WOMEN'S LIVES IN THE DISTRICT OF CUAMBA,
Priscilla Plummer Macy
B.S. University of Washington, 1982
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Masters of Social Science
This thesis for the Masters of Social Sciences
Priscilla Plummer Macy
has been approved
Plummer Macy, Priscilla (M.S.S.)
Women's Voices: The Lives of the Macua Women in the District of Cuamba,
Thesis directed by Professor Jana Everett
This report is an overview of the lives of the Macua women living in the
Niassa Province in northern Mozambique. The study is based on feminist research
methods and focuses on women's daily activities, their role as a wife and as a
mother, their involvement in income generation, and what it is like to grow up
female. The report incorporates many direct quotes from the women as they
describe their culture and talk about their lives. Background information on
Mozambique and the District of Cuamba where these women live, is also included.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I
recommend its publication.
A tremendous amount of appreciation goes out to the women interviewed.
They were generous with their time and information, overcoming fear and opening
up to new and unknown experiences. I am especially grateful to those women who
enthusiastically helped me gain insight into their world and who sat with me through
multiple interviews. I want to express a special thank you to my friends Paula and
Juliana who welcomed me into their lives as a sister and a daughter.
Background on Mozambique............................2
The District of Cuamba............................6
2. MARIANNA: A Glimpse Into The Life Of A Macua Woman..17
3. MARRIAGE AND MOTHERHOOD............................ 27
A Women's Role as a Wife.........................33
A Women's Role as a Mother.........................46
Illnesses and Death Among Children...............52
4. WOMEN'S WORK........................................55
Gender Division of Labor...........................55
Independence and Frelimo's Impact................59
The Agricultural Sector..........................59
The Informal Sector..............................63
Income Generation Among Village Women............64
Income Generation in the Bairros.................67
Income Generation in Town........................73
Female Entrepreneurs in the Formal Sector......78
Factors Affecting Women and Income Generation....79
5. GROWING UP FEMALE...................................83
Traditions and Beautification- Past and Present.....99
Opopha- Traditional Markings.....................99
Women's Feelings About Life........................103
A. DESCRIPTIONS AND THOUGHTS ON THE LIVES OF
WOMEN BY FIVE MACUA WOMEN..........................108
In late 19931 moved to Cuamba, a small town in northern Mozambique where
my husband was managing a rural water project. We both wanted to make Africa our
home for some years. I had envisioned living in the capital of a fairly well developed
country where I could study the challenges facing urban female entrepreneurs.
Cuamba was nothing close to that vision. I found myself living in a remote area in
what is known as the "neglected province" of a country which had been ravaged by
sixteen years of war and was ranked as the poorest country in the world.
For someone who thrives on city life, Cuamba was quite a shock. However,
it did not take long for my frustration to turn into fascination. As I looked around my
new home, the typical scenes of rural women were visible all around me- women
carrying heavy loads of firewood, water and crops on their heads along with a baby
on their back; sitting in small groups on the verandahs of their mud homes
winnowing maize and shelling peas; washing bright colored clothing by the rivers
edge. On one hand it all seemed so familiar but I also realized that even with all I had
previously experienced and studied regarding women in development, I knew almost
nothing about the women who were now my neighbors.
I had so many questions. How did they spend their time? How did they earn
a living and survive in such harsh times? How are women viewed in society? What
ancestral traditions did they follow? How were their lives impacted by independence,
the war, and the "modem world"? How were their lives similar to and different than
mine? Were they happy? Did they realize they were among the poorest people in the
world and if so, how did they feel about it?
I wanted to come to know these women. I wanted to know who my
neighbors were. I wanted to find out how their lives compared to what I had read,
heard about and seen regarding the lives of women in other developing countries. As
no formal research existed specific to these Macua women, I wanted to contribute
some understanding about them. And, I wanted to provide the women with an
opportunity to express themselves, to voice their concerns, their needs and desires.
With the end of the war, foreign governments and development organizations
were flocking to the capital far in the south of the country, creating and beginning to
implement programs intended to improve the lives of the Mozambican people. Such
work is always challenging but with such a dearth of research about the people, the
culture, and the economy, it is especially difficult to develop appropriate and
sustainable programs. I wanted to contribute information about the region and
provide insight into the lives of the Mozambican women through their voices. My
hope is that this study helps people in general better understand the lives of the Macua
women and that it inspires agencies to become more sensitive to the culture, the
needs, desires and the skills of the people who will be impacted by the programs they
design and implement. I also hope that this will inspire further study of the region
and die Macua people.
Background on Mozambique
The lives of the women in the District of Cuamba revolve around the activities
and decisions made in their homes, their villages and in town. Little connection is felt
with the national government, the capital of Maputo or even other provinces, let alone
other countries. However, their lives have been and continue to be greatly affected by
the decisions and activities made by the Mozambican government and by outsiders.
Located in southern Africa, Mozambique was ranked the poorest country in
the world from 1990 to 1995. The 1995 g.n.p. per capita was just $80, much lower
than even the average for sub-Saharan countries (World Bank, 1996 Trends in
Developing Countries). Social indicators such as life expectancy, infant and under
five mortality and maternal mortality are among the worst in the world and only 25%
of the population has access to safe water (World Bank, Report for Paris, 1996,12).
There is only one doctor per 43,700 people and life expectancy is 47.5 years (UNDP
Human Development Report 1993). Adult literacy is 33% and for women it is a mere
16%. Of Mozambique's seven million adults, only 95,000 are formally employed
and these jobs are concentrated in just a few urban centers (Economist, Oct. 28,
1995). Economic and social indicators are worse in the rural areas, such as Cuamba,
where the vast majority of Mozambicans live.
Many of Mozambique's problems can be attributed to a sixteen year civil war
which just ended in 1992, failed socialist policies, and to the legacy of die colonial era
in which the Portuguese savagely exploited Mozambique's resources while doing
almost nothing to develop the colony's economy.
The Portuguese first arrived in Mozambique in 1498. Along with Arab and
Indian traders, they had a profound impact on the people and the economy of
Mozambique as they sought slaves, ivory and gold. As the noted historians of
Mozambique, Allen and Barbara Isaacman explain that, "the slave trade had far-
reaching economic and social effects. Fields were ravaged, entire villages destroyed,
and survivors were compelled to flee to inaccessible, unproductive locations to avoid
slave raiders" (Isaacman, 11). As many of the most productive members of society
were exported along with the highly valued gold and ivory, Mozambicans
experienced tremendous disruption to their economy and societies and their only
compensation was in the form of destructive weapons and inexpensive perishable
commodities such as beads, liquor and cloth.
The Portuguese caused such disruption for centuries but it was not until the
early 1900's that they gained any substantial control over the entire colony. The
Isaacmans explain that at this time, "colonial rule transformed the basic fabric of
Mozambican society. The imposition of arbitrary and capricious policies informed by
the prevailing racial and cultural arrogance of the colonizers and by new labor demand
and tax requirements adversely affected all Mozambicans" (Isaacman, 1983).
Portugal's colonial economic policy was based on the conviction that raw
materials could be produced cheaply in Mozambique and sent to Portugal where they
would be processed and made into finished products before returning to Mozambique
to be sold. High protective tariffs were imposed so that Mozambique would be
forced to buy products from Portugal, even though many of these products were
inferior in quality to those offered by other countries. The colony imported much
more from Portugal than it exported, making Mozambique's balance of payments a
significant problem. To reap as many benefits as possible, Portugal developed
strategies that made itself richer while creating a distorted, dependent and weak
economic base in Mozambique.
With limited capital available to extract Mozambique's resources, Portugal
turned to the use of forced labor. Labor codes and tax laws were set up to get as
much labor as cheap as possible from the Mozambicans. The Portuguese imposed
forced cotton production and rice cultivation, using highly coercive tactics. This
added to the peasants' impoverished state and damaged their ability to be self-
sufficient in food production. Increased debt, famines, disease and erosion were also
directly related to the forced cultivation of cotton and rice.
Far more than was the case in the French and British colonies of Africa, the
Portuguese sent peasants and members of the working class from the mother country
to the colonies. Even most of the low level jobs in Mozambique such as waiting
tables and driving buses were held by the Portuguese. This obstructed indigenous
Mozambicans from developing even a working class.
Not only were the Mozambicans kept from developing any kind of
professional skills, they were given little opportunity to receive even primary level
education. To save on social expenditures, Portugal put the Catholic Church in
charge of education for the indigenous. Few people had access to education due to
the excessive entrance fees, limited number of schools and instruction in Portuguese
and the quality of education was appreciatively inferior to the instruction offered to
the settler children. The effort to educate black Mozambicans was so limited that in
1950 the state acknowledged that the illiteracy rate was an appalling 98% (Isaacman,
1983). Little progress was made in the proceeding years and at the time of
independence in 1975, the illiteracy rate had hardly improved.
An armed struggle for independence began in 1964 and on June 25,1975,
Mozambique became a free nation. Mozambique was one of the last countries in
Africa to gain independence. As observed by die Isaacmans, "few newly independent
nations have inherited as many far reaching and deeply embedded economic problems
The new government was to lead a country which had experienced over 400
years of exploitation including a bankrupt economy in shambles and an uneducated
population that had few social services and which hardly knew they were part of an
independent country called Mozambique. At independence, in the entire country there
were only six economists, two agronomists, no geologists, three lawyers and not a
single judge, 40 university graduates and less than 1,000 black high school
graduates. The illiteracy rate was some 95% and over 70% of the population did not
have access to health care (Feldman, 1989,30; Finnegan, 1989; Isaacman, 1983,
At independence, 90% of the 250,000 Portuguese settlers fled the country,
putting severe constraints on the leadership's ability to effectively manage the
country. Even though the Portuguese were exploitive, racist and resented, they
played a critical role in running all aspects of the economy. One of the greatest losses
was the departure of the small rural traders, transporters and lenders.
The new government, Frelimo, implemented a highly centralized economic
strategy based on socialist principles. The plan was to radically transform the countiy
by aggressively modernizing and socializing agriculture and industry (Hermele, 1990;
Isaacman, 1983). To increase agricultural production, the government tried moving
people into communal villages and getting them to work on agricultural cooperatives
or at state farms. This plan as well as its efforts to develop an industrial sector turned
out to be disastrous. While numerous peasants joined cooperatives in the initial
years, these were quickly rejected and most cooperatives were disbanded by the mid-
late 1980's. Frelimo's plan did not include supporting the family farming sector
which comprised about 93% of the rural population and was the backbone of the
economy (Feldman, 1989,30). Farming productivity was also stifled due to the
collapse of the rural trading network. The flight of Portuguese and Asian rural traders
effectively paralyzed the marketing of both agricultural and manufactured goods.
Peasants suddenly had nothing to buy with the money they earned from marketing
their surpluses leaving them little incentive to produce any surplus.
To make matters worse, war was ignited in 1976. It was initially sparked by
the white regime in neighboring Rhodesia as they retaliated against Mozambique's
support of majority rule in that country. The fighting intensified drastically after
1981, turning into a civil war funded by outsiders who did not want Frelimo's
socialist oriented government to succeed, and continued with devastating effects until
late in 1992. Frelimo's failed economic strategy combined with drought, a world
recession and the war put Mozambique and its people in a desperate situation by the
mid-1980s of which it is just now trying to emerge.
The war has had a tremendous impact on the lives of the people, on the fabric
of society and on the economy. It claimed an estimated one million lives, sent over
one million Mozambicans as refugees to neighboring countries and displaced five
million people in a country of only about fifteen million (McCormack, 1993).
Peasants in the rural areas were impacted in numerous ways. Many had to abandon
their farms and homes and flee. Numerous lives were lost, especially among men,
leaving many women alone in their responsibility of caring and providing for their
family. What was left of the rural trading network and transportation systems
collapsed, leaving peasants cut off from selling their products to the critical markets in
the towns and cities. By 1992,68% of the rural primary school network was
destroyed or closed by die war. Over 1,000 health centers were destroyed resulting
in there being only one health facility for every 12,900 individuals (World Bank,
Report for Paris, 1993,26).
During the mid-1980s with the economy in a dire situation, the government
felt forced to join the IMF and the World Bank. By 1987, Mozambique had to adopt
the first in a series of structural adjustment programs as have many other African
countries. The programs were designed to smooth out the basic distortion in the
economy, reverse the decline in production, promote growth and lay the foundation
for the creation of a market oriented economy. With adoption of these programs,
Western government agreed to provide a large amount of foreign aid.
The structural adjustments have received mixed reviews but today, it is clear
that the economy is better off than it was during the 1980s. Much of this is due to the
war ending in late 1992. The government no longer focuses on improving the
economy through centrally managed grandiose plans focusing on state farms and the
industrial sector. The plan is to recognize the vital importance of small holder
agriculture which accounts for an estimated 98% of food crop production, about 60%
of the gross domestic product, employs 80% of the labor force and generates most of
Mozambique's export earnings. Small holder agriculture is so dominant in
Mozambique's economy that only 15% of a household's income is derived from
activities outside of farming. This is extremely low in today's global economy and
even compared to other African countries where the average of off-farm income is
40% (World Bank, Report for Paris, 1993,23,27; 1996). Increased investments in
rural infrastructure, primary education, basic health services, safe water and sanitation
are priorities, especially in the rural areas.
Peace has brought new possibilities to the country and in 1993, the country's
first democratic elections were held with few disruptions. But the optimism may be
limited to the government, foreign governments and agencies, urban dwellers and
business people. For the people I interviewed, there is little confidence that the peace
will hold. The women say they don't know the reasons for the war, they just know
that it has brought change and suffering to their lives. While the talk they hear of
renewed fighting may mainly be rumors and stories connected with banditry, to them
it is very real.
The greatest concern now, at least among the women in the District of
Cuamba, is that of inflation. Almost every woman interviewed lamented about how
the high prices made it difficult for them to survive. They view life as being much
more difficult economically than in the past and experience tremendous anxiety over
how to feed and clothe themselves and their children.
Rural Mozambicans, like those living in the District of Cuamba are seeing
some signs of improvement such as freedom to return to their home areas and work
their farms, there is increased mobility due to improvements in the transportation
there are more products to buy as traders are returning and having increased access to
imports and there is even some increase in locally produced goods.
Even though the economy is growing and long-term prospects are improving,
Mozambique has a long and difficult road ahead to achieve a more prosperous life for
its people. Two thirds of the Mozambican population still live in absolute poverty and
most are feeling overwhelmed by inflation and tremendous pressure to find new ways
to earn income.
The District of Cuamba
As our small propeller plane approached the airstrip just outside of town, the
mud homes that had occasionally dotted the landscape turned into a sea of thatched
roofs. These were the bairros (suburbs) surrounding the three streets of cement
homes and buildings which make up the town of Cuamba. Within the town are two
banks, a school, a handful of small shops, a central marketplace, a few bars and
restaurants, a few carpentry shops and lumber mills, the district hospital and some
government buildings. The buildings were dingy and had seen little maintenance
since they had been built decades ago. Portuguese and Indian traders, assimilados
(indigenous Mozambicans who had been assimilated into the colonialists' society
based on intermarriage and economic factors), indigenous Mozambicans, and a
handful of foreigners lived in town.
For an outsider arriving in Cuamba, in many ways, life looks like one would
imagine it to have been like centuries ago. Most people live in mud homes with grass
roofs, sleep on bamboo mats on the hard ground and mark time based on the position
of the sun. People depend on the food they grow for their survival, using only short
handled hoes and a large knife as their tools. Women still pound maize by hand to
make flour and spend hours each day fetching water in buckets for the family needs.
Traditional healers are the most common providers of health care and many illnesses
are believed to be caused by witches, spells and the spirits. A newspaper is rarely
seen here and few people own or have access to a radio.
Wandering around the bairros, one sees common sights of rural Africa.
Women canying heavy loads of food, firewood and water on their heads and a baby
on their backs. Women sitting on the verandahs of their home wearing bright colored
capulanas (a meter of cloth typically worn as skirts), shelling peas, winnowing maize,
cooking in hand-made clay pots over the fire, braiding each other's hair and visiting
with friends. Children playing in groups, making dolls and radio cassettes out of
mud and having picnics with make believe food. Men constructing homes with sun
dried bricks, walking to town on the footpaths and sitting on bamboo mats and chairs
in one's courtyard enjoying home brewed beer. The elderly are seen sitting quietly,
dependent on their children and grandchildren to bring them food and water. The sick
lying on a mat in the shade on the verandah, hoping that the chores will get done
without them and that they will survive this illness. Similar sights are found in the
villages scattered throughout the district. The poverty just tends to be greater in the
Cuamba is located in southern Niassa, the most northwestern and largest
province in Mozambique. Niassa is often referred to as the "forgotten" or "neglected"
province due to its isolation. The isolation of the area was highlighted when after
eight months of bureaucratic procedures, our cars were finally released out of
customs in Maputo. The only major road that ran north-south in the country was not
fully open due to mines left from the recent war which were still a threat and to the
poor condition of the road. To get to Cuamba from the capital, Maputo, we drove
through Swaziland, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Tete province of Mozambique,
Malawi and then entered Cuamba. After twelve border posts and five days of hard
driving including a trip to a doctor in Zimbabwe and a prescription for pain killers and
muscle relaxants, we reached our home.
An estimated 97,OCX) people live in the district of Cuamba; 52,247 live in the
town and the bairros which cover a ten kilometer radius (Dept, of Health; City
Council). The majority of the population in the district live in extreme poverty, are
subsistence farmers and are representative of the Mozambican population, 80% of
which live in the rural areas and are involved in agriculture (MOA/MSU Paper No.
16,1). The people are of the Macua tribe which is the largest in Mozambique. The
Macua are spread out over a large area of northern Mozambique and their language
and culture can differ between areas.
The machamba (family farm) is the life blood of the people. Most people
depend on their one to three hectare machamba not only for their household
consumption needs but also as their primary, and for many their only, source of
income. A short handled hoe continues to be the primary implement. Draft animals
and tractors are non-existent. In many cases, especially among the villagers, men and
women work together on their farms. To generate cash or to get food, many people
work as day laborers on other's farms.
Since little industry exists in the district, formal employment is rarely an
option. Some professional jobs such health technicians, teachers and office workers
exist in town and are primarily filled by men. Many turn to the informal market
where they trade goods such as firewood, clothes, soap, salt, dried fish, cooked
food, tin buckets and bamboo mats. There are no formal markets outside of town but
increasingly, small quantities of items such as vegetables and cigarettes are sold along
the roadside. Pottery making and brewing beer and wine are popular trades among
the women, especially in the bairros.
Malaria and malnutrition are the primary causes of death. Contaminated water
collected out of open wells and poor sanitation are key contributors to frequent
illnesses. People are commonly sick and most turn to traditional healers for
assistance. The modem health care that does exist is in town and is too expensive and
far away for most people and is still viewed with suspicion by many.
Families are large as this is how one gains respect in society and parents have
only their children to depend on for survival as they age and become less productive.
The division of labor between men and women is very clear and while women feel
they work more than men, they don't complain as this is how God planned it and the
chores that men do are greatly valued.
A tremendous amount of time and energy is put into growing and preparing
food. One of the greatest sources of unhappiness is that of a mother worrying about
how to get enough food to feed her children. Seeing their children frequently ill is a
primarily source of sorrow and anxiety for parents.
The vast majority of people are illiterate and most women only speak their
mother-tongue, Macua. Educational opportunities are increasing for children where
they attend schools in mud buildings with only the hard floor or mud benches inside.
Traditional education is less emphasized than prior to independence but it still popular
and an important aspect of girls' and women's lives.
Colonialism, independence, socialism, war, drought, recession and structural
adjustment policies have all impacted the lives of Mozambicans in numerous ways.
While at first glance, the lives of the women in the District of Cuamba seem to have
changed little over generations, when one looks closer, many aspects of their lives
have changed significantly, especially in the past two decades. War and economic
hardships especially have contributed to increases in pre-marital sex, marital affairs,
and divorce, all of which have had a tremendous impact on women's lives.
Economic strains have not only pressured single mothers but also married women to
find new ways to generate income, adding to their already heavy burden of doing the
chores at home, caring for the children, and working on the machamba. As the
women perform their work at home and in the fields, and participate in the life of their
family and community, the rhythm of their lives is undergoing changes, not always
visible but certainly recognized by the women themselves.
As peace allows people to freely move about, to return to their homes and
settle, for schools and health posts to be rebuilt, and as the government focuses on
increasing its support of rural farmers, improving infrastructure and liberalizing its
economic policies, the lives of the women in the District of Cuamba continue to be
impacted. Some of the change is embraced, some is unwelcome and forced, and
some is not yet clear or understood.
The obstacles to gaining an understanding of these women were tremendous.
There was no known formal research on the Macua women to use as a base. We did
not share a common language. Most of the women I met had never talked to a
foreigner. The "secret police" who were active during the war left people with great
fear regarding answering personal questions. There were no local women with
experience in research or who spoke English. Fortunately I had over two years to
help me gain insight into these women and their culture. I arrived in Cuamba in
November of 1993 and left in May 1996. Most of the interviews were conducted
between January 1995 and April 1996.
The research is primarily based on informal interviews using feminist
qualitative research techniques. As I wanted to develop an overall understanding of
these women's lives and of a culture of which so little was known, I felt it was best to
start with few theories and hypotheses and develop these along the way. I wanted the
interviewees to be participants in the process instead of just subjects. I wanted to
recognize and expose my biases and die various influences affecting the women's
responses and my interpretations. I wanted to go into field research being able to
openly admit that there could be no such thing as a silent observer in this
environment Based on my objectives, the environment and my beliefs, I felt that
feminist qualitative research was clearly the appropriate approach to take.
In studying interpretive and feminist research methods, I was especially
influenced by the writings of Daphne Patai, Kathryn Anderson and Dana Jack, Elliot
Mishler, Shema Gluck, and Ann Oakley. During my fieldwork I often referred to
their writings. However, before I began my fieldwork, I became so concerned about
the issues of ethics and accuracy in research based on my readings and discussions of
feminist research methods that I felt myself not wanting to do any research because
whatever I did, it would surely be inaccurate and the subjects in the research would be
hurt in the process. I was so worried about making people feel bad or used or putting
them in a difficult and uncomfortable position. What kept me going were a few
comments such as the one by Daphne Patai in Women's Words, "But no controversy
attends the fact that too much ignorance exists in the world to allow us to await perfect
research methods before proceeding. Ultimately we have to make up our minds
whether our research is worth doing or not, and then determine how to go about it in
ways that let it best serve our stated goals" (Patai, 150).
My studies focused more on the ethics and viability of feminist research
methods than on specific techniques and strategies. While I implemented a number of
the suggestions I learned in my readings, I was also led by my curiosity, my specific
environment, and my common sense.
I conducted one on one in-depth interviews with forty five women. Some I
met with just once, many I interviewed twice, and ten women were interviewed three
or more times. Of these, three were interviewed more than five times. Eight
interviews were conducted with small groups of women. I did not organize many
group interviews as when there are more than five or six women in a group, generally
just a few women dominate the conversation as the others are too shy or intimidated
to speak up. In addition, I interviewed fifteen men, two of whom were interviewed
multiple times. I also developed a few key "informants" who helped answer general
questions and gave me feedback on my findings.
I spent a great deal of time observing women. I sat with them at their homes,
worked with them on their farms, watched them perform trades such as traditional
healing, making pots and brewing beer, and I accompanied them in a variety of
activities including visiting friends, bathing and washing clothes at the river, and
taking their children to the hospital.
My focus was on women living in the suburbs of the town of Cuamba and in
the villages scattered throughout the district of Cuamba. Some interviews were
conducted with women living in town but these were limited as women in town often
had exceptional situations and did not represent the majority of women in the area.
Multiple interviews were conducted in six different villages and in various suburbs.
Due to the novelty of researchers and a general fear among the population of
being questioned, my approach was to interview women who had some connection to
me and thus they or a family member had a degree of trust in me and my intentions.
Finding women who would talk with me was much easier said than done. There
were no natural connections to the women so finding a place to start was extremely
difficult. I decided to start by interviewing men with whom my husband worked and
had become acquainted. This way I was able to practice interviewing and develop
appropriate techniques, to get some background information on the area and to get
some insight into their perspectives. Above all, I hoped that by them understanding
what I was doing, they would introduce me to women who would speak with me.
This plan worked quite well but even after getting some introductions, new
obstacles arose. A word commonly spoken among the women is vergonia, meaning
shame. Once I got past the fear factor and found women whose husbands supported
them talking to me, I often found that these women felt ashamed that they had nothing
of value to say to me and thus declined being interviewed or said very little if we did
meet. It took a few months of persistence to find women who were comfortable
enough with themselves, with me, and/or with the process to open up to me. Once
good contacts were made and trust was developed, the women generously shared
information with me and it was relatively easy to find other women willing to be
interviewed. But this all took a number of months. During the initial months of my
research, there were many times that I felt extremely frustrated and discouraged. I
would see so many women in the area but developing any in-depth discussion with
them seemed so elusive.
Another significant obstacle was language. As my Macua, the local mother
tongue, was limited and my Portuguese was conversant but not fluent, I felt it was
critical to use translators for all interviews in which the women's responses would be
quoted. This was not an easy task by any means, especially since in two and a half
years, I only found a handful of men who spoke English. Not one of the local
women spoke English. Only one man, Pascoal, spoke English and Macua. While it
is impossible to ensure absolute accuracy of translations, a tremendous amount of
time and energy was spent getting the women's words as accurate as possible.
Pascoal became my primary translator and a few others were used occasionally.
Much time was spent working alone with the translators to clarify the meaning of
words and expressions, putting these into the proper context, and determining the
best way to communicate my questions so they could be properly understood. I
quickly learned that a direct translation of words did not mean that my questions
would be understood by the interviewees.
While I had not planned on using a man as a translator, I feel extremely
thankful for Pascoal's assistance. It was Pascoal who really made the verbal
connection between the women and me possible. His fluency in Macua, Portuguese
and English was invaluable. Just as valuable was the way he worked with the
interviewees, gaining their trust and putting them at ease, and his direct understanding
and appreciation of the Macua culture. The only drawback was that he worked full
time in town so he was limited in the amount of translating he could do. The use of
his time was precious and there was nothing more frustrating than to travel to a distant
village together and find that the interviewees were not available.
At first I worried about having a man involved in the interview process and
wondered about the impact it would have on the women's responses, especially since
very personal subjects were often the focus of the interview. My experiences for
making comparisons are limited, but I found that there were few disadvantages and
may have even been some advantages, at least to having this particular man translate.
Pascoal grew up in a village close to town so he provided beneficial information about
the area and since he was well educated, had lived in Zimbabwe and had experience
working with other Westerners, he could help me understand aspects about the
culture that were often hard for Westerners to see or grasp. He was respectful of the
women and quite animated in his explanations to them which helped in getting women
to participate and to understand my questions in an appropriate context One of the
women I interviewed most frequently was only comfortable in talking through
Pascoal and would wait to be interviewed until he was available.
Suzana, a woman from the suburbs with whom I developed a close
friendship, had interviewed a few times and who spoke Portuguese quite well, helped
me conduct a number of interviews. I told her the question in Portuguese, she
translated it into Macua for the interviewee and I taped the woman's response in
Macua. Suzana then translated the response into Portuguese so that I could decide
what to ask next. Later, Pascoal would translate the taped Macua responses to
English and then I transcribed the responses. The process was time consuming and
took a great deal of organizing but without having a thorough understanding of
Macua, I felt this was die best method for getting the most accurate translations of the
Another obstacle was that of logistics. The process of just setting up the
interviews was often quite lengthy, especially for those being held out in the villages.
I would have to arrange for someone who spoke Macua to travel to the village with
me. Much time was then spent walking or getting bicycles and traveling to the village
together. On weekends I sometimes had access to a car making the process much
easier and faster. Sometimes interviews were held that same day but generally a trip
would need to be made to confirm a time to interview one or two women at a later
date. A translator and I would return at the scheduled time and if we were lucky, we
would find at least one of the women in the vicinity and within thirty minutes we
could start talking. It was not unusual though to arrive and find that the interviewee
was sick, working at her machamba or busy attending a funeral. Sometimes we
found other women to interview but generally we had to reschedule the interview and
make yet another trip to the village.
In scheduling an interview, the women generally knew specific days but time
was kept by looking at the sun which meant there was often a lot of waiting for them
or me. During the growing season, women were generally busy working on their
farms in the morning so I would have to travel in the hot sun to meet with them in the
afternoon. Weather created some scheduling problems. During the rainy season, the
roads often became impassable and a woman might wait an entire afternoon for me to
arrive not realizing that I could not reach her village. It wasn't uncommon for me to
sit waiting for a woman from the suburbs to arrive at my house and after a couple of
hours realize that due to a few sprinkles of rain, she decided not to leave her house.
Or the interviewee would arrive but the translator would stay home thinking that since
there was some rain, we wouldn't be meeting. Phoning those involved to collaborate
plans was never an option.
Interviews were often interrupted due to deaths. My translators each had a
few deaths in their family and among friends in the course of a few months. If a
death occurred in another region, the interviewees and translators would be gone for
weeks at a time.
Going out on interviews took a lot of energy but was always an adventure. At
times I had to wade through streams carrying my bike over my head and my supplies
on my back while risking getting bilharzia from the snails in die waters. I've gotten
stuck out in villages after dark as a sudden rainstorm made the road home impassable.
I arrived in a village once to find my interviewee close to death. The entire day was
then spent getting her to the hospital, taking care of her children and communicating
the situation to her family.
Before conducting any interviews, I typed up a long list of questions I wanted
to ask. As I knew so little about the culture and wanted to test the assumptions I held,
my list came to fill pages. At times I felt that I should not waste my time asking what
seemed like a very basic question but was usually glad that I made the effort as often,
their replies were quite different from my assumptions. Putting my assumptions to
the side and starting with a clean slate took a lot of time and energy but was definitely
worth it Often it was these basic questions that illuminated how different their
perspectives and paradigms were from my own.
I appreciated Dana Jack's comments, "We must therefore be especially
attentive to the influences that shape what we hear and how we interpret" "As a
researcher, I have learned that critical areas demanding attention are frequently those
where I think I already know what the woman is saying. This means I am already
appropriating what she says to an existing schema, and therefore I am no longer really
listening to her. Rather, I am listening to how what she say fits into what I think I
already know" (Anderson, 18,19). Besides trying to put my assumptions aside, I
tried to listen carefully, question often and put responses into context. Being in a
culture so different from my own made the latter especially difficult.
Topics such as chores, marriage, children, income generation, religion,
traditions, and feelings about life each had a variety of questions. I started out
focusing on learning about their daily activities. The responses inevitably led to
talking about marriage, sex, traditions and children. As I developed a basic
understanding of the culture, I focused specifically on income generation for a few
months. During the latter part of my research, I touched on more complex topics
such as traditional healing and spiritual beliefs.
As my goal was to gain a general understanding of women's lives, I had to
cover a very broad range of topics. Certain topics such as male/female relationships
were woven throughout the topics but I clearly had to sacrifice depth in seeking an
overview. It also did not make sense to focus just on one or two topics until a basic
understanding of their lives was reached. It is my hope that this study provides a
base for others' to deepen and expand the understanding of the lives of the Macua
women by narrowing the focus of further studies.
Prior to each interview, I developed a customized schedule of questions based
on the interviewee. While I asked some questions of most all women, I tended to
have different questions based on a woman's age, where she lived, her marital
situation, etc.. If it was a second interview, I reviewed the first interview before
developing my list of questions. During some interviews I asked all the prepared
questions but if a woman brought up revealing stories or responses that led us in a
different direction, I followed her flow with new questions. If at least three to five
women in different locations gave me similar responses to a general question, I felt
comfortable making a general statement about the culture and moved onto other
questions. If responses varied, I kept probing until I felt comfortable with my
understanding. I focused my more personal questions on the women who I met with
To test the accuracy of my understanding, I had a handful of people to whom
I would present my findings. Some of these included women who I had interviewed
and who had a good understanding of the culture of the villages, the suburbs and the
town. They also included men such as Pascoal who were from the area.
The interview process was like peeling back the layers of an onion.
Interviewees may feel that they are being honest with me but because their perspective
is often so different than mine, their responses can seem skewed and far from what I
view as the "truth." This makes conducting multiple interviews extremely important
when trying to understand the specifics of a woman's life. This was not possible to
do with every woman. I had to leam what questions would produce the most gray
areas and I had to choose what topics I wanted to dig into most deeply. It also helped
to ask family members and friends related questions about a specific woman in order
to get different perspectives.
For instance, a woman told me about her last husband. When I asked what
happened to him, she said that he died. In a later interview I found out that she
divorced him and that he died some years later while married to another woman. She
had made it seem like he died while they were together, as she equated death with him
no longer being in her life. Once I learned that they had divorced, it brought up a new
topic to explore with her.
I quickly learned that it makes no sense whatsoever to ask questions such as,
"How many children do you have?". This was asking for a specific answer yet the
answer could vary greatly depending on how each woman interpreted and approached
the question. Women often raise other women's children for at least a few years,
commonly have had children who died, and may not include grown children in the
total. I generally asked them how many children they have given birth to and then
how many of them are alive today.
The interview process was very time consuming due to having to explain
many of the questions so they were well understood, having to clarify responses and
translating all of it. You could ask just two questions and then spend the next two
hours clarifying the responses. I tried to seek a balance of asking a variety of
questions and getting clarification. Perfection was not to be had nor was it even
The interviews lasted between thirty minutes and two hours. By two hours, if
the interviewee wasn't tired, then either the translator or I was and we wrapped it up
so as to avoid sloppiness. I would try to transcribe the interview as soon as possible
so that I could make note of various factors such as moods and distractions.
In the beginning my transcriptions were extremely detailed. I included all of
my questions and all comments made by me and the translator. I noted laughter and
significant gestures made by the interviewees. I described the environment in which
the interview took place and included detailed background information on the
interviewee and how I came to know her. I also noted anything that I felt could have
impacted the interviewees' responses. As the number of interviews increased and I
became more experienced and comfortable with the process, I became less detail
oriented regarding my questions and comments. Had I continued with such detail, I
most likely would have had to sacrifice the number and length of interviews I
conducted due to time constraints and having such detailed transcriptions clearly did
not seem worth such a sacrifice. I always transcribed all responses given by the
interviewees, included background information and continued to note things that
might impact the responses.
One of my greatest joys is the time I spent with the handful of woman with
whom I conducted multiple interviews. I look back to the first one or two interviews
where there was still some discomfort and then to the latter interviews in which the
women viewed the interview as an event which they anticipated with great
enthusiasm. At first, it was like pulling teeth to get women to open up, but as I
became known and trusted, it came down to there not being enough time and energy
on my part to meet as often as the women would have liked.
How to compensate women for taking the time to meet with me and to share
what were often intimate details of their life was a real concern to me. I did not want
to pay the women, as I wanted there to be a feeling of personal connection between
us. I was concerned that monetary payment might affect the sincerity of responses,
and I wanted to keep the potential for jealousy from friends and family at a minimum.
After conducting a couple of interviews with the same woman, I gave her a small
fabric bag with thread, needles, buttons and pins. If the woman offered food to me, I
might bring her some food from my garden. I tried to give the same thing to the
different interviewees and I waited some time before giving anything. I didn't want
to reinforce the "hand out mentality" that had developed during the long war yet
wanted the women to know how much I appreciated their assistance as I sought to
understand them and their culture. I developed friendships with the women I
interviewed multiple times and the women seemed proud and honored due to the
attention they were receiving. Before leaving Cuamba, I had a party for the women I
interviewed most and I gave each of them two capulanas, a pair of new underwear
and packets of vegetable seeds from Zimbabwe.
Overall, my impression is that the women I interviewed got as much out of the
experience as I did and that compensating them through gifts was not really necessary
but I felt that this was a good thing to do. The feedback I received is that once trust
was developed, the women felt honored by the attention and gained something
positive by thinking about the questions asked of them.
At times I had been concerned that the women's husbands would not like their
wives talking to me. I didn't want to interview anyone who might face friction from
her husband. Surprisingly, I never found this to be the case and I came to learn that it
was often the woman's husband who encouraged her to speak with me. I was told
that the men wanted their wives to have "experience".
I told each woman I interviewed that as I was asking them questions about
their culture and personal lives, I would be very happy to respond to any questions
they would like to ask me. I received very few questions. Only one woman
expressed much interest in what life was like in my country and still it was quite
limited. They just did not seem interested which always intrigued me. It felt very
strange when a couple of women shared very intimate details about their lives with
me. I kept feeling that I should share similar information so they would not feel too
exposed or embarrassed, but this never seemed to be the case.
The women frequently brought up the topic of sex and were very open about
the subject. I quickly shed my conservative attitude about discussing sex and
following their lead, jumped right in with intimate questions. However, I found
myself holding back in asking about physical abuse. Looking back, I probably could
have learned much more about this but since the women rarely talked about it in a
personal light, I didn't push for details. I got the feeling that this was one of the few
topics about which they would feel uncomfortable sharing their personal experiences.
This may have been due to my own discomfort in discussing the issue. This is a
subject that is rarely discussed openly in my own culture and I realize now that I
brought this bias to my interviews. I wish I had listened more carefully to Kathryn
Anderson when she advised, "(W)e need to refine our methods for probing more
deeply by listening to the levels on which the narrator responds to the original
questions. To do so we need to listen critically to our interviews, to our responses as
well as to our questions. We need to hear what women implied, suggested, and
started to say but didn't. We need to interpret their pauses and, when it happens,
their unwillingness or inability to respond. We need to consider carefully whether
our interviews create a context in which women feel comfortable exploring the
subjective feelings that give meaning to actions, things and events, whether they
allow women to explore "unwomanly" feelings and behaviors, and whether they
encourage women to explain what they mean in their own terms" (Anderson, 17).
The issues of who to interview, how to compensate and what to ask may
seem trivial, but to me, now and in the field, they are very important. Throughout the
process, I was having an impact on people. For most women, not only was it the
first time that they spoke to a foreigner, but it was also the first time that they reflected
on various aspects of their lives and that they were singled out and looked to as an
authority. I repeatedly asked myself if what I was doing was causing more problems
than benefits for the women and constantly evaluated my actions and sought the input
of my local informants.
I'm sure that I caused some problems that I am not aware of. There was one
young woman whom I interviewed who was quite nervous. She was the only
woman who did not want to be interviewed a second time and I worry about die
experience causing her anxiety. I feel better knowing that there was an older woman
that she knew in the same village whom I interviewed multiple times. This way she
didn't feel singled out and could see that other women had developed trust in me and
didn't fear the process. The matter of the interviewees being singled out may have
caused jealousies although they were not apparent to me. Culturally, it is often hard
for an outsider to see the impact of jealousy, but as I tried to be very careful about not
putting pressure on them for additional interviews and as the women were often
openly enthusiastic about meeting again, I did not worry about the impact too much.
Especially after a couple of interviews, it was common for a woman to initiate the
request for another interview. I sometimes wonder what impact my questions, which
required them to reflect on their lives and feelings, had on them. This is hard to
know, but I feel that the risk of creating some discomfort is worth the potential
benefits of good feelings that they might experience and of the increased
understanding that outsiders may gain. Did my presence cause false hope? I don't
know. I tried not to make any promises and none of the women openly sought them.
When I started the interview process, I wanted to be very open and direct with
the women as to why I was interviewing them. I explained that I was hoping to learn
about their culture, that I was in school and this was part of my studies, and that I
wanted to give them an opportunity to share information about their lives, culture,
desires and needs to development agencies and others through their own words. I
quickly found that the more I explained to them, the more confused and suspicious
they became. I've read comments by other researchers which said the women they
interviewed were extremely appreciative of the opportunity to have their voices
expressed. I did not find that here at all. I think this is mainly due to the fact that
their voices have been muted for so long and that due to the struggle for independence
and then the civil war, they feared speaking up. They also see their lives as being
very distant from the national government's activities and development projects. To
them, it was inconceivable that the government or development agencies would do
anything to assist them based on their input. The women who were more educated
grasped what I was trying to do more easily and while they didn't seem to be seeking
a chance to speak out personally, they did care that outsiders came to understand their
culture better. Based on input from informants and translators and realizing the
uniqueness of the situation, I kept my introduction very simple, focusing on my
interest in learning about the culture and that I was doing this for school. Most of the
women didn't seem to seek any explanation but I felt that I should at least share this.
At first it was hard for me to not explain all of my objectives but once others had
convinced me that what I was doing was a good thing and that the explanation might
make it overly confusing, I decided to follow their advice. To protect the privacy of
the women included in this study, I have used pseudonyms.
As my understanding of the culture increased, I continued to be reminded of
how much more there was to learn. After an experience in which a good friend
demonstrated one of the private traditions performed by women for me, I started
feeling as though I had crossed a cultural line and began to worry about how others
would view this. At first it all seemed so innocent but then I began to wonder if
others would view me as having pried too deeply, even though I had been invited to
this demonstration. Did other women resent that I had been included in their "secret"?
How did the women's husbands view the white woman getting this involved in their
wives' lives? Although there was tremendous acceptance of me by both women and
men, I continued to wonder what was going on in the minds of those who did not
know me well.
There were also many occasions where commonalties between our thoughts
and views and experiences were illuminated. As my father was dying in the U.S., I
found tremendous support from my friends and contacts. Sadness and grief caused
by a loved one dying was common even though how we expressed it and our rituals
differed. As my friends gathered to be with me on my last day in Cuamba, it was very
clear that we shared the same emotions even though their heads hung to hide the tears
as my tears were openly displayed.
I have heard the voices of many women and have tried to describe their lives
not just through my observations and words but through their perspectives and
words. It is extremely difficult to understand how people from such a different
cultural and economic background think, feel and view life. What follows is a
glimpse into their lives, thoughts and feelings.
Chapter two introduces you to the daily routine of a woman who lives in a
village near town. Her day is typical to that of most women living in the villages and
suburbs. Chapter three focuses on marriage and motherhood. A woman's position
in society and her happiness is primarily based on her status as a wife and mother. In
this chapter women share personal experiences and provide insight into these roles in
their culture. Women are increasingly becoming involved in income generation
activities and chapter four focuses on the pressures, opportunities, attitudes and
changes facing women in their struggle to survive. Included is an overview of the
income generation activities in which women living in the villages, in the bairros and
in town are involved. The gender division of labor in households and in income
generation is also discussed Chapter five looks at what it is like to grow up female in
the District of Cuamba and explores how girls and young women are dealing with the
traditions of past generations in their society. Chapter six has final comments and in
the appendix, five different Macua women summarize descriptions and their thoughts
on women's lives in the District of Cuamba.
While I hope this general overview of the Macua women inspires and assists
development agencies in creating more programs that focus on Mozambican women,
especially rural women, and which are more culturally and gender sensitive, I also
hope that it will be used to inspire more in-depth research. There is so much more to
learn and many more voices to be heard.
A GLIMPSE INTO THE LIFE OF A MACUA WOMAN
"The women in Mozambique work on the machamba, they fetch water, they
marry, wash, cook, and do many things at the house. They fetch wood, make beer
and sell it at the market. They plaster the house, they go to the river to catch fish for
sauce and they do other things." (Isabel, a divorced mother of three living in a village
five km. from town)
"First of all, women are meant to help their husbands and they are not
endowed with the capacity of having formal education. But men can have formal
education and get a job. Women have to work on the machambas, pound maize, and
other chores. This is how a woman dignifies herself, through this type of work."
(Rosa, a widow in her forties living in the bairros)
"Life is easier for men. It is harder for women because when they wake up in
the morning, they have to sweep around the house and then go to the machamba.
When the husband and wife come back, the woman has to carry firewood, a child,
both her and her husband's hoes, and a large knife. When she arrives at home, the
man will just sit while she proceeds with doing other chores such as going to collect
water, cooking and washing. I see no way to change this situation because it is God
who made it this way. Sometimes we ask ourselves, why did God give women a lot
of work and not give us time to rest?" (Asidona, a divorced villager in her forties)
"The woman becomes much more tiredfrom her work than the man from his
work. But we don't know why this is so." (Women in a village eight km. from
"The only work I like is cooking because I know that after I cook, I will eat."
(Julia, single mother of four, living in the bairros)
"What I don't like is that we live a ways from a water tap. This is very hard
for me because I have to carry water on my head and its very tough for me and this is
what I don't like. I also need water for bathing the children and my husband. I have
to go fetch it at the river and again I carry it on my head and this is very hard for me.
That's why I suffer from headaches very often.11 (Catarina, a married mother of two
living in the bairros)
While numerous social, cultural and economic changes have impacted the
lives of rural Mozambicans, the daily routine of most women's lives is much like it
was for their mothers and their grandmothers. Marianna lives in a village eight
kilometers from town and goes about her day much the same as most women in the
District of Cuamba. Her proximity to town provides her with the benefits of
relatively easy access to shops and markets, maize mills, basic healthcare facilities and
information, but the proximity also means that her machamba may not be as fertile or
large as those further from town. By following Marianna in her daily routine, we get
a feel for the rhythm of life of the Macua women.
Its about dawn and Marianna rises from the bamboo mat on the dirt floor
where she sleeps with her husband and her baby son. Seven of her other children are
still asleep in the other room. She puts on a shirt and ties a capulana around her
waist. Marianna then picks up her baby, bends forward and balances him on her
back and wraps a capulana around him, securing him in place. She goes into the
kitchen, the smallest of the three rooms in the house, and finds water left in a bucket
to wash the sleep out of her eyes. She reaches for the broom, made out of dried
twigs and about two feet long, and walks out of the house.
Marianna sweeps the hardened dirt area in front of the house, making small
piles of the debris, and then carries it to a larger pile away from the house. Rarely is
there any debris that cannot be burned or won't decompose. It is important to keep
the yard looking neat, as this is one of the duties of a Mozambican woman and a way
to show her respect for her husband. Keeping the area clean also helps reduce the
chance of snakes coming to the house. If one of her daughters is awake, Marianna
may get some help. The rainy season has just started so the wild grass and the crops
planted around the house are hardly noticeable, making it is easy to see the women in
the nearby homes going about the same chore.
As her family is large, Marianna goes to fetch water with one or two of her
daughters. She carries a twenty liter tin bucket under her arm as she walks to the
well. While just a few months earlier, it would have taken well over an hour and a
three kilometer walk to fetch one bucketful of water which was often murky and
contaminated, she now has the luxury of going to the new hand pump that was put in
her village, just over a kilometer from her house. This is one of the only signs of
"development" in her area.
She enjoys chatting with her friends at the well and this helps make the time
pass quickly. She doesnt want to wait too long though as she needs to get back and
prepare a bath for her husband. After putting leaves on top of the water in the bucket
so that it won't spill out, her daughter and another woman help her lift the bucket on
top of her head. The bucket rests on a piece of material from an old capulana which
she winds into a donut shape before placing it on her head. Her daughter forgot her
cloth at home so she tears leaves off a nearby bush and twists them into a similar
Upon reaching the house, Marianna sets her bucket down with the help of a
couple of her other children who are now awake. She takes a dry piece of wood from
the small pile on the verandah and walks to her neighbor's house where she sees a
fire burning. She lights her wood and then starts her own fire on her verandah.
Some of her neighbors cook in a room in their house designated as the kitchen while
others cook in a separate dwelling, typically 8'x 6' where they also store food. When
it is diy out, Marianna prefers to cook outside.
She heats bath water for her husband and wakes him once the water is warm
and placed in the bathroom. The bathroom is in a comer of their property. The walls
are about 6' tall, made out of grass and the area is about 6' square. Sand covers the
dirt ground and a few flat rocks are placed in the comer and are used as a kind of
platform while bathing. The bathroom is also used for urinating. Marianna keeps the
bathroom clean and the smell is minimal as the bath water dilutes the urine. Her
family does not have a latrine, so to defecate, they either use her brother's latrine or
go out in the field. Latrines are not used for urinating.
Some husbands have their wives wash them but Marianna's husband bathes
alone while she prepares breakfast for him. She puts rough maize flour into boiling
water to make porridge, the most common breakfast food. She would like to add
some sugar but there is no money to buy such luxuries now. She reaches for the hot
clay cooking pot with her bare hands and pours the porridge into a plastic bowl and
carries it to her husband who is now sitting on the far end of the verandah. To
display her respect for him, she kneels as she hands him the bowl. She then eats
what is left with her children near the fire.
After breakfast, her daughters help her wash the dishes. These are few as
meals are served in communal dishes and generally eaten with one's hand. The water
is used sparingly and soap is rarely used. When afforded, soap is reserved for
washing one's body. To clean the porridge out of the clay pot, Marianna takes a
handful of the rough dirt and scrubs the pot. To dry the dishes they set them on a
table in the yard which her husband made out of wood with a woven bamboo top.
Normally she would help some of her children prepare for school, but the
primary school is not in session for another month. Fortunately the school break
comes when there is a great deal of work on the machamba. The extra hands are a
big help when it comes to preparing the machamba and planting seeds for this year's
crops.. Her husband is a teacher at the one school in the village so he also uses this
time to work on the machamba. Marianna feels it would be better if he left his
teaching job and just worked on the machamba since his salary is so little and is often
late in being paid. She doesn't know how much he makes but she knows that it is a
small amount since it is common knowledge that all teachers receive very little. "He
has never told me how much he earns. If I knew the amount, he probably would
worry that if he didn't come home with the total amount, I would ask him where he
had spent the rest of the money. I don't ask him and I don't get angry or worried if
he brings a small mount of money home because I know that the amount he receives
is very little."
Many women get angry when their husbands don't tell them how much
money they earn. Affairs are very common here and the men are expected to buy
items for their lover, oftentimes leaving little money for their own family. "My
husband has never told me if he has or has not had affairs with other women. I really
condemn those women who leave their husbands arid go to have sex with other men.
I usually gather my daughters and tell them about sex. I also advise them that it is not
good to have sex with other men. What I would like to change in life, is this behavior
of people having affairs."
Marianna is somewhat unique in that she is still married to her first husband.
Many of her friends have been divorced or their husbands have left them. "It is not
good to have sex with different men, especially after you get married. But today,
women do not usually stay with the same man for a long time. It is because of
economic reasons that people divorce. They are not able to get salt, soap, cooking
oil, new clothes. We women, we go for men who can easily get us such items."
Marianna is a strong Christian and was greatly influenced when she was
young by the Catholic Church which had set up a mission in her home town. "I got
married after my first menstruation. I met my husband at the missionary school in
Etatara. I first met him when he came to the mission with a priest. I told him to go to
my parents' house and so he did. He talked to my parents and was accepted by them.
We spent two years after that before we married.
I was afraid of marriage because I was forced to marry. I was forced to marry
because my parents said that they could not afford to buy clothes for me any more. I
had to accept the man's proposal. After three years, I got pregnant. Then I went to
the hospital to give birth and spent four days in bed before giving birth. My parents
said it was because of my husband that it I took four days to give birth. He was fined
because of this and had to give money to the priest because the priest thought that I
was too small, too young to have gotten married.H
As with many women from her generation, she looks back at many aspects of
the colonial times fondly. To them, the socialist experiments, the war and the current
economic conditions have brought a disregard for some of the traditional ways and
have made life more difficult and disorganized than during the colonial era. "In the
past, before you married, you were not supposed to visit the man you are to marry
after the sun goes down. Today it doesn't happen this way. Usually they stay
together until the night comes. I think it is because of the war that this has changed.
It has also changed because a lot is taught about sex at school. Also, during the
colonial times, there was a subject taught in school about morality and God. But after
Frelimo came to power, they brought a new kind of teacher. Before we were taught
by animadoras (social outreach workers), Mozambicans who had been taught by
missionaries in a Christian setting. The Christian animadoras were banned and the
new teachers took their place." She explained that when Frelimo took over, they
closed down the missionary schools. They are just now coming back. Churches
were also closed down and used as warehouses to store guns and ammunition and the
priests were sent away.
While Marianna is an active member of the Catholic Church in her village, she
gets along well with her neighbors who are Moslem. In the District of Cuamba,
Christianity is the predominant organized religion followed by Islam. Most villages
have both a church and a mosque. Both are typically made from mud with a thatched
roof and are similar in appearance. During my stay in Cuamba, I did not notice any
tension between Christians and Moslems.
Even if an individual follows a Western religion, his or her traditional beliefs
in the spirits, especially the ancestral spirits, generally remain strong and are
incorporated into the Western religions. Individual's place tremendous emphasis on
pleasing and appeasing the spirits.
After the dishes are washed, Marianna and her husband leave for their
machamba. Since they live in a village, their machamba is close by. They only have
to walk twenty minutes to reach it. Her friends who live in the bairros commonly
have to spend one to three hours to reach their machamba as there is little fertile land
left near the town. Some of her friends live outside the village, right on their
machamba. Marianna is happy to live in the village as she is close to the church and
school. She prefers living here over the bairros where it is costly to live and far from
one's machamba, the source of survival.
Besides the baby on her back, Marianna wraps a capulana around a basket of
seeds and carries this on her head. She also carries both her and her husband's hoe.
To make her husband carry his own hoe would be disrespectful. Their machamba is
three hectares, an average size for a villager. Last month they burned the bushes and
grass that had grown during the recent diy months. Together they have tilled much of
the soil and after the first rains arrived last week, they have begun sowing seeds.
As Marianna's husband will be busy teaching soon, the hoeing will be left up
to her. Her only implement is that of a short, hand-carved wooden-handled hoe. The
inputs and techniques used to cultivate food have changed very little over many years.
Large knives are used to cut trees and clear the fields in preparation of sowing. The
work is all done by hand. Traction animals are not found in the area and farmers
rarely have access to tractors or modem plows. As the cost of living and the need for
money continues to grow, Marianna and her husband dont have any new inputs or
skills to help them increase production.
While women view the work on the machamba as the most difficult work of
all, they can't imagine not having or working on a machamba. This is their source of
survival and their security in life. Producing a good harvest is extremely rewarding.
With the increased economic pressures, women are looking for additional ways to
generate income, but in the villages especially, this is difficult.
Occasionally Marianna makes small cakes and sells them. '7 use the money I
earn from that to buy clothes for my children. Usually the wage of my husband is
only used for food and it is not enough for us to hire any people to work on our
machamba. Its just ourselves who work on the machamba. I wouldn't be angry if he
was expelled from the school because what he earns is not enough to buy what we
need. Also, it would be good because then we could work full-time on our
machamba. Now we get fourteen sacks of maize from our machamba. Sometimes
we sell this maize and the amount we get is more than he receives from the school.
Either of us can go and sell the maize. Sometimes we go together.
If we didn't have enough food from our machamba, we would be dying of
hunger at this time because the teachers wages have not arrived in over two months.
And I think we are suffering like anybody else. I would prefer for my husband to
just work on our machamba and not teach at the school." It doesn't take long to
understand how disastrous a poor harvest can be for the people here.
As the sun beats down on their bent backs, Marianna and her husband finish
sowing the maize seeds in the far comer of their machamba. This is the only crop that
they sell and it is also the most important crop for consumption. Maize is the staple
food here. Primarily, it is pounded into flour then boiled until it forms a firm
substance, called shima. This is then spooned into a mound on a common dish.
Generally, a sauce is made from a variety of foliage and vegetables, depending on the
season and the wealth of the family. A good sauce might have oil, tomatoes,
pumpkin leaves, and ground peanuts in it. But during the "hungry months" (Oct.-
Dec.), a woman might only have the shima to offer her family.
Among the maize, Marianna plants sweet potatoes, peanuts, sorghum, millet
and beans. She and her children also plant seeds in the small area of vacant space
around her home. From here she will get green maize and can have easy access to
pumpkins, peas, beans and tomatoes for a couple of months.
"I don't like working on the machamba because the work is very strenuous.
It is very hard because we do it every day during the rainy season. We work in the
machamba because we have no other way out. We are doing this to avoid buying
food because we don't have enough money to purchase food. Also, we blacks, we
were created to work only on the machamba."
Before returning home, Marianna forages for firewood. From the few trees
nearby she chops down dead branches. She then removes the inner layer of bark
from a tree and makes twine out of it which she ties around the pile of wood she has
gathered. Her husband helps her lift the heavy bundle onto her head and after a .
morning of hard work, they walk home to where Marianna has an afternoon full of
chores facing her. The baby on her back is asleep, lulled by her steady pace.
Back at home, Marianna's first task is to make lunch for the family. Today it
is only shima. Her daughter fetches embers as Marianna organizes the flour and
water. As the shima cooks, it must be attended to constantly. Her daughter squats
next to the fire and stirs the shima. As it thickens it becomes too difficult to stir
properly so Marianna takes over. There is no need to call the children to lunch. They
seem to magically appear whenever food is being prepared, especially during this time
of year when food is scarce. Soon the mangos will be ripe and they can treat
themselves to the sweet fruit. Like most other children, to fill their bellies they have
already started to eat the fruit off the trees, even though it is hard and green.
After these dishes are washed, Marianna takes time to rest in the shade on the
verandah before starting her other chores; Her husband goes into the house to rest.
If he wants to have sex, it is Marianna's duty to oblige him. A woman must not
refuse her husband. But today, he just wants to rest alone.
Marianna gathers the family's dirty clothes and bundles them into a capukma
which she places on her head. Even with many children, the amount of wash is
limited as each family member has only a few articles of clothing. With a few of her
children she walks to the river. She goes to the section where the women gather to
bathe and to wash clothes. The men bathe around the bend. Marianna enjoys visiting
with her friends as she cleans the clothes by scrubbing and hitting them against the
rock alongside the river. After the clothes are washed, she spreads them out in the
sun on nearby bushes and rocks. She then helps her children bathe. She is thankful
that the river is close to her home. Carrying enough water for her and her children to
bathe at home regularly would be a tremendous task. It is now her turn to bathe. She
takes her top off but like the other women, always keeps something wrapped around
her waist Even those women who are fortunate enough to own a pair of underwear
keep a capukma tied around their waist.
She lathers up and washes her body and hair. She then rubs her tough feet
against the rocks to remove the dirt and dead skin which quickly accumulate as few
women in the village own a pair of shoes. As with most of her friends, Marianna's
appearance is very important to her. She likes to appear clean and well dressed and it
pains her that she cannot afford new capulanas and shirts. She is often making
apologies to me about the way she is dressed.
While working around home and on the machamba, Marianna will often go
topless but when company comes, she usually covers her breasts. She is especially
cautious to keep her knees covered. A woman who exposes her knees in the bairros
and villages is viewed as being a prostitute.
The clothes dry quickly in the hot sun and she folds them and returns home.
Occasionally she borrows an iron which she heats with coals, to press the clothes but
today there is no time for this. She finds that her husband has left to visit his friends.
This is very typical and it doesn't upset her. In fact, she feels very fortunate to have
this man as her husband. She shares how her husband is unique in that he will do
additional tasks to earn money and sometimes assists her in getting some of the
chores done. "My husband is very simple. Sometimes he sells firewood and
sometimes he cooks when lam delayed or not at home. He is different from other
men in this area."
Two of her older daughters are pounding maize, using the family's wooden
mortar which is about 2 1/2 tall and the heavy wooden pestle. Knowing that
Marianna is back at home, two of her neighbors bring over their maize, pestle and
mortars, and winnowing baskets and the group works together to pound the maize
into flour. Women say that pounding grain into flour is probably their most time
consuming household chore. Working together, singing to the rhythm of pounding
and chatting as they rest, makes the work more enjoyable.
The flour that they will eventually get out of their work is their basic food
source. It is used to make shima, the basis for most all their meals, and to make
porridge. To make shima, the flour is added to boiling water and is stirred in a
particular manner with a long wooden spoon as it thickens. When it is a thick paste,
it is mounded onto a serving plate and given a smooth round appearance using a
special spoon. A person takes a helping of the shima between his or her thumb and
fingers rolls and flattens it a bit in one's hand. It is then dipped into a sauce and
eaten. When there is no food available to prepare a sauce, it will be eaten plain.
Although there is little nutritional value to eating it plain, it fills the belly. Sorghum,
millet and even cassava (this produces a very sticky texture and is primarily just used
during the "hungry months") are ground into flour for making shima but maize is by
far the most popular grain used.
Producing flour is a multi-stepped process. With maize, the first step is to
remove the kernels from the cob. The dried maize is either kept on ones maehamba
and brought to the house as needed or it is stored in a special structure near the house.
The kernels are pounded in the mortar. After the chaff is loosened, the maize is
placed in a winnowing basket where the chaff is separated and thrown out. The
remaining grain is then put back in the mortar, pounded again and then winnowed at
least one more time. The grain is then soaked in water for a day and then set out to
dry for another day.
Women living in or near town who can afford it, will they take their clean
grain to the mill to be ground in to flour. There are only a couple of diesel run mills
outside of the town area. Many people make this a high priority in their expenditures
as using the mill provides them with a much finer and cleaner flour and reduces the
time a woman must spend on this chore. But for Marianna and most women in the
district, they take their dry, clean grain and repeat the process of pounding and
winnowing one or two more times until it resembles flour. They then dry the flour in
the sun on a bamboo mat or a capulam for two days.
Marianna then takes some time to relax with her friends and children before
she prepares dinner. In a few months when the crops are maturing, she and her
neighbors will fill this time with activities such as shelling fresh peas, beans and
peanuts. She is friendly with most of her neighbors although she still finds it strange
to have so many neighbors who are not relatives. Before Frelimo came to power,
most people lived in a small grouping of homes with their extended family. Frelimo
forced them to move into large villages which is now common but having unrelated
strangers as neighbors has taken getting used to and has brought about a lot of
suspicion. There is much fear among the people that harm will come to them if they
do not have good relations with their neighbors. If someone feels that you have
wronged them or if they become jealous of you, this person may obtain droga (drugs,
traditional medicine) and use it to cause problems in your life or even to kill you. The
situation is exacerbated today as refugees and people displaced by the war have
frequently had to settle in unfamiliar villages, at least temporarily, introducing cultural
changes and disrupting the social fabric that had been established.
With her young son resting on her back, she braids her eldest daughter's hair
who has her own child on her back. Marianna is one of the few women I spoke to
who wished they could limit the number of children they had. "I have nine children.
I don't want anymore. I would like to have had seven children because when one
bears more children, one's body tends to get thin and you will then probably get a
disease. I would like to only have seven children.
When we discuss her preference for having boys or girls, like most women,
she says that both are important but then goes on to say, "Most women and girls are
not able to do primary and secondary school and get a job. Its very difficult for this
to happen so we prefer to have men." She says it is difficult for girls to go to school,
"because of the change, the political and social changes. Girls today do not want to
go to school. If they go to school, they don't really like to study. And the second
thing is they like to sleep with men before their proper age. They don't keep
traditional rules. They are supposed to stay with their parents until theirfirst
menstruation but that does not happen. Even before getting their first menstruation,
they already know what sex is, how people do it. So they just go about having sex
with men. They are not able to study because of that. When they are in a boarding
school, they get pregnant there. So its a problem. Then they stop their studies once
and for all."
Her comments about girls getting pregnant while attending school were
repeated by other women, including a female teacher in town. While many mothers
want to see their daughters get an education, they are becoming increasingly
concerned about them getting involved in sexual relationships. Marianna fondly
looks back to the missionary schools such as the one she attended, not realizing that
access to such schools was actually quite limited.
"The changes are because of the suffering that we are facing. War brought
suffering. I will give you an example. Take the colonial times when we had the
missions. Those were good schools. We went there, we grew there and we only
came to get married after receiving a good education. So today we don't have
missions. It is very difficult to go to a school where you can really study as a lady
and what you're supposed to do. The war is what affected things the most because it
destroyed the schools and even the traditional kinds of concepts are already gone"
Like many of the women I met, Marianna is frustrated by how common pre-
marital sex has become. In the past,"you couldn't find young women of fourteen
years going out and having sex. No, you wouldn't find that. It is very difficult to
control a daughter today. She just sleeps around and then two months later she
becomes pregnant. Its a terrible thing. Its very difficult to control."
Marianna's explanation of the situation comes from personal experience.
"After getting pregnant, the young lady comes to the parent's house and we deal with
the situation. After learning who the father is, we go to talk to his parents. We let
them know the situation and we ask them for help. Then we take the daughter and the
man together to our house or to the house of his parents. We will look after the
young woman, all of us, the two families. Sometimes the men refuse and you then
just have to accept the situation. You take your daughter and then she lives with you.
You take care of her and then wait for the birth of the child."
"Once its known that the father of the child will not marry the young woman,
then it is hard for her to find another man to marry her. Sometimes it happens but it is
rare. I'm speaking now of my daughter. She had some problems. She got pregnant
and we forced the man to stay with her. We took him to his parent's house and
fortunately he accepted. So he's living with my daughter and we're taking care of the
Late in the afternoon, Marianna makes one more trip to the well. A family of
five will generally use twenty to forty liters of water a day at the house but her family
is much larger than that She comments that even her grown daughters eat and spend
much of their time at her house as, "their husbands don't care for them in a good
way." Marianna then prepares dinner. It is now dark out but she easily finds the
items she needs. She prepares a sauce with beans and water to go with the shima.
She adds vinegar which her daughter made from burning com cobs and then putting
the ash in a basket and pouring water over it. The water soaks through the ash and
runs out of the basket, producing the vinegar. In a couple of months, Marianna will
be able to add fresh items such as pumpkin leaves. And when her husband receives
his salary, they will buy some onions, tomatoes, oil and salt. As she stirs the sauce
over the fire, she talks about life in general and her main concerns.
"The items sold in the shops are very expensive because our country is very
poor. In places like America where our clothes come from, the clothes are very
cheap. Those who are poor there are assisted by the government. But here, there is
no help of that nature. I think it is because that here, people are selfish. In the past,
the missionaries used to help poor people. But today if you go there, even if you just
ask for food, they will say, "No, we don't have any." I think that in America there is
assistance because of the President. He is a good person. I think that it is because of
the war that our mentality has changed. I think that in America, there is not a lot of
war like there is here in Mozambique. But here we have different governments, each
with their own rules. We are tired of following these rules
"Although you and I are different in color, we are equals. Our main problem
is war. And also, the wages are very low and items in the shops are very expensive.
Our wish is that there should not be war again. Because when there is one war
stopping, there is another one starting and we are always suffering. Marianna does
not have access to a radio or to any newspapers or magazines. Her news comes from
stories and rumors that her husband and neighbors share with her. While the
"official" news carries reports of banditry by hungry and restless demobilized
soldiers, there is no news of renewed fighting. However, the stories Marianna
receives inform her that again, "..war is coming and this will increase our suffering.
We don't know what we can do now because when this war comes we will have to
run to the bush and we will live like animals. We don't know why people fight,
because our leaders do not tell us. We only hear that they are coming and they have
Like Marianna, the other women interviewed stated that they did not know the
reason there had been a war and they feared that war would return. Even a woman
who lives in town and is a teacher did not feel more informed than the villagers. "/
don't know why the people fought but I presume it was because of money. It is
difficult for me to answer this question. I don't know when war comes because I
don't have any official information. I only hear rumors and it is difficult for me to tell
my children what is happening because I myself don't know."
The pain from the disruption and loss caused by the war is felt by women all
over the district and the fear of it resuming is strong. A woman in a village about
twenty km. from Marianna's shares, "/ never knew why they fought and I don't
know why they stopped. I'm not even sure if they have ended the war for good. The
day before yesterday, a group of soldiers passed by and they started shooting and we
fled from our machambas. The last war brought a lot of suffering to me because I
lost my brother. He was killed while working on his machamba. My nephew was
also killed while the soldiers were fighting. Even up to now, I cry for them. During
that war, we were always running away from the Renamo soldiers. Usually we
didn't eat. I have never seen a man being killed but I have seen people who were
already dead from having been killed. Both men and women were killed. There was
no discrimination. It was not good." As with the other women, Marianna silently
carries the pain and fear with her. She knows there is nothing that she can do about
Putting the threat of war aside, she talks about her dreams. What I am
thinking of doing is that I want to grow a lot of cotton and sell it. After selling it, I
want to buy a bicycle. What I think will make me happy is if my children do not get
sick, if they have enough food and if they come to visit me. I will be happy if my
children and I have food so that we can share with each other. Because prices
continue to go up, we will remain poor and we will continue to suffer."
After serving her husband and then seeing that there is enough food for each
of her children, Marianna fills her stomach. After dinner, she asks her daughters to
do the dishes as she takes care of her young son who is not feeling well. She gives
him her breast to suck on and this seems to soothe him. Sitting around the fire, she
relaxes for awhile with her family. They hear drums being played in the distance.
This could mean there is a ceremony recognizing the fortieth day after someone's
death or could be a group of people just enjoying themselves, dancing and drinking
home brewed beer. As she gets her young children settled for the night an elder from
the church arrives to tell her that the baby of one of the members has just died. He
says the baby died from doentes (illness). Specific illnesses are rarely named as they
are not usually known. As Marianna is a friend of the family, she puts her desire to
sleep aside and goes with her husband and the elder to assist and mourn with the
family throughout the night. The burial is planned for tomorrow morning. She will
have to put off the work on the machamba until the next day. Giving support to
families when there is a death is an important duty for Macua women and Marianna
embraces this aspect of her culture.
Marianna is one of the few women I met who had not had any of her children
die. This is quite unusual, especially since she had given birth to nine children. The
day before I left Cuamba, she came to my house with some of my other close friends
for a small party. She told me that one of her daughter's was very sick. We consoled
each other as she knew that my father was also very ill. As I was just about to leave
Cuamba the next day, a note from Marianna was delivered to me stating,"Informa
que aquela crianga que estava doente ja faleceu hoje mesmo e isto muito obrigada.
Marianna" (This is to inform you that the child that was sick has died today. That is
all. Thank you.)
MARRIAGE AND MOTHERHOOD
"We want to get married. If we aren't married, we face problems. Who
brings the wealth to the house? It is the men. That is why we are depending on
getting married because then, we can have a good life." "Indeed, every woman wants
to be married but the problem is that, after getting married, they face problems. They
are quarreling because maybe the husband is not respecting the condition of the house
or maybe he is going out with another woman. Its the same as having to have a
machamba. We have to have our farm. Why do we want to have a farm? We want a
farm in order to get enough food to fulfill our hunger. That's also why it is good to
have a husband in the home because from there we can have our wealth well
established." (Two women discussing marriage in a village eight km. out of town)
"Women marry for economic reasons. You can have a loving husband but the
problem is you will always have problems because you won't have enough food, you
won't have soap and clothes for your children. You will have problems all the time.
Women marryfor economic reasons more than for social acceptance.11 (Monica,
single mother of three living in a village six km. from town)
"As women, we do not have the right to choose the man. We just wait until
he comes to talk to us, to propose to us." (Akima, an elderly woman living in the
"I will be married to the same man unless he will become tired of me. I don't
like to change men." (Catarina, a married young mother of two, living in the
"Today, women do not usually stay with the same man for a long time. It is
because of economic reasons that people divorce. They are not able to get salt, soap,
cooking oil, new clothes. We women, we go for men who can easily get us such
items." (Marianna, a married mother of nine who lives in a village eight km. out of
"When we women get married, we always are happy because we know we
are appreciated. Also, there is a certain dignity before all of the people. I was very
happy, excited to get married." (Asidona, a young woman living in a village 16 km.
It cannot be emphasized enough how much a woman's marital status and
situation impact her life. Much of a woman's value in society is based on her role of
being a good wife. If a woman is single for long or viewed as a disrespectful wife,
she is disrespected in society and her self worth is greatly diminished. Girls leam this
at a young age as they hear single women being talked about and scorned. They also
leam that respecting one's husband is the focal point of their life. The focus of
traditional education and their mother's teachings is on how to respect one's husband
and the local gossip is often centered on women who are viewed as disrespecting their
While sometimes there are strong feelings of love involved, the purpose of
marriage is much more practical than emotional. Men and women have very different
and distinct roles in this society and to maintain life, it is important that men and
women come together and combine their roles.
Women say that today, the main purpose of marriage is economic. Getting
married is viewed by both a woman and her parents as critical to making economic
gains in life. It is not unusual for parents to pressure their daughter into getting
married before she feels ready so that they can pass on the responsibility of feeding
and clothing her to her husband. Having sex and bearing children are also important
reasons stated for getting married. Premarital sex has become quite common over the
past twenty years, and if parents fear their daughter is likely to get pregnant while she
is still single, they may be forceful in pressuring her to get married. Love between
the husband and wife tends to develop after they are married.
Both men and women say that they need one another in order to survive at this
economic level. Men's and women's chores are clearly divided and often compliment
each other. Each person needs water but men would be scorned if they were to fetch
water for themselves. Each person needs a dwelling, but building a house is a man's
job and women feel they aren't capable of the task. Even with the increase in single
women and mothers, there has been very little change in the traditional chores and it is
rare to find a single woman who can pay to have chores done such as building a
bathroom or putting new grass on the roof. At the level of poverty found in Cuamba,
the chores of the household are a full-time job, leaving a single woman with little time
to devote to generating income to provide for her family.
Rosa, a single mother of four in her forties whose second husband was killed
and who is struggling to survive in the bcurros explains the situation. "There is help
when people are married. But if a woman is living single, she doesn't have enough
help. A woman cannot make a house. There is a needfor somebody to come and
make a house for a single woman. Sometimes my children cry for clothes because
they don't have any. The man who could help me is not alive. If he were, he could
help them. Sometimes when I go to the machamba, I plow the machamba but I
cannot take the trees down. This task should be performed by the man. As you
know also, now I have these clothes that I am wearing. These clothes I have to buy
for myself. Then, the next time, I have to buy clothes for my children. It is not easy.
But while I was trying to buy clothes for my children, my husband could look for
clothes for me and himself. While I was going to fetch clay to make pots, my
husband could be at the machamba cultivating it. But now, once I leave the
machamba and go to get clay, when I return to the machamba Ifind a lot of weeds
and grass instead of finding maize. That's why there is much need of a husband.
In the villages, most girls are married by the age of fifteen. In the bairros and
villages close to town, young women generally marry by the time they are seventeen
and in town they tend to marry when they are in their late teens. You can find women
in their early twenties who are not married, especially those that are continuing with
their formal education, but this is not common. Today girls are waiting to get married
longer than a generation ago when most young women were married soon after they
began to menstruate.
Luisa is in her fifties. She has had no formal education but is a natural-bom
leader in her family. She is single and bears the financial responsibility of assisting a
number of her relatives to survive by making and selling pots and continuing to work
on her machamba, over an hour walk from her home in the bairros of Cuamba. Her
story of getting married the first time as a young woman is quite typical for women of
1 was married when I was very young and I did not know what it was like to
be with a man (have sex). I didn't know the meaning of marriage as such. So I war
forced to marry and the man was older than L was. He usually came to sleep in my
parent's house. So my parents forced me to share the mat with him. Well, I always
refused. Sometimes I ran away, l went to sleep at other people's houses and other
times I usually slept in the trees and then the time that Ifell out of the tree they took
me to the place where the man was sleeping and they put me together with him. And
when I woke up I would just get frightened and run away. So I didn't really know
why I should be married.
Well, my parents advised me to marry this specific man because they said he
was a very dedicated man. On the machamba he produced a lot through his work.
Secondly, I was refusing because / was very young. I didn't know why l should be
staying with somebody I didn't know. So it was somewhat strange for me. All of
this happened before my first menstruation.
Two years after he came to talk to my parents, we got married. I was forced
to stay with him, to live with him. Ilived with him for a long time. From the time
before my first menstruation until I bore three children. So 1 can say I was together
with him for six or more years.
When we first had sex, / didn't like it. I hated it. The first time I spent all the
night crying, crying, and crying. Finally, later I came to like it when I was used to
him and the way he would talk and behave. So I came to like it sometimes when he
asked me to have sex with him.
When I lived with this man I had problems because after having three
children, they all passed away. We went to a curandeiro (traditional healer) and he
told us that my husband had an illness in his reproductive organs. / thought it was
not good for me to live with him because / would never have children. So we
divorced. I was the one who decided on this because / was very angry and
frustrated. Then he went to marry another woman and the same thing happened to
her. She bore three children and they also passed away. He divorced again. Later
on he went to an advinha (diviner) and got traditional medicine. He's now bearing a
lot of children. He is not dead. He is still alive."
Luisa went on to marry a Portuguese man. This was during the colonial rule.
The story of this second marriage is exceptional among the other women interviewed
but not totally unique to Mozambican women. "Now after getting married, my
neighbors looked at me as a mucuiri (witch). They said that I am not afraid of the
whites. Even now, now that I am talking to you, now that I came here to your house,
some people in my bairro say, "That lady is not afraid of whites." So they take me as
a witch. In fact in the beginning I was very afraid of the whites. But one time, his
father's wife who was my friend came to me and told me not to be afraid of the
whites. She knew what was going on between me and this man. She knew that I
was afraid. She came to me and said,"Don't be afraid, those are people like us.
They don't eat black people's meat. You should accept him. He's as complete as any
black man is. In the beginning, we starting by just chatting. Then I came to accept
him, to have sex with him.
Eventually people came to know that we were living together and that we were
married. None of my relatives came to visit me or to congratulate me. They all kept
away and then they said, "We want to see what happens. This is an adventure." And
you know, I didn't care about this because I knew that the people were jealous as I
was dressing well, I had nice food and all this. There were very jealous. So I
remained with him."
This marriage also did not last long. "This man lived with me for two years
and then he was transferred from Metande to Nacala. When he arrive there he had
sex with a young white lady. So the girl's parents took her to him as they refused to
remain with the girl. They said, "You have to take care of this girl and marry her.
So all he did was to write to me telling me that he had these problems and that he was
not going to come back. He said, "If any man comes to marry you, please accept
him. I won't be back." So that's how I remained and he left me while I was
When this happened I wasn't able to do anything about it. I just accepted that
it has happened. I didn't have any power to go see him in Nacala or to be crying. I
just said, it has happened. I will remain with the child. I felt a big pain within me. I
didn't know what to do at that time. Ijust felt, how am I going to be alone with the
child? I didn't have a way to solve this problem. So I remained like this, crying for
one year. I cried mostly because I missed the man. I was so used to him. I didn't
accept it when he said, "You had better get married if anyone comes to you." I was
very angry and I couldn't help it. And also, I remember I had a very good life. Ihad
very good food and I slept in a very good house. Even today I miss him. If he came
to ask me to come back I would accept him without any problem.
Since he left, I haven't had any communication with him, neither has my son.
My son did not know him. I only remember the time when he was living in Nacala.
He wrote one time and he sent some money. Then he wrote another letter saying that
he was leaving for Portugal and that he wouldn't be back, that he was leaving
forever. That is the only thing I remember. And he never wrote to us again."
For Luisa and her peers and for most women over thirty, it was generally their
parents who made the decision regarding their marriage. Marriages were not usually
pre-arranged by parents but when a man saw a girl that he would like to many, he
would go to her parents to make a formal request and it was the parents, not the girl,
who would decide if and when she should marry him. Traditionally it was the role of
the man's uncle to present him to the woman's parents. The man would then sleep at
the home of the girl's parents and in the morning the uncle came to see how
everything went. If all went well, the couple would then prepare to get married.
Today it is not uncommon for a young couple to meet and decide that they will
many without the parent's consent, but generally their permission is sought once the
woman has accepted the man's proposal. As in the past, it is common for a man to
see or speak to a young woman just once or twice before he proposes to her. But
today, in many homes, especially in the bairros, it is acceptable for a woman to refuse
a proposal. Even if the man then goes to her parents, they may support her decision.
If they feel economic pressure in their household and if they like the man, they may
force her to marry him.
Two young women discuss the process of getting married today. Rosa is
eighteen and lives in a village fifteen km. from town where many traditional ways are
still followed. Regina, nineteen, lives six km. from town and is from an exceptional
family. They place a much higher value on education than most villagers.
Rosa: "I got married three years ago, when I was fifteen. I met my husband
in town. I was going to the mill. It was the first time that we met that he proposed to
me. He spoke to my brother, saying that he wanted to marry me. My brother said,
"No, she is in school. You are not going to marry her unless you wait for her to
finish the grade that she is now in." I was very afraid, very scared when he proposed
tome. I didn't want to get married. So my parents forced me. They beat me up and
then they forced me to marry the man. Now that I am with my husband Ifeel happy.
Ifeel that at home, I have no problems."
When asked what happens if a man proposes and the woman does not want to
accept but the parents force her to, she giggled and then said, "In those situations I
just feel that I have no way out because my parents say, "You can take off all the
dresses we bought for you and then leave them here with us since you refuse to marry
this man. You better leave this home and give use back what we bought for you
unless you accept this man." So Ijust feel that I have to choice and that life becomes
difficult. Nobody accepts my feelings.
There are some women who in fact take off the dresses that their parents
bought for them and then they move out. They go away and don't live with their
parents anymore. This is mostly because of their friends who tell them, "Ifyou get
married you won't play with us. You won't be our friend anymore." So you feel
like you are going to lose those good friends. I can't do that. That's when you leave
your parents' house and you go away. You go away but after two, three or four days
you come back. Your parents will say, "Now that you are back, you have to put up
with what we say. You have to marry that man." If you are weak, you will give in.
If you are strong enough, you just say, "No, unless there is a different man who
comes, I won't get married to that man."
Regina: "It is common to see teenagers get married. You won't find women
waiting until they reach twenty to get married. Usually, by the time they are fifteen
they are married. But my family is different. My family values school. Studies, they
value very much. So they don't allow us to marry before we are twenty. That's what
has happened to me. My mom told me to go to school first. I went to school this year
and failed because I was sick. But I lookforward to taking this class again next year.
I don't know any woman who does not want to get married. When a woman
is of a certain age in which people think she should be married and she is not, not all
people will look at her as a good woman, as a well behaved woman. They always
say that she is destroying families. Also, they just don't value her because they don't
know why she is that age and not married. People might take you as a grown woman
when you are only fifteen. It depends on the environment.
It is difficult to say how marriages come about. Some men are serious when
they meet you for the first time. They sort of decide that you will live together in the
future. Others are using that as a way of convincing you to share a friendship (sleep
with them). Its not a lasting thing. Some men just lie. They try to convince you that
they want to marry you so that you will go and have sex with them.
If a man feels ties, feels passionate, he proposes right when you meet. Its
common for a man to propose to you the first time that you meet. Some of us are able
to refuse. Its like a woman going to a shop to buy a capulana. Sometimes you see so
many capulanas but you don't like any of them. None of them meet your desires. Its
like this with a man. Sometimes he can be very well dressed, smart. He comes to
you and says, "Lady, come." You say, "No, I don't want to." So I think it is love.
Now this love is not love which is already shared. It's only love mixed with desire.
If we refuse, the man has nothing to do, all he has to do is to keep quiet.
Rejusing a man's proposal will happen as often as you feel you don't need the
person, that you don't feel you should belong to that person. I will only share a
man's proposal with my mother or my aunt when I come to accept the man. When I
say no to a man, then that's all. I won't say anything to my mother. I don't share
this with my mother or my family because I am afraid. Probably they would like the
man. So if I tell them that he came to me and I refused, they will insist that I marry
him. The number of proposals that I have received are uncountable. I told them that I
am still schooling and that I am not grown enough to marry them.
Here, its very uncommon for parents to decide who their daughter should
marry. Usually the men come to us and later they go to meet our parents. Here in the
villages, things happen quickly once a woman accepts a man's proposal. There is no
gap. Once the man meets the woman and goes to make arrangements with the
parents, the common thing is that you go and you start living together. Usually there
are no weeks of waiting. You just say, "The day after tomorrow I will be there." If
the man doesn't have a house, he goes to sleep with the woman at the in-laws if there
is a free house or room. There isn't any ceremony. The man only takes his blankets
and the woman follows him, if he's got a house. If he doesn't have a house, then the
man just takes his blankets to the in-laws and stays there."
There are various ways for a couple to be recognized as being married. The
most common is that they just move into a home and start their lives together as a
married couple. Sometime a couple will get married in a religious ceremony at their
church or mosque. Occasionally they will go through the proper legal procedure and
have a civil ceremony in the town but this is not very common and usually just
pertains to the town dwellers. By the end of April 1995, only eight couples had gone
through the civil ceremony since the first of the year.
While girls know they will most likely become married in their mid teens and
getting married is not something that is ever questioned, the idea of actually getting
married can be very scary for young women. Upon marriage, a young woman's
lifestyle changes quite drastically and as they start to receive proposals, they often feel
they are not ready for this change. Once they many, they are not able to play freely
with their friends and must stop acting like a child. They must leave behind many of
their friendships, as it is not proper behavior for married women to spend much time
socializing with single female friends. As Regina explains, "Men don't like their
wives to spend time with single women. Most of them think this way. Most men
think that when their wife talks to a single woman that she is being seduced and that
the woman is giving her bad ideas."
Fatima is seventeen and had been married over a year at the time of our first
two interviews. While her transition to her role as a wife was almost complete, she
did not follow all the rules. She continued to play and dance with young girls in the
village. While she espoused the manners to be followed as a married woman, she
found it hard to follow them herself. "One of the things that I have to do in order to
show that lama married lady, is to walk or chat with other married women. I can't
do that with single women. And if my husband is in the house, I go there and stay
with him, just to show that lam married to him. Its never acceptable for me to spend
a lot of time with single women. This is very hard for me. I had many friends. Once
I got married, I left walking and chatting with them. Now I can't chat with them. If
my husband sees me chatting with them, he goes and makes rows with them. So it is
not a good thing. I spend most of my time here. When he leaves for work I remain
here until he comes and meets me here. Or I go with other married ladies. That's one
of the ways out I have. This is very common in our culture. Its very common
because it comes from the mouth of our husbands. They want to avoid having single
women influence us with bad behaviors. The single women might influence us or
they might invite us to go somewhere and then, we will also behave the way we
want. So in order to avoid that, our husbands will not allow us to go out with friends
who are single." About six months later, Fatima's husband caught her having an
affair and divorced her.
A Woman's Role As A Wife
"For a woman to show respect to her husband, the first thing she needs to do
is to have sex with him based on the man's needs. She needs to use ekura, have sex
with him, fetch water for him to bathe in the morning, to wash him as he takes a bath,
to wash his clothes and to cook for the man. He will say, 'My wife respects me.'"
(Asidona, a childless single woman in her forties who has been married twice, living
in a village eighteen km. from town)
"If a woman is interested in getting married, then she will have to try to put
herself in second place, after the man. So the man will be the boss. There are other
women who accept marrying a man just for the sake of trying to get a better life. So
those women, according to their objective will not take a man as the boss and they
will try to overpower him. If a woman like me for example, wants to have a family,
have a house and have a husband, she has to have the man as the boss of the house.
That's to mean that he has to be in charge and to get what is needed there. If the
woman respects her husband, there will not be many problems arising. For people
who see that there is harmony, they will be saying, "In that family there is peace." So
there is some kind of good life." (Elena, married, living four km. from town)
In the Macua culture, being subservient is critical to showing respect for one's
husband. Displaying respect for one's husband is deeply ingrained in the women and
is one of the most important ways that a woman gains value in society. How to show
respect is taught and reinforced in the different stages of traditional education. If a
woman is viewed as not showing respect to her husband, she develops a bad
reputation among those around her. If a man feels his wife does not show him
respect he may divorce her or take an additional wife.
There are numerous ways that a woman is to demonstrate respect for her
husband and these permeate throughout most aspects of her life. Keeping the home
and the couple's possessions in good order is a basic display of respect for the man.
Specific examples include a woman waking before her husband and preparing a bath
for him, carrying her husband's hoe and knife to and from the machamba so that he
can walk unburdened, giving meat to the husband when it is available and only eating
vegetables herself, and waiting until he has satisfied himself before she eats with the
children. A woman is expected to satisfy her husband's sexual needs whenever he
desires. There are a variety of expressions involved in their sexual relations that
display respect, such as being available to have sex with her husband whenever he
desires, cleaning him and massaging his arms and shoulders after intercourse.
Asidona is single and in her forties. She has been married twice but has never
had any children. She lives near family members in a village fifteen km. from town
and assists in raising her nieces and their children. "For a woman to show respect to
her husband, the first thing she needs to do is to have sex with him based on his
needs. She needs to use ekura, fetch water for him to bathe in the morning, to wash
him, to wash his clothes and to cook for him. He will then say, "My wife respects
She advises her young married nieces on how to behave as a wife and one
afternoon she shared the following advice with them. "You are sitting here eating
green maize without telling your husband. You should do this with your husband.
And with this fresh maize, you should make nttobwe (a sweet non-alcoholic
traditional drink) for your husband. You should do this because you are married.
Don't follow my ways because / am single. In the morning you have to wake up and
sweep the yard. While your husband is taking a bath, you should cook porridge for
him. When he comes out you give him the porridge to eat. When you are going to
the machamba, you should take his hoe. / once saw a woman who had her husband
carry her hoe and that was disrespectful of her. That is part of your chores.
Respect is something that exists between you and your husband. When he is
returning from the machamba, you have to go and help him carry his hoe. You have
to wash his clothes. Don't be angry with him. And you also must be very respectful
of him. Your husband always comes to complain to me about you. Some women
find it hard to respect their husbands, like this niece of mine. These are the chores of
the Mozambican women.
Women also want to feel that their husbands respect them. Women in another
village share the most common ways that a man expresses his respect to his wife. "A
woman feels that her husband respects her when he buys her a capulana, cooking oil
and when they go to the machamba together. He shows respect by helping to
organize and provide for the needs of the household."
While it is commonly believed that women should be subservient to their
husbands because "God made it that way", another key reason is that women see men
as being much more capable in providing economically for a household. Women feel
almost totally dependent on a man economically. While being married will most
likely be viewed as critical to a woman's reputation in the community for a long time
to come, the changing economic environment has the potential for changing a
woman's belief in being so economically dependent on a man. With an increasing
number of single women having to find ways to provide for themselves and their
children, they are beginning to see the capabilities and potential they possess in
getting the necessary provisions for their household. While most single mothers feel
they live in dire poverty and see having a husband as the solution to their economic
problems, their experience in income generating activities is still quite new and may
provide them with increased confidence in their own abilities over time. For now,
Elena, a married woman living near town explains that most women feel that they
must be married if they are to improve their lives economically.
"I think the man should be the boss of the house because he has got
possibilities of getting whatever I ask for. For myself you can see that if I were
living on my own, if I didn't have a husband, I wouldn't be able to get the clothes,
the capulana that I have now. Now if there is a man, you just say, "/ have now run
short of salt." Then he will buy it and bring it home.
I think that in regards to the capacity of thinking, the intelligence of men and
women, it is not very different. Its only the woman who acknowledges that she is
unable to live on her own. She will always need somebody who she thinks is
capable, in fact more capable than her. So that is the man. But in terms of
intelligence, there isn't much difference.
I don't know why men are more capable than women. But what I can say is
that they are more capable than women and we depend on them. For obtaining
clothes, we depend on them. Getting clothes also comes from that respect, that good
behavior you have before your husband. So if you don't show respect, he won't buy
what you want."
"We are suffering nowadays because many of us are not married and are not
living in good conditions. Most women in this village are not married. There is no
reason that we can findfor why the men are leaving their wives and going away.
They don't explain what the problems are which make them leave. In the past, this is
not what happened. It started during the war between Renamo and Frelimo.
Through traditional education, young girls and boys were learning how to behave
among the people. But since the war started, young people were losing opportunities
to follow the education that they had been receiving from their parents. We don't
know how they lost the opportunity. The life of prostitution is developing among the
villages. This was very difficult to find before the war. It has made all that we
learnedfrom traditional education useless." (A woman living in a village eight km.
"Being single is not a good thing, especially for me. I have these children and
lam not able to get what they need, to give them enough food or the kind of food
they need. So the problem is that when one is unmarried, people do not see her as a
good person. Sometimes they say, "That's because of her behavior. Her behavior is
not good. That's why she doesn't marry." For me, the problem is not being able to
take care of my children so I am suffering from that. I feel I would like to be married.
I think life is easy when you are married, that's how I feel. You know I was married
and I felt that at that time I was a different woman. But now my life is very different,
it is very bad." (Elena)
"No woman can be happy without being married. Usually, a woman who is
happy is also married. First of all, I think your question has no reason to exist. You
would feel the same if you were single. A woman will be happier if she is married. I
will give you an example. A woman goes into her room and lights the candle. She
will spend all of this time just looking at the wall. She will not be talking. She will
be feeling lonely. She will have a lot of thoughts, thinking about good things and bad
things. A woman who is married has a very different kind of environment. She is in
the room with her husband. They are playing. Sometimes they play games like cards
on the bed. If you think you need to bathe, then you go together and bathe. If you
want to have sex, you can have it at anytime. In the morning, you cook porridge and
give it to your husband. Then you leave together for the machamba. You go to the
machamba and work and you return together. If either of you does not have enough
money to buy something, the other person can add to the amount and then you can
buy the thing. So you complement the other person's life." (Luisa)
"I was originally married to a man who was polygamous. After I had two
children with him, I divorced him because he was polygamous. I married a second
time. I accepted the man because he was not a polygamist. We had four children
together. Two of the children died. We then divorced and he went and married
another woman. We got divorced because he was not supporting our family. He
didn't bring us enough goods. He just came to the house occasionally. Instead of
taking care of the children, he was just running around. If I would ask him about
this, he would just beat me so there was no way of making a good agreement. I
thought the best thing to do was to divorce." (Rosalina, living in the bairros)
"As I am not married, there is a kind of food that I don't have. Don't you
know that the hunger of the night is stronger than the hunger of the day? If you
suffer from the hunger of the day, you can go to collect beans, okra, leaves. I see
that it is the old ones who are poor and suffer a lot. But most of the youngsters are
not poor. For example, I am looking for sona (tobacco) and I don't find it. Because
I am not married, I don't know where to get it." (Asidona)
Many of the women I interviewed were single mothers and there was much
talk from all women about the increasing number of single women and mothers
today. While some women lost their husbands during the war, most were single
because of divorce or because their husbands just left them.
Divorce is quite common and quite easy. Even women can ask for a divorce
and they can do so without much fear of losing their children to the husband and
without too much societal scorn although divorce hurts a woman's reputation more
than a man's. The ease of divorce is due to the fact that they live in a matrilineal
society. Their situation is much different than that of the women who live in central
and southern Mozambique where a patrilineal society exists. In this matrilineal
society, there is no lobolo or "bride price" so the husband cannot claim ownership of
his wife and ask to be paid back the lobolo which is often a big obstacle to women
seeking divorce in patrilineal societies.
With women's increased freedom of movement since independence and the
war, the loss of many traditions, and with such severe economic pressures, it is
common to find a woman who has been left by her husband or divorced at least once.
Saddened by the increase in divorces, Rosa says, "In the past couples were firm. It
wasn't common to find broken couples. That was very hard to do. Even marriage
itself was a difficult thing. You had to fight for it. They wouldn't allow you to easily
get married to somebody. You had to convince your parents, your uncles and all of
yourfamily members. Today, people are free and can easily marry. So when people
see that a couple has a good life together, they tell stories and try to destroy the
Divorce is generally recognized after a meeting takes place with the village
chief, elders, witnesses and family and it is decided that it is right for the couple to
divorce. If the problems are not too acute, the families of the couple along with the
elders of the village will often first try to help the couple work through their problems
and avoid divorce. If it is decided that divorce is best, then the families and the elders
will help the couple work through details of the divorce and how the possessions
should be divided. If the couple was married in a mosque or church, then the couple
may go to the elders there to resolve their problems or work out the terms of the
divorce. Sometimes a couple will not formalize their divorce but will just go their
separate ways. Occasionally a husband or wife will collect their items from the house
and just leave.
Generally, the person who asks for a divorce must make a monetary payment
to their spouse and to the chief if he was involved in the process. This deters a
number of women from asking for a divorce. Because of a lack of money, they are
often forced to stay in a bad relationship.
It can be difficult for a woman to remarry after she divorces, especially if she
is elderly or if she has children to care for. Also, men may think that since there were
problems in the first marriage, there may be problems in her second marriage.
All of the single women I interviewed yearned to be married. They all feel
there was great suffering in their life because they did not have a husband. Even with
the many stories they told me about husbands physically abusing their wives, having
affairs with other women and having drinking problems, in their eyes, the problems
did not compare to the benefits of having a husband. They could not see how their
life could be better off being single than being married. Even just in regards to
economics, they did not think they were capable of improving their economic
conditions without a man.
Rosa, the single mother of four, expresses the experiences and feelings of
many single women in her story. She lives in a bairro just outside of town. In a
small (about 10' by 15') two room mud home she lives with her daughter and son
who are around twelve and fourteen years old, her two grown daughters, one son-in-
law and three grandchildren. Her son-in-law and her grown daughters do very little
to help support the family and Rosa shoulders most of the responsibility. She has
just started cultivating a small machamba by herself and makes some income from
making and selling pots. Her family is often hungry and she doesn't see how her life
can improve without a husband. She would like to move into a home which is
separate from her grown daughters.
"Idon't know how old lam. I was born in Maua and came to Cuamba when
I was young. I got married a year after I started menstruating. I had two children
with my first husband and then we divorced. Then I married another man. This was
the first time he had been married. The first husband was a driver. He drove cars to
other districts. I was taken from here to Maua, from Maua to Marupa, and we stayed
there together. What happened is that while we were living there together, my mother
was sick here. I got a message from her that / had to come to visit her and give her
assistance. My husband didn't like the idea of me coming here. He told me, "Once
you go there, don't come here again because this is a divorce." We divided
everything that we had and 1 started the journey from there to here.
We didn't ask people to witness the divorce so that we could declare it in
public. We just dealt with the situation between ourselves. Also, we were not living
with our families. This problem would be solved if one of the family members who
had made an agreement for us to get married in the first place, had been there. But
nobody was there who belonged to our families. They why we did it just between the
two of us.
After I arrived here, I found my mother seriously ill. 1 started taking care of
her and I explained what was happening with my husband. She said, "Alright. As
he has declared that you are divorced, since lam sick and am not recovering, if I die,
don't continue to be married to that man." A few days later, my mother died. I
stayed unmarried, feeling bad because my mother had died and I was divorced from
I was single for a year. I wanted to be married because I was suffering. I had
no one who could give me cooking oil or salt, capulanas or food. My mother had
died so there was no way to survive alone. I wanted the company of a man.
After my mother died, my father was alive and I was helping him cultivate his
machamba. We were getting crops from the machamba and we were surviving
because of that. Then my father left the house and went to marry a woman in another
area. / stayed in that house. While 1 was in that house I got married for a second
I lived without clothing. Some man saw me and said he would like to marry
me. Then we made an agreement and I married this second man. When my first
husband heard about this, he made the long journey from there to here in order to tell
me that I had to go with him because I belonged to him. 1 denied him, remembering
the words of my mother when she was alive. Then I continued with this second man.
The bad luck is that he died while we were living together without any problems.
My second husband asked me to marry him the first time he saw me. The
man came many times to ask me to marry him. But / was refusing him. I was
thinking that I had already been married and this man had not been married before.
He was young. I could not accept that a boy was coming to marry me. 1 advised him
to go and look for another woman, for a girl who is the same age as him because I
was too old. "Once you marry me you will say,'You are old. What am I getting
from you.' So I cannot consider your proposal. I told him this many times but he
insisted that he wanted me. He said that he had found a younger girl nearby but he
didn't like her as much as he liked me. He left school and came to me.
I liked my marriage with my second husband. We got married in the church.
I have been single ever since he died. I liked the advice he was giving me. I was
following it. Also, he was following the advice that 1 gave him. There was respect
for each other. We were cultivating the land together because he was not employed.
We were depending on our machamba. Everything that we were getting from the
machamba, we were selling and using the money together.
He died when my youngest daughter was about two years old. It was in
Mandimba. We ran away from Messisse to Mandimba because there was war during
that time. In Mandimba, he would go into Malawi to buy some goods and bring them
back to Mozambique. He traveled through the bush and did not pay customs fees.
During that time my husband would sometimes drink. One time while he was
drinking, he was provoked into a fight. The people he fought with knew that he was
traveling between Malawi and Mozambique illegally and one time these people
informed the Frelimo soldiers about this. They made an ambush and while he was
returning from Malawi, they caught him and took him to the post where the soldiers
were working. They beat him and killed him. He had not been doing any business
then. He was just taking our maize to the mill in Malawi because there was no mill in
Mandimba. We were living in the bush close to the border. He was not taking any
documents. While we were living in Mandimba, we had been using documents to go
to Malawi to take maize or something else to sell there. But there in the bush, we
were not close to the administrative offices and there was no way to ask for permits or
documents to go into Malawi so we were going there illegally.
They came for me to go and see the situation. We were there with the doctor
who was to determine whether my husband died from drinking some medicine or
from being beaten. They found that he had died from being beaten by the soldiers."
"Then they took those soldiers to the prison. We took the body. The commander
bought the clothes for the burial ceremony and we took my husband to the graveyard.
The soldiers didn't pay me anything. They didn't help me."
When we talked about her sons-in-law, Rosa said that in this case, since they
don't do anything to help their wives, it would be better for her daughters to divorce
them. "Life is not good for me! How could it be good if my sons-in-law don't take
care of their wives? I will never be happy because while my daughters live with their
husbands, I feel they are not married. Their husbands do not take care of them.
Marriage to me means to get a house and whatever is needed for you and your
While my sons-in-law do not take care of their wives, my daughters still keep
them in their home. For me it makes no sense to have them there because they are
just increasing the number of people in the family. They should get rid of them.
Because they continue to live with their husbands, my daughters are very lazy. They
live in poor conditions. I think they should get rid of their husbands so they come to
trust themselves, so they make efforts to get what their children need. I think that
according to their conditions, it is better to be single than to think you are married.
For most women, it is difficult to work in front of a man who is watching
you. You become upset that they are not doing anything to help and you become
lazier and lazier and thus poorer and poorer.
For me it is clear, I am single. All of my problems are due to the fact that I am
single. If I were married, my life would not be so hard. I feel regretful because I
was expecting my sons-in law to help my daughters and me as well. I wonder,
where will we end up with this kind of life?
I was putting my trust in one of my son-in-laws but he recently sent my
daughter away from his machamba. He did that in order to remain with the crops.
Here is my daughter who is suffering and crying for the crops that she took care of.
My daughter never had a chance to eat any of the maize before my son-in-law sent her
away. Since she returned, from the machamba, she hasn't bought maize or anything
else for us to eat. So, we are suffering together.
My daughter took the case to one of the chiefs but he didn't have a solution.
The man is saying that because she is pregnant, the pregnancy was caused by
somebody else, not him. He claims it belongs to Manuel. This man Manuel is a
friend of mine. He came to be a friend because of his mother with whom I always
chat. So he came to know my daughters and he always says in a joking manner to
my daughter, "You are my wife. You are my wife.""
Rosa explains the difficult position that women are put into when they accept a
man as their husband. Even though she is yearning to be married again, she is not
sure if it would be better to be married if she were to have a husband like one of her
"First of all, when a man comes to propose, he appears to be handsome and
sincere. If such a man would come to me and propose, I would accept him. But later
on I would be living in frustration and without hope. I would be saying that if I had
known my husband would behave in this way, I would not have accepted him. I
would say that it would be better if I were single. This is why my daughters accepted
their husbands. When they were presented to us, they were told that my daughters
had children from other men and they were asked if they agreed to take care of these
children and their mother-in-law who is single. At that time they said, "No problem.
I will take care of all of them." It is not easy to tell whether the man is good or bad.
Sometimes, some women are courageous enough to get rid of their husbands. They
tell them off."
But again, women are put into a difficult position and faced with a dilemma.
"It is not good to marry a man who is lazy, who just comes and sits, doing nothing.
But sometimes it is good to keep the man as your husband, even though he is lazy.
That is to avoid people saying that you are a prostitute. Sometimes, if you are single,
some friends of yours might pass by and greet you but when they greet you, they will
not look at you directly (since you are single and they are married, they presume that
you may be sleeping with their husband). They will look to the side. That is why
many women keep lazy men as their husbands today."
A woman's dependency on a man is reinforced in the stories that single
women share about getting remarried. Basically, all women, even young women
who have never married must wait until a man comes to her and chooses to make a
proposal. If a woman takes the initiative then she will be regarded as being too
aggressive to be a good wife. If a man doesn't come, she will just remain single.
Elena is a single mother of three and lives in a village six km. from town. She
is in her thirties and has been married twice. When a man proposes to her, she tries
to find out about his character before accepting him by asking neighbors of his about
his behavior. "What matters is a man who can take care of the family, who has good
plans, who can help me and the children we will be bearing." Her appraisals have not
been as accurate as she would have liked. She met her first husband along a footpath
and he proposed. He then Went to her parents and after one week, they accepted him
and he and Euguenia were married. They had a child and divorced after two years.
She then remarried and after eight years and four more children, two of which are
alive today, her second husband left her. She sells firewood to generate income and
is struggling to feed and clothe herself and her children.
"I am a woman and as a woman, I am not supposed to be aggressive. I won't
try to find somebody who can marry me. The only thing I'm doing is just sitting
here, waiting for somebody to come to marry me. Otherwise they will take me as a
woman with a different kind of life (a "loose" lifestyle), who goes out looking for
I'm not able to estimate how long I will be single. It depends on the man.
We women always wait for men to come. So now I am waiting for anybody who can
come to propose to me. So it will depend on that. I will need to have some time to
try to know the man through other people who know him very well. I can only wait
until somebody comes and I can't tell you how long that will be."
Older women who are single also yearn to remarry but it is common to hear of
them turning down proposals. One reason is that they feel they are too old to perform
the chores expected of a wife and thus would be viewed as a bad wife and
disrespected. Another reason is that they fear being hurt by a man who will just stay
with them for a short time and then leave, never to return. If they have any wealth,
they fear being used by a man who doesn't care about them personally. While it is
lonely and difficult to be single, for elderly women this can be better than the
consequences of remarrying.
Luisa often talks about how sad she is to be single. With such a yearning to
have a husband, I was at first surprised to hear that she turns down proposals. The
closer we became I better understood her reasons for turning men away.
"I always say that I am suffering, I am poor, because I am unmarried. I don't
have a husband. I have food and other things I need for my life. But there is one
thing I don't have which is the most important. That is, having a man. I should be
married by now. I think that I won't be married again because I am old. This
worries me a lot.
If I were married there would be a lot of changes. For instance, I would have
a new house built. 1 would have new clothes. I would be buying items and my
husband would also be buying items. He would buy a mat and I would also buy my
mat. We would be developing our house together.
For me, it is now too late to marry again because lam not able to do certain
chores such as pounding maize. It is a heavy task for me. It is very difficult to tell if
the man is lazy or not. You only find this out when you are living with him. Certain
people might tell you that he is very lazy but you cannot be certain of that. You will
only know that when he comes to live with you.
When the men come and propose to me, I don't say, "No, I don't want to
marry you." I only say that I am sick, that I have a disease which never ends. I
would love to marry but when the men come, I just tell them lies, that I had an
operation. In fact I did have an operation but that is not the problem. What I don't
want to happen which makes me suffer, is to have a man who will come and only
stay for a week. That happened to me often. It is not good for this to happen now in
my life. Now that lam old, people would say, "She is old and she accepts men. She
still wants to marry." People won't take me as a serious person and I don't think it is
healthy for me. Also, men take me as a woman who has money. Whenever they
come they say that they have some business to do and that they must go and sell their
items. But when they return, they don't bring me any money. They say I have
money so I have to buy the sauce, I have to buy the clothes, even for him. I don't
think this is good. Iam the one who still suffers. I think that it is better for me to
suffer being single.
Iam afraid of being left alone because Iam old. Men will come to marry me
and I can accept them. But later on, they will say that I am old or they won't say it
but they will just leave. That is a problem. I also think that I am very old. I am too
old to marry. There is no one who will come to marry me the way I am and stay with
me for a long time."
I just think that today, no serious men want to marry. Any man who comes
here only wants to say that he had sex with me and that's it. He will only stay for
two or three weeks and then is gone. I don't think this is good. Sometimes a man
might bring a disease and live with me and then he leaves. That is why I am avoiding
In the past things were very different. Probably because there were more men
and fewer women. Men were more serious than now. They came seriously to marry
and then stayed a long time. In fact, some of then died when there were old while
still with their wife. But today things are very different. Men do not do things the
way they did them in the past. Sometimes they will leave a wife here and go away to
marry someone else, never to return. The woman here will think that he is her
husband but then he will just come to get his items and then leave. It is a problem."
Polygamy is fairly common today. It is difficult to determine whether it's
occurrence has increased or decreased since independence. Due to the loss of men
during the war, high inflation and an increase in female headed households, it seems
that there would be fewer polygamous relationships today. However, the responses
gave no clear indication either way. Polygamy is primarily practiced by the Moslems
although Christians and others can also found in polygamous households.
The reasons why a man marries more than one wife are numerous. Some
husbands are not satisfied with the behavior of their first wife, he or she may be
infertile, the husband may fall in love with another woman but not want to divorce his
first wife, or a husband may get angry that his wife is having an affair and then take a
I have not yet met a woman in a polygamous marriage who is happy with the
situation. Most women stay quiet and put up with the situation as their options are
limited. Some women take advantage of their ability to divorce their husbands but
often find themselves in a worse economic situation. Stories are told of young wives
giving special medicine to the older wife to kill her so as to inherit her possessions but
I was not able to confirm any of these myself.
The wives in a polygamous marriage do not live in the same house nor are
they neighbors. They tend to live quite far from one another and have little to do with
each other. Jealousy among the wives is very common, especially regarding their
possessions. By living apart, they don't know exactly how much their husbands are
giving to each wife yet they hear stories from friends. As each wife generally has her
own machamba, there can also be problems regarding how much time he helps on
Asidona was in a polygamous relationship with her second husband. The
marriage did not last long, but not because he was a polygamist. He divorced her
because he was being threatened by her former husband. Asidona's father was also a
polygamist and had four wives. When we first spoke she was still married. "There
is a problem because there are three of us wives. He doesn't come to any one wife
very often. He tries to divide his time. We wives know one another but do not come
into conflict because we live far from one another. One lives in town, the other lives,
very far away, in fact she lives at that mountain there, and I am here.
I wonder why men like having more than one wife because we ladies try to do
our best to please them. But they are never pleased. They always want to have a
different woman around. I don't think there is any possibility of changing this. We
can just keep quiet and let them do what they want.
I don't see anything good in polygamy because today, the man is usually not
able to pay for what we need. If he is to buy capulanasfor us, he needs to buy one
capulana for each of us. I will be very jealous to see him giving the other capulana to
the other wife. That's why I don't see it is good because what could belong to you
will be given to others, sort of shared.
In the past it was common, men having multiple wives and living together.
Today it doesn't happen. We easily get angry. We cannot cope with another woman
sleeping with our husband. It is a problem."
While women don't desire to be in polygamist relationships, if a woman feels
that her husband would satisfy her economic needs, being a second or third wife is
often preferable to being single. Luisa and I talked about whether she would marry a
polygamist. "If there came a polygamist, I would accept him. I would just assume
that the way he treats his other wives would be the way that he would treat me. If he
is able to take care of two wives, he should also be able to take good care of me,
without problems. Instead of being jealous she would try to, "take heart, to be
courageous, to contain my feelings. I would expect him to do for me what he has
done for the other wife. If he buys a goat for one of the wives, he might buy a pig
Akima, an elderly woman who has been married to the same man all of her
life in a monogamous relationship and who is Christian comments, "My husband
looks at me and sees that I am old. He might think of getting another wife. Since we
got married he has never thought of getting another wife. If my husband marries
another woman, I will just keep quiet, provided that she takes care of me and my
children. If she gives us food and all the little things we need. So I'll just stay there
and let him do whatever he wants."
"I think men have affairs because they rely on themselves. They work and
earn money which they can give to a lover. They want lovers because they say a
person should have a variation of food. He eats rice and then later he eats potatoes
and its like this with sex. When he has sex only with his wife, he gets fed up and
wants a change. That is why he goes to other women. Its like when a person sings,
they don't like to just sing one song over and over again." (Suzana, a married mother
of two in her early twenties)
"Some young married women have sex with other men because they imitate
their husband and also because the men they have affairs with are richer than their
husband and thus they can get items that they need. Usually a woman has one lover
and the second man she has is her husband. The affairs are done secretly, on the sly.
If your husband comes to discover that you are having an affair, he may kill you. But
marriage is a very good thing because you are relaxed. If there is a capulana that your
husband bought for you, you wear it without fear. If he bought fish you prepare and
eat it without worrying. If these items are from your lover, you feel you need to hide
them and you fear that your husband will suspect you are having an affair. Even
though you get lovers, you know that having a husband is a good thing." (Asidona)
"It is common for women to have affairs. You'll find women telling their
husbands that they are going to the machamba. And when they go there, they have
affairs with other men. There are women who do not do that but they are few in
Marital affairs are extremely common today. The main reason so many more
women are involved in affairs today is due to economic hardships and the enticement
of getting food, clothing or other needed and desired items from their lovers. While
both single and married women have affairs primarily for economic reasons, married
women may also do it to get back at their husband if they hear that he is sleeping with
All of the women I discussed this with, even those involved in an affair, say that this
is a bad aspect of their society and something that needs to change. There is nothing
concrete to indicate that the increasing trend of marital affairs is expected to change.
The issue of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) was never mentioned in our
discussion about affairs. This should be of great concern as with the end of the war,
there is an increase in the number of people passing through the area, some from
regions known to have a high incidence of STDs.
Marital affairs are impacting society in many ways. A man's earnings which
his family counts on for basic items such as food and clothing, are often diluted as he
also buys goods for his lover. Knowledge of a spouse having an affair brings a great
deal of pain and anger to relationships. Many divorces are blamed on affairs,
increasing the number of single female headed households and the level of poverty
among women as they struggle to generate income. Women's increased involvement
in generating income is influencing traditional gender roles. The women interviewed
say that there is a definite increase in prostitution in the bairros and the villages and
affairs may have contributed to this. Marital affairs may also be influencing the
increase in pre-marital affairs and illegitimate children. The fabric of society is no
longer tightly woven and marital affairs are playing a significant role in the
While both married men and women are involved in affairs, when caught, the
consequences are much worse for the women. Elena shares, "For us women, if we
have an affair publicly, this will be heard by our husband and he may be very angry
and even kill us. For men, they don't hide their affairs because they are not afraid."
Her friend adds, "Women are afraid that one day their husband will learn that they
have a lover and they fear that their husband may go and stab their lover with a knife
or go and get special medicine to kill the wife in which both the husband and lover
would lose out. I am afraid that the day my husband would see me with another man,
he will leave me."
It is more common for married men to have an affair than married women.
Elena talks about how married men don't approach married women to be their lover
very often because the man will be afraid of the woman's husband. "Since lam
single, it is very easy for me because even when a lover has a wife at home, he can
come directly to my house while when you are married, a man can only admire you
from a distance and not talk to you directly. But if you are walking to town and you
meet this man on the way, he will stop you and tell you that he needs you to be his
lover but that he is afraid of your husband."
But Elena's friend who is married talks about how easy it is for a married
woman to meet lovers and ways that she can keep it a secret from her husband. "On
the path, if a man likes me, he will then stop me and greet me. Like yesterday,
remember the man that I spoke to near Chiponde? When he shook my hand, he put
his fingers in my palm to express that he was interested in sleeping with me. A man
can also put a small note in the woman's hand which says that he would like to have
an affair with her. Then after reading the note, you tear it into pieces or bum it. For
the people who don't know how to read, they only meet along the paths and agree on
when they can meet to have sex. The man can propose to his lover that they meet in a
secret place so that the woman's husband will not know about the affair. The woman
would then tell her husband that she needs to go to the latrine as this tends to be
something that can take a long time. Then she will meet her lover and tell him that
they must make love very quickly. At this time the husband is a home eating while
his wife "goes to the latrine". Another thing that women say is that they are going to
fetch water at the tap. On the way, they go to meet their lover. Then she will fetch
water on her way home. We don't have sex all the time with our lovers. There is a
time to have sex and a time to chat. We schedule a time to go and chat when we
know that our husbands have gone out to meet such and such a person. We take
advantage of this time to go and meet our lover. If we have some food to prepare, we
will prepare it and take it to our lover and just visit with one another."
Asidona has had a number of lovers. "The best time to have affairs is when
the grass is growing. When the bush is burned, it is not easy to find a lover. It is not
easy to go without having affairs because we are used to it. If you want to have sex
with your lover, you go into the bush. Whenever women are gathered, we talk about
men. Some of us say, "Today I saw my lover," and another will say, "This capulana
lam wearing was given to me by my lover." In order to hide the affair from our
husbands, when my lover comes, it is my girlfriend who calls me to tell me that he
has come. Your friendship can last three or four years. Sometimes you even bear a
child with him.
I like men from town. It's easy because most of them have their machambas
outside of town in areas like here. Sometimes when they come to trade goods for
maize, they ask us if we are married and I say that I am not married. Sometimes you
really fall in love with a man and he gives you some money."
When a married woman receives goods from her lover, she will commonly
take them to her mother's home. When her husband gives her money, she will fetch
the items and tell him that this is what she bought with the money.
A Woman's Role As A Mother
"What I like most in life is getting married. And then, having a baby. When I
get pregnant and have a baby, people look at me differently. So I have more dignity.
I want to have as many children as possible. Many people like having many children
because if you don't have a child or if you only have a few, people will take you as a
poor person. There is no dignity. You're not viewed as a person who has got the
inner power to produce. If you fall sick, things will not go well. You won't have
anybody else to help you. If you have many children, they can do much of the
domestic work." (Celia, eighteen and married without children, living in a village
fifteen km. from town)
"I didn't plan how many children I should have. I only think that the more
children I have, the more respect I will get and the children will help me with my
work. If a woman has no children, people will not respect her. And I think that if I
have many children, some of them might find a job and then they can help me in the
future. I think / will never say that I have enough children. I would love it if I keep
on bearing children. It is very good to see them when they are grown and they try to
maintain their lives on their own. I know that some of my children might be thieves,
but there will be some of them who will be good and those are the ones who will
assist me." (Madalena, married to a village chief)
"I would like to only have four children. This is because of the high cost of
living. I won't be able to support all of them. This is my thought and my wish. I
haven't told my husband." "Other women want to have more than five or ten
children, probably because of their economic possibilities. They can easily support
their children. But for me it is very difficult. Even if I was living in the village, I
wouldn't want to have more than four children." (Monica, nineteen years old and
married with three children living on the edge of town)
"In the bairros, in the public's opinion it is good to have many children
because they help with a lot of work in the house. They start when they are small and
seven year old children are already able to sustain themselves, making small business,
selling firewood." (Julia, a teacher and single mother of seven in town)
"If a woman can't give birth, her husband will look for another wife who can
give him children. Men don't want to waste their blood. Its the same as preparing
the land. You prepare the soil then plant the seeds and afterwards you have no yield.
The man doesn't want it like that." (Catarina, married mother of two living in the
Bearing children is of tremendous importance in this society. Much of a
woman's self-image revolves around her being able to bear and raise children. It's
very important to "show the world that you are able to bear a child." The number of
children that a woman bears does not seem to be all that important to her reputation,
as long as she bears a few. The actual number is more important to the woman
herself. Most women want to have many children so that they can help with the
chores and can provide for them in their old age. Children are viewed as providing
parents and especially a woman with assistance in maintaining life. Women in town
and occasionally women in the bcdrros will say that they want to limit the number of
children they bear. These women feel that it is too difficult economically to raise a
large number of children. This sentiment was not echoed by women in the villages.
Infertility is generally blamed on the woman and she is spoken of badly. A
married woman who has not had a child by the time she is in her mid-late 20s will be
viewed with disgrace. She is viewed as not respecting her husband and as a woman
who sleeps with many men. Some believe that her infertility is caused by mixing
sperm from different men,"destroying the whole process."
If a couple is not able to procreate, they generally go to a traditional healer in
order for him/her to determine which of them is infertile. If it is determined that the
woman is infertile, there is medicine that she can take but there is none available for
men. If they still can't conceive, they will likely divorce or the man will marry an
additional wife. If both the man and woman are diagnosed as being infertile, they are
likely to remain together.
It seems that the war and difficult economic times have weakened children's
ability to provide for their elderly parents. Children are still the elderly parents'
primary source of support but the confidence that they will be well taken care of, has
There does not seem to be a strong preference among women as to the sex of
their children. Generally, they say that both males and females are needed. Some
women prefer to have boys because they have more potential to produce income later
while some prefer girls because they will help with the chores and are more attentive
to taking care of their elderly parents.
Outside of town, it is difficult to find women who use modem forms of birth
control. There is almost no demand for it in the villages and the bcdrros and there has
been little if any education about it. If there is a demand, women will turn to a
traditional healer. However, it can be difficult to get medicine for birth control from a
healer as some of them do not like to interfere with "the will of God." Certain roots
are cooked and used as traditional birth control. Some medicine is known to stop
conception temporarily and other is used to permanently prevent conception.
A young married woman of mixed descent who lives in town discusses the
use of modem birth control by town women. Most women have sex before
marriage. They do not hear anything about birth control from the schools or even
from the hospital. Most of the information comes from a woman's friends and her
mother. The hospital does not allow a woman to get birth control pills if she has not
yet had a child, even if she is married. A young woman gets pills through her
mother or her friends who go to the hospital and pretend that they will be the ones
taking the pills. They then give the pills to the young woman. The mothers would
prefer that their daughters would use birth control rather than "come home with a full
stomach." Or a woman will find an illegal way to get it from the hospital.
To get an abortion, they have to do it in the hospital and they have to show a
declaration signed by their boyfriend or their husband. If they aren't available, the
woman's father must sign the declaration. A married woman would have to show the
signature of her husband before she can get an abortion."
"People at the hospital say that taking pills might be an obstacle to becoming
pregnant later. As it may cause difficulties to become pregnant later, many men are
not in favor of birth control using pills or injections. There are some women who
take birth control without the knowledge of their husbands."
Abortion was rarely discussed with women living in the villages and the
bairros. When it was discussed, women talked about trying different methods to
abort, such as drinking strong coffee. A single mother thought she was pregnant and
came to me desperately wanting help to abort the pregnancy. She asked if I had
special medicine to do this. To her and my relief, soon after we talked she found out
that she was not pregnant.
Many people believe that it is possible for other people to prevent a couple
from conceiving through mthibwe. One village woman who experienced mthibwe
explains how it works. "7 did not want to have five children. I wanted to have more
but it just happened that way. Probably it is God's will. We people, we also can
stop somebody from bearing children. It is witchcraft. In Macua it is called
mthibwe. A man goes to bed with his wife. Later, when they are asleep, another
man, the one who planned the witchcraft, comes in and lies down between the two of
you and has sex with the woman. She won't feel it and her husband won't see that it
is happening. Neither of them are aware of what happened until the man satisfies
himself and leaves. This happened to me. We tried to get some information (from a
traditional healer) and we were told that surely somebody comes at night to sleep with
Mtibwe is also used by an individual who wants to have sex with someone
but does not want it to be known by others. The individual can be either a man or a
woman. For example, a man may like a woman very much but the problem is that
she is married. Through mtibwe, it is believed that he can sneak into the house at
night and have sex with the woman. The couple may have some idea that this has
happened based on the woman's dreams or on evidence that someone has been in the
Maria, a traditional healer, mother and wife of a chief, also talks about
mthibwe. "When the person comes to your house, he will have a different face each
time to avoid being recognized. Taking medicine will help you learn who the person
is and he will stop coming because he will be afraid of being denounced." Mthibwe
can take place when a woman is pregnant and can cause her to miscarry. "If a
pregnant woman experiences mthibwe and does not go to the curandeiro (traditional
healer) for medicine, she might have a miscarriage. When the woman gets the
medicine (its in the form of a cord) from the curandeiro she has to tie it around her
abdomen. Another way to avoid mthibwe is to go to a curandeiro and then he comes
to your house with some leaves. He smashes the leaves and squeezes the juice into a
cup. He gives it to you to drink and then throws the leaves on top of your house.
Also, the woman will have to tie medicine around her abdomen. This speeds up the
time in which the woman will deliver her baby."
Based on tradition, most women want to space their babies at least two years
apart. A number of different beliefs and actions help a couple space their children.
After a baby is bom, there are many strong beliefs that the baby will get very sick and
may die if the parents do not get the baby proper medicine and if they have sex before
the "proper time". It is also believed that spacing is good for a woman's health. This
period of abstinence along with the fact that a woman breast feeds her child for about
two years helps with spacing. However, it seems to be getting more and more
difficult for a couple to abstain from sex as long as they did in the past.
The length of abstinence varies among people but it is commonly based on
when the child can walk. It is believed that a couple can have sex before this time
without causing harm to the baby if the man will wear a condom but few men will do
this. Even if a woman has sex with a lover, there will be repercussions to the baby.
If a woman suspects that her husband is having sex with other women during this
time, she will often break the rule of abstinence in hopes that her husband will not
sleep with others. This is a source of stress for women as they don't want to cause
any harm to their children yet don't want their husband to have sex with other
Luisa talks about the local beliefs about spacing children. "There is a belief
that it is good not to bear a child until after you youngest child is at least two years
old. This is to help the woman avoid having health problems. The womb of the
woman is not completely healed before two years after giving birth. The womb needs
a lot of time to return to its natural state. A woman can have problems bearing a child
before this time. The other thing is, the child that you will bear will not develop a
strong body. The child will always be suffering from diseases and won't have a
good body. Young women know that they should space their children because they
learn this through traditional education. We are told not to have sex with our
You can start having sex once the baby is grown. You know the baby is
grown by taking a piece of firewood with embers on the end and you go with it near
the child. If the child runs away from it, that means that the child has grown and that
the mother's tummy is ready to conceive again. If the child does not complain or run
away but goes near the ember and wants to hold it, that means that the child is still
small and that you had better wait until he grows before having sex. Women usually
show their child the burning firewood once the child learns to stand up on his own.
Today, women in our society do not usually wait for two years before having
sex. Sometimes they conceive just after seven or eight months. This is because the
women are very jealous of their husbands. They think that their husband might go
have sex with other women. In order to stop them from having sex with other
women, they satisfy the needs of their husband. That is why there is always
procreation going on before the child grows."
Luisa's friend who is a young mother comments, "Ididn't use the embers to
test whether my child was grown or not because I knew that he was grown because
of his mischieftiess. I came to know that it was the right time because of his
The medicine given to the baby to protect it comes in various forms and is
prepared by a traditional healer or a woman who has knowledge of this type of
medicine. The information gets passed down over time. The most popular medicine
is that of a cord made from bark that is worn around the baby's waist. Some babies
wear multiple cords as each cord contains medicine to protect the baby against a
specific illness such as headaches, stomach illnesses, malaria and from being
"contaminated" from sick people who come into contact with them. This form of
medicine can also protect die baby from witches who might make the baby sick or
take the baby away to the cemetery during the night. Cords are sometimes worn
around a baby's ankles and wrists.
Some babies are given medicine in the form of a necklace. If the parents are
very concerned or if a parent is a curandeiro, the baby may wear special and multiple
necklaces. Herbs, bark or pieces of a tree root may be sewn into a patch of fabric and
hung on the cord. For increased protection, a scale from a pangolin could be hung
from the cord. Another medicine is that of taking the grime that builds up on the
wooden pestles, mixing it with sand from different paths and then putting it into the
baby's belly button soon after the umbilical cord falls off.
Maria says that, "In the past, when you were pregnant or after you delivered
the baby, you had to use the same cup and plate whenever you ate. Even when you
were traveling you were supposed to take your cup and plate with you. But today,
the curandeiros say that was the past. You can use cups and plates that other people
use provided that you give medicine to your baby. It has become a routine. Any
woman who delivers a baby will have to give him or her medicine, even though she
may know that the child is healthy. If you don't give medicine to the baby you will
be taken as a witch. People will say that you want to kill your child. That is why I
give the medicine to my babies."
While most women living in town deliver their babies at the hospital, very few
women from the villages go to the hospital due to the distance and fear of the hospital.
Many but not the majority of women who live in the bairros go to the hospital. There
is a fairly high awareness in the bairros that women are to go to the hospital for pre-
natal check-ups and after the baby is bom, to get him or her registered and to get
vaccinations. Even though the lines for these appointments are long (one day a nurse
counted 120 women waiting), health care workers realize that most women don't visit
the hospital. One health worker estimates that the majority of people living within
five km. of the hospital get their children vaccinated. Outside this radius, only a
minority receive vaccinations. The hospital occasionally sends staff to the villages for
Most babies are delivered by traditional mid-wives or by an experienced
neighbor or relative. Maria talks about giving birth in her village which is just eight
km. from town. "For us it is very common to give birth in our homes. Sometimes
women give birth in the bush. People usually come to my house to ask me to help
them deliver the baby. Because so many people come to ask me to help them deliver
their baby, I thought of moving to another place. There is no difference between the
way women deliver babies at the hospital and in the rural areas. The only difference
is that at the hospital you are given an injection.
To cut the umbilical cord, some women take a piece of cloth and tie it around
the cord. Then two days later, they use a layer of the maize stem to cut the baby's
cord. Sometimes women feel that they should go to the hospital if the pain they are
experiencing feels very strange. Others do not go because they are afraid of giving
birth along the road as they walk to the hospital."
If the delivery becomes difficult, some people go to a curandeiro to get
medicine. If the medicine is strong, shortly after the woman takes it, she delivers the
baby. Once the umbilical cord is cut off, the woman can do any work. Some take
two days before they get back to their normal activities. Others take four days. Three
days is most common.
Some of us give otheca (traditional beer) to those who help us but the most
common thing is to not give anything because we know that tomorrow, we will be
called to help her give birth."
As with most women, Maria feels that pregnancy does not hinder a woman's
productivity. When one is pregnant, she is not held back from doing any work.
She can go to the machamba, fetch water, pound grain. I think that this activity helps
you to give birth easier."
Women are in constant contact with their babies until they are around two
years old. During this time the child is breast fed and spends a great deal of time
wrapped in a capulcma on the mother's back. Even after this age, children find great
comfort on their mother's back. If a child is crying and upset, the mother will often
place the child on her back to calm him or her down. As a new baby comes along,
the older one will display signs of jealousy for awhile but in due time learns to join
the other children. When a child is two or so, older children take on much of the
responsibility for caring for the young child. Babies are introduced to porridge after a
few months and later begin to eat shima and sauce along with breast milk.
It is very common for young children to go and live with a relative such as an
aunt. Sometimes it is because the maternal mother has her hands full and needs
assistance in raising the child. Sometimes it is because a relative has few children
herself or an elderly relative needs assistance at the house. It can be very difficult to
know the true relationships in a family.
Luisa had five children, four of whom died. Her sister gave birth many times
with various men and asked Luisa to raise some of them. "Ididn't treat these children
any different. I considered them my children. The way I approached them was the
same as I did with my birth children. My mother influenced me in this way. She told
me that I should raise other people's children because I only had one. She told me
that I was growing old. There would be a time when I would not be able to help
myself so I would need somebody else. That is why she told me to keep other
people's children. And I had to keep them with care and love as though they were my
own children. I have one of my own children and five from my sisters." She is now
raising a young girl who is a relative and whose mother died and whose father
Odete is one of the children that Luisa raised. "My mother had children very
close to one another. After each child was born, my mother was pregnant again
within two months. My aunt (Luisa) saw that my mother was not very patient with
the children as she became pregnant so quickly and that she easily beat them. So my
aunt quickly took the children when they were small, as soon as my mother got
pregnant again. With each child it was the same." Odete went to live with Luisa
when she was eight months old. When she was six, she went back to live with her
mother and then was sent to live with a different aunt for several years. She moved
back and lived with her mother until she was eleven. When her mother had her eighth
child, Luisa told her,"/ am tired of all of this. This time I won't take your child.
You will have to raise it on your own." Odete ended up having to take care of her
mother's new baby. "/ can't tell you how long I stayed with my mother because she
kept moving around. As soon as the child was bom, she went away, once here and
once there to Nacala. I thought that I should not follow my mother because I
wouldn't be able to study properly so I asked my aunt if I could stay with her.
That was 1983 when I was eleven and I stayed with this aunt until now. In
the morning we went to work in the fields and I was back at twelve noon and then I
had to go to school. She organized the time so that there was time to work on the
fields, time for school, and other days, time to make pots. But my mother never
made a time schedule so there was always work but no time to go to school.
In my aunt's house, there were seven children. One of my cousins died
during the war so there were seven. My aunt had only one son. He was a soldier in
the Soviet Union so she did not have a child of her own at home, only these other
I got used to this aunt so for me, she's my mother. I just visit my other
mother once in awhile and if she needs water I go and get it for her. My real mother
always says, "Come and stay with me now. Let's make pots together." But I can't.
I can't. I don't feel like going there and making pots with her.
I'm satisfied. My mother was the last child bom of my grandmother and she
had no experience (raising children) and no time. lam glad that I was given to my
aunt." Odete does not know her father who was killed in 1984. Renamo soldiers
stopped the car he was hired to drive and shot him. They then burned the car with
him in it.
Illnesses and Death Among Children
"I feel good and happy when I have enough food for my children and when
they are not sick. When a child is sick, the mother feels sad." (Marianna)
"There is something that we are not able to avoid- that is sickness. My
children usually are sick. That is natural. I cannot avoid that. I spend a lot of time
taking them to the hospital. Going and coming back, going and coming back. If they
are sick for two or three days that is okay. There are times when a child is sick for
three moths. That is not good. We always live in sadness. That is not the kind of
life I like. I do not like suffering. I would feel more comfortable if I had the
possibility of taking them to get treatment." (Fatima, married with three children,
living on the edge of town)
" When my child died Ijust felt that I had worked for nothing. I never thought
that somebody came to make some witchcraft or that someone had come to harm my
child. Ijust said that the death was a normal thing. They just died. Most women
expect death to come at any time. Sometimes it might be the child who will first die,
other times it is the mother or father who will die first. It is something which we
expect." (Marianna gave birth thirteen times; eight are living)
Nothing seems to make a woman sadder than when her children are sick.
Women spend a great deal of time caring for their sick children. The main illnesses
among young children today are diarrhea, malnutrition and malaria. Malnutrition is
most common among the villagers who rarely bring their children to the hospital.
They care for the child at home, hoping that the illness will pass. If the child gets
very sick, he or she will be taken to a traditional healer. There are health posts in
some villages but these are poorly stocked and rarely visited by the hospital staff. A
number of women in the bcdrros take their child to the hospital but many do not, due
to the expense and the fear of modem services.
If a child must stay at the hospital, a woman must also stay there for the entire
period. A man is not allowed to stay. There are twenty beds and four for critical
cases in the pediatric ward. The average stay is about five days but for malnourished
children and those with tuberculosis, their stay could be a couple of months. The
ward is usually quite full with patients and very active with the mothers and young
babies accompanying them. Women have to bring their own pots and supplies as
they must cook their own meals. The grass in front of the ward is generally covered
with bright cloth as the women must also keep up with their wash.
Sometimes mothers will take their children out of the hospital for an afternoon
to visit a traditional healer and then return after the treatment is completed. Sometimes
they return with a green or yellow paste around the sores and with drinks made from
herbs. As with adults, children also receive a type of vaccination from traditional
healers. The skin is cut with a razor or knife and then medicine is put into the cut
This usually leaves a raised and dark scar on the patient. This can be done in a variety
of places on the body. Some children come to the hospital to be treated for infections
from these vaccinations.
It is very common for a couple to experience the death of one or several child.
I found it difficult to find women who had never experienced the loss of a child. The
majority of the children seem to die when they are babies or toddlers. In the past,
measles was a primary culprit. Today, malnutrition and malaria are common killers.
Bronchial pneumonia kills many children who are weak from malnutrition. Most
parents don't know the exact cause of their child's death. They just say the child died
of doentes (illness). It is the same when adults die.
Rosa's experience is not at all uncommon. I gave birth fourteen times. Four
of the children are alive and ten died. Some of them died when they were learning to
sit. Some died when they were learning to walk and others died while they were
walking. The main problem was they had bumps. The bumps were on the skin and
then later inside the body. They started to vomit and then from morning until the
afternoon, the child was dying. It was the same with each child. I loved them and
my feelings were the same when each of them died. I was not understanding why
this was happening to me but later on it was explained to me. They said it was an
illness that we had. It Macua it is called nkango (measles)."
If a child dies at the hospital, the father or a neighbor is quickly contacted.
The child is then carried home. The body is wrapped in a capulana and generally
carried by the father or another man. When a baby or young child is dead, they are
no longer carried on one's back but in one's arms with another capulana spread over
the wrapped body. The mother then walks behind the man, often assisted by a couple
of friends. She is empty handed and openly wails on the journey home. Family
members, friends and neighbors are quickly contacted. Assisting others when there
is a death is a very important part of the culture.
As with deceased adults, the child's body is then prepared for burial which
could take place that same day or after a couple of days if family members have far to
travel. Many people are just buried in cloth. If they can afford it, a plain wooden
coffin is made. Moslems here are prohibited from being buried in a coffin. If cloth is
used, they try to get about seven meters of white cloth but many can only afford to
use a capulana and some must bury their dead in a sack.
Moslem women are not allowed to be present at the burial. Animists also
dont attend burials but most Christian women participate. People of all religions are
buried in the same cemeteries which are scattered among the bairros and villages.
Christian graves are marked by wooden crosses while sticks mark Moslem graves
and a small pile of rocks is placed on other graves.
People of all religions share in a similar ceremony in which direct family
members of the deceased cut or shave their hair three days after the burial. Before
they cut their hair, Christians visit the grave and put a cross and flowers on it. Some
Moslems cut their hair and some shave it but only the men visit the cemetery.
Another ceremony is held 40 days after the death. Christians gather and pray
all night and the next day visit the grave. Moslems do the same thing but put more
emphasis on preparing a lot of food for the ceremony which is a fairly festive.
Sometimes Moslems have a third ceremony later on but this is no longer very
common, especially due to economic constraints.
When a woman has a number of her children die, she will often feel as though
her time has been wasted, fears this continuing in the future and becomes wary of
bearing more children, especially with the same husband. Luisa comments on her
situation. "All of my children died when they were around two years old. The
problem was that when they were bom, they had many small bumps on their face,
around their mouth and all over their body. So they died from this disease that they
had at birth. They didn't live long. When these children were dying, Ifelt I was
spending my time for nothing. I was living with that man for nothing. I was
frustrated and thought of divorcing him. We agreed that each of us should go his
When I asked Maria if women here expect that some of their children will die
she responds, "It is only God who knows. Sometimes it is the children who die,
other times it is grown ups who die. There are women who have never had any of
their children die. There are other women who bear dead children and whose children
die when they are grown and they don't have any living children. Its not a choice of
the people. Only God chooses who is to have more children than others. There are
women who don't have any living children. When they bear children, the children
die. They go to get traditional medicine so they can bear healthy children and it
works. When they bear other children, they are healthy. There are others who take
the medicine but their children continue to die.
I have five children who are alive. Three have died. One of them was
stillborn. Another was a boy who died when he could walk. The other was a girl
and she died when she was of school age.
My daughter came home from school and complained that she had a headache.
That night she started suffering from diarrhea. I woke up and went to see her. I
talkedto her and she said she still had a headache. In the morning she had trouble
breathing. Then we gave her medicine from the hospital but it didn't work. Then we
gave her traditional medicine but this also did not work. She spent the next five days
complaining about her headaches and she was always crying. At the end of the week
she died. It has been three years since she died. She died during the war.
Among all my children who died, she is the one I miss most. She was very
respectful. When I would quarrel with my husband, my daughter would intervene
and my husband would stop quarreling. I just had to accept that my daughter died. I
think it is God who took her. If it would be possible to follow those who died, /
would follow her."
Gender Division of Labor
"God told us that there is a type of work which is for women and another type
which is for men. God said that men must build houses, open machambas and cut
trees and that women must only help their husbands. That's why God made men and
women. What men are not able to do, women should be able to do." (Rosa, a single
mother in the bairros)
"For me, almost every chore is hard or I don't really like it. If I have to
pound, my hands are sore. If I have to carry water, my head is sore. But its all
normal because every woman here has to do it. There is no alternative." (Suzana)
"Here it is very difficult to hear a woman saying, "Oh I would like to have my
husband help me with this or that", for example, carrying water, because in this area a
man is just not supposed to do that work. This thought does not even exist in the
mind of women." (Maria, a single mother employed as a teacher in town.)
"For me, a man works more than a woman. Other women say, "When my
husband and I come back from the machamba, I have to go fetch water, I have to
cook, and then I have to go wash clothes." They always complain about this but I
think men's work is very hard. What he does in an hour is what a woman can do in
three or five hours. Our tasks are lighter than the man's tasks. So I think the man
works more than the woman." (Luisa)
"We know that men work more than women because once women become
divorced, they cannot construct a house, they cannot build the containers for storing
food, they cannot cut down the trees in the machamba. That becomes very, very
difficult and we then understand that men are working more than women." (Women
in a village eight km. from town)
"We believe women work more than the men. When we return from the
machamba together, our husbands will say, "I want to take a bath." We then have to
fetch water and heat it for him. After he takes a bath, he will say, "Another thing. I
would like to have food now and then I will walk around." So we have to prepare
food for him, while he is resting, just sitting there. He eats and then goes to walk
around." (Women in village eight km. from town)
"We come to the conclusion that it is best to leave things as they are, not try to
change things. Because, you know, we might lose our husbands." (Luisa)
A woman's day is long and filled with many responsibilities. The stress of
getting enough food to feed her family and clothing them is always on her. Women
spend much more time than men each day in providing for the various needs of the
family. To most all women, it is God who has determined what work and chores
men must do and what women must do. Even if they see their husbands resting more
than they rest, they do not complain to them. A woman's responsibilities are quietly
accepted and there is rarely any talk of changing the situation.
Many women feel that life is more difficult for women because of all the
chores they have to perform. However, a number of women feel that even though
women may spend more time working, life is more difficult for men because men
have the responsibility to be the primary providers of income and because their
chores, though fewer, are not able to be accomplished by women. Besides the
economic responsibilities, men's primary chores are to prepare new machambas by
cutting down the trees, to build houses, latrines and containers for grain, and to put
new grass roofs on homes.
Even though women do more chores than men, men's chores tend to be much
more valued, both by men and women. One of the key reasons for this is because
men's work tends to produce more income. But sometimes it only appears that way.
A woman may spend much more time working on the machamba but if the man is the
one who actually sells the crops and receives the money, his involvement is highly
valued while her contribution is hardly recognized. Another reason that men's chores
are more highly valued is that most women feel that they don't have the capability to
perform men's chores such as building a house whereas men have the capability to
perform women's chores but don't do it because it is not accepted by society. It
would be very odd for a man to perform a woman's chore and vice versa. The
neighbors would talk and the couple would be looked down on. Only when his wife
is sick will a man perform a woman's chore on his own.
While Rosa accomplishes a great deal as a single mother, working alone on
her machamba and making clay pots for income in addition to performing her regular
chores, she gives little value to the contributions and potential of women. Her words
also express the obstacles that women face in trying to earn money. 7 am not happy
for being a woman because I am now suffering. If l were a man, I would be looking
for a temporary job in order to buy clothes. Suppose there is a man who is asking me
to cut the trees on his machamba. How will I as a woman be able to do that? But if I
were a man, I would go and do that. On the machamba, men work more than
women. In terms of making money, men can easily do it because they are never lazy.
If a woman goes to look for a temporary job, suppose I go to someone's machamba
to work, the owner will measure an area for me to work. Before starting to work, I
will complain and say,"This is a big area. I won't be able to complete all of this
work." If it is a man, he won't complain about the work. The woman then ends up
by asking for a smaller area than was originally assigned to her which is worth very
Suzana, a twenty-two year old wife and mother of two is the only woman I
spoke to who specifically wished that there would be some change in the division of
labor. "After working on the machamba, the women have to collect firewood and
again they will have to carry their husbands' knife and hoe on the way back home.
The man will only be carrying the radio. When they arrive at home, the women go to
collect water, they have to cook lunch, and they have to prepare water for the man to
take a bath. During that time, the man will only be sitting somewhere, waiting for his
wife to come back from her chores. While we work together with our husbands on
the machamba, we women also have to cook and wash dishes there. I would like to
see these things be different. I would like to see things improve. 1 would like to see
husbands help their wives do some of these chores. For example, now that lam
winnowing the maize, I would like to see my husband cook the sauce."
In discussing chores, women rarely mentioned the time they invest in
activities such as processing the crops from the machamba or in caring for their
children and for the sick, and assisting with funerals. These activities demand a great
deal of a woman's time yet are given little if any recognition. Illnesses are very
common and if a woman is sick and Can't perform her chores, other women often
help out by doing chores such as fetching water, taking care of her children and
cooking for her in addition to her own chores. When a neighbor or family member
dies, women help out the family of the deceased with a variety of chores. If a
woman's child is sick and is taken to the hospital, it is demanded that a woman must
stay at the hospital for the entire visit, even if it is weeks.
Women's work is critical to the survival of her family. While most of her
time is devoted to this, her work is largely taken forgranted. Her value is determined
much more by the type of wife she is and by the children she has rather than by her
"1 feel that life now is very difficult. Everyday we need money but we don't
know where to get it from. If we have 3,000 mt. (10,500 mt. = US$1.00), it is not
enough even to get some food for your family, even for yourself. We women who
have got many children, we are really suffering." (Akima, an elderly married woman
whose husband is employed at the hospital in town.)
"There are two things that I like least and those are poverty and hunger. I
don't like going from house to house to ask for food. I hate that. That takes away
my dignity. Also, people don't see me as a mature person. I become a child, a mad
person." (Wife of a village chief)
" What we talk about most when we are together is how the life that we are
experiencing today is very hard. We are facing many difficulties in our lives.
Women always think about this. That's why most women are motivated to develop a
business because from that business, we can take care of our children. If a woman
sits and just depends on her husband, her husband can run away from the house
because he cannot support his family. That's why most of the women are always
working, selling firewood, such as the women from the countryside. Also, the local
women from the town are making cakes and selling them in order to help their
husbands. If they won't help them, they will be facing some problems. We can find
unmarried women living alone but they are thinking about how to begin a new life
with another husband. They think, 'What am I going to do if l get married in order to
help my husband?"' (Ana, divorced school teacher living in town)
The economic atmosphere today presents a mixture of abundance and scarcity,
hope and gloom. Trading activity is bustling compared to the years after
independence when the trading and transportation networks collapsed with the flight
of the rural traders and the war. With few buyers and few items available in the
shops and markets, there has been little incentive to produce a surplus. Today,
increased security is encouraging people to return home and focus on fanning
activities, agricultural markets are growing, the stores are stocked with goods,
infrastructure such as transportation and communications is improving, and schools
and health posts are starting to be rebuilt.. But in the midst of all this, the primary
concern expressed among the women is that of the economic hardships they currently
face. High inflation has eroded the value of their meager incomes and structural
adjustment policies have introduced fees for services such as health care, education
and even access to water at community wells. They feel that it is increasingly difficult
While the man still holds the primary responsibility for generating income,
many women, both married and single, feel a need to look for additional ways to
generate income for their families. Increased financial pressures along with past
socialist policies that supported women entering the formal sector and the increase in
female headed households are making it more acceptable for women to earn income
outside of the family farm. Increasingly, women are turning to petty trade and the
informal sector. However, numerous social attitudes continue to limit the options for
women and to increase the overall burden of work that they face.
During the colonial period, family farming was almost the only work
opportunity available to women. Only men were expected to produce income outside
the work on the machamba. It was however, acceptable for women to sell fruits and
In reflecting on the past, all of the elderly people I spoke to claimed that
economically, life was much easier in the past. This may be a matter of one seeing
the past through rose colored glasses but it is clear that people face an increased need
for cash today and that especially among the younger generation, there is an increased
desire for manufactured goods. As one elderly woman remembers, "We supported
ourselves by the work on the machamba. People were helping each other at that time.
People did not suffer to buy food and things that were used at home such as clothes,
salt, sugar and everything else. But now we are facing serious problems in life.H
The oldest woman I interviewed also woman reflects on the past. "Life was
good when / was young and during the Portuguese rule. Now it is not good. Today
life is hard. We don't have enough money to buy clothes. Also, people are sick,
always, because of witchcraft. In the past it was very difficult to find people
suffering, dying like they are today. People today cannot go five days without
hearing that there is a death. Now what is causing this trouble that we are facing
nowadays? I don't know." Another women feels that,"Life was easier during the
colonial times than now. We didn't need a lot of money for making expenditures.
We just needed a little. With three metacais you could buy a capulana and many
clothes. If you were married you had to take care of your husband, cook for him,
fetch some water for him to take a bath, and do whatever a woman is supposed to do
at her house before her husband. I feel that life now is very difficult. Every day we
need money but we don't know where to get it. And if you have 3,000 mt. for
example, it is not enough even to get some food for your family, even for yourself.
We women who have many children, we are really suffering."
Independence and Frelimo's Impact
At independence in 1975, at least in rhetoric, Frelimo expressed it's
commitment to the emancipation of women. It held the position that women should
enter the waged labor force to gain equality through their formal contribution to the
nation's productive efforts. With this stance, Frelimo's need to quickly fill the
economic void left by the flight of the Portuguese and to fulfill their ambitious
economic goals, Frelimo began to actively involve women in the economy.
In Cuamba, agricultural, artisanal and other cooperatives were formed and
women were encouraged to join them. The tremendous demand for teachers and
health workers provided women who had received formal education with employment
opportunities. The few local businesses and industries also provided some
opportunities for women to work as secretaries and laborers. But by 1982, when the
national economy was in a severe crisis, employment opportunities became scarce and
many of the cooperatives disbanded. Fortunately, the recognition and acceptance of
women playing an active role in the economy had been established. While there was
little immediate opportunity, doors and minds had been opened.
The Agricultural Sector
"What I like most is just what many people like. It's production. Going with
your hoe, tilling the land and harvesting good crops and then eating them and keeping
life moving." (A married village woman)
"We are only working on the machamba, not because we like it but because
we don't have another way of earning money. If we had something else to do, we
would have given up on the machamba." (A mother and grown daughter, living
thirteen km. from Cuamba in a small cluster of family homes near their farmland)
" What I most like doing is working on my machamba because I know that the
machamba is the source of whatever I need, money or food." (Elena, married and in
her forties, living in a village)
The economic base of the District of Cuamba, as in most of Mozambique, is
small holder agriculture. Most women living in the villages and bairros are
subsistence farmers. Their primary objective is to grow enough maize to feed their
family throughout the year and to produce enough surplus to generate cash for
necessities such as clothing.
Villagers depend on their machambas as their primary and for many, their
only source of income. With few other options available to them due to their distance
from the economic center of Cuamba and their lack of formal education, experience
and skills, men and women tend to invest similar amounts of time in cultivating
crops. People living in the bairros depend more on other income generating activities
than villagers but the production of the machamba is still critical to the survival of
most households. Men in the bairros are more likely to obtain part-time and
occasionally full time employment thus the primary responsibility of cultivating the
machambas falls to their wives. Few men and women living right in town do any
manual labor on their machamba. Some town women are involved in activities such
as hiring laborers and selling the crops.
While women often say they enjoy working on the machamba (e.g. the
productive feeling that it brings them) and could not imagine not having and working
at least occasionally on a family farm, women from all economic levels agree that it is
the most difficult and time consuming work of all. The women would prefer not to
depend so much upon this type of work and to mix it with other income generating
Monica, a nurse at the district hospital who is in her thirties and lives just
outside of town says, "Ifeel that I -work less than someone who works on the
machamba because these people leave early in the morning for the machamba without
eating any breakfast and sometimes they cannot even eat lunch or they can only eat a
piece of dried cassava. They will go on working up until sunset. Someone who is
working for the government is working in the shade and sometimes the job offers
breakfast or if not, you earn money and can have breakfast at home. Someone
working on the machamba works more. They have little time to rest. After they have
prepared and plowed the machamba, they have to sow the seeds. Then they have to
take care of the plants. And then they have to harvest their crops. After that they
have to prepare some place where they can keep their produce."
Akima is an elderly woman who lives near town. Her husband works as a
servant at the hospital and she is solely responsible for cultivating the food on the
machamba which is located a couple of hours outside of town by foot. It is becoming
difficult for her to make the journey but she continues to as they depend on this food
and cannot afford to hire workers. "This is suffering, to be dependent on the
machamba. People who did not study when they were young, are suffering now by
depending on the machamba. If we could start with formal education when we are
young, then I don't think that we would be so dependent on the machamba. We
would be depending on other kinds of activities. To cultivate the land is suffering
because we waste a lot of energy. We use a lot of energy for a small return. There is
no help. No tractors, no other mechanisms or facilities for making a machamba. We
are only depending on our own power. It is not easy. That is why people are
cultivating a small machamba instead of a big one. Then they get a part-time job in
order to supplement what they get from the machamba."
The primary season for cultivating crops is from October through April.
Villagers, whose machambas tend to be close to their homes and larger than those of
bairro dwellers, can be found doing at least some work on the machamba throughout
the year. Most people in the bairros tend to engage in other activities during the dry
There is a general division of labor on the machambas between men and
women but it is common for both to perform many of the tasks together. One villager
shared, "In my family we don't have that use of dividing duties. We all do the same
thing. We weed together, we plow together, we sow together and we harvest
together." But typically men spend more time preparing the land by cutting trees and
clearing bush. While both men and women sow and hoe, these are viewed more as
the women's responsibility. Both men and women harvest the crops. Transporting
the harvest to the house is primarily the woman's task. Traditionally, men do not
transport food unless it is in a vehicle or on a bicycle to which most do not have
access. It is acceptable for both men and women to sell their produce but it is more
common for men to do the actual selling and to receive the payment.
A woman from a village twelve km. from town describes how the selling
process commonly works. There is nothing that we do to earn money other than
working on the machamba. We can only have trust in our harvest which we sell to
get money. We don't sell all of what we harvest. We divide it. We leave one part
for consumption and the other part for selling. Who sells it depends on the person
who is need. If its a woman who wants to buy something, she goes and sells some
maize or the sorghum. If its a man, he sells some of it. Over time, we use up the
money that we received from selling our harvest. Then we will need money for things
like salt, soap and other small items. This is when the one who is in need goes to sell
the product. Usually we have to carry the maize and the beans to town to try to find
someone to buy it. Usually ICM (Cereals Institute of Mozambique) buys our
products so the only problem we have is transport. We don't have transport."
A villager living eighteen km. out of town says, "When we take a part of our
harvest to sell, we usually take it to town. Sometimes our clients come to buy it here.
But there are times when nobody comes looking for food so we feel forced to take the
food to Cuamba. As you can see it is a long distance. We don't have bikes, we don't
have people who can help us to carry the food so we only go by ourselves. When we
take our products to Cuamba, we usually go to the market. We sit there at the market
and then we wait for the clients. If no one comes to buy our products, we remain
there. We sleep there until the next day, until we find somebody to buy our products.
We also sell it to ICM (, if ICM has money. There are times when ICM is bankrupt
so we just go to the market. Usually there is no one person who decides whether we
can go to sell something or not. It depends on the needs we have and you only give
suggestions. Either the wife or the husband can make a suggestion. But primarily,
the one who is going to sell it is the husband. The woman will only go when she
sees that her husband has gone there many times and he might be tired. So she helps
her husband go and sell the product."
Some women complain that after selling the crops, their husbands will collect
the money and keep it. "After we harvest the crops, we go and sell it and the money
remains with the men. The real problem is that, why does the man, while he goes to
the city and sells the product, keep the money to himself? He doesn't give it to his
wife, the one who was making money on the machamba, while we were working
together there. We are working together with the men." "...once we sell the
products, he takes all the money. Why? And when we send him to buy clothes for
us in the shops, he says that the amount he spent on the clothes was a lot because he
says that the clothes were very expensive and he brings to you a smaller amount of
money. That's what he says. And he keeps more money in his pocket. That's why
we say that the man is the one making money."
For the many women in the bairros and nearby villages who are responsible
for the production of the machamba, the task can be quite burdensome. Even if their
husbands are not working, their proximity to town means that the men often spend a
great deal of time looking for work and "strolling" around town, leaving the women
alone on the machamba. Even with a long commute to the machamba they are still
expected to see that all of the domestic chores are done, leaving them with very little
time to rest. When the commute is more than a couple of hours, the women will often
spend from a week to a month at the machamba. They have to coordinate the upkeep
of the home so that the husband is cared for while they are away. If they are lucky,
they have an older child to care for the chores of the house. At the machamba they
set-up a temporary home which is generally a crude shelter with some basic supplies
for food preparation. If they have a baby, they will take the baby with them and may
bring an older child or relative to watch the baby while the women work. Sometimes
older children will help with the farming but the work often interferes with the school
During the growing season, there is little time available to engage in other
income generating activities, making the single women especially vulnerable. Also,
there are many things that can interrupt a woman's work on the machamba. Illness
especially impacts a woman's productivity on the machamba.
Celia, a 37 year old mother of eight lives just outside the center of town. Her
husband works at the hospital and she is responsible for the family's three acre
machamba which is a three hour walk from their home. "Isay that lam responsible
for the machamba because most of the time lam there, sometimes for two to three
weeks at a time, while my husband just goes there to visit us. During the harvest
period he would also come to see how large a quantity of maize we cultivated. I used
to work on the machamba at the mountain and also at my rice farm. For the last two
years, I didn't grow rice because I had many problems. Two of my sisters and one
of my nephews died. My mind wasn't well enough to work on both farms."
After a hard day's work on the machamba, women are expected to perform all
of the domestic chores at home while the men rest or go visit their friends or other
women. While they may not express their frustrations to the husband, many women
shared them with me. A village woman shared a common scenario. "Once we go to
the machamba, we return together and go home. Before the wife sits down, the
husband will say, "I want to take a bath." We then have to go fetch water and prepare
it for him to take a bath. After he take a bath, he will say, "Another thing, I would
like to have food now and then I will walk around. So we have to prepare food for
him while he is sitting there." Women in another village shared this example, "If men
and women go to the machamba, they can cultivate the land together. Then, when
coming back from there, the wife has to carry some firewood on her head and on her
shoulder she carries her hoe and her husband's hoe. On her back she has to carry the
child. Maybe she is pregnant and has to carry that in the front. While the man is only
carrying the radio in his hand."
The Informal Sector
"Today business is very common. Women very much mingle with this thing
of doing business. Its because our money is kind of useless today. You can have a
lot of money but if you want to buy something, you have to use a lot of money,
sometimes the whole amount of what you have. The money our husbands make is
not sufficient to live on. So we are forced to do some kind of part-time work, selling
small things to survive.11 (Memune, a single mother of three, living five km. from
"During the war, the number of women doing business was reduced. But
now it is increasng because of freedom. It is good because we know that we are
surviving only because of that money. Even married women doing some business is
not bad. It is good because she is helping her husband in order to improve their lives.
Women do this kind of work because they know that this is the period in which we
are facing difficult problems in getting money to help out the household. That's why
they have to work hard." (A woman living on the edge of town)
Outside of agriculture, micro-enterprise activities in the informal sector is the
most popular form of income generation for all women in the district. The number of
women involved in informal business activities has grown steadily since
independence and some women have noticed a rapid increase in recent years. The
primary reason given for getting involved in such activities is that women want to
help their husbands get cash to provide for the needs of the family as everything is so
expensive now. For many, it is a matter of sheer survival and for others, they are
wanting to improve their conditions, especially as they see new products available in
the town. The increase in female-headed households accounts for many of the
women who have become involved in business.
Most of the business activities are related to the women's domestic skills, and
they tend to do activities that allow them to work at home so they can care for their
children and do their chores. Also, husbands prefer their wives to work at home as
they become very suspicious of their wife's behavior if she is spending a lot of time
away from the house. Few of the businesses have capital or equipment of value. The
primary input is the woman's labor. Very few women run their business on a regular
schedule due to numerous interruptions and distractions.
A woman's commitment to the production on the machamba means that she
has to schedule her business activities around this work. Many micro-enterprise
entrepreneurs reduce or stop their activities during the key cultivation months. Other
interruptions include a high incidence of illness and pregnancy. Women often
complain of being sick and unable to work. Many women receive assistance from
older children or relatives but when it comes to caring for young children, this is
primarily their responsibility and demands a great deal of their time and attention.
Most women breast feed until the child is around eighteen months old so the child is
never far from them. Social obligations such as assisting with funeral ceremonies
also take a lot of a woman's time and cannot be planned for or easily scheduled to fit
around a woman's business activities.
Many of the women's income-generating activities are seasonal. For instance,
selling specific fruits and vegetables takes place during certain times of the year, grass
is sold during the dry season and frozen juices are sold during the hot months.
There are no organizations or technical schools that provide any kind of .
training or support to the women. The closest thing to an organization providing
skills training is the sisters at the Catholic Church teaching women how to crochet.
Traditional skills such as pottery making and brewing are passed from mother to
daughter and sometimes women teach each other such skills.
Women generally work independently of each other. They may have people
help them such as in making and selling the local beer or pounding clay for making
pots, but these are not partnerships or cooperatives. The assistance is sporadic and
the people assisting are paid in product or money. There are no organized
cooperatives in the area. Cooperatives that were started in the early 1980's did not
last long due to problems with theft, mismanagement and lack of interest. In 1987,
the Norwegian government started a women's cooperative in Cuamba called Micro
Textiles. The women were taught to make thread and blankets using the local cotton.
The shops were bare of most goods during the war, so there was sufficient demand
for their products. By 1991, the cooperative was closed down. The Norwegians
stopped funding the project and it could not run on its own due to inadequate funds,
theft, high cotton prices and poor management.
While there are some similarities in the activities that women from the villages,
bairros and the town engage in, there are also vast differences, especially in the
opportunities available to diem.
Income Generation Activities Among Village Women.
Women in the villages feel they have few options for generating income
besides the work on the machamba and even this they see as being much more
difficult for providing sufficient income than it was in the past. Many of them would
like to do some kind of income generating activity but they don't have any ideas of
what they could do. There is more opportunity in the villages located within ten km.
from town as the women can cany items to sell there but further away, few
opportunities exist as there is basically no market for their products or services in the
villages. It is difficult and costly to get transportation to town.
A woman in her forties, living in a village just five km. out of town shares
how difficult it is to earn money. "/ never did any business in the past but today I am
forced to do that. I am selling wood. This morning I went to cut some fresh wood
and then I placed it in the sun at my house. Iam intending to take this wood to town
to sell it. I am doing this because of suffering. Today I am suffering a lot. I don't
have any soap or clothes. I'm trying to get enough money to get what I need for at
least a short period. My husband doesn't have any way to bring in any money. The
only thing we can do is sell the products we have. We usually sell part of our harvest
to get money. Now is the period when we don't have any possibility of selling the
food we have grown because we have to keep it for ourselves. So what we do now
is sell wood."
A group of women in a village about fourteen km. from town were asked
what women there do to earn money. "There is nothing other than working on the
machamba." "We see that there is no way to improve our conditions. According to
our geographical situation, we are usually deprived of many things. Even getting a
temporary job is not something you can get here. So we are only sticking to working
on the machamba and it is not something you can trust, this is the suffering.
Sometimes you don't have enough rain and your harvest is poor. So there is no way
we can improve our conditions."
A mother and daughter living eighteen km. from town comment, "We aren't
influenced from city life nor do we have the kinds of activities and jobs done in town.
If the people in town want to make some business such as selling small things like
those small cakes that they make, it is easy for them because they can easily go and
sell it, they can easily go to buy cooking oil, they easily take action to develop any
business that they have in mind. As for us, everything is difficult. If we want oil,
we will have to walk all the way to town then when we return we will have to make
those cakes and then with this heat, on the way back to town the cakes might rot. So
it is a problem. We will just be bankrupt."
Selling Firewood Probably the most common income generating activity
among the women in villages close to town is selling firewood. This activity is
popular as there is no need for investment money and the women tend to have
relatively easy access to the wood. The people in town and in the bairros have a
difficult time obtaining wood so there is a strong demand for it. There are specific
locations at the main markets where firewood is sold. The work is time consuming,
brings in little money and can be very strenuous.
Women in a village just seven km. out of town explain, "(W)e think a good
idea is to fetch the firewood and take it to the city, at Mannanica market. We sell it
there and if we make three or four more trips there, we get enough money to buy
some bananas or sugarcane around our village here and then we take these items to
the city to sell them. If we do this kind of business, we will not run out of money.
This is commonly done. If we need help, we can take our three children and have
each of them take a load of firewood and we can make enough money each day.
How much we carry depends on the physical condition of the person. If the person is
fit for carrying a load worth 6,000 mt. ($J5) or 7,000 mt. (a very large load), they
can carry that. The children can carry loads worth 2,000 mt.."
Paid Agricultural Work Working part-time on others' machambas is also a
common way for village women to earn income. People from the town and bairros
often hire people living near their machambas to help cultivate the land. The payment
can be cash or goods such as clothing, basic household items and food. Sometimes
villagers will hire each other and then the payment is usually in food such as maize
Some men don't like their wives to do this type of work as it makes them feel
ashamed but many accept it. The main problem is that it takes time away from their
work on their own machambas. Women in a village near town explain."Constantly
and especially during this period (Nov.-Feb.) we don't have any money in the house.
We are looking for part-time work. There are many people who are coming from the
city, those who are working in the offices. They want to open their machambas and
they bring money and some goods such as soap or oil. They say, "If there are people
who want to clean or cultivate this machamba, I will mark some dimensions then I
will send him to cultivate it and then 1 will pay him. And we run up to that place in
order to plow or cultivate it for money. That's the way we get rescued."
This work is not a good thing because we find that while we are going to
cultivate another person's machamba for money, we are losing time to cultivate our
own machamba which will bring us food. It means that the quantity of product that
we might get from our machamba will be less because of the time we spend doing
part-time work on others' machambas. Husbands do not like to do this because they
don't want to lose the opportunity to walk or to stroll. Once he hears that his wife is
working part-time on someone else's machamba he gets upset because she is
spending time working there instead of on their own machamba. The husband says,
"Are you not valuing me, thinking that I am not bringing the wealth to the house?"
So we use our children in order to help us there (on others' machambas). This is our
life. Most of the women in this village are doing this work."
OtherActivities There are other activities that women in the villages do to earn
money, but none are as common as selling firewood and paid agricultural work.
These other activities often depend on the location of the village and the resources
Selling fruits and vegetables is quite popular. This is done from the women's
homes, near the road or in a common area in the village. Children and women are
especially active in selling mangoes during November and December.
Many women sell grass to make money. After the rainy season when the
grass is tall and dry, women will cut it from or near their machambas and then
announce that it is for sale. People in the bcdrros needing to make or improve the roof
on their house will go to the villages to buy the grass.
Some women make clay pots and sell and trade them within the village.
Making and selling traditional drinks such as beer and wine is growing in popularity.
These drinks used to be brewed for personal use and for special ceremonies but
recently the commercial value of them has grown and now it is more common to sell
than to share them. While comments about brewing alcohol are mainly about how it
is an active commercial activity, women in one village said,"Selling beer is very
uncommon here because most of us are Moslems. The religion has a very big impact,
so much so that we don't sell beer. Some women make pots and they trade and sell
them here in the village. Its the villagers who buy these pots. They don't carry them
outside of the village. Regarding firewood, we can't carry it to town because it is
very far, unless we have a bicycle but its unusual to see someone carrying firewood
to sell it in town."
If the village is located near a river, women may be found catching fish and
selling it fresh or drying it, even though fishing is primarily men's work. Women
often do this in a group as they tend not to own nets and need to block an area of the
river to get the fish. Women sometimes perform jobs for others' within the village to
earn money or food. Pounding maize, fetching water, and carrying sand for house
construction are a few of these jobs.
Traditional Professions One of the oldest and most commonly accepted ways
that village women earn money is by being a traditional healer (curandeira). While it
is more common for men to be healers, there are a number of women in the bairros
and especially in the villages who are healers. The healers are paid for diagnosing
illnesses and for making and dispensing traditional medicine. The problem with this
as an income generating activity is that generally, people do not choose to be a healer
but they are chosen by the spirits to be a healer.
Other professions include mid-wifery and teaching traditional education.
However, mid-wives in the villages are generally not paid in cash and often perform
their services for free. Traditional education teachers are finding their income
opportunities drying up as the demand for such education lessens. Also, such work
only occurs occasionally so cannot be considered a serious source of income.
Village women see few opportunities beyond these to earn money. They are
very open to ideas and assistance from others, but they don't see any opportunities to
generate income beyond what is already being done around them. When one group
of village women was asked if they would prefer assistance with business activities or
with their agricultural work, they said, "If they (the government or a development
agency) were to bring fertilizer or tools for the machamba or money for businesses,
we would accept the assistance for the machamba because from the machamba we
would get enough food. We are very motivated in regards to agriculture because if
we get good results from our machambas, we can have enough food. And from that
food we can have enough money because some of the harvest we can use for feeding
ourselves and the other part we can take and sell and get money for our other needs.
What we think would be good assistance would be to have a machine such as a
tractor, to first plow the land because to start a machamba is very difficult for us. It
takes a lot of time. That is why people are not able to produce large quantities of
food. Then we would only come to sow and to clean while the land is very smooth."
They would also like to get fertilizer and advice on how they can improve their
agricultural activities. "Most of the people here go to the machamba to cultivate, to
sow every kind of seed, but they are not getting enough food.
Women in a more distant village said that if assistance was offered, "We
would ask for hoes and large knives. Unless you have a hoe, you don't produce.
And then, we would ask for better seeds. Then, medicine (insecticide) for cotton.
We would ask for nearly all the required material for farming. We would like big
hoes because the ones we have are the ones which bend. When you want to cut
something, they bend (the metal part) so they have no use."
Income Generation Activities in the Bairros
Women's involvement in income generating activities is most vibrant in the
bairros. Here, it is very difficult to survive by solely depending on their machambas
and most people don't have the more secure, better paying jobs that the people in the
town tend to have. They have to be aggressive in finding employment and other
ways to make money. As most women in the bairros have little if any education and
as it is not very acceptable for them to go searching for paid employment, this is
generally left to the men while women look for informal ways to earn money closer to
Brewing. The most common form of income generation among the women in
the bairros is brewing alcohol. Two types of beer, otheca and cabanga are extremely
popular and are traditionally made by women. As in the villages, they have gone
from being made only for personal use and sharing with others to almost exclusively
being made for commercial purposes.
The brewing process takes days and a lot of work just to produce one batch of
beer. Friends and family members often come by to chat and to help during the
process. The beer is sold at the women's homes and at the main market in town.
Only single women sell at the market as husbands won't allow their wives to be
unaccompanied in such an environment. At the market there is a designated outdoor
bar area for selling the home brewed beer.
On any given day you'll see fifteen to twenty-five women sitting together
waiting for a customer to choose their brew to buy. Some women will sit there until
all of their brew is sold which often means from morning until late at night. The
women that tire will take what they haven't sold home, but as cabanga can go bad
after one day, they may miss out on valuable income.
Women frequently sell beer from their homes. When a woman is ready to sell
her beer, to attract customers she will get someone to beat a drum or if her family
owns a radio, she will play it loudly. Basically, the house has been turned into a bar
for a day or two. It is mainly men who are the customers. The sellers are often
coerced by drunk customers to dance with them and most sellers put up with the
behavior without complaints, enjoying the lively atmosphere.
As brewing continues to grow as an income-generating activity, the
competition is stiffening. Brewers often coordinate with their neighbors to make sure
that they won't be selling beer at their homes on the same day. Sales tend to go down
during die rainy season. This is because many of the brewers have to devote their
energies to their machambas and because many of the customers are often at their
machambas, reducing the demand for beer in town and the bairros. However, it
seems that sales in the villages increase as people working in the fields will buy beer
near their machamba.
To learn the trade, a woman may volunteer to help an experienced brewer.
Even with the competitiveness, brewers don't seem to have a problem teaching more
women the trade. Equipment such as large clay pots are sometimes rented out to
brewers who haven't invested is such assets, bringing some additional value to the
renter's business. Some women will brew beer a couple of times a month while
others may only brew twice a year. The decision to brew depends on how it fits in
with the woman's other activities, how available the ingredients are, how strong the
market it, and how much the woman needs to earn cash.
Making wine is not nearly as popular as brewing beer and is primarily a man's
job but women do make it and the number is growing, especially among single
women. An advantage to wine is that it does not have to be sold immediately but
tends to stay good for up to two weeks. It can be sold in the bar at the market or from
one's home. Word spreads that there is wine for sale at a particular home and
customers generally come with a container and take it home with them.
Prepared Foods After brewing, making and selling cooked food from one's
home or at one of the markets in town is the most popular form of income generation
among women in the bairros. This form of business is well accepted by most
husbands since they know that their wives can be found working at home or at a
particular market. There is little need for the women to wander to other areas which
might make the men suspicious of their behavior.
Many women make small cakes fried in oil. The cakes are generally made in
the morning and sold throughout the day, often from the woman's home, especially if
it is located next to a busy path. Children often do the actually selling. Sometimes
they take the cakes and sit next to a busy section of a path to try to increase their sales.
Many women will sell their cakes at one of the markets, sending their children or
going themselves, staying until they are all sold.
Rosalina who is twenty, unmarried and living with her parents makes cakes
about twice a week. She would make them more often but has difficulties getting all
of the ingredients on a regular basis. If she doesn't sell them all on the day she makes
them, she will continue to sell them the next day for the same price, even though they
don't taste as good. She often sells the cakes at the market. She pays a daily vendor
fee of 1,000 mt. and although competition is much stiffer at the market than at home,
the cakes sell much faster there. She also enjoys talking to other vendors at the
Rosalina uses the money she earns to buy a capulam for herself or to buy
food for the family. If she wants a capulam, she must save her money for two or
three months. Her father never asks her for any of the money she earns.
She learned how to make the cakes from her mother who started making them
a year ago. When her mother made the cakes, Rosalina would be sent to the market
to sell them. Now when they both make cakes, they do it separately. If her mother
sells her cakes at the market, Rosalina will sell her cakes at the house.
Some days she goes to work with her parents on their machamba but she
much prefers to stay at home and make cakes. During the growing season, her
mother just works on the machamba. Rosalina says she needs to earn money because
life is expensive now and she doesn't yet have a husband.
She and her friends said that men don't make cakes. They are not sure why
this is so but pointed out that only women know how to fry food and work over the
fire with pots.
Besides cake making, many women make meals such as rice or shima with
sauce and sell them at the markets. Customers include other vendors, workers, and
visitors from out of town. Women generally sell the meals themselves.
There are some women in the bairros who make bread although it is more
commonly made by men. Women said it is more difficult for them to make bread
because, "...the fires for baking bread need to be large and women aren't used to
working with such fires," and, "..it takes a lot of work to mix the large quantity of
dough and men are better at doing this because they are stronger." Making bread is
viewed as costly and complicated because it requires a lot of wheat flour and you need
to construct a special oven made from bricks.
There is one woman who has become quite successful in making bread.
Cristina was raised in Maputo where she was taught how to make bread by relatives
and was exposed to the running of a few different small businesses. She moved to
Cuamba in 1990 with her husband who is a teacher. Three years ago, her husband
was sent to Maputo on a five year scholarship to further his studies. "Istarted
making bread at the end of1992 because I thought the money I was receiving from
my husband's salary was not enough. To be depending only on his salary is not a
good idea so I thought that I should also make money. I don't have family here. I
live here with my two sons and my two sisters-in-law. They came here because I
needed them." She chose to make bread as she thinks it is an easy business and it
would allow her to be close to her children.
Her husband is supportive of her work. "He likes it because l am helping
myself and the children. If I were not making bread, I would not have money and I
would always have to ask for money from Maputo, saying, "lam suffering here. I
am living without money." Sometimes his salary goes for two months without being
paid. While we are waiting for the salary, we have money that we can use from the
sale of the bread. This verandah is made of cement and was paidfor from the money
I made. Even the big oven was made from this money.
In starting my business, I first sat and talked with my colleague from Maputo.
After we talked about our situation, our lives, we asked ourselves, "How can we
improve our lives, help our husbands, because they are suffering while waiting for
the salaries?" We became affected by the worries that our husbands are facing. How
can we start helping them? Then we came to the idea that we have to start a
The increase in the price of the flour and sporadic supply has made the
business more difficult and the competition as well as the demand is dwindling.
"There are two bakeries but one has closed down. There are two or three women
who sell bread in the market on a regular basis and many who sell it occasionally.
There are only two now because the third one has a sick daughter. She had to take
her to the hospital. If the daughter recovers, she will continue making bread. Most
of the people who started doing this business with us have left the business and
started the business of trading between here and Malawi."
Cristina is one of the only women interviewed who writes down her sales and
expenses. She doesnt know what her profit is because she mixes her household
expenses in with her calculation and doesn't add them up at the end of the week or
month. She makes more from her bread sales than her husband's salary.
She says that most people don't believe she is earning the money she makes
from bread sales but from her sleeping with men. She doesn't let it bother her too
much. She seems quite proud of what she has accomplished and is not about to let
the opinions of others change her involvement in business.
Prostitution While this is a difficult activity to track, prostitution seems to be
one of the most common ways that women in the bairros earn money and may be the
fastest growing income generating activity.
One group of women said that while it is good when women do business, it is
bad when the business is prostitution and there is a lot of it in their bairro. "The
prostitutes go to the market and waitfor clients. They hang out in the bar area or just
outside the market. The women who wear real short skirts and who pull them up
high when they dance are prostitutes. A man will ask the woman to dance and after
awhile they will leave together."
Prostitution has increased because, "Things are very expensive and a lot of
women need to get money. A lot of men died during the war so there are a lot more
women than men now. A lot of prostitutes are single but some are married." They
said another reason for the increase is that traditional brews are now being sold in
public places, bringing men and women together away from watchful family
Selling Fruits and Vegetables While this is more commonly done by women
living in the villages, women from the bairros also sell fruits and vegetables from
their machambas at the market. Some women have secured land along the river bank
near town where produce such as tomatoes, onions and garlic can be grown
throughout much of the year and easily transported to the market. This activity is
done by both men and women. Produce that is brought to Cuamba from other
regions is transported and sold by men.
Pottery Making This is a traditional trade performed solely by women and is
well accepted by men as a way for women to earn money. Clay pots are used for
cooking, brewing and storing water and are much in demand. Most women learn this
trade from their mothers or aunts starting when they are young It generally takes a
number of years before one can make pots good enough to sell. When a woman has
mastered the trade, she knows that she can depend on these skills to generate income
for many years. This income alone won't provide a woman with a high standard of
living but done on a fairly regular basis, can easily match the minimum wage which is
220,000 mt. (USD$20) a month.
Pottery makers are scattered throughout the bairros. Some women, especially
those that are single, do this on a regular basis and others only do it occasionally.
While the number of accomplished potters is fairly limited, they often employ other
women to assist them. The actual shaping of the pot doesn't take much time when an
experienced pottery maker is at work, but the process of getting and preparing the
clay, smoothing the pots, drying and firing them, and then selling them is quite
complex and time consuming.
One of the main problems facing these women is that their source of clay
tends to be at least a one hour walk from their homes. The clay is extremely heavy so
they have to make multiple trips to get a sufficient amount Also, just getting the hard
clay out of the earth takes a lot of strength. This is especially difficult for older
women thus younger women are usually sent to perform these tasks.
The pots are sold at the market and the pottery maker's home. Some women
will carry their pots to villages outside of town and trade them for food.
Maria who is in her early twenties and a mother of two learned the trade from
her aunt. She sees pottery making as a good source of income but would prefer to be
a nurse. However, the chances of her getting into nursing school which is eight
hours away in the provincial capital are slim as she just has six years of education,
doesn't have experience in the health field and doesn't have "connections". Her
husband is unemployed, "/'m not saying that I don't like making pots but the thing
is, I have to spend a lot of time making them. If I start making pots in the morning, I
have to go throughout the day making pots. I will not have time to cook for my
children and my husband sometimes doesn't want to cook. That's a problem. Also,
the money that I get, is not enough. I sell pots once a week and I usually divide the
money each week with my husband."
Maria enjoys the freedom that making pots gives her as she can work hard for
a week and then take a week off. Also, if there is something special she needs or
wants to buy, she knows that she can earn the money without too much difficulty.
She has no problem selling her pots. She also likes how she can work at her house.
Rosalina is an assistant to Ana who is known as the master potter in her area.
Rosalina is divorced and has four children from two ex- husbands. "I have been
working with Ana for three years. I started working with her because I saw how she
dealt with people and thought that it was good. She is very kind. After we finish the
work, our goods are easy to sell. The customers come quickly and frequently. My
job is to go fetch the clay (about five km. away), then I bring it here and I pound it. I
prepare it and give it to Ana to make the pots. I like to make pots and I'm studying
how to make them now. I can't learn everything right away so it is best that I learn
how to pound the clay and then later on I will learn how to make pots. After I learn
how to make very good pots I will continue to work here because this place is very
well known by the customers. If I were to work away from here it would not feel
I receive money after we sell our pots. After I get the clay and bring it back
here, we divide it. Ana says to me, "From my portion of the clay I will make my pots
and from your clay I will make your pots." Later on, we take those pots and fire
them. After we fire them, if one of the pots breaks, its that person's own loss. There
is no difference in the quality of pots that Ana makes from my portion of the clay and
her portion. How much I earn depends on the number of pots we make. If we make
pots three times in one month, I can make 250,000 300,000 mt. that month."
Rosa has a one-half hectare machamba where she cultivates food during the
rainy season. "Very early in the morning I go to the machamba and work. After I
finish the work there I return to my home and prepare food. After I have lunch, I rest
a bit then I start my job here. My machamba is about three km. from here. If I leave
my house at 5:00 am, I start working there at about 6fi0 am. After 10:00 am I leave
the machamba and return home. I spend more time working here with the pots than I
do working on the machamba because we can make easy money and we can buy
every kind of thing that we want. We start working at the machamba after the rains
begin. So now we cannot think about the machamba because there is only sun. I
work less here in December because we sow our seeds at this time. I had only two
years of school. I couldn't continue studying with the third year because there was a
lack of help in our home. My father died before I started studying. I don't want to
change things. This life is good for me now."
Selling Manufactured Goods Some women buy goods such as cigarettes,
cookies, candy and gum from one of the wholesalers in town and then sell these from
their home or send their children to set up a makeshift table and sell the items
alongside a busy path or street. Such activity is more common with men but, as this
form of petty trade has grown rapidly since die end of the war, women are also
Zita, a twenty one year old woman recently started doing this kind of
business. Compared to most women in the bairros, she is very confident and quite
modem in the way she dresses and in her behavior. "/ studied for seven years. I
started the eighth class but couldn't finish because the teachers wanted money from
the students so they chose who would pass. So I couldn't go on studying." "I buy
cookies, cigarette and candy and sell them. I also bake small cakes and sell them."
She sells her goods outside of her father's house which has electricity and is
located along a busy path. She plays a radio to attract people. "I sell more at night
because people come, children and others, to dance and play around. The things sell
out quickly so the next day I can already go and buy some more."
"Because lama woman, I can't travel to Nampula (a city eight hours from
Cuamba by road or train) and buy lots of things or go somewhere else so I buy these
things here and sell them. My husband is the one who travels around to make the
bigger business. I think about going to Mandimba to buy cokes and selling them
here. Its only that I am thinking about it, I have not done it yet. I am planning to go
there but I'm trying to first think of what profit I will get out of it. I don't know but
maybe my husband will allow me to go but if he doesn't, I will stay here."
She doesn't know of anyone else in her neighborhood selling manufactured
goods. Some neighbors bake cakes but not on a regular basis. She doesn't visit
other bairros to see what other people do who are in the same type of business.
Zita is exceptional compared to the other women interviewed in that she had
great enthusiasm for her business activities, said she had thought about doing such a
business for a long time, and had developed a plan for it.
Rosalina, the pottery assistant, took some of her earnings and bought some
cigarettes, oil for lighters and some other small items. She then gave them to her
thirteen year old son to sell. He constructed a small portable bamboo table with a
surface about one foot square with an attached pole that he can dig into the ground
and sells the items along paths. "I gave this to my son to sell because if something
were to happen to me, he could help me."
OtherActivities Going out to the bush and collecting firewood to sell at the
market is also done by women in the bairros. Also, as in the villages, women can
sometimes be hired to do domestic jobs such as fetching water and pounding com for
others' in the bairros. Some women knit and crochet items such as skull caps, baby
booties and table mats. These are sold within the bairros and in town. One problem
with this is that the materials are not available in town. Some women buy used
clothes made of the proper thread or yam and unravel it so that they can make new
items. The market is quite strong for these items.
Income Generating Activities in Town
The population living in the central part of the town is very small compared to
the bairros and villages. However, this is where the best educated and wealthiest
women live and they make up the largest percentage of formally employed women.
While a number of town women are formally employed or do informal business
activities, it seems that the majority of married women do not earn an income. Unless
the income is substantial, women whose husbands make a living that will support
their family generally do not find informal business activities worth the effort. Single
mothers often find this type of work as their only means of survival. Some women
who are formally employed will also engage in business activities to earn additional
money, often using their children or servants to do much of the work.
One town dweller expressed that many of the men do not like the idea of their
wives working as they did not grow up in an environment where women worked
outside the home. However, an increasing number of younger men accept their
wives working in an office or doing business at home.
One woman who is married with two children and occasionally does informal
business activities, sees an increase in the number of women involved in such
activities. "The possibilities seem to be greater these days for doing business.
Secondly, there are women who lost their jobs and instead of sitting at home and
having quarrels with their husbands, they prefer to find a way to make some small
business. Means of transportation has improved and stimulated many to start their
own business. Previously there was no train to Nampula or to Malawi. Also there
were very few cars. There was no way to make business. Now there are a lot of
trains and transport by car is easier, making it easier to do business."
Since most women living in town do not spend much if any time working on
their fields, they have more time to spend on income generating activities. They also
have more money to invest in their activities than other women. However, as in the
bairros, it is difficult to find women who perform a specific business activity on a
Prepared Foods The most common business activity is making food and
selling it at the markets. Women in town tend to have better facilities than women in
the bairros for cooking and many take advantage of their situation. While town
women make cakes and bread, they also make some fancier foods, including sweets
and samosas, a popular Indian food.
Women who have a refrigerator or access to one, make frozen juices. One
woman described the process she uses. "If we buy sugar and orange Squash (juice
concentrate), the profit is about 15,000 mt.. I use a bottle of Squash each day that I
make the freezes. I make this money but it is not easy to control it because while I'm
making it, there's a lack of oil, a lack of bread for breakfast or lunch, so I have to take
the money and buy things that are missing at home. I want to make it clear that the
money I use to buy the Squash and the sugar is not enough because my refrigerator
is large and we don't fill it up. I could make more freezes if there was more money."
It is common for people living in town to have a servant working in their
homes. Women engaged in business activities will often use their children and
servants to help, them and sometimes it is the servants who do all of the labor. It is
rare that a woman from town will sell her own products at the market or alongside the
Trading Trading is becoming an increasingly popular form of activity among
women although the number who do this on more than a very occasional basis is
quite small. One well connected woman in town said that she could count ten women
maximum that engage in trading which involves traveling to other cities or to Malawi.
One fairly active female trader said,"There are about twenty women who do this kind
of business. Most of them are married." Some women in the bairros are also
involved in trading, most of whom have come from other areas where they learned
and were active in trading.
The most common form of trade among women is probably that of traveling
to Nampula to buy fresh fish and selling it in Cuamba. Leticia, a single mother who
is a school teacher in town, does this and sells frozen juices to augment her salary.
"In the past I had been going to Malawi in order to bring back freezes sold by
Malawian Industries to sell here. As I saw that the cost of transportation to go there
was very high, I stopped doing that and started going to Nampula to buy fish. If I
only depended on my own salary, I think I would die. I make some freezes here
from an orange drink which I bought in Nampula. I freeze them in my friend's
freezer and pay her 20,000 mt. weekly while we are making and selling the freezes
The way I had been living was very tough and that I felt I could not move
ahead with my life. There was not enough money and from these activities I get
money. If I buy fresh fish and keep it in the freezer and send my children to sell it,
they can bring in enough money to survive daily. We are selling frozen juices now
because it is very hot so if we make them, we can sell them the same day. And we
have enough money to buy something else, about 20,000 mt. a day that we can spend
on other things. I had ideas for other businesses but I thought that these were the
Elena lives on the edge of the cement part of town and is married with three
children. She worked at Micro Textiles, the cooperative started by the Norwegians.
Since she spoke both Macua and Portuguese, she was chosen to work closely with
the Norwegian director and took over the management after the director left. After the
cooperative folded, she became involved in trading. "7 travel to Nampula and buy
fresh fish there and sell it here in Cuamba to the hospital. This idea of getting the fish
in Nampula and selling it here is a new plan. In the past I had been going to Malawi
to buy eggs and then I sold them to people here in Cuamba. Then I got capulanas
here in Cuamba or in Nampula and I sold them in Malawi. I cannot go to Malawi
again to buy beer because I know that the customs rates are high so thru's why I have
to move around within my country."
She says that her husband doesn't mind her doing this business. "He knows
that lam just traveling in order to do business and that I am trying to improve our
lives, that I want to bring money to the family to help us survive. I often go to
Nampula with my friends but sometimes I go there alone. Each of us does our
business independently. "While we are working we are thinking about which kinds of
goods are most appreciated here in Cuamba. We have to know which items we are
going to buy there to bring here. We share with each other but some women are
secretive. If one of them discovers something that is appreciated here in Cuamba or
somewhere else, they won't share what they are doing or that they are going to
Nampula. They leave without telling others."
Juliana lives in the bairrospxst on the edge of town. She is in her twenties, is
from Malawi and trades goods between Cuamba and Malawi. She learned how to
trade in Malawi from her first husband. After she divorced him, she met a
Mozambican man and they married and moved to Mozambique. Her husband has
another wife in his home town, five hours away. He has not visited Juliana in a long
time. "Sometimes I hear news that he will not be coming here again but he told me
that he would come in December. He's living with his wife. He doesn't bring any
money here. If I need money, I go to my girlfriend's house and ask for a certain
amount and then they lend it to me. Then I buy wheat, I make cakes and then later on
I pay them back.
I make cakes at my house and I go to Malawi to buy dried fish and other
things and sell them here. I usually travel with my sister and go by train. My
children stay with my mother." Even though it is mainly men who sell the dried fish
in the market, she says that, "the men are not bothered by or jealous of women selling
fish. Now, as there is a lack offish, you don't find many women selling fish there.
When there is a lot offish, you can find more women selling fish from Malawi."
When asked how women's involvement in business here differs from Malawi
she responded, "Here women don't do much business. Women do a lot more
business in Malawi. There it is very easy to see women selling things in the street,
selling many different things there. Most women here in Cuamba are not able to do
this kind of business. So people from Nampula come to do this kind of business. I
don't know why women in Cuamba are not more involved in business."
OtherActivities Some women in town will brew beer or make wine but
instead of selling it in town, they sell it out in the villages. Some crochet and sell the
items in town. A few make some money by embroidering. Prostitution exists in
town but it seems that few town women compared to those living in the bairros are
involved in this trade.
Formal employment opportunities for women are quite limited in Cuamba.
There is no full-time formal employment outside of the town area making such
employment almost impossible for village women to obtain. Most of the
opportunities are found in the health and educational sectors and in private
businesses. Very few women are in any kind of leadership position. Most hold
administrative or servant positions. Non-governmental agencies are known to hire
women in administrative and outreach positions but only a few are currently located in
One's educational level is the most important factor when it comes to getting
formal employment. Contacts are also important. Some women complain that
employers ask for bribes before they will employ you. These factors discourage most
women from even looking for formal employment. As one woman who wants to
find a job but has not been successful says,"Every place has a certain number of
people they need. Normally you don't hear about it while they are looking for people
but only afterwards because the person who finds out that there is a place where you
can get a job will tell his friends and won't tell others. So when you find out about it,
it is already filled. Here if you want a job you have to have money. You need to take
it and give it to the boss of that place and then you get a job. So if the person does
not have money, he is finished. It can happen that they can hire you but mainly they
hire known people." When asked if she was trying to make herself "known", she
responded, "But I have no money. I would go there until Tm tired and then finally I
would only sit at home."
Each of the formally employed women that were interviewed had been hired
in the late 1970's or early 1980's when the government was aggressively hiring
people and making a point of hiring women. At that time, much less education was
required than today. It was possible be accepted for nursing training with just four
years of school or to become a teacher with just six years. Today, nine years of
education seems to be the minimum level needed for getting employment and many
employers are wanting people who have passed all twelve grades.
Joana, a pre-school teacher and married mother of six says, "It was not my
will to become a teacher but after independence in 1975, Frelimo decided to choose
students from various schools to be trained in different areas. I was selected to be
trained as a pre-school/infant center teacher. I was taken to Maputo in 1976for
training which lasted for six months. Now teachers are required to have ten years of
schooling. In 1976, it did not matter how much education you had."
There are no exact records available recording the number of women who are
formally employed but the health sector by far employs the majority. It is estimated
that about eighty women work in this sector, primarily as nurses, servants and
administrators. The next largest employer of women is the education sector. In the
town area, this sector employs some women servants and administrators, about
thirteen female teachers in the primary schools and two at the secondary school.
There are few if any female teachers in the villages.
The women interviewed felt that they did not experience any discrimination at
work. Joana says, "We are all treated in the same way. Like us here at the pre-
school, we have the same type of course. And we have the same salary. Sometimes
someone is chosen as the director but you don't feel bad about it. If you're not
chosen, you do whatever you need to do. Women can also be chosen to be director
and men will not feel bad about that. They will still go on accomplishing whatever
tasks they've been given. Maybe its different at other types of work but for us here,
we are all treated in the same way." However, some discriminating policies do exist.
For instance, if a woman working for the government wants to transfer to another
area, her husband must sign a request form before her request will be considered
while men don't need their wife's signature to request a transfer.
While most salaries in the formal sector are low and it is not uncommon for
women to make more money in the informal sector, working in the formal sector still
seems desirous to many women. This may be due to the fact that the work is steady,
the pay fairly regular and there is a certain amount of respect that comes with formal
employment. Besides salaries being low, payments, at least from the government,
are often late, making it especially difficult for single women to survive. Julia who
has been a teacher for twenty years and makes 322,000 mt. a month, explains,"There
is another problem that we are always facing. They delay our salaries. Because of
that, we think of leaving, the school arid going to Nampula or somewhere else to bring
some goods here for selling while lam waiting for my payment. It is not easy to live
without money. So if the school misses two months without paying us, that means
we can miss one or two days of teaching because we know that if we just wait for our
salary, we will not be able to survive.H
Madalena, a nurse in her thirties, started working as a servant at the hospital in
1982. In 1990 she was sent to Lichinga for nursing training. She was away from
her husband and six children for the entire two year course as this was during the war
and the train was not working and road travel was very dangerous. In discussing
salaries, she explains, "A servant receives about 120,000 mt. (USD $10.90) a month
and an elementary mid-wife receives about 200,000 mt. while a basic nurse receives
about 150,000 mt.. You don't make a lot of money." Her father has worked as a
servant in the hospital for most of his adult life and his salary is only 120,000 mt..
One problem all of these women face is that besides working full-time outside
the home, they remain fully responsible for all of the domestic chores. They organize
their children to help out and some of them are able to hire servants. Madalena's
husband took care of the house while she was in Lichinga but, "As soon as I came
back from training, my husband had to stop doing all the domestic work because this
is our culture. For Africans, all domestic work is done by women. So, he stopped
working. When he was working during my absence, it was just like I was on leave.
Now I am back."
Most domestic servants are men from the bairros or villages and this is not an
employment option for women. A town woman who hires servants in her home.
explains that women are not hired because," they would not know how to do the
housework and that only the men can learn it." Also, it is not looked on as proper if a
married woman or mother were to leave her family to do this type of work, especially
if she is from a village. People in the villages do not trust the behavior of women
who go to town to find work. Some village women explained that, "If the woman
worked in town and the man went to the machamba there would be very big
problems. The man would think that the woman is doing something different from
work. He would think that she is looking for men, that she would be having sex with
other men." Girls who don't attend school sometimes work as servants in the bairros
and are paid a very small amount or given some clothing.
Female Entrepreneurs in the Formal Sector
Only three women currently own and operate businesses in the formal sector
in the District of Cuamba. Two of the women own hotels that contain a bar and
restaurant. One of these women also owns a bakery and is active in trading goods
such as sugar from Malawi. Both of these woman have had exceptional
circumstances which have helped them acquire such assets. The other woman runs a
A few other women are actively involved in helping run businesses such as
stores and trading operations, owned by their husbands. These tend to be women of
Indian and mixed descent and come from privileged situations. They and the three
entrepreneurs mentioned above display experienced business skills and acumen and
provide some inspiration to entrepreneurial women in the informal sector. However,
their exceptional situations limit die value of their examples to other women.
There are no active cooperatives in the District of Cuamba. Business activities
are ran independently although in some cases, women will work together such as
when they go fishing or make pots. When working together they don't pool their
money and divide it but assistants are given specific payments, whether it be in the
items made, goods, food or money.
Younger women don't know much if anything about cooperatives as they
haven't had exposure to them. Women who were involved in cooperatives inspired
by Frelimo in the early 1980s all mentioned how their cooperative had problems of
theft and corruption. Even though many older women have heard about or directly
participated in failed cooperatives, there is still some interest in them, although only
one woman expressed any real enthusiasm for working in a cooperative. A couple of
women fondly remember getting access to assistance such as use of an automobile to
go fetch clay and would like to see that happen again but have little confidence that
they could again receive such support. One woman strongly expressed her belief that
cooperatives would not work here as it is so difficult for people to trust each other.
Some see working in a group as beneficial if the women are all taught a
specific skill. By working in a group they could help each other to improve their
skills. They also mentioned how their husbands might be more supportive of their
business activities if they knew that their wives were going to work with a group of
There are no clear reasons why cooperatives should not be re-introduced to
the area but there are significant obstacles to their chance of success. The lack of trust
between people is a considerable issue as is the lack of women with leadership and
management skills, and the fact that many women's exposure to and experience with
business activities has been through working independently and not in any kind of
Factors Affecting Women and Income Generation
Attitudes. While many men accept the idea of women generating income,
most do not accept women making more money than they do or making enough to be
independent. There is a strong feeling among men that if women are not dependent
upon them economically, the women will not obey their wishes, may assume a
superior position and will easily leave their husbands if they are not happy. Women
also have strong motivations for not becoming very successful economically.
Married women greatly fear their husbands leaving them and single women fear that
no one will want to marry them if they are economically well off. This is a precarious
position as they need to provide for their families but don't want to lessen their
chances of getting married.
Women in a village near town shared,"After we get divorced, we see that life
is very difficult. We know that women cannot make a house. Who gets up on the
roof and changes the grass? It is men. So if we are unmarried, we think, 'How far
can I take my life with these difficulties? If I want to wear good clothes I cannot have
them because the money that I am earning alone is not enough to buy good clothes.
Women who are married can have good clothes. Those are the difficulties. That is
why we are so preoccupied about getting married, in order to be supported by the
money which the men bring to the home."
A woman in her forties who worked at a mining company with her husband
for sixteen years says, ..we find that there is a big problem if men earn less money
than a woman because a man cannot be happy while he knows that his wife is
spending money on him. And every community in Mozambique, even here in
Cuamba, men and women feel happy if the men earn more money than women. The
problem is that if the women earn more money than the men, the house is not well
respected, because women sometimes don't behave well. She will not treat her
husband as a husband."
Men also do not like it when a woman's business activities require her to
travel, even if it is just around town or to nearby areas. They like to know where the
woman is and if she is not at home or selling goods in the market, she should be in
the company of other women. As one woman put it, "The problem is that if women
do that kind of business (trading), men will say, "That woman is a prostitute, she is
not very kind, is not well-behaved. She is going out looking for a man." So instead
of making business, that woman is sitting at home, taking care of her children, to
avoid being called a prostitute. The business that the woman might do which the men
might approve of is to find a place in the market where she can sit and sell goods,
attending the customers. The men can travel from here to there, buying goods for the
woman to sell. The man can be happy with this." Another attitude that restricts
women's ability to run a successful business is that of women having to be
responsible for all domestic chores. Based on women's comments who have moved
here from other regions, the division of labor seems to be especially strong in this
area. While there are occasional signs of change, it's highly doubtful that much
change will occur anytime soon since women accept the situation with hardly a
complaint. Julia, the teacher says, "Here it is very difficult to hear a woman saying,
"Oh I would like to have my husband help me with this or that, for example, carrying
water," because in this area a man is just not supposed to do that work. This thought
does not even exist in the mind of women."
As long as these attitudes are in place, women's potential to earn income
through business activities will be greatly restricted.
Economic Factors. An improvement in economic conditions reduces the time
that women have to invest in domestic chores. They can get their grains milled by
machine instead of by hand, can have access to water close to the house, and can
afford better medical care, reducing time spent being ill or caring for a sick child.
However, most women here have extremely poor economic conditions and it is
unlikely that they will experience any significant improvements in the foreseeable
Another important economic factor to consider is that at this economic level,
most women find it extremely difficult to save money due to the pressing needs of
their family. Even if a woman were to receive a loan specifically for business
purposes, die temptation would be tremendous to use the money for immediate needs
such as feeding the family or purchasing medicine or badly needed clothes. The
mentality of most people is focused on how they will survive on a day to day basis,
making it difficult to plan ahead and to separate money for their business activities
from the money they need to support their household.
The fact that most people here are dependent on the production of their
machamba for their survival means that the time women can afford to invest in
business activities is limited and irregular as the work of the machamba takes
precedence. Coming up with business ideas based on appropriate food technologies
that add value to agricultural products may be one way to deal with the situation.
Very little of this is currently being done.
Jealousy. There is a great deal of jealousy among the people here. If a person
does well in their business activities and has money to buy clothes and good food,
neighbors and friends will likely become jealous. There is great fear that people will
try to harm or kill you if you are doing well, through the use of witchcraft and
traditional medicine (droga). As one women explains,"If people take you as
somebody who's hccving a good life, your neighbors will say that you are
outstanding, and they try to press you down. They can either kill you and if its a
woman, they try to use a traditional drug to make you divorce. So you won't live in
harmony with your husband."
However, while all women asked about this said that it is a real problem, they
all said that they are not letting this hold them back in trying to improve their
economic conditions. Zita, the young woman who sells small manufactured goods
says, "It happens a lot. I am not afraid because the mother of my father is a
curandeira (traditional healer) and she comes to treat my house, to protect it. So if
people come and are jealous and try to do something bad against me, they will
Lack of Experience. One of the most common comments that women made
was that while they would like to start a new or different income generating activity,
they didn't have any ideas for activities other than what they or their neighbors were
already doing. This seemed to be a much bigger issue than even lack of finances or
credit. Probably the main reason for this is that besides having little or no education,
most of the women here have had very little exposure to other lifestyles or areas with
a lot of economic activity.
As economic activity is picking up in the area and there is now much greater
movement of people throughout the district, women are becoming exposed to some
new ways and ideas. It is an opportune time for development agencies to introduce
new and appropriate ideas to the women, especially since they have expressed so
much interest in this kind of support.
The women in this district have few artisanal skills. However, their
enthusiasm to learn new skills is very strong. Younger women and especially those
who have had some education and have been active in business activities expressed
interest in receiving management training. The concept of having people come to help
them with income generating activities is so novel that no women initiated specific
requests for assistance but they all expressed strong interest when the possibility was
brought up to them.
In the District of Cuamba, women's involvement in the economy has changed
a great deal in recent years. Today, women in the town, the bmrros and even the
villages are engaged in a variety of income generating activities which their mothers
could not have imagined doing. Single women are supporting their families on their
own and married women are contributing to their household income, helping their
families survive during these difficult economic times and for some, helping to
improve the family's living standards. While women's income generating activities
are making a difference in some individual households and providing some women
with increased confidence and freedom, how much this is actually benefiting their
lives is questionable. For many, it is just one more task that must be performed to
ensure their survival.
Until the macro-economic environment changes and the government provides
rural farmers with an efficient market for their agricultural products and improved
infrastructure, neither men's nor women's current economic activities will
substantially improve the standard of living for the people in this region. And, unless
cultural attitudes which restrict women's economic potential change, women will find
themselves just working longer and harder for a minimal amount of income.
For women and their families to truly benefit from their involvement in
income generating activities, there needs to be more and better educational
opportunities for young girls, better economic opportunities for men, and specific
programs which will provide the women with ideas for appropriate income generating
activities, skills training, credit schemes and management training. With so much
change happening recently in the lives of these people, the general acceptance of
women running their own businesses, and the interest expressed by all women
interviewed for training, it is an opportune time to introduce economic programs that
will support women and income generation.
GROWING UP FEMALE
Girls spend much of their time helping their mothers with chores and playing
with their friends. Even if they do attend school, it is usually for just a few hours a
day. Sweeping, washing dishes, fetching water and looking after younger children
are chores that girls perform from a very early age. It is common to see girls as
young as five carrying a baby on their backs. They perform some work on the
machamba but it is much more common for them to stay near the house and perform
the chores needed done there.
While they perform a number of chores, there is also much time for playing
with friends. It is not uncommon for boys and girls to play together but usually girls
play separately, especially as they near their teens. It is quite unusual to see a child
playing alone, at least not for long. Older girls teach younger children traditional
games such as those in which they hold hands in a circle and sing and skip. A game
that resembles jacks is popular with both boys and girls. A number of games such as
a type of hopscotch and Chinese jump rope using thread or bark as a rope are played
only by girls. Many of these games were played by their mothers and grandmothers
while some have recently been introduced.
None of the children in the bairros and villages have manufactured toys. They
make all of their own toys. One of the most popular activities among girls is to make
clay dolls. They use scraps of cloth to dress the dolls and use seeds for eyes and
noses. The girls also love to have make-believe picnics. They pretend to cook shima
and sauce and serve it to each other. As they get older, they make real meals,
somewhat competitively. They each start a fire and then gather different foliage and
vegetables for making a sauce in small clay pots. This is generally done during the
harvest period when food is most plentiful.
Performing traditional dances is a very important part of a girl's life. Dancing
is one of the most popular activities among girls, and they all eagerly participate
starting when they are just a few years old. The girls gather in small groups and form
a circle or two lines. Generally the girls pair up with someone their own size and they
take turns dancing together in the middle of the group while the group sings and
claps. Some dances are passed down from their mothers, but many new dances are
also being introduced. The dances vaiy between bairros and villages.
When a girl is grown, she is no longer supposed to dance with the young
girls. If she continues to dance, women will say, "She is not grown, not mature."
Women also dance together but this is generally done for specific ceremonies rather
than for recreation. They enjoy dancing and it helps them forget their difficulties, but
they are cautious about others thinking that they are acting immaturely. Dancing
among women was more common in the past and groups would even travel to
perform. Today it is more difficult to organize a group of women to dance. If the
government or others invite a group to dance at an event, one woman will organize
the group and collect money for their performance. Women also gather to dance to
help cure someone from illnesses such as cabegagrande (severe headaches). Some
women such as Luisa blame the war for the change. "What stopped us from dancing
is war. In the past we were living very far from the towns. Then we had to run to
the towns because of the war. And then we were separatedfrom those friends who
knew the same dances. Now its difficult to find other people who can dance with
Traditionally, as boys and girls neared their teenage years, a small dwelling
was built in the familys compound for each of them to use as a bedroom. This is a
sign of growing up and it also is beneficial for the parents. As growing children learn
about sex, they may become aware of their parents' sexual activities in the small
family house. As most houses provide couples with little privacy, it is preferable to
have the older children sleeping in a separate dwelling. Today it is not always
possible for parents to afford to build such dwellings and single mothers are rarely
able to provide their children with such a dwelling. Girls commonly sleep in the main
house but as they near the age of menstruation, they are taught to stay out of the
house during the daytime if their mother and father are in the house.
"It is still perceived that it is more important for boys to receive a higher
education, higher meaning reaching the ninth or tenth class. For the girls, they may
stop after the fourth, fifth or sixth class. The men are supposed to support the
women and the women know that finally they might marry and that one day they will
be supported. There are not many girls in town who would stop their education after
four, five or six years as they do in the bairros. In the city they would rather continue
in school until they are sixteen or seventeen (in the eight or ninth class) and then they
would stay at home and wait for a husband. (A well-to-do married mother of two in
her twenties of Portuguese and indigenous descent living in the town.)
With the end of the war, schools are being rebuilt and attendance is rising
among both boys and girls. However, a 1996 World Bank report stated, "The
children of poor, especially rural household have very high rates of class repetition
and drop out. Of 1,000 pupils who enter the first year of primary school, only five
remain by the seventh grade. Females continue to be under represented at all stages
of the education systems. Their gross enrollment is 51% compared to the average rate
of 59%." (World Bank, Paris, 1996) Most women from the town, bairros and
villages value education and see it as being beneficial for both boys and girls. In the
villages, women look forward to their children learning Portuguese so that they can
help their family members who only speak Macua to communicate with others. In the
bairros and towns, there is emphasis placed on the economic opportunities that
education may provide. Women in their twenties and thirties living near town seem to
place a higher value on education than others. This may be due to the fact that many
of them benefited from Frelimo's expansion of educational and employment
opportunities for women in the years right after independence. These women are not
only encouraging their daughters to attend school but some of them are also taking
classes in the evening to further their own education.
While education is valued, the extent that people will go to make sure their
children are enrolled in school and have the proper materials is another matter. With
most families struggling to feed and clothe their children, it is often difficult to find
the money to send them to school. For those women who have had no formal
education of which there are many, while they support their children going to school,
they can do little to directly assist their children with their studies.
Most schools in the area are mud buildings that are either empty inside or have
benches made from mud. Besides the workbooks that each student must buy, the
only teaching aid that teachers have is that of a rough chalk board made locally. As
different classes must share the same classroom, classes are just a few hours long.
The number of students per class and teacher is very large.
There are some serious concerns regarding education today. The women
remark about the increased cost of education. Inflation and the move to a free market
economy have created new and higher costs. This, however, is more easily accepted
than the fact that students are commonly expected to pay bribes to their teachers if
they want to pass a class. This is especially common in the higher level grades and is
extremely discouraging to students. People are also discouraged by the fact that today
one must have a higher level of education to get jobs that were available to those with
only four or six years of education back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At that
time you could be accepted for nursing training with only four years of school and
only six years of education was required to become a teacher. Today, nine years of
education seems to be the minimum level needed for obtaining formal employment
and increasingly, employers want to hire people who have passed all twelve grades.
Women in the village of Mafia remarked about the situation. "During the
colonial period, children were going to school without paying and at the hospital, we
were not paying money. But now, we pay money. This has changed slowly. Now
we are buying medicine. If you are sick but do not have money, you will not be
treated at the hospital. You will only die.
In the past, pupils were studying and receiving good marks. They were
studying well and were paying a small amount. But now, the amount we are paying
is very, very high. At that time, if we had studied through the sixth class, we could
find a job. Now we cannot find jobs. Now people are going to school and studying
until the eight class but they cannot be employed. What the teachers want is to be
bribed in order to make pupils pass the class. We are paying for school and we are
paying for books. Here in the villages, we pay 150 mt.for the young children to
attend school. In the city, we pay 2,000 mt. (per year) but now I think they have
already increased the amount.
The primary school here stops at the fifth class. After that they go to
Namutimbua (about five kilometers away) where there is another school for the sixth
and seventh classes. More boys than girls go to that school. The girls are refusing to
continue their studies in Namutimbua but the boys accept going there. Once the girls
start with love, playing with the boys (here in the village) they will not accept
continuing with, school.
There is a needfor formal education. With it they can know how to write a
letter, then they can communicate with people who are at a distance. And if they
study a lot, they can get a job in the city working in an office but it is becoming
difficult for them. The girls are refusing to continue on with their studies. They
complain about the distance that they must walk to the school in Namutimbua."
An especially disturbing concern is that of the increase in unwed pregnancies
and the fact that many people see this as the result of girls attending school with boys.
Leticia teaches the sixth and seventh classes. "I had the luck of being able to study
when I was young. Ifinished standard ten of industrial school in Lichinga (the
capital of the province). After I got this degree, it was at the time that Mozambique
was getting independence and there was a lack of teachers so I was named to be a
teacher at that time when I was just seventeen and I have been teaching since then. I
had not thought about becoming a teacher. I wanted to be a doctor."
Most female teachers teach in the primary schools. "In the primary schools
around the town ofCuamba, there are twelve or fourteen female teachers. But for the
secondary level, the number is much less. There are about two." The only secondary
school in the district is in the town.
"Informer times only very few girls went to school but from these few, most
of them completed all the classes. Nowadays, many girls start school but, for
example, out often girls only two complete secondary school because the others give
up or get pregnant or get married. The reason is the change of behavior and also,
education. We have lost a lot of values. Now there are people who want to
experiment with everything. The education is losing its moral values. In former
times there was a subject called moral and civic education and it doesn't exist
anymore. Many things got lost. Now moral values start at home. In the families, the
parents don't give these directions to the children and then it continues that way in
school. They come to school and don't find that orientation.
With traditional education it might be good to use some aspects from it that are
positive but there are also some negative aspects. At the moment they are
experimenting with again introducing the moral education in school. Traditional
education was prohibited with Frelimo but nowadays it is allowed again. Especially
during the holidays, there are many groups of girls attending traditional education.
I think that 90% of the girls in and around Cuamba go to school. Maybe 10%
finish primary school. There are many reasons for girls to leave school. Its probably
more the girls themselves who want to give up than their parents. In the city it is not
a common reason that parents take their daughters out of school to help work at
home. This might be a reason in the villages and the bairros.
Nowadays there are more girls who get pregnant before getting married. The
reason might also be that the boys don't feel any responsibility (to marrying) or that
the girls can get pregnant when they are away from home with the boys at school. Its
easier nowadays to walk around. The girls have more freedom. Its not that the
parents care less but it is more difficult because the situation around them has
changed. Some of the girls that get pregnant stay with their parents but they can also
stay with the man.
In school there is no education about sex or birth control. There are only
biology classes but these are very general. There are no organizations that teach about
birth control. Its just the parents, if they want to teach it.
If a girl gets pregnant while she is in school, the school expels her. It is
normal that the family gets angry if the daughter gets pregnant. If they send her to
school, they don't send her to get pregnant and if they hear she is pregnant, they are
very shocked. They blame her. They know that in school she will meet many boys
so she is responsible.
It would be good to have teachings in school about birth control. There is
already a program regarding the function of the sexual organs but it needs the right
people to teach it. No specific program exists."
There are a number of traditions connected with menstruation, some of which
continue to be followed by most women today while others are dying out. A girl's
first menstruation loosely signifies a number of changes in her life. In the villages
and bairros, it is a time to start thinking about marriage. It is also a time when many
girls attend traditional education although they may also attend before this occurs. As
they are no longer children, they are expected to put their childish ways and games
aside and spend time with those who are also "grown". A woman is to follow certain
traditions such as not letting anyone see the cloth she uses during her period and if
married, she is to let her husband know the timing of her period through certain
While a girl's first menstruation is a significant event in her life, initially it is
not met with joy but with fear. It is taboo for anyone to tell girls about menstruation.
It is to be met with complete surprise. However, today it is not uncommon for girls
to break the taboo and tell each other about menstruation. Girls don't learn about
menstruation in school, as part of traditional education, nor from their mothers.
Mothers are not supposed to discuss it with their daughters as it is believed that if they
do, then someone such as the girl's grandmother or father will die.
Luisa who is probably in her fifties and has had a great deal of experience
teaching girls about menstruation and traditions says, "7here is no choice. Since the
beginning, it has been kept as a secret. No woman is to be told that you are going to
have your first menstruation. It is good to leave it until she gets it as a surprise."
When a giiis receives her first menstruation, "there is celebrationfor those who have
conditions (economic means). They prepare food and dance and they celebrate the
day. There is also education. The person who taught you when you were younger
(usually the girl's godmother) will come and teach you about menstruation.
Menstruation is a surprise for most of us. I can talk about my personal
experience. I attended traditional education before my first menstruation. It happened
at the time that I was living with my first husband. When it happened, it was late at
night. I just felt something falling down, a freshness between my legs. When I
looked down, I saw blood so I was very worried. I didn't know what it was. The
following day came and I spent the whole day without eating. I thought it was a
disease. Then in the evening I saw my godmother coming. She came and asked me
if 1 had heard people talking about growth and told me that this is what was
happening to me. "You have grown. From now on, you are a woman." They game
me some food and then 1 became relaxed because I had been very worried. Then my
husband came to say, "You didn't know that you were having your first
Suzana shares her experience. "/ didn't know anything about menstruation
before it happened to me. I was at school and we were having some kind of
ceremony so l was leading a group of children in singing. I was behind the
administrator and felt something a little funny and then noticed some blood on my
capulana. None of the other girls said anything to me. Finally a girl who was a little
older said that I was sick and should go home. I told her that I wasn't sick and didn't
want to go home. After awhile I decided to go home.
When / got home I didn't say anything to my aunt. She was angry about
something and I thought it was best not to approach her at this time. I had four pairs
of underwear and I put on three of them but this did not prevent the blood from
leaking through. Finally that evening I went to my aunt and told her what was
happening. I thought I had an illness and this scared me.
My aunt didn't say much at all to me so I spent the night continuing to worry
about what was happening. In the morning, my aunt left to gather four of her
friends. They came over to see me. One of them asked me if I was sick and I said,
"No. Then a second woman asked me if I was sick and I said, "No. Then a third
woman asked me and / said, "Yes." Then the women started to ululate and dance.
This turned into a celebration. My aunt took a capulana and tore it into pieces for me
to use as pads. The women then took me into the bathroom and I had to stand with
my arms spread out and my legs apart. They then took a strip of capulana and tied it
around my waist like a belt and attached a pad to it.
The women then taught me about the things that must change in my life. /
was no longer a girl and was no longer allowed to play with the girls. I could only
play with those who had also started to menstruate. I was sad about this because I
liked to play very much and l missed my friends. A week after this I was sent away
to receive traditional education. I was there for one month and there were twenty-five
girls there in all. Twenty-two of them had not yet menstruated so I was only able to
make friends with the two other young women there."
Suzana also spoke about the difficulties women face in keeping one's pads
clean and out of sight, especially for those women who can't afford soap. "The pads
often leak and thus you get spots on your dress and they often create sores due to
rubbing against the sides of your legs. You have to frequently wash them and keep
them out of view while they are drying. If they are hanging to dry in the bathroom
and a person asks to use our bathroom, I must first go and get the drying pads and
carry them to the house in a hidden manner. After the person is finished, I must hang
them up again." If a woman is sick, she must rely on her husband or a female friend
to help her.
Women in the town and the few in the bairros who are well to do use cotton
bought in a store in town instead of cloth from old capulanas. This costs about $1.00
(U.S.) a month and is a luxury which few women can afford. If a woman does not
have a latrine, there is a problem with the disposal of the cotton. Some women bury
it at night. Some women use cotton that they grow on their machamba.
It is taboo to put anything that has menstrual blood on it in among garbage.
There is a fear of witchcraft if other people come upon it.
Asidona lives in a village fifteen km. from town and says that in the villages
the traditions connected with menstruation have not changed over the years. "On the
first day of a girl's menstruation, her mother does not become sad but gives this
information to the namuko (teacher of traditional education). When the day is set for
the namuko to come to educate the girl, the girl is informed to prepare herself and to
prepare food. The girls and the namuko go inside the house and she is informed
about what she is to do when she menstruates. She should use a strip of cloth for the
blood, she should not put salt in the sauce, and she should not tell children about
menstruation. While the namuko is talking to the girl, the mother is in the kitchen
preparing food. After giving the information, the namuko receives food from the
mother arid is also paid. Then she returns home. These traditions are the same as
they were many years ago.
Women don't inform their husbands verbally that they are having their period.
Women take red beads and hang them on the wall. They also go to the bathroom and
put the pot that is normally used for the husband's bath water, upside down and put
the lid of the pot on top of the upside down pot. This informs the husband that his
wife is having her period. Normally a woman does not fetch bath water for her
husband during her period. After the period is over, she will remove the red beads
that she had hung with white beads. She will also go to the bathroom and turn the pot
right side up and put water in the pot for the husband to take a bath. When the
husband finds that is wife is no longer menstruating, they will go to the bathroom
together and the woman will give a bath to the husband. All women here do this.
Women here should not let the children know about menstruation. It is bad to
tell them. It is a tradition passed down from our ancestors that children should not
learn about this. Girls should not know about women menstruating. A girl should
only learn about it when she begins to menstruate. She will find it as something
strange happening to her and then her mother will explain it to her. But if she learns
about this from others before she menstruates, she will not hold the same respect for
it as if it were to come as a surprise. Some people are afraid of leaving the cloth used
for one's period in the bathroom because if this is found by other people, they may
cause harm to the woman through the use ofdroga (drugs). Women take the cloth
and wash it and if they find it is smelling, they will throw it in the latrine. Or they
will wash it and put it in a bag. They do this because they fear that people will take it
if it is left in the bathroom. (They worry that people will then use the blood for
making droga.) As a custom, it is bad for people to see the cloth, there is a problem
of witchcraft. When people find the cloth, they may prepare droga out of this and the
woman might fall sick or constantly bleed."
Most women in the bairros and villages follow the custom of hanging up
beads to inform their husbands that they are having their period. One woman heard
that in the past, women would take off all of the beads they wore except the red ones
during their period. Traditions such as turning over the pot in the bathroom and not
putting salt in the sauce during a womans period are no longer followed by most
women in the bairros. Traditionally, women were to sleep on a different mat from
their husband when they were menstruating but today it is quite common for them to
share the same mat. It was and is still viewed by some to be disrespectful to share the
same mat as it was believed that this would cause the man's skin to flake and peel off.
Women traditionally presented ekura (a special plant from which women extract an oil
and put it on their genitals to enhance a man's sexual pleasure) to her husband to
indicate that her period was over.
"It is common in this culture for girls to have sex before they are married but it
is breaking a traditional rule. You are not allowed to have sex before marriage."
"Young women attend both formal and traditional education. When they go to
school, they make close friends because of needs that they have. For instance, they
may need an exercise book, clothes, capulanas, or soap, and having sex with men is
one way to obtain these things. The young women also enjoy having sex."
"In the past, there wasn't a specific age when women got married. We
followed the first menstruation. That was kind of official. You couldn't find ladies
of fourteen years going out and having sex. No, you wouldn't find that." (Rosa)
"Today our young women are inclined to have sex before they are married.
It's after having sex that they think of getting married. If you are unlucky, they just
come to you when they are pregnant." (Luisa)
Women from all over the bairros and the villages remark with frustration that
there is an increase in pre-marital sex and pregnancies among unwed young women.
They see a lot of change in just the past decade. They bring up a number of reasons
for this including the increased freedom of movement and the increase in the number
of girls leaving home during the day to attend school. It also seems that the increase
in die number of single mothers and of marital affairs is influencing this behavior.
Other contributing factors include the impact of the war, economic hardships, the
decrease in traditional education, and the influence of people from more developed
areas. In the past, girls went through traditional education before they reached
puberty and were told that they would soon have a husband and have sex. Today,
especially in the bairros they wait longer to get married and have more time to
experiment with sex.
While women are frustrated that girls are meeting boys at school and
developing physical relationships with them, none of the women spoke of preventing
their daughters from attending school. Some speak often to their daughters about
how pre-marital sex is not a good thing but their advice regarding abstinence is often
Today, girls learn about sex from a variety of sources. Traditional education
is still an important source but increasingly girls learn about it from each other.
Today, as in the past, mothers rarely teach their own daughters about sex.
In the past, girls learned about sex almost exclusively through traditional
education. If a girl married very young, before she received this education, the girl's
godmother would call a namuku (teacher of traditional education) to come to the girl's
house. Luisa described her experience. "If you were married very young, before
you had sex with a man, you would not know what would be happening to you.
This is what happened to me. My godmother called the namuku to my house. I was
there with my husband. When he saw the namuku coming, he took out some money
and gave it to her and then she undressed. She was naked. The teacher talked about
herself and said, "You my daughter, you have to behave in this way." She was
demonstrating what I was supposed to do in bed when I would be having sex. She
was touching any organ that she thought would be useful at that time. And my
husband was even shaking his head because it was something that he had not seen
before. She continued. He took out more money and then she went on talking about
sex. Then she went to talk to him, telling him how he was to take care of me and
how we would be having sex. She was still naked. My husband had a piece of white
cloth that he was holding. After she finished talking, she said to my him, "You had
better come here and dress me." So my husband tied that cloth around her hips. She
was complete with all of the beads around her abdomen, and I really wondered how
courageous my husband was to go and tie the piece of cloth around her. Then she
went to speak to him in private, telling him that at times, he should come to me when
I am asleep and sort of force me to have sex with him. The best time to do this is
when the wife is asleep. My husband said, "Okay."
The first night came and Ijust fell asleep and he was trying to force me to
have sex. I was surprised. I said, "What are you doing?" He just kept quiet. At
times he would succeed. He would force me so I got use to this. That's how it
Today what happens is, in this modem world, our daughters go to the video
club and watch all of these things in the films. They get their feelings to rise and they
just go out and make this (sex) happen. That's why they refuse to go to these
(traditional) schools because they learn about sex before that time. In the bairros there
is no cinema so the girls do not have a choice. They usually attend traditional
education to learn about sex."
Suzana talks about the increase in the number of single young women getting
pregnant today. "Education is very important for girls but I also realize that because
more girls are going to school and interacting with a lot of boys, they are becoming
more sexually active. When a girl gets pregnant, both she arid the boy must leave the
school but the boy can deny that he was the one who made the girl pregnant. When I
was young, playing house was a popular activity among girls but today they do less
of this and spend more time experimenting with sexual relationships."
A well to do woman in town explained that while most young women in town
have pre-marital sex, there are few young unwed women in town who have children.
"It would be difficult to find a woman who would have a child before getting married
because either they become pregnant to put pressure on their lovers to marry them or,
if he still refuses, they would get an abortion. And anyway, the others who don't
want to provoke a pregnancy would prevent it (through use of birth control)."
T raditional Education
"(The traditional teachings focus on) different areas of life, including the .
chores, duties that you do, the way you have to behave before your parents and your
husband, the way you have to walk, the way you have to talk. What was emphasized
there was to have respect for your husband. You must respect him very much." (A
young woman without children who attended mosando (a type of traditional
education), after she was married)
"The goal (of traditional education) is a simple one. It is to have you happy in
your family, with your husband.11 (A married village woman)
For generations, traditional education has been the primary and for many
women, the only form of education received. It is through traditional education that a
girl learns how she is to behave in society. She learns how to behave in front of her
parents and elders, about the chores she must do, traditional practices, about
marriage, sex and how to respect one's husband. She also learns about giving birth
and raising children.
For years, little had changed regarding the importance of traditional education
and it's specific teachings. But with independence in 1975 and the disruption of war
in the 1980s, traditional education's position as the core of a woman's education was
shaken. Frelimo discouraged it and even prohibited it for some years, viewing the
practices as primitive and based on superstitions. The government concentrated on
making formal education the primary source of teachings received by girls and young
Another factor that discouraged traditional education is that during the war,
many people were displaced, making it more difficult to organize and attend such
education. While attendance has decreased since independence, traditional education
continues to play an important role in the lives of girls and young women in the
District of Cuamba. Some women feel that recently there has been an increase in the
number of girls receiving traditional education. Even though women commented
about the diminished popularity of traditional education, there was hardly a woman
that I interviewed who had not received at least one type of traditional education. It
seems that the majority of young women in the villages and many in the bairros attend
at least one type of traditional education. In some villages, young women are
obligated to attend.
While traditional education is still viewed as a very important part of a
woman's life, young women today find some of the teachings to be restrictive and
silly and are ignoring them. Many older women see the loss of these traditions as
having a negative effect on society. While some specific teachings are being cast
aside, the general lessons regarding the behaviors of a woman as a member of
society, a wife and a mother are much the same as they were generations ago and
respected by women of all ages. It is only the women living in town and those who
have received high levels of formal education who reject the idea of traditional
education. However, this does not mean that they are not raised without many of the
same general lessons such as being subservient to the husband and being responsible
for the household chores.
Some of the churches and the Catholic church especially, discourage
traditional education. The Catholic church in the town tells girls that instead of
attending traditional education, girls should attend catechism classes taught at the
church to learn how to behave as a woman. Some Christians have injected a
Christian orientation into traditional education and the elders of the church are the
There are different phases of traditional education and some differences exist
regarding the organization and orientation of the education between the Christians and
Moslems and between different villages, but in general, the young women learn
basically the same things. Some attend one phase while others attend two or three.
The general term for traditional education is winelea. The most popular
education, emwali, is received when a girl begins to menstruate (although she can
also attend it before or after menstruation begins). It is called jibouti by the Moslems
and emwali-wa-Cristo by some Christians. Mosando is another form of the education
with many of the same teachings as emwali and is attended by Moslems and non-
Christians. Mosando comes from the Yao tribe in the north. This used to include
female circumcision but the women in the District of Cuamba have rejected it because
of the pain and the deaths that it caused. While most women are aware of this ritual,
no one knew of it currently taking place nor desired its return. Traditional education
given to pregnant women is knows as nethara.
Some girls attend a phase of traditional education when they are just five or
six years old. However, today it is most common for them to start this education
around the time they begin to menstruate. It is felt that at this age the girls are able
and ready to retain what they are taught. Also, an important part of the education is to
leam about sex and the women want the girls to receive these teachings before the
girls have a chance to leam on their own and get pregnant. It is also not uncommon
for young married women to participate in traditional education.
There are specific women who become teachers (namukus). Generally, it is
women who are recognized as being very knowledgeable of the specific teachings and
who communicate them well. Some teachers are said to have become sick and
during their illness learned the secrets of the medicines and other teachings from the
spirits. A girl's godmother (pwiyamwene) also plays an important role in her
Some phases of the education used to take more than a month and could even
continue for a year but today it is most common for the teachings to take place over a
few days or a week.
As there is no specifically defined manner for teaching or receiving traditional
education, the best way to gain an understanding of it is to listen to the experiences of
Alucia, an experienced teacher appearing to be in her fifties explains the
process of becoming a teacher. "There is no school for becoming a teacher. It
depends on your capacity of convincing the people. If you can say something that
touches the people, which is applicable to life and useful, people will come to you and
invite you to teach. I am clever so I gathered all of the information that I was taught
as a child and which I picked up from other teachers and I saw that I could perform
the task of being a teacher. You become a teacher based on your good ideas, your
good way of thinking and a lot of experience."
She gives an overview of emwali today. "If parents decide that their daughter
should receive this type of education, they go to talk, to the chief When they go, they
have to take something, either a chicken or some money. They tell the chief that they
want their daughter to receive this education. They pay him and return home. Then
they look for a godmother for the girl and take the girl and some money to the
godmother. They prepare food and then call the teacher. The teacher comes to the
godmother's and receives some food and then performs what she thinks is necessary.
After performing, she receives money from the parents of the girls. So in fact, the
teacher is responsible for everything that goes on. Only after this, the teacher says,
"Take your daughter. Everything is finished." So you take your daughter and go
back home with her. This education can take a couple of days, weeks, months or
even a year. It depends on how quickly the girl learns and how stubborn she is.
The girls don't go to see the teacher. It is the teacher who comes to see them.
When she first goes to them, she doesn't go for a long time. She only goes for a day
or a couple of hours and then she leaves. The teaching is a mixture of advice and
actions. There is not an established number or limit to the number of girls that can
attend. It is not an individual kind of education. It is given to a group of girls.
If you are the girl's mother, you are supposed to look for at least two or three
witnesses who have to get involved in the process of the education of the girl. If the
girl learns something and doesn't practice it, you as the witness are supposed to talk
to her, advise her and show her what she has to do. The witnesses don't go with the
girl. They only participate in the arrangement of the whole process. For my
education, there were nine of us, only one less than ten. So that was a good number.
There are a variety of things that the girls learn such as what marriage is, what
they are supposed to do with their husbands, and what they are to do if they come to
their parents' house and don't find their mother outside near theirfather (they are not
to go in the house as their parents may be inside having sex). They learn things like
whit they are to do if a visitor comes such as if he asks for water, you have to go get
it and then kneel down when you pass it to him. If your namuku comes and you
remember her, you will have to kneel down. She will say, "Hodi" to announce her
presence and you are to answer by clapping your hands so that she knows you have
been one of her students. You learn a lot of things like how to take care of your
Inez is a namuko who lives in a village about twenty km. from town. She
sees the process of becoming a teacher as quite different from Alucia. "When a
young girl starts to menstruate, a namuko is called to teach this girl about it. To
become a namuko, one has to fall sick, like with majini (an illness involving the
spirits of the ancestors). This is majini grande which is different from the majini that
advinhas (diviners) get. The sick person must go to find another namuko who knows
the treatment for this illness. Then, the woman can also become a namuko. My sister
and I are namukos because we became sick. Namukos are given this power by God
and their ancestral spirits. People who are sick and don't receive the power of God
and the spirits just get treated and don't become a namuko. Namukos also give
traditional treatment and they teach traditional education to girls. A curandeiro
(traditional healer) prepares medicine for normal majini and when a person is
bewitched, the curandeiro prepares medicine to get rid of the problem. It is different
with the namuko. She prepares medicine for people who become a namuko and for
girls when they start to menstruate."