‘The colonial world is a world cut in two’, as Frantz Fanon (1963: 38) contends, scrutinises the societal compartmentalisation between European and native, oppressor and oppressed, white and black, and criticises the systematic racial segregation in which the two live, widening the gap between coloniser and colonised and working against a ‘higher unity’ (ibid. 38) in doing so. This divided world, ‘inhabited by two different species’ (ibid. 39), is exemplified in the literature of Luís Bernardo Honwana, namely We Killed Mangy-Dog and Other Mozambique Stories, and the photography of Ricardo Rangel which confront and expose the racial dichotomy and social inequality as the fruit of almost five hundred years of Portuguese colonial rule in Mozambique, albeit under a censorship context. This essay will also examine the cinematography of Licínio de Azevedo and how it attempts to frame colonial Mozambique through post-colonial eyes outside of the parameters of censorship.
Luís Bernardo Honwana (1942- ) published We Killed Mangy-Dog & Other Mozambique Stories (WKMD) in 1964, in which he is critical of the colonial society in Mozambique that has been forced to accept European ideals under Portuguese control of the country and reveals the harsh lives the black Mozambicans endured under António de Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorial regime. Honwana, an assimilado himself, belonging to an educated African elite, uses the device of the short story in his anthology to exemplify the conditions in which the black natives had to live under the Portuguese colonial regime in Mozambique in order to avoid the restrictions of censorship. It is evident that although civilizados, they still did not have equal lives to the ‘good colonizers’ (Corkill and Almeida 2009: 397), a notion the Portuguese perpetuated to the wider world in order to excuse their most enduring empire in a world considered mostly decolonised (Cabecinhas and Feijó 2010: 29). For example, Inventory of Furniture & Effects (20) is an account of a family house with bedrooms, a dining room with a table and chairs and a living room, all of which would have been learnt as sustained European ideals from the Portuguese. What is more, there is evidence of education as established by the various magazines littered around the house, an education which belonged to less than 1% of the native Mozambican population (Pazos-Alonso 2007: 69). Despite this, the narrator of the story would still rather stay in bed despite being ‘not a bit sleepy’ (23). The fact that the narrator would rather stay in bed despite not being tired exemplifies the difficulty of his life. Perhaps he feels ‘othered’ being physically Mozambican but ideologically European, resigning him to living in a state of purgatory. The fact that this is what typical assimilado life was like, yet still deviates from the life of the white man, highlights lack of equality between the two and the absurdity of assimilado agenda in Lusophone Africa.
The lives of the Mozambicans without assimilado status were also problematic. In The Old Woman (24), the scene is set around the kitchen of the titular character in which she is serving traditional peanut curry to her children sitting on straw mats on the ground (as such we can assume this is a family who has not assimilated into the Portuguese way of life), unlike the family in Inventory of Furniture & Effects. We learn that her eldest child has been beaten up in a bar, presumably by white Europeans. He has difficulty in telling his mother what happened to him as illustrated by Honwana’s repeated use of ellipses and fractured dialogue: ‘They’ve destroyed everything… they’ve stolen… they don’t want…’ (29). His experience lends itself to Freud’s trauma theory in which someone who has experienced a ‘frightful accident… develops a number of severe physical and motor symptoms, which can be traced to his shock’ (Freud 1938: 67), causing the repression of memories and resulting in ‘traumatic neurosis’ (ibid. 68); this evidences the damaging effects of living in a racially hierarchical society. Alternatively, he could be embarrassed to tell his mother what happened to him, especially in front of the children as he is reluctant to reveal what happened to him: ‘No, they didn’t hit me’ (28), not wanting to disappoint his mother in the traditionally matriarchal Mozambican society, yet not wanting to appear weak in the Portuguese patriarchal society that his younger siblings will have to grow up in, another example of the traps of colonial life. Similarly, he may be protecting his siblings, that he ‘would not destroy anything for them whatever it was’ (29) even though the men made him feel ‘small’ (30), which injects a mood of hopelessness as he doesn’t expect colonial society to change or improve by the time the children grow up.
Ricardo Rangel (1924-2009), was a Mozambican photojournalist, photographer and first non-white journalist in colonial Mozambique. In 1970, he co-founded the magazine Tempo, the only Mozambican publication to oppose the propaganda of the Portuguese colonial state (Gupta 2015: 167), in which he framed colonial Mozambique through ‘autoethnographic’ photography, defined by Ellis, Adams and Bocher as using ‘personal experience to describe and critique cultural beliefs, practices and experiences’ (2011), being someone of Asian, African and European descent himself living in a racially segregated society. Rangel set out to exploit the social injustices faced in colonial society through photography, for ‘the most damning denunciation is visual’ (Rangel), the autoethnographic facet adding ’emotional depth and political and human importance’ to his work (Law-Viljoen 2013: 111). Rangel’s photography, deliberately centred in Mozambique, juxtaposes ‘the beautiful and the ugly of Mozambican-ness as they sit uneasily side by side’ (Gupta 2015: 167). This raises Sentilles’ (2017) question of whether it is ethical to make a photograph of suffering beautiful, as many of Rangel’s photographs captured the bloody scenes of the Mozambican civil war between the political parties, Frente de Liberação Moçambique (FRELIMO) and Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO). However, as Azoulay contends, we cannot fight and confront anything if it is not ‘accessible to the gaze’ (2008), and goes on to argue that photographers and subjects have the assumption that their work will be seen by an audience and it is for this reason that Rangel set out to photograph the racial atrocities and fractured societal inequalities of Mozambique.
Rangel’s 1965 photograph, Porteiro de Cabaré Moulin Rouge, depicts an African doorman working outside the Moulin Rouge Cabaret in Beira. He is dressed in traditional European clothing and is wearing a white wig, although his natural black hair is observably evident from underneath the wig. Perhaps the aim was to humiliate the man whose sad eyes are looking directly at the audience, or to assimilate him into the European ideals of Portuguese colonial society. However, the photograph subverts the intentions (Azoulay 2008) of the Portuguese and instead of presenting the doorman as inferior to the Portuguese, it reflects his equality and humanity, in turn highlighting the inhumanity of the imperial regime. This is an example of how Rangel uses his lens in order to ‘upend the Portuguese imperial eye to turn back on itself in a disquieting manner’ (Gupta 2015: 168), and also plays into Pinney’s ‘margin of excess’ in which a photograph captures more than what is simply in it (Pinney and Peterson 2003: 6). The Western attire of the African man falls into Homi Bhabha’s concept of mimicry, as it has been appropriated (and immortalised through Rangel’s photography) in a way that mocks and deconstructs the original European principles, representing an ‘ironic compromise’ (Bhabha 1994: 122) between coloniser and colonised; there is a shift in power between the colonisers’ desire for constant control and the progression of the colonised people’s culture under the imperial regime, an example of bridging the dichotomous colonial chasm.
A contrasting commentary on colonial society can be seen in Children Bathing Near Beach Clubs (1963) and Oasis Beach Colonial Time (1970). The former depicts two Mozambican children bathing with a public water tap directly opposite a beach in then-Lourenço Marques exclusively reserved for the use of white people. Separating the children from the beach is a road replete with cars. There is an immediate stark juxtaposition between the lives of the African children and the whites; the latter enjoying the frivolities of driving a car and lounging on a beach on land that does not belong to them, and the act of the African children sequestered and confined to one side of the road, sharing a single water tap in order to bathe, as if exercising a basic human right on their own land is an act of transgression.
Similarly, Oasis Beach Colonial Time, captures a white colonial beach in Lourenço Marques. However due to Rangel’s use of no flash and black and white (No flash: homage to Ricardo Rangel (1924-2009) 2012), the skin colour of the figures on the beach are obscured, making it unclear to the audience whether they are black or white. Rangel’s deliberate obscuring of skin colour and using the camera to overstep racial boundaries, such as a white-only beach, makes ‘observing the unbearable sights presented in photographs from the Occupied Territories’ (although referring to Israel/Palestine, it is still pertinent to colonial Mozambique) (Azoulay 2008: 16) more accessible to the audience, black or white and stressing the frailty of how one’s perception of a photograph can be changed in accordance to how they view it, rather than what is captured by the camera.
Licínio de Azevedo’s Virgem Margarida (2012) tells the story of the women sent to the re-education centres by FRELIMO, led by Samora Machel, with the aim of creating mulheres novas (new women) in the estado novo (new state) just after independence, a story which FRELIMO themselves often eschew from their own history (Jentzsch 2013). In the film, women who did not fit into the new, ‘post-colonial’ Mozambican way of life (alcoholics, religious radicals and predominantly prostitutes) were taken to re-edcuation centres run by military women working under the FRELIMO regime in order to transform and assimilate them into the new Mozambican way of life in the reinvented Marxist-Leninist state that unified the land: ‘for the nation to live, the tribe must die’ (Machel), championed medicine, law and education, and recognised the equality of women, (Encyclopaedia Britannica) albeit within the perimeters of FRELIMO.
In reality, the re-education centres, which lasted only two years, were largely a failure as they exemplified the continuity of tyranny from the Portuguese, instead of setting the nation ‘free from the vices of colonialism’ (Azevedo), proposing that ‘post-colonialism’ is more a temporal marker than an ideological one. The injustices of a segregated society were being perpetuated now by the Mozambican government despite the departure of the Portuguese. Furthermore, the geography of the re-education centres, secluded in the jungle with scarce inland communication contributed not only to the breakdown of the camps but to the extension of colonial society, or as Azevedo affirms, ‘These centers were located in places that were completely isolated, in the jungle, without communications, and in such situations the individual who holds the power, acts like a little king.’ (ibid.). The centres became colonial microcosms of the repressive society from which the nation was trying to progress, with its female leaders becoming the colonisers and the female prisoners, the colonised. This cyclical societal structure signifies the impossibility of revolution and the futility of