Mozambique – Macua people: living in harmony

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The Macua are the largest ethnic group in Mozambique. Some cultural traits of these people.

The region inhabited by the Macua overlooking the Indian Ocean to the east, with more than 600 km of coastline, covers an area of ?about 200,000 sq km. It is bordered to the north, towards Tanzania, by the Makonde’s territory, on the west by Lake Malawi, which separates it from Malawi and in the southern part, the region extends up to the city of Quelimane, inhabited by the Chuabo, a small group, ethnic cousins ??of the Macua. All this vast region is affected by the monsoons. The moisture laden winds start blowing from the Indian Ocean, in October, at the beginning of the rainy season, called eyira.
The highlands of the hinterland – Upper Zambezia and Niassa – are abundant with rainfalls in November, while December brings rain along the coast. It is normal among the Macua people to invoke God for rains, offering propitiatory sacrifices. Rain is considered a concrete sign of God’s blessing.
The Macua people are approximately 4,000,000 and are the largest ethnic group in Mozambique.
The Macua society is matriarchal. The nihimo (clan, birth) is a community made up of mother (called pyamwene), children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other descendants tracing the matrilineal line. Women and men are carriers of the same ‘heritage’, inherited from a common ancestor, but only women have the privilege and are entitled to pass it down to their children. The nihimo is a permanent and almost mystical entity that unites all those descending from the original female ancestor, and groups both live and dead people in a single community. When Macua individuals, both boys and girls, are born, they become members of a nihimo, to which they belong by right. All individuals belonging to the same nihimo, therefore, mac5consider themselves family. They are shaped conforming to their clan, in accordance with the nihimo they belong to, and they cannot get rid of it. Children belong to their mother’s nihimo. Men in a clan seem to have the marginal role of generating individuals and nothing more. Each nihimo refers to a progenitor. The Mwene, the clan chief, is chosen among the collateral female line descendants .
In the Macua society individuals know exactly what they are supposed to do. Men’s tasks are: building houses, hunting, clearing the land, selling the products of the fields. Women’s duties are: collecting grass for the roof, taking care of the children, cooking, farming the land. Men seem to do the toughest job, but as a matter of fact, women work much more. Children are welcomed with joy. Infertility is one of the most common reasons for divorce.There are several taboos (mwikho) with regard to conception and birth. During pregnancy, mothers are not supposed to eat certain foods that are believed to adversely affect the normal development of the unborn child. The Macua people organize initiation rites for children between 5 and 12 to mark their formal entrance into the community. Once, initiation rituals went on for months, several of them represented the death of the child and the birth of the individual as an adult. Individuals were supposed to undergo several physical tests: bearing hunger and cold, being beaten for the very first time in their life, and suffering humiliation. The person taking initiation was introduced to a school of practical life. For instance, he was taught what to do in case of illness, or how to bury dead people.
mac3In the Macua society, the elderly are highly respected as natural repositories of wisdom and tradition. Not one among the young people would ever dare to contradict them. Old people are still considered reference points. Macua people have reverential awe for the elderly. They think that dead people can take revenge and cause misfortune if they were mistreated during life. These people’s attitude regarding death is generally serene. They are fond of life, but consider death as a natural circumstance. They are scared of getting a disease, not of dying. ‘Okhwa orowa’, ‘Dying means going somewhere else’. Where? In the world of the spirits roaming in the woods, especially around baobab trees or in the mountains’ caves. The Macua strongly believe in ??survival, and especially in communion and communication between living people and their ancestors. Dead people are considered to be much more powerful than the living ones. They are able to give health, rain, or deny them, if they are mistreated. Macua people think ancestors can also manifest themselves through dreams or soothsayers and ask for sacrifices.

The Religious feeling
The Macua religious feelings and beliefs embrace the whole cosmos. In their beliefs the universe is populated by material and spiritual beings, which form a single reality. In the Macua’s cosmos, men are not something apart, as they  live in symbiosis with nature. Macua people believe that there is someone in the universe that makes things go. They are not really interested in knowing God and living in communion with Him. They are much more interested in receiving from God or His intermediaries their basic needs: health, food and rain, all precious things that are not under their control. The relationship these people have with God could be compared  to that between a ship and the sea. The sea is something taken for granted, and so is God to the Macua people: something they can rely on and that will always be there to help. Macuas’ main law is: ‘living in communion’. So what fosters communion is moral, while what opposes it is immoral. The meaning  of ‘communion’ is interpreted in a broad sense. The  Macua’s first rule is living in communion with the universe. This means: respecting nature, not breaking its rules, behaving in order that nature be well disposed towards men, respecting it and living in harmony with it. The boundary between the animate and the inanimate is rather vague among this group. What is extremely important to them is living peacefully with the others. Hence the respect and the utmost care not to argue or break up with anyone. The Macua are aware that once balance is compromised it is unlikely to be restored; ‘mulattu khununtta!’ (in their words, “disputes do not ever rot!”), meaning that ‘disputes never end’, and quarrelling always leaves an aftermath of bad feeling. (S.P.)


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