Listen to the epside here: https://www.hhepodcast.com/podcast/episode/474e823f/mozambique-2000-2005ad-religion
On the South East coast of Africa, just opposite Madagascar, we find the country of Mazambique.
The fun in Mozambique all started with Early Man, as it tends to do. Then fast forward to the 1st to 5th centuries where we see the Bantu migrations bringing the Bantu people to the area. These guys hung out for a while, developing trading centres up and down the coast and exchanging goods, services and who knows what else with traders from the Middle-East.
Then, and this isn’t going to surprise you, the Portugese arrive in 1500 or so. Largely outsourcing the management of the area to Portugese companies, eventually Portugal decided to bring it all in-house and in 1951, the Portuguese overseas colonies in Africa were rebranded as Overseas Provinces of Portugal.
Along with large chunks of the rest of the world, anti-colonialism rose after world war 2 and no more so than in Mozambique, where a guerrilla movement arose. The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) initiated a campaign against Portuguese rule in September 1964 which ran for ten years.
As it happens, at the same time, back in Portugal the ‘Carnation revolution’ was happening in 1974. This was a bloodless military coup that arose in part because people tired of constant war with the colonies.
This helped end the war and in 25th June 1975 Mozambique became independent.
Less fortunately, they were still bordered by white controlled countries – South Africa and Rhodesia. Having a minority government overthrown by Marxist rebels made them nervous, so they funded and supported an opposition force to FRELIMO, called RENAMO.
And so after just 2 years of peace, Mozambique was plunged back into war, a civil war, in 1977.
This meant another 15 years of conflict, keeping the nation from doing much in the way of progressing until 1992, when peace finally broke out.
In 1994 they celebrated with their first elections. In these, FRELIMO come out ahead, but very close with RENAMO, who challenge the results and generally complain that none of it had been fair, establishing a pattern that was to repeat itself for the next decade.
In the last 1990s the country began to show signs of substantial growth, aided by the discovery of billions of dollars worth of natural gas on their doorstep, which is hopefully a sign of better things to come for this nation that hovers in the top 10 poorest countries in the world.
The milennium gets off to a shocking start
In February 2000 Mozambique was hit by catastrophic flooding, the worst in 50 years. 800 people died, thousands of cattle were lost and more than half a million people displaced. Even as late as 2016, people were still living in recovery shelters from the event.
So you can imagine people might turn to religion to make sense of it all.
But what does that look like. The country is a mix of 56% Christian, 18% Muslim, and 7% other, which probably means traditional beliefs, rather than a population of hardcore atheists.
Of the Christians, nearly half are Zionist Christians – a church that seems to be popular in Southern African in particular. But where did it come from?
Where we remember Zion – the one in Illinois.
The Zionist Christian church was founded by John Alexander Dowie, a Scottish-Australian minister who became a faith healer who believed illness is the work of the devil and/or demon possession, therefore faith will keep you healthy.
He ran faith healing events with much drama and tossing away of canes and such. But how could he heal? Some say it was the will of God, others that they were carefully choreographed affairs, restricted only to fervent true believers and reliant heavily on the placebo effect. Later there are also suggestions that he relied on trickery and stooge to maintain his reputation.
Notably, John did not charge for healings. I mean, he did ask for a tithe and donations and became a millionaire based on takings from his congregations, but he didn’t directly charge for healing, so he must have been a good guy right?
So John Alexander Dowie moves from Australia to the United States in 1888, first settling in San Francisco, where he expanded his faith healing into a mail order business. How you mail in faith and get a cure by return of post we are not sure. Let’s just assume money changed hands.
He then moved to Chicago for the crowds attracted to the 1893 World's Fair. There he developed a huge faith healing business, with multiple homes and businesses, including a publishing house.
His ambitions continue, and next he bought land north of the city to set up a private community, which he called Zion City.
The faithful moved in. Zion City residents leased lots from Dowie for fifteen times the amount that he obtained the land for. But don’t worry, the contracts were only for 1,100 years.
The contracts also stipulated strict adherence to a number of laws (e.g. no drinking, no alcohol, no pork, no use of medical doctors) and gave Dowie the right to eject anybody from the town who broke them without the right to receive compensation. Handy eh?
Eventually missionaries from the church came to South Africa in 1904, including John G Lake and Petrus Louis Le Roux, an Afrikaner faith healer where they set up shop.
Interestingly though, on arrival the church became known for mixing black and white in a way not generally done at the time. The church’s promise to reshape human bodies into a new redeemed race, transcending markers of biology and ethnicity, was especially appealing to South Africa’s black citizens struggling with increasing territorial dispossession and political disenfranchisement.
By the 1920s the church in Africa was entirely separated from its American version. And today there are an estimated 15 million southern Africans who belong to one or another Zionist church,
Religion and tradition side-by-side
One feature of Mozambiquan life is that church life seems to sit alongside the continuation of traditional beliefs. Traditional healers thrive, and there are 70,000 Tinyanga to just 1500 regular medical doctors in the country.
When a nyanga is possessed by spirits for the first time, it occurs without warning and unwillingly. The spirits will then force them to abandon all other activities, quit their jobs, and start focusing all of their time and energy on healing people.
This might involve using herbs, or something more unsettling, such as bathing in goat’s blood or making special cuts with a razor blade all over the patient’s body.
The form the sprits take seems to vary widely, including possessions by:
the spirit of a shrimp
a white Rhodesian soldier
The Nyanga’s grandfather
Both a lion and a leopard
Tinyanga can help in the process of healing, driving off restless spirits, such as Mpfhukwa spirits. These are the spirits of fighters and civilians killed during the war who did not receive the proper burial rites.
One such spirit was recorded in 1993, when the Tinyanga from the locality of Munguine in Manica province was asked to deal with the Mpfhukwa spirit of a Renamo commander who had been killed there was afflicting passers-by and preventing them from using the road after dark.
They can also conduct purification rituals. The Timhamba ritual give thanks to ancestral spirits. These usually take place at dawn at the gandzelo tree or in the family cemetery where an animal is sacrificed.
If you want to be a fully certified Nyanga though, you’d better join the AMETRAMO (Association of Traditional Medics of Mozambique). This organisation brings together all the healers from across the country and issues them with a license to practice “doctor” activities. Sounds fishy? Well the work of AMETRAMO has been officially recognized by the government of the Mozambique since 2001.
Whilst we’re still in 2000 to 2005, let’s talk Olympics. No, it’s not related to the topic, but we like to end on something positive.
In 2000 Maria de Lurdes Mutola took gold at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sidney. Maria, known as the Maputo Express romped home in the Women's 800 metres and won Mozambique’s first and, thus far, only gold medal.
In fact, Mozambique has only won one other medal at the games – a bronze in 1996. The winner of that one? Marie de Lurdes Mutola.
Good work Maria.