them and follow their instruction. Children learn Portuguese, math, reading, and writing. I am unsure about formal science or social studies lessons. However, children learn much about the environment and how to draw subsistence from their surroundings from their grandparents, parents, and older siblings.

Children play in the schoolyard before school. They also have recess periods throughout the school day. Soccer (futebol), jumping rope, hopscotch, leap frog (see below), foot races, and giggling are very popular. The children line up each morning by height and sing before school starts. One of the older girls helps out the teacher - I watched her break up fights, keep children in line, organize games and activities, and help younger children learn. In this picture, she is leading the class in the Mozambican national anthem. Her assistance frees up the teacher's time to focus on teaching and lesson preparation.

All of the children are taught in one room. Half of the roof is open to provide light. However, this means that school gets canceled on rainy days. The teacher said that school is also canceled on windy days too because sand blows through the spaces on the reed walls and also blows all the papers around. In the past, during the rainy season, school was held at the reserve in a cement walled building. However, with roaming elephants, flooding rivers, unstable bridges, and the extra 2 kilometer distance parents felt it was too dangerous for little children to walk to the reserve main camp. Children walk to school on their own as parents are busy in the fields and around the homestead. There are currently plans to build a new school out of cement blocks. This structure would allow children to attend school all year regardless of weather. Gala has had this type of school for a couple of years now.

People recognize the value of education. In 2004, I discovered it cost $4 month/child for tuition, room, and board at a school in Ponto do Ouro. The woman I spoke to in Gala said that her family scraped this together every month because she wanted to give her son (her other 2 children were still infants) a choice of possibilities when he got older. Literacy opens up many doors.

Older children, if the family has money, must go to Bela Vista to attend secondary school. Bela Vista is the district capital and is over 25 km away. Students board at the school, so families pay both tuition and room/board. A number of children would be capable of continuing, but their families cannot afford it. Some older children are shipped off to relatives in South Africa to attend secondary school if the family has connections.

I officially visited the school my last day in Madladlane on my last trip. The children invited me. When I first arrived in Madladlane, they often would run away from me as I approached yelling "Mulungo! Mulungo!" This is the Rhonga word for white person or branca. After visiting most of their homes and probably being the hot topic of discussion for a couple of months, I am less an object of fear and more like someone just interesting enough to watch. At any rate, I was taking a GPS point at the reserve guard post across the dirt road from the school. I looked up and was surrounded by little children. All getting close, but still far enough that they could run if they wanted. It was a little startling since they were all supposed to be in school - across the road on the other side of the fence.

I pulled out my camera to take a picture of the GPS point. That was what they wanted to see. Immediately they started asking me to take their pictures. I said that I would but only if I could take a picture of them in school. They rushed back to the school. One little girl waited for me (she's the one with the crazy braids in the front row above). I apologized to the teachers for interrupting class, but they said that if the children wanted to use their recess to get a picture taken that was their decision. And that it would be a neat thing to look back on in the future. The children took their seats and the pictures you see are the result.

This was my last shot at the school that day. People rarely smile for photos. Not that they don't smile or laugh, but that photos are so rare one needs to look serious. I like this one a lot because it is so spontaneous.

I hope that Mr. Hansen's second grade class at Fowler Drive Elementary School (Athens, GA) likes the photos. If they have any questions about the school, please write and I will share your letters with the children here.

14 September 2007

Terra dos Fumos

Fires are a significant disturbance in the coastal savanna landscape where I am conducting my research. Fire helps create and maintain savanna. Early European maps, dating from the 1500s, label the region as Terra dos Fumos - Land of Smokes. In my own experience, a column of smoke on the horizon is a daily occurrence. While a few fires might develop from lightning strikes, most are set by human hands deliberately or not.

In the final week of August in Madladlane, a large fire raged along the eastern side of the Rio Futi. No one stepped in to claim responsibility. The community has a fire ban. This fire could have been set by a cigarette butt, uncontrolled charcoal production, or children playing at fire building. It cleared grass and brush and revealed historic agricultural fields. I also discovered an old veterinary station for cattle while surveying the burned area.

Typically, farmers make raised beds to grow sweet potatoes in wetland machambas (fields). Serendipitously, I just had an interview where my informant talked about the machambas planted on the reserve side of the Rio Futi before the war. For Madladlane and Gala, in the far south of Mozambique, before the war means before 1986. So the sweet potato machambas are at least 21 years old. There are eucalyptus saplings growing in these plots. They were still alive - nothing seems to be able to really kill this alien species unfortunately.

Kindu - Phoenix reclinata - used to make sura, a palm wine.

Conono - Terminalia sericea - a useful tree for construction and medicine.

Many wild trees used for fruits, medicines, and beverage production survived the fire. Some of them quite large - older than 21 years and having old fire scars. This made me wonder about why people would deliberately set fires. I've had a few discussions with farmers about burning brush and savanna areas. I hope to pursue the topic in specialist and oral history interviews, as well as take measurements in the area that recently burned to see what grows back over the next 6 months.

New machamba next to the burned area. Farmers will likely expand into this newly cleared area.

Possible reasons for deliberate fire disturbance include:
1. clearing land for crops and homes
2. adding nutrients to the soil
3. discouraging wildlife - hippos, elephants, and bush pigs in particular. I did see some vervet monkeys in the burned areas looking for fruit
4. encouraging the growth of particular plants

Reserve staff were upset by the fires. I think because they were worried about the fire spreading into the reserve and because it is the middle of the dry (windy) season. Mozambique has no big Forest Fire crews like the US. When a fire starts, it burns until it runs out of fuel or comes up against a fire break like a road, river, or handmade break. This last shot was taken at 9pm. There were 2 guards on duty with shovels. The fire eventually died out on its own.

19 August 2007

More views from the week in Gala

The road into Gala from the reserve gate.

Little boys spend hours building toy cars out of recycled materials.

Lagoa Ntiti Lodge is the a ecotourism project in Gala, started with help from HELVETAS

The trees and skies and landscape remind me of Jorge Garza's work. Hi Jorge!!

Traditional Rhonga home construction.

Masala (Strychnos spinosa and Macuacua Strychnos madagascariensis - two native delicious fruits. You eat the pulp and spit out the seeds. Masala tastes a little like apples, macuacua has a funny bitter aftertaste.

Eating masala in my apartment. I had chilled it and when I cracked open the rind all I could think of was chilled monkey brains. It is a monkey orange.

Interviewing Tatana Jobe. He and his brother Enoque share a homestead and farm. Jobe loves mangoes and had about 12 BIG trees in his yard that he had planted many years ago.

Interviewing Mamana Rhoda acknowledged by pretty much everyone in Gala to be an authority on local history. She was born and raised in Gala and is probably 85 years old or older. Her son is the current regulo (chief). She still works her machamba (field) and is sharp as a tack.

Inside Gala Primary school. There are 3 rooms.

A mural painted by the community graces the outside of the school.

5 meninas on their way to church.