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Mozambique Island and the Makhuwa-Nahara People



For those who like to travel it’s extremely easy to concentrate on the places you want to visit and activities you want to do when planning a vacation. But the secret that I have learned from seasoned travelers is that to really know a place is to know its people. Ilha de Moçambique is home to some of the most beautiful ocean views and historical landmarks, but what really makes the Ilha worth visiting is the Makhuwa-Nahara people.


The Makhuwa-Nahara are a people group of approximately 320,000 situated in northeastern Mozambique. Nahara means “fisher” in Makhuwa-Nahara (their dialect). They are a rural-coastal people whose main occupation is fishing. Even those who do not fish identify themselves as Nahara so as to distinguish themselves from their other Makhuwa kin living further inland. This designation also reflects a pride among Bantu peoples, as the Nahara tend to be more direct in their communication, culturally conservative, and resistant to change. Most importantly, the cultural and religious center of the Makhuwa-Nahara people is the Ilha de Moçambique. These cultural distinctions might help explain why visiting the Ilha feels like stepping back in time.


The Ilha was once controlled by the Arab world and their influence can still be seen and felt today as most Nahara self-identify as Muslim. Walking the island, you will notice several mosques and hear the calls to prayer throughout the day. Many however, are not familiar with the details of Islamic belief. Not unlike other parts of Africa, traditional African beliefs have melded with Islamic beliefs here. Even though spiritism is renounced publicly, its practices still play a part in the lives of the Nahara. These practices include divination, ancestor veneration, and associated rituals before building a house or at funerals. Diviners specialize in healings, protection, wind, rain, harvest, and cursing enemies.


Illiteracy is high and educational levels are among the lowest in Mozambique among the Nahara. It is not for lack of facilities, because they exist, but the low value placed on education among the Nahara. Because of this, unemployment tends to be high. Most work as fishermen, farmers, and some practice trades (carpentry, masonry, etc.) or are guards.


The Makhuwa-Nahara are a matrilineal culture, meaning the family is traced through the mother’s side. Women are the keepers of culture among the Nahara and they and their children are central. But the mother’s brother (uncle) typically takes the leadership role within the family. One man may have relationships with many women and bear children from all of them throughout his lifetime. The father moves between the homes of his children.


When researching the Ilha you are bound to come across The Governor’s Museum, Fort of São

Sebastião, and pictures of beautiful ocean views. All of those are reasons to visit the Ilha but do not give you the full experience. If you come to the Ilha and do not engage with the Makhuwa-Nahara people I would argue that you haven’t really visited the Ilha.

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