Mozambique is a magical African country that is off the beaten tourist path and sometimes overshadowed by its very famous neighbor, South Africa. The two countries’ cultures and histories are deeply intertwined…did you know that Nelson Mandela, the late president of South Africa, was married to Graca Machel, wife of Mozambique’s first president?
So…what is magical about Mozambique, or Moz as we “locals” like to call it? Well, where to begin? I lived in the central part of the country from 2002-2004, where I taught adults and children in the community and at a teachers’ college. While living there, I often felt like I was in a different world than the one I grew up in…and it always struck me as strange that I could return in just 34 short hours to the “different planet” of the USA. If you are from North America, Australia, or Europe, the culture of Mozambique is probably about as different as you could imagine from your own culture.
Languages in Mozambique
To learn about Mozambique, let’s start with the language. The national language of Moz is Portuguese since it was a former colony of Portugal. However, this is just the language of business and education. Most Mozambican’s first language is their Bantu mother tongue or African dialect language. For example, where I lived in Chimoio, Mozambicans spoke Shona (also the national language of neighboring country Zimbabwe). But, in the Southern part of the country, where I lived as I went through a 10-week Peace Corps training program, the mother tongue was Changana. I heard LOTS of Changana daily from the kids in the photo who walked me back and forth to my training center every day.
After learning Portuguese, I tried my hand at learning a bit of Shona and found that most of the Bantu languages are mixed with English or Portuguese; much the way Americans in the South speak English with many Spanish vocabulary words intermixed.
Would you like to learn to say something in Shona?? Let’s learn see you in the morning in the Shona dialect- to say this, you would combine both Portuguese and Shona to say Ate Manguanane– ate is Portuguese for until and manguanane is Shona for morning.
I believe that, in addition to Portuguese, the government decided to add English as a national language back in the early 2000s since English is the international language of business and since every one of Moz’s neighbors is an English-speaking country. In fact, Peace Corps brought me to Moz as part of the government’s initiative to instruct all schoolchildren in EFL/ESL (English as Foreign Language) – at the teachers’ college, I taught ESL/EFL, English-speaking culture, and educational pedagogy. It was in this capacity that I developed my current teaching guides called ESL for Beginners and ESL Culture Explorers. These guides, as well as weekly posts with free downloadables and resources about my adventures in teaching, counseling, and living abroad can be found at bilinguallearner.com.
Food and Dress in Mozambique
Let’s explore now the cultural aspects of food and dress. Capolanas, or wrap skirts made from rectangular bolts of cloth, are very popular with the ladies as they cook or work in the home or garden. Sometimes, very fancy capolanas are even worn outside the home, but professional woman and men usually wear suits to work. Children wear all kinds of play clothes, in much the same way they do in Europe and North America.
In the photo above, you can see my homestay sister, Juliana, wearing a capolana as she hauled water to our house from the neighborhood pump a mile away. Yes, she is VERY strong! You can also see me wearing a capolana (in the first picture of the article) as I prepared the coconut for a dish called Matapa, a delicious stew made from leafy greens, coconut, and peanut.
Most Moz dishes are made with leafy greens, tomatoes, coconut, banana, plantain, and peanuts since these are plentiful ingredients in this country. Mutton, or goat, is the most common meat that Mozambicans eat and fish is also very popular since the entire length of Mozambique touches the Indian Ocean. Most dishes are eaten with a side of xima, which is made from corn starch and water and looks like mashed potatoes but has a much more spongy, thick consistency.
Entertainment in Mozambique
Finally, we’ll wrap up this article on Moz culture by discussing entertainment- what do Mozambicans do for F-U-N?!? Well, LOTS! They are a very passionate and fun-loving people as you can see in the photo of me and my Moz BFF, Moli! Entertainment usually includes good food, singing, and dancing. One of the most popular forms of song and dance is called the pasada which are romantic ballads sung in a mixture of Bantu and Portuguese. In addition, Mozambicans like big assemblies where theatre or speeches are shared- you can see this in the photo above of the assembly at the teacher’s college where I worked. TV Shows and movies are also popular, but much less so than in the western world since the entire country of Moz only had about 5 movie theatres total when I lived there!
Well, I hope you enjoyed reading about Mozambique today and I hope this article peaks your interest in a visit there or even a job with Peace Corps one day! Either a visit or a long-term stay in Mozambique will be a fabulous experience that will change your life and one that you will never forget!!!
Thank you so much Stephanie- it absolutely has peaked my interest and I would love to visit!
Stephanie Lerner was a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique, and today shares a bit of culture: clothes, food, language, and more. What a great resource to learn about Mozambique!
She is the founder of Bilingual Learner which provides teaching and counseling guides for ESL/bilingual learners. Visit bilinguallearner.com for teaching/counseling guides, weekly free resources, helpful links, and fun downloadables. Follow her on Facebook & Twitter to see photos and hear more about her travel adventures- in teaching, learning, and counseling!