Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Stepping Back in Time

Ah I am getting very lazy in my posting. It is now a month after my fantastic trip to Ilha de Mozambique and I am only now sitting down to write about it on the blog. Ilha has definitely been one of the hi-lights of my time so far in Mozambique. It was amazing to kick back for a few days and explore this country as a tourist, after living in the big city for the past six months (where does the time fly away to, really?) After bidding farewell to Cremildo in Nampula, I hopped aboard a chapa bound for Ilha and spent the next three hours sandwiched between a 350 pound Mozambican Muslim named Amir, who had an opinion on absolutely everything, and an 80 year old Makua woman who kept feeding me these exotic little fruits that I had never seen before and laughing each time I popped a different one into my mouth. The old lady was actually the last one to get onto the chapa and since it was already full to the teeth with people, goats and bags of charcoal the driver simply picked her up and stuffed her through the open window into the seat next to me. A scene you just don’t get back home in Canada.

When we finally got to Ilha I was surprised to see that the Island was actually connected to the mainland by a 3 km bridge built by the Portuguese back in the 1960s. As we crossed the bridge and came closer to the Island I began to feel more and more of the weight of history that hung in the air throughout the place. Ilha de Mozambique has been a meeting place of world cultures for centuries and its diverse inhabitants have constantly been struggling to co-exist on this 3.5 km x 1 km piece of land. Africans, Arabs, Chinese, Indians and Europeans have each left their fingerprints and their seeds on this tiny Island. Long before the Portuguese found their way around O Cabo de Boa Esperança, the Island provided the Islamic Empire with its southern most trading post center along the East African coast.

However, the Portuguese had their sights firmly set on this strategic island and fought the Arab inhabitants, eventually establishing the Fort of St Sebastian. It was this impressive Fort that would protect the Portuguese as they built their colonial headquarters and their dominance over the region of what is presently known as the country of Mozambique. Actually the origins of the name “Mozambique” came from this initial contact between the Arabs and the Portuguese as the Portuguese explorers encountered stiff resistance from the islands inhabitants lead by the Arab sultan Mossa al-Bique. Ilha served as the colonial capital of Mozambique until 1898 when the Portuguese moved it south to the port city of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo). Many Portuguese remained on the island but as the FRELIMO Guerillas increased their offensive in the northern parts of the country during the 1960s, the government decided to remove all administrative resources from Ilha and concentrate them in the much more accessible city of Nampula. No longer serving any administrative or commercial purpose, the Portuguese abandoned Ilha entirely by 1970, leaving the remaining inhabitants in a perpetual time warp on the future world heritage site.

As I stepped out of the chapa and walked around the narrow streets of “stone town” I encountered a remarkable sight that was half ghost town and half vibrant community. Children raced through tiny alley ways while their mothers called at them from the windows of 400 year old buildings. Here was a historic European city that was essentially “taken over” by the dark faced inhabitants that had watched the sun rise on Ilha’s eastern horizon for many years before the arrival of the White Man. I was immediately surrounded by local boys who wanted to sell me everything from beads to sea shells to guided tours of the island. I first needed accommodation and while I had brought along my tent for some beach camping I thought that the experience of sleeping in a nearly 500 year old colonial home would be something to check out.

One of the boys stood out from the rest and introduced himself as “Harry Potter.” He convinced me that I should come and see the house that his brother took care off on the Eastern side of the Island. When we got there I was simply amazed at the place. It was fully renovated and full of antique colonial furniture with huge gothic style windows opening up to the sweet sounding waves and the cool caressing breeze of the Indian Ocean. I immediately jumped when I heard that the place only cost $10/night to stay.

I then finished my day by exploring the 500 year old Fort with a local tour guide named Anibal. We walked all over the fort, past the 300 cannons still pointing menacingly out at would be attackers and the impressive water cistern that sustained the Portugeuse inhabitants under countless military sieges. The cistern still served as one of the Island’s main sources of drinking water until only a few decades ago. Finally, that gleaming white building above is the chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte, the oldest European building in the Southern Hemisphere. Simply amazing!!


Blogger Elise said...

your blog is surely an inspiration. besides historical lessons, you fill your readers with hope.

God bless you!

9:12 a.m.  
Blogger Z said...

Great post Jared! I really enjoy reading your blog, and this is one of your best posts yet.

Keep up the history lessons - but still keep letting us know what life in present-day Africa is like.


5:45 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jared, where did you get that story of Mossa al-Bique?

7:06 p.m.  
Anonymous Nadia said...

Hi Jared,
I am a Mozambican living in London (only until July 2007) and i was now on the net looking for news when i found ur blogg. So happy to read about Ilha de Mocambique. I love that place - it is my magic place

10:15 a.m.  

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