International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Hacktreks
Nivali - Mozambique
seen through a community
The history of Africa is written in the faces of the people who
live it through their daily struggle. To understand the changes
that happen in Africa, one needs to hear the tales of how the struggles
that people have faced have affected them; how they have lived and
died with them.
The community of Nivali is an impoverished community in northern Mozambique.
To get there, one must drive for more than two hours outside the provincial
capital Nampula, on a desolate road towards the city of Pemba. Amid
impressive stone columns that occassionally litter the landscape, one
must drive onto a one-track dirt-road that during the rainy season is
all but impossible to drive on. A 25 Km uncomfortable drive brings one
to Nivali: there is no electricity or running water; only one water-hole,
donated by a European NGO, where the women huddle around with baskets
and pots to fill the water that is most valuable in a place like this.
The isolation of the area is telling: In the early 1950s a lion
stalked the area, killing many villagers. Some of the village elders,
Mr. Adrian Baltazar (77) and Mr. Jaime Riquela (57), vividly told about
the threat of the lion as a changing moment in the villages history.
Away from the rest of the world, they had been at the mercy of Africas
A local villager finally managed to kill the lion.
"He had a ground-nut farm near Alua", was all they told of
this apparent hero.
Mr. Adrian Baltazar is one of the oldest community-members: his parents
were among the first settlers in Nivali sometime in the early 20th century.
However, nobody in the community, even the elders, had any idea on where
these first settler had come from; they were all farmers, and their
parents had been farmers.
As subsistence farmers, they were all highly dependent on their crops
and therefore the elders as Mr. Baltazar and Mr. Riquela mentioned a
locust plague in 1934-35 which caused massive destruction of crops,
and a serious famine followed.
"Many people died. Mostly children", Mr. Riquela said, even
though he had not been there himself, but vividly remembered his parents
telling about the event.
The community had, as still is the case today, been a victim of the
merciless African nature many times: In 1956 the community was hit by
a devastating cyclone. Community members told how all houses had been
razed to the ground. Still, there was a clear sense of challenge towards
the merciless nature; the elders conclusion about this event, was that
it had led them to put greater effort into building more solid huts.
Although cyclones had returned later, they had not been felt as bad
as that one.
Not so the case of famine.
These farmers are still very dependent on weather patterns for their
food, which almost exclusively comes from their own plots.
Hunger is never entirely far away - everyone in the community has experienced
it -, but many have also experienced more serious famines. They tell
it with a serious expression, but with a casuality that this is what
one can expect from life if one has never experienced it differently.
They told of grave famines in 1957 (as a direct consequence of the cyclone),
1960, 1975 and as late as 1980. The last one was in the memory of many
of the community members, and one woman told how she had been forced
to fed the children with roots.
The isolation of the community makes it vulnerable not only to natural
disasters, but also to the scourge of diseases that we would hardly
think about in Europe. The Frelimo government tried, right after independence
to build health posts all over the country, but failed to create a lasting
impact. In Nivali there is also a small health post, impossibly trying
to help without electricity, resources, or medicine.
Malaria remains one of the worse killers, but once in a while the community
has been hit by worse diseases: In 1998 the community was hit by a cholera
epidemic and several people died; everyone seemed to tell about a family
member who perished. Another epidemic, this time meningitis, hit them
in 2000, killing several children.
Natural disasters, hunger and diseases; one would have thought that
Nivali had seen it all, but this was not the case, as colonization and
war had also been part of the community.
The Portuguese colonizers even made it to this faraway place: In 1940,
Portuguese settlers planted the first cashew trees, thus beginning one
of the most important commercial crops in the area during colonial times.
Today, cashew nuts are still important, as the many trees planted by
the Portuguese colonizers are still visible everywhere. But many of
the trees are too old for any significant productions, so whatever is
produced, goes to the communitys own consumption.
Portugal, a declining country at the edge of Europe, had during the
Salazar regime sent thousands of settlers to their African colonies.
This was even felt in area like Nivali. In 1948, the first store in
the community was opened by a Portuguese colono, as they called the
settlers, Mr. José Pereira. The store was small, and primarily
catered for other Portuguese settlers in the area, as well as the so-called
asimilados, which they called the locals who had accepted Portuguese
customary law and adopted Portuguese customs.
The first school in the community was opened in 1948 as well. It was
small, and aimed at Portuguese settlers and asimilados.
Mr. Riquelme said that he had been to the school as a child: "But
I was not asimilado enough, so I dropped out", he said almost casually,
yet with some hidden pride. Mr. Riquelme later became a member of Frelimo,
who had in 1964 initiated a war of liberation against the Portuguese.
The war was hardly felt in Nivali until independence finally came in
1975: all community member who had been alive at the time said they
had celebrated when the news arrived partly by Frelimo soldiers
and by the Portuguese leaving; Mr. José Pereiras house
and store had been ransacked and destroyed as the community had rejoiced
in their countrys independence.
But "it was a step back in time", Mr. Motola said as they
all remembered the sudden food shortages that hit all over Mozambique
when the Portuguese left. The Portuguese settlers, in control of the
entire economy, basically took everything with them when they left,
most importantly, their skills and machinery for agricultural production.
Freedom proved a difficult struggle for Mozambicans, and in Nivali they
had to resort to planting more land and new crops to try to feed the
population. Still, there was famine.
After Mozambique gained independence, the Portuguese left an impoverished
and poorly educated population behind. The newly independent Frelimo
introduced state Socialism, and this was felt directly by the farmers,
as farm cooperatives were introduced all over the country, also in Nivali.
In 1981, following hunger and a massive government attempt to educate
the poor communities, community-villages were organized under government
guidance. It was in this period that the community actually started
to feel that there was a Mozambican government, when a national census
brought government officials out to Nivali, and a new currency was introduced,
However, the young Mozambican state was soon embroidered in the great
politics of the cold war as the rebel group Renamo took up arms with
South African and American support. The horrible civil war that followed
was primarily fought in the rural areas, and Nivali suffered it directly,
and everyone who was alive remembered when the first attacks happened
1985. Hundreds were killed in a single massacre in a small church. People
immediately left the community to seek refuge in more safe areas.
The entire community was completely abandoned for eight years.
In 1992 Renamo and Frelimo signed a peace accord, aptly mediated by
the Catholic church. In 1994 the first multi-party elections took place.
Everyone in the community remembered that they had been out to vote,
and Frelimo gained a huge majority in Nivali, as well as gaining the
power in the the rest of the country with Renamo now acting as the main
"Some people voted Renamo, as they were fighting with them during
the war, but most people voted for Frelimo, and we want peace",
Armando Pasqual (37), member of the farmer association of Nivali, said,
displaying the general mood of people who had little idea about what
the war had been about.
The years following the peace accord have brought a fragile stability
to Nivali, as well as to the rest of Mozambique.
Over the past eight years Mozambique has experienced significant economic
growth: foreign investment has multiplied in areas of mining and tourism,
and Mozambique has become an exporter of electricity and aluminium.
However, the growth has largely been concentrated in the south and in
the urban areas, and a community like the one in Nivali is still isolated
"Although things are not as bad as they used to!", Mr. Jaime
Riquela says when confronted with their poverty. "We are now organised
and have more materials to work the land."
spite of the apparently unsurmountable obstacles a European newcomer
sees, everything must be seen in relation to all the what Nivali
has gone through: how the community has undergone tremendous changes,
as the history of Mozambique was unfolding around them, from colony,
to liberation war, independence, socialism, civil war to becoming
the poor developing country under massive donor tutelage it is today.
They have seen
people die, they have reconstructed their village, and are more aware
than anyone that change is slow, and may be influenced by unexpected
This is a wisdom that is all but impossible to grasp for an outsider.
These are the people that are forming this young country, Mozambique,
and their strength at the hardest of times is the countrys biggest
© Erik Kristensen March 2009
erikclevesk at gmail.com
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