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.