Famous for its spicy Piri Piri sauce, Mozambique is relatively unknown for its beauty and cultural wealth. To discover this coastal country facing the large island of Madagascar, Dr. Victor Igreja agreed to speak with Far From Africa about his country. Although a member of the Commonwealth, Mozambique, like Angola and a few West African countries, is part of the lusophone world (Portuguese-speaking countries).The country’s name also tells a less known rich history. On the northern coast of Mozambique lies the UNESCO World Heritage site of the island of Mozambique. Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama in 1498, the island was a major port for Arab traders and carried the name of the then sultan Musa Al Big or Mossa Al Bique.
Victor Igreja currently lives in Brisbane and there is no better person to talk about Mozambique than a native man who is a Doctor in Medical Anthropology at the University of Queensland. Victor hails from the central Mozambican province of Manica, once the centre of the Ancient Kingdom of Manica. Its common border with Zimbabwe made the province open to diverse cultural influences, particularly “from the Shonas of Zimbabwe” stresses Victor. To contrast with the long coast line (almost 3,000 kilometers) on the Indian Ocean, Victor describes Manica as “very hilly and some parts of the province have more links with Zimbabwe than to Mozambique. Thus many people have some understanding of English”. The influences aren’t limited to neighbouring Africans or Europeans or Arabs to some extent. Under the Portuguese, Indians were brought from Goa and Durban to Mozambique 100 years ago. This brief Mozambican mosaic gives a little glimpse of the culinary diversity of the country. However, if you were to probe Victor about his tribal heritage, he proudly answers “I feel I am Mozambican”.
Before explaining what it means to be a proud Mozambican, Victor reminds us that the country had experienced civil war between 1976 and 1992, “I grew up in a country at war, and the civil war affected deeply rural areas. In the city where I was living with my family we experienced the indirect effects of the war. We could not go out of the capital city, Maputo; we used to hear the sound of heavy weapons; we spent weeks and months without electricity; we were deprived of water and the hygienic problems were constant. Yet in spite of the chaos, we tried to live a life of normality. I did my primary, secondary and university studies in Maputo with the support of family and friends”.
Although a short civil war broke out in 2013 that lasted until September 2014, Dr. Igreja affirms that what unites Mozambicans is “the desire for a perpetual peace. People show solidarity to each other”. He continues that as Mozambicans “we are very easy going; we easily make new relationships no matter whether the person is poor or rich, we appreciate being with each other. People are very creative to the extent that someone in the country invented the first local television with a wooden “screen”. This television is so powerful because it is the audience that creates the images, and the images can be very empowering, therapeutic and inspire models for future life”.
To further explain what this wooden ‘television’ is, we have to understand that after the war Mozambique was and is still in the process of reconstructing the country once ravaged by violence and illnesses. Some healers in the North of Mozambique introduced this television into their healing practices for the former culprits of violent acts to recover from war violence. As shown in the below picture, the television is a wooden frame, the size of a 17-inch laptop screen, through which patients actively engage with what Dr. Igreja calls ‘extravisual experiences’. This healing practice implies patient’s imagination to create images and talk through them. These images, only visible to them, denounce their evildoings during war time. Dr. Igreja underlines that “the introduction of the notion of television in the work of diviners [healers] was well received by the people because through television people can negotiate the terms of their healing process in ways that they could not do with other methods of healing giving that the healers working with other methods of healing have a lot of power”.
After completing his PhD in Holland, Victor arrived with his family in Brisbane in 2009 to take up an academic position at the University of Queensland. Doctor in Medical Anthropology, he explains that his research revolves around “understanding how culture, political and economic systems shape people’s perceptions and experiences of disease and illness as well as how they respond to experiences of ill health”. His research work extended to another lusophone country, East Timor, to research how people remember their experiences of violence and trauma during the Indonesian occupation, as well as to his new home country, Australia, on problems of family violence.
The Mozambican community in Australia is certainly small and Victor feels that unlike Mozambicans who are curious about foreigners, Queenslanders are shy and have no curiosity to hear from or share with overseas people. Although different, Queenslanders and Mozambicans both enjoy and pursue a very easy going lifestyle. “Life is unfolding well [in Brisbane]. I have many friends, although the majority are foreigners. Brisbane is a great place to raise children and everyone is friendly here”. Victor’s love and work for his native country bring him back to Mozambique every year but the serious instability and the elusive democracy impedes him and his family to think about resettling there.
The Medical Anthropologist will carry on his support for Mozambique through his work and wishes with all his heart that Mozambicans will not give up their struggle for a better future. The research must go on, Doctor!