Images outside the Mirror? Mozambique and Portugal in World History

Article excerpt


Nao vamos esquecer o tempo que passou, Quem pode esquecer o que passou? (1)

One cannot listen only to the tale of the hunter; the lion has its version too. (2)

This paper aims to discuss the role of memories and history, as a bridge to broaden the debate on the meanings of decolonization and human movement in spaces defined by the 'memory' of Africa in the specific geopolitical context of the Portuguese colonization in Mozambique.

Regarding the meaning of concepts we often use uncritically, one of the first questions that we have to ask is: What is 'Africa'? In Portugal, as in other former colonial metropolis, the expression is quite often used to refer to the former African colonies, an expression that seeks to include the complexity of the continent. To speak of 'Africa' in an era that is still captive of old colonial epistemological legacies requires that we, above all, open the historic time to challenge representations of space. This situation is neither unique nor original; indeed, many academics have been addressing this matter. What, in my view, is important when we speak of Africa, is seeing to what extent we are not referring to an intellectual construction of western colonialism. In this sense, what do we know, and what do we know about Africa? This question is particularly important in Mozambique, where many people frequently affirm, vis-a-vis the 'official history' or the 'universal history,' that "what we remember is not history. History is what is written in the books. We, Mozambicans, we have traditions, other histories ..." (3)

To speak about Africa and to forget Africa are two different components of relatively recent colonial processes. The imperial European governments, in search of colonies, created civilizing missions to save the souls of Africans. Entrepreneurs and scientists also participated in drawing the map of Africa as they searched for new investments based on the exploitation of natural and human resources. They drew this 'European' map according to their ideas of Africa, a map constructed through their knowledges and scientific horizons. But according to Portuguese official rhetoric of the time, modern colonialism was not about exploitation but civilization. With the superiority of the race, Catholic values, science and economic know-how, the Portuguese insisted instead that they had moral obligation to redeem the 'backward heathens' of Africa. The Portuguese were going to bring light to Africa, the Dark Continent, by transforming the so-called natives into progressive citizens, ready to take their place in the modern world. According to this reasoning, the Portuguese were not actually stealing land from the people that occupied the territory later known as Mozambique, (4) or exploiting local labor; instead, they presented themselves as self-appointed trustees for supposedly vulnerable natives, who had not yet reached a stage on the evolutionary scale that would allow them to develop or make responsible decisions on their own (Meneses 2010a). The result of this moral, political, economic and scientific appropriation of the continent by the modern colonial machine was to deny, then and now, recognition of the diverse ways that the concept of 'Africa' is hidden and forgotten.

This 'new' Africa resulted from the colonial European imagination that constructed the African object. " The geographic expansion of Europe and its civilization [...] submitted the world to its memory" (Mudimbe 1984:xxi), an imaginary persists in many publications, scientific and literary. With appropriate guidance and paternalistic love, the Portuguese administration assumed that it could make the Africans into progressive men and women, although it would take long time, even centuries, to perform such a radical transformation. This conception about the 'natives' remained relatively unchanged throughout much of the 20th century; this was the White Man's burden. …