4. Beach Bars, Culture and Heritage

1. “So you are working with the conservation office. How could you allow the barracas* (*type of precarious structure used for sales) to be built on the beach here??” Eh… I don’t really make the decisions even if I am affiliated with the conservation office while conducting my research, I try to explain and confess my lack of knowledge regarding this contested issue. “Politics are complicated in this place…”, I add timidly. “That is not about politics!” My conversation partner gestures with his arms. “The law is the law. This is a World Heritage Site where you are not allowed to change the built structures! Here in my shop I cannot close one of the doors in the facade and make it into a window. It has to stay like this! Now they are drinking beer on the beach right in front of the mosque. I have never seen anything like this before.” My conversation partner has a shop near the central market, is from one of the old Ilha families and is concerned about the future of his island city. But is this about heritage conservation, about the opinions of the major religious community about the use of space in front of a mosque – or about something completely different?

2. Talking to one of my research partners, he points out that the beach around the contested bar by the mosque is the area used for ” fecalismo a ceu aberto” which translates as “open air defecation” and is a practice much discussed and lamented when talking about tourism development in Ilha de Moçambique. The beach barraca would make defecating people feel ashamed because they would be seen, and the disgraceful practice could be diminished, my colleague asserts. When taking a picture of the beach bar, there are actually two tourists in bikinis trying out the stretch of beach in question – surrounded by 20 schoolchildren having their lunch break.

3. Are we talking about a “cultural tourism” development? Is it heritage vandalism or disrespect for local cultural values?? Does a World Heritage Site only have space for the pristine “heritage tourism” which sports exclusive boutique hotels in historic buildings, “authentic” arts and crafts packaged in a global style and good cuisine? I am making superficial comments on very large issue here, which I intend to analyse during my research. Heritage conservation does in the end benefit whom?

4. The first beach bar in Ilha was built on a quite deserted stretch to the north of the island next to the Fortaleza São Sebastião. This place is now popular with day trippers and locals alike, serving grilled chicken and fish late at night, plus playing loud music on the weekend for people going for a dip in the little rocky swimming area.

Another project is on its way in front of the old Jesuit mission turned Governor’s Palace turned museum, at the edge of a fine square. Here Vasco da Gama looks out at the nicely restored landing bridge which used to be the main access to the island up until the bridge was built in 1969. In a corner on the beach, a rather large beach bar is being built but this time ordered stopped in the name of heritage conservation, as the barraca changes the authentic aspect of the monument by visually intruding in a very prominent place.

5. The amount of money required for investments in the global heritage tourism market, is beyond the horizon of most people not part of the global moneyed elite but who would like to benefit from their position with relations to Ilha de Moçambique by starting some form of tourism business. An option left, is building a barraca, when there is no hope of being able to construct a lodge or guest house in a listed building on the land now worth ten times what it was ten years ago – and which has to be reconstructed in its original style with traditional materials approved by UNESCO and currently becoming scarse.

The correct policy, according to my conversation partner the shop owner, is to allow tourism development on the mainland, which sports beautiful landscape with ample beaches, and is outside the core conservation zone of Ilha de Moçambique and the little islands belonging to the World Heritage listed area. This will leave the island itself for the pristine and exclusive heritage tourism – and hopefully preserve the “outstanding universal value” of the island. I don’t know if the new barracas will have to go. There must certainly be many creative ways of making “cultural tourism” – a concept which currently seems to cover any tourism on Ilha. Hopefully there are also ways of developing more inclusive tourism than reserving the island for 5 star tourism – and without offending the muslim community, counting roughly 90% of the population on Ilha.

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About Silje

Architect and PhD Candidate based in Copenhagen, Denmark, but working mainly with heritage conservation and urban development in Ilha de Moçambique 2011-13. You can contact me on macutiblog at gmail dot com
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