Next to us, during the more than three hours of crushing on the ticket that linked Nampula to Ilha de Moçambique, a young Mozambican mother with obvious Indian genetics talks to her little daughter and puts up with her tantrums.
He always speaks to you in a haughty way, very audible to the other passengers and with a delicious post-colonial accent that is more noticeable to us than that of many Portuguese. When we reach the end of the 4km narrow bridge that connects the mainland to Ilha de Moçambique and the long and exhausting journey from Gorongous, this exuberant passenger explains to the driver where the Terrace of Quitandas is.
Mr. António, the host of this stunning guest house full of history, welcomes us.
We take rewarding showers and sleep until longer. We saw him again at the first breakfast with his company, an invigorating meal in which we talked mainly about the road trip we had been through.
A Mozambican of Portuguese origin, from well before the colonial war and independence, António tells us about his life experiences in Lichinga, the capital of the province of Niassa, and the trips that most influenced him. We talk until the magnetism of Ilha de Moçambique attracts us without appeal and sends us back to its centuries-old streets.
From the Terrace of Quitandas to the Massive Fort of São Sebastião
The imagination of the great fort, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, built between 1558 and 1620, with stones that arrived on the island as ballasts for Portuguese vessels, seduces us. Already armed with a small map, we find it in a few minutes. Adílio and Hélio, two kids on the island, aspiring guides, make conversation with mild manners.
They follow us chatting among themselves and with neighbors they meet along the way. They use the Macua dialect. With us, a curious young Portuguese.
They end up offering us a lot of important information and a friendly company that would last until nightfall. Over the next few days, Omar, a 14 or 15-year-old street vendor of samosas, replaces them.
We contemplate the São Sebastião fortress for the first time from the tip of a small white sand, surrounded by the crystalline shores of the Indian Ocean.
Around this time, three fishermen are launching canoes into the water. Soon they round the most amphibious edge of the fortress and disappear behind.
We left that bathing corner. We pass in front of a fashion store called “Uso Africano. There, a group of friends play on a board decorated with symbols of Benfica, Barcelona, Sporting and an iconic CR7 painting in each corner of the square.
Hélio and Adílio know that the fort is outside their area of influence and are following the hobby. Instead, a seller of old coins made with the guard of the monument guides us to accompany us without having to pay the entrance fee.
The Baron of Arms of the Portuguese Crown insinuates himself at the top of the old portal through which we pass. As we walk along the wide adarves, we surrender to the reminiscence of the Portuguese feats of other times.
The Outstanding Anchorage of Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama arrived on the island in 1498, when he wanted to complete the sea route to India of spices. After months of sailing along the wild coast of Africa, he was surprised to see how civilized the place was, said to be an important commercial hub and a kind of naval shipyard then populated by Swahili and black inhabitants, ruled by a vassal emir from the neighbor's sultan Zanzibar.
The emir responded to Ali Mussa bin Bique, with variations of this name over time: Musa ibn Bique, Ali Musa Biki, Ali Mussa bin Bique and others. Whatever his grace, the Portuguese were quick to return and remove him from his post.
Until 1507, they established a port and a kind of naval base blessed by the Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte. It has long been considered the dean colonial building of the Southern Hemisphere. Later in the XNUMXth century, the “City of Stone” of the new settlers became the capital of Portuguese territory in East Africa.
The fort we skirted protected from attacks by Dutch rivals an intense missionary activity and the trade in slaves, spices and gold. Thereafter, infrastructure continued to increase and enriched the colony. They included what was considered for many years the largest hospital in sub-Saharan Africa.
Portuguese Heritage in Contrast with Mozambican Ethnicities
Over time, Ilha de Moçambique was divided between a nuclear area that concentrated the imposing historic buildings: the Cidade de Pedra, and an adjacent residential area, full of low-rise and humble fishermen's houses: Makuti, the term quimoane that defines the covering made of flat coconut leaves.
Return from the fort along Av. dos Continuadores. We enter the Cidade de Pedra, in front of the Palace and Chapel of São Paulo, now colored with a predominant red of white friezes that, despite being worn by the tropical sun and sea air, contrast with the blue sky.
Built in 1610 as a Jesuit college, the palace later welcomed the governor. Today, it is the Maritime Museum of Ilha de Moçambique. To match, a superb Vasco da Gama statue in front of its main façade looks out over Mossuril Bay. As would happen in browser time, dhow colorful ones are anchored on the gentle coastline below.
The São Paulo Palace opens onto another square bordered by the Misericórdia church and impressive colonial mansions. Of these, the Terrace of Quitandas is one of the most impressive.
This particular corner temple houses a crucifix carved in the style of Maconde art. It continues to welcome masses and the faith of the Christian inhabitants, a minority on this island of Mozambique, who have long been a part of Islam.
We cut to Amílcar Cabral Avenue. We walk, dragged along by a tide of students in blue and white uniforms who, on their way home from school, converse with great care. A part of them follows in the shadow of the street's arcades. Others prefer the middle of the road, which is bordered by the surrounding houses, by old mansions that succeed each other in different pastel shades.
The Adventures and Misadventures of Luís de Camões on the Island of Mozambique
On the parallel and marginal street of Combatentes, the house where Luís de Camões lived preserves a similar plaster. By restoring, it degrades before our eyes.
Camões lived on the Island of Mozambique between 1567 and 1569. Goa and he settled down for some time in the expectation that his friend Diogo do Couto would find him there and help raise money for the ticket to Lisbon. On the island, it will have ended “The Lusiads” before having the work edited in the capital of the Empire.
It is even possible that Barbara “that captive who has me captive” was a black slave she met there. She would most likely be Mozambican and would have left her with deep disgust.
We left the poet's house given over to erosion. We continue down Rua dos Combatentes towards the southwest of the island. Along this other coastal road, the Cyan Indian Ocean finds its limit in an old colonial wall. Just a few meters away, the wall gives way to the cove and the gentle beach that serve as recreation for the Makutian district of Areal.
Fishermen trade fish, octopus and cuttlefish with some young housewives. Two of them, wrapped in hijabs and lush capulanas stay with the molluscs. They show us the triumph of bargaining and point to their afternoon tasks.
Neighborhood kids take advantage of this short interaction and surround us. "akunha! akunha!” (Whites! Whites!) shout determined to claim the photographic attention of their contentment.
We negotiated the rest of the walk around Ilha de Moçambique with as much patience as possible. To the vicinity of the Fortim de Santo António and the colony of leafy and stiff coconut trees that accompany it.
Mussiro, the Sun Mask and Mozambican Beauty
Nearby, a group of women are peeling beans in a mild cavaqueira. One of them, older, protects herself from the sun with an exuberant mossiro mask. Mossiro is the natural sunscreen of these parts, made from a plant substance used for centuries by the “muthiana prays”, the beautiful girls from the Nampula region.
Proudly, the lady gives us permission to photograph her but is warned by the others that part of the mask has dissipated. “Come with me” urges us. "Let's get this straight!"
We follow it through the stone, clay and cane houses of Bairro do Areal. We are accompanied by dozens of neighbors excited by the unexpected expedition. Arriving at her house, she enters. She returns shortly afterwards with a casual beauty kit, sits down and reconstitutes the mask as best she knows how.
We, enjoyed and recorded that fascinating face art. Until the lady shows us the perfect work, we thank her and we all return to the starting point.
A few hundred meters away, with the southern end of the island at the edge, we come across the long bridge that joins it to the mainland. An employee in uniform controls the gate that determines the passage of traffic to and fro. During breaks, chat in the shade of your cabin.
Island of Mozambique: Legacy of Islam and Slavery
We reversed the path, now along Solidarity Street, which runs along the western edge of Makuti's houses. We pass the door of the local RENAMO headquarters. Then, through a port of deep-sea fishermen left to work. Then, for the largest mosque on the island, green and white, as suggested by Muslim precepts.
the call of the muezzin place soon appealed for the new communion of Muslim men with Allah.
Somewhere there, Rua da Solidariedade becomes Rua dos Trabalhadores. At the fish market, as usual, vendors and vendors hold dramatic and noisy discussions that amuse the most spirited passersby.
We listen to them almost as far as the entrance to the Jardim da Memória, where, on the contrary, the topic discussed can only be taken seriously.
From the end of the XNUMXth century to the turn of the XNUMXth century, and for most of that time, despite the Portuguese Crown, Ilha de Moçambique remained a slave warehouse which processed the trafficking of natives from East Africa mainly to the Indian Islands off Mozambique or to the north (Mauritius, Reunion Island, Madagascar, Seychelles) but also for the Brazil.
The Portuguese Slavery Traffic, on the Zanzibarian Path
The trafficking was already carried out by Arab slavers based in Zanzibar operating in northern Mozambique. There, with the connivance of Muslim Muslim leaders and other ethnic groups, they captured large contingents of indigenous people around Lake Niassa and went down the coast to sell them.
By seizing the island, the Portuguese forced their participation in this traffic, keeping the captives and sending them from there to their final destinations. Located right on the edge of the Indian Ocean, the Jardim da Memória was built to recover the atrocious reality of that colonial era.
When we visit it, we cross history from the days of Ali Musa Bique towards the independence of Mozambique. The island, we unraveled it until we could no longer. Then we traveled to an unavoidable historical sister: Ibo, in the Quirimbas archipelago.
More about Ilha de Moçambique on the respective page of UNESCO.