Land of Endless Coastline and Rich Multi-Ethnic Culture

By Liz Goldner

Mozambique is an exotic name for fascinating and diverse country. Located in southeast Africa, it contains a 2500km long coastline of sandy beaches, facing the Mozambique Channel and the Indian Ocean. As a Portuguese colony from 1752 until 1975, the country’s culture is a blend of indigenous and Portuguese traditions, specifically in its unique architecture, literature, poetry, and music. The country’s artwork, considered among the finest on the continent, includes wood sculptures and masks of the Makonde people, as well as large, colorful murals.

The capital city of Maputo, formerly Lourenço Marques, is in the far southern end of Mozambique, on Delagoa Bay (Baía do Espírito Santo). Maputo has many beaches and several museums including the Museu de História Natural. Wildlife reserves near the city are famous for their elephants and flamingos.

Eduardo Mondlane University, also in Maputo, is the major institution of higher education in the country. Originally established as the University of Luanda in 1962 under the Portuguese colonial administration, the university was renamed in 1975 in honor of the leader of the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO).

Since 1970, more than 25 Fulbright grants have been awarded to U.S. scholars to conduct research and/or lecture in Mozambique. Fulbright grant packages include support for tuition and fees for accompanying children.

Portuguese is the official language of Mozambique, while several other local languages are spoke there. The word for “peace” in Portuguese is “paz.” In “Swahili,” it is “Amani.”

The majority of Mozambicans belong to ethnically diverse indigenous groups such as the Makua, the Makonde, the Sena, the Chokwe, the Manyika, and the Shanagaan. About half of the Mozambican population practices traditional indigenous religions, while the remaining half practice either Islam or Christianity. Portuguese, other European, and Asian residents make up the small expatriate population.


Mozambique, with its large amounts of gold and ivory, came under control of Portugal in the 16th century. But settlement by the Portuguese was sparse until the late 1880’s, when a formal colony called Portuguese East Africa was formed in the country.

In the 1890’s, Mozambican forces rebelled against the Portuguese colonials, losing the final battle against them in 1895 at an area called Gwaza Miuthine, according to Kristin M Kane, Public Affairs Officers in Maputo. She also facilitated the collection of soil for the Common Ground 191 art project in that area. She explained in an email, “From that date (February 2, 1895) until the revolution for independence started in the 1960’s, Mozambique was officially an undisputed port of Portugal.”

The two countries were closely tied through the mid 20th century. Then, in the 1950s, native Mozambicans began to protest Portuguese rule. For more than a decade, the Frelimo (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) rebellion fought a guerilla war.

By 1964, the northern part of the country was almost completely in Frelimo hands. But as Portugal was undergoing its own revolution in 1974, that country agreed to support independence for Mozambique. With this new state of affairs, so many Portuguese left Mozambique that much of the country's administrative infrastructure was effectively wrecked. In June 1975, independence was granted, and a Marxist Frelimo government was installed.

During the 1980s, a movement to overthrow the Frelimo regime was organized and civil war erupted, supported by South Africa. In response, the Frelimo government adopted a new constitution that spelled out improvement in individual rights, including freedom of the press and speech, while establishing a multiparty democracy. In 1992, the civil war came to an end. In 1994, the country's first-ever multiparty elections were held.


Before the peace accord of October 1992, Mozambique's economy was devastated by a protracted civil war and socialist mismanagement. In 1994, it ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world. Since then, Mozambique has undertaken a series of economic reforms, and more than 900 state enterprises have been privatized. Pending are tax and commercial code reform, as well as greater private sector involvement in the transportation, telecommunications, and energy sectors. Since 1996, inflation has been low and foreign exchange rates stable. In fact, Mozambique achieved one of the highest growth rates in the world in 1997-98. Still, the country depends on foreign assistance to balance the budget and pay for a trade imbalance in which imports outnumber exports by three to one. The medium-term outlook for the country looks bright, as trade and transportation links to South Africa and the rest of the region are expected to improve and sizable foreign investments materialize. Among these investments are metal production (aluminum, steel), natural gas, power generation, agriculture (cotton, sugar), fishing, timber, and transportation services. Additional exports in these areas should bring in needed foreign exchange.


Mozambique's distinct local style consists of a vibrant blend of African, Arab and Portuguese influences. The carved wooden sculpture and masks of the Makonde people of northern Mozambique and the complex Chopi orchestral performances, or midogo, are among the best-known artistic traditions. The country has several modern artists who are known internationally. The most famous artist in the country is Malangatana Valente Ngwenya whose paintings portray the sufferings of the colonial period and the civil war. Malangatana and the muralist Mankew Valente Muhumana have inspired the formation of artist cooperatives, particularly around Maputo.

Popular music includes the work of Alexandre Langa, Xidimingwana, and the Nampula group Eyuphuro. Soccer is the nation's favorite sporting activity. Mozambique's soccer team competes with other African nations and within the Portuguese-speaking Sporting League, which also includes Angola, Portugal, and Brazil. Cuisine is varied, but is often a blend of African and Portuguese.

Geography and Climate

Mozambique, with its tropical and subtropical climate, is located in Southern Africa, bordering the Mozambique Channel, between South Africa and Tanzania. The terrain is mostly coastal lowlands, with uplands in the center, high plateaus in the northwest and mountains in west. The country has many tropical beaches, coral reefs and is known as a mecca for scuba divers, sun worshippers and adventures explorers. The pristine coast is an unexplored pleasure of the Indian Ocean, hosting a dazzling display of marine life. The world renowned Bazaruto Archipelago is part of that coastline. The Northern region includes the majestic mountains of Namúli and Unango, historical settlements of Angoche, Ile de Mozambique, and Ibo and the magnificent harbor of Pemba. The country is also known for its small desolated islands close to the coast.



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