“Ilha de Moçambique is a place outside this world”, my friend says as we are having dinner in Maputo. “What do you mean? I have been saying it is a place at the end of the world”, I respond. What is the difference, and how can a place have this character of being out out of time? We have both been there and experienced the reality of the place. Still the myth is so strong that we carry it with us.
I am on my way to start PhD fieldwork in Ilha de Moçambique in March 2011. Focus is on the macuti town, on the changing popular architecture in the very crowded and at times unsanitary part of town where most of the 18.000 inhabitants live. The rest of the city includes a Portuguese fortress from the early 17th century and a partly abandoned trading settlement built of limestone, “The stone and whitewash town” now ready for tourism development. This contrasts with “The macuti“, where houses were built of precarious materials including the palm frond roofs giving the name macuti. The whole little island city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a conservation strategy for the macuti is being called for, along with attempts to diminish the decay of the limestone buildings in the stone town. Traditional building techniques and materials are disappearing, and a sustainable strategy for balancing conservation and development is not obvious. The myth of the glamorous “lost” historic city now in ruins, may somehow be retreating when considering the difficulties of developing sanitation facilities in the macuti and its history of a clearly divided settlement along racial lines, earning its wealth from slave trade continued long after the international ban on buying and selling humans like animals.
I will use this blog to drop a line now and then from the place beyond time.