In the Wake of Colonialism

Grupo Madal in colonial and post-colonial contexts

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Bjørn Enge Bertelsen

Mozambique is in certain ways a particular country as it provides ample opportunities to explore the post-colonial and colonial field from different scholarly angles. Although there is research in and on Mozambique on the continuities between the commercial sectors of Portuguese colonialism (from the 1500s onwards) to liberation in 1975 (following its war of liberation), on the Mozambican civil war (1976-1992) and on the current political and social situation, research in Mozambique lack both detail and depth compared to similar cases from Zimbabwe, South Africa etc.

One of these ‘blind spots’ in Mozambican history and current context is the enornmous plantation system of Grupo Madal in the northern Zambézia province. This plantation is not dealt with specifically in any great detail in neither of the major works in this area, unless it is given as an example of larger aspects of the general development of the province. The fact that research on for example Grupo Madal’s colonial and post-colonial history is this scant makes research on this interesting, promising and important also in a Mozambican context.

As a social system, the current plantation system at Grupo Madal (beef production, cocoa, timber) is almost all-embracing; the workers, partly recruited locally and partly regionally, lives around or inside the plantation area. Wages are spent mostly on goods and services that Grupo Madal offers their workers as there are very few other competing providers in the often desolate areas where these are, and the working hours are very long (Rønning 2000).

Since Grupo Madal was established at the beginning of the 20th century it has gradually expanded, and one may assume that the expansion has created tensions vis-à-vis the local population as these have experienced the lands surrounding them that have been used for fishing, hunting and agricultural activities gradually reduced. In a context in which a repressive and expanding colonial system operates, the resulting tensions may be envisaged on several levels, and this project will attempt to explore some of these: Were the colonizers and the plantation owners and administration viewed as representatives of a repressive system? Do people in their memories of historical contexts and prior practices at Madal differentiate between colonizers? And if so, what image, if any, exist of Norwegian actors? Did people experience any changes in their material standards of living after the liberation in 1975 and with Frelimo now in power?

Given Grupo Madal’s long-term presence in the area these approaches may inform an analysis of relations between the colonial and post-colonial in Mozambique, but in a very concrete sense as it builds on a certain context. In relation to the questions asked above, this project also aims at exploring different aspects pertaining to the meeting of people from different groups in Madal: People from different regions and provinces came to live and work there. What tensions, if any, did this create? How are the perceptions of the autochthon – those ‘from the soil’, original – managed in this kind of setting?


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