Volume 10, Issue 4
George O. Ndege. Culture and Customs of Mozambique. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007. 128p.
Culture and Customs of Mozambique is Professors George O. Ndege’s contribution to the book series ‘Culture and Customs of Africa’, which comprises to date twenty-two case studies. By introducing the reader into the respective cultural setting and its characterizing customs, it is the series’ stated objective to spark intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding in an ever shrinking, globalizing world. Whereas it is deliberately chosen by the contributing authors to define in each case the term ‘culture’, ‘custom’ is overarchingly understood “not as static or as a museum artifact but as a dynamic phenomenon” (p. viii). Each book of the series aims to capture the elements and essence of the analogous culture and customs, by “dwelling on such important aspects as religion, worldview, literature, media, art, housing, architecture, cuisine, traditional dress, gender, marriage, family, lifestyles, social customs, music and dance” (Series Foreword). In doing so, each volume follows a uniform format.
Divided in eight chapters and spanning 128 pages, the book “proceeds on the premise that tradition and culture are dynamic and dialectic, internal and external processes that shape the worldview of people at a given point in time” (preface). In this sense it “highlights the rich Mozambican cultural diversity by examining the interplay of many and varied factors” (preface). The author’s intention to “facilitate dialogue between the past and emerging present in Mozambique” and to enhance the readers understanding of “the continuous process of change that has defined and continues to shape contemporary Mozambican society” (p. x) is, at least for the second part of the statement, an achieved objective. However, in doing so, the volume shows great light and shadow of quality.
After a brief historic ‘chronology’ of Mozambique, an initial ‘introduction’ provides the reader with essential information on history, geography, economy and politics. The historic facts are as such sound and mostly complete, yet with a few exceptions deemed necessary to cite. The chronology, although accurate in facts and dates, does not specifically name the Mozambican civil war from 1976-1992. In the subsequent depiction of the war between the then sole political party FRELIMO and the Anti-Frelimo resistance group RENAMO, it is neither stated that this has been historically identified as a classical proxy war on the African continent. Ultimately, it is completely unmentioned that the RENAMO rebel group received covert financial backup from some private right-wing organizations in the US, while their support from South Africa’s apartheid and South Rhodesia’s regime is explicitly stated.
Thereupon, the book then proceeds with the various aspects of culture and customs as stated above, of which the highlights can be found in Chapters 2, 6 and 7, where gender roles, marriage, family, social customs and lifestyles of Mozambique’s sixteen ethnic groups and their respective religious affiliations, namely Christianity, Islam and traditional religions, are well presented, reviewed and examined. Indeed, it is the book’s true highlight how Ndege keenly portrays an ever evolving multiethnic and multicultural society, in which heterogeneity is embarked upon, and that is kept together by the commonly valued custom of ‘respect for the other’, a value traditionally nourished from generation to generation, and cultivated even in modern and contemporary Mozambique.
Yet, surprisingly disappointing are the chapters which deal with Mozambique’s literature, art, architecture and cuisine. Whereas relevant examples are coherently mentioned and described, excerpts, corresponding pictures or anecdotes are entirely missing. This turns these passages into a tenacious read, which feels like a missed opportunity to establish an emotional link between what is presented and the recipient. Pictures are provided, although, they are not directly linked to the chapter depictions.
The glossary at the end presents in turn another pleasing aspect of the book. The reader is equipped with vital expressions and accommodating explanations used in Mozambique, interesting for general and academic readers alike.
Regarding the volume’s handiwork it has to be stated howbeit, that despite the work’s valid place in the English literature about lusophone Mozambique, it is not an innovative research project in itself. For the most part, analysis is minimal to nonexistent, rather focusing on description and review. The lack of examination might serve as an explanation for the absence of a conclusion. It is exclusively based on secondary research, a literature review of English works and facts about Mozambique. Lusophone references are completely missing in the Bibliography, which is at approximately three pages, also rather slim. The work often consults African handbooks, guides, encyclopedias and the CIA World Factbook as cardinal sources, which might explain the resulting prose writing style of the book. This, and the necessity to follow a strict format within an overall limited scope (128 pages), although outside the author’s sphere of influence, creates a rather superficial examination in staccato step, comprised in a bullet-point scheme. At some points the reader certainly wishes for more in-depth analysis, for instance when the important role of drama and poetry in Mozambique’s liberation struggle is mentioned, rather than the intersection to a further sub point.
This creates the aforementioned distance between the text and the reader, which is neither eased by the entire absence of primary research, e.g. interviews with selected members of society, nor by the omission of relevant information about the author. This leaves the reader in the unknown whether Professor Ndege has ever been in Mozambique, in lack of primary research their only focal point to trust that the information provided is correctly and relevantly chosen. Only temporarily does one feel attached to the delineated occurrences, for instance when the author supremely outlines the traditional customs of initiation, marriage, death, and social change across the ethnic divide. In sum however, a more narrative writing style, with anecdotal evidence, interviews, excerpts, related pictures, etc. would presumably have proven to be the preferable approach in capturing the culture and customs of Mozambique, and to spark intercultural understanding, empathy and dialogue, the series’ and author’s primary objective.
Yet despite these drawbacks the information gathered proved to be well selected. With the exception of the few mentioned content weaknesses, no other major inconsistencies occur; on the contrary, the compilation is largely complete and coherent. People with a vested interest in African history will feel drawn to this work as readers with a limited knowledge of the case. As an introductory and reference text and this is what it should be perceived and valued as, it is utterly informative, and it awakens interest to intensify the reading about Mozambique’s rich cultures and customs.
Frank Vollmer Universitat Jaume I