10. … One Two Three Gone!

House demolished this week

I have not understood how quickly the macuti (palm frond roof) houses are disappearing just now at this moment. I first started walking around the different neighbourhoods in Ilha in March. Already at this time Hafiz and Fefé who were accompanying me called attention to the issue and cried out at various points in our walk: “Ah, another big beautiful macuti house gone!” 

Now we have May. This week two houses in one of the most beautiful alleys with what used to be a row of macuti roofs in Areal neighbourhood, have been demolished or remodelled. I was considering this conjunct to be an obvious case if some acupuncture points of conservation should be considered for macuti houses and their urban environments. One of the houses in between the two changed and demolished, is very special and with high conservation value, displaying a distinct Indian influence and dating back to the 19th century. The other one is interestingly enough maybe the only macuti house so far renovated as holiday house by a European.

Happy Safina Amisse

The house remodelled belongs to Safina Amisse. The palm frond roof needed to be fixed after cyclone damage, and she heard that buying new macuti now is so expensive. If she put zink sheets instead, her life as a widow with not many means, would be easier. There would not be the need to maintain the roof with new palm frond tiles every year.

Brother Fernando Amisse with children in front of discarded macuti tiles

Her brother Fernando Amisse is there to help her. He is a trained blacksmith and knows how to give advice in practical matters. One week ago they fixed a corner of the house which had a big crack, made holes through the walls to put up scaffolding and pulled down the palm frond roof. The front has been extended with cement blocks, and the zink sheets are ready to be put up.

House in transformation

“Everyone here is fighting for development. We see the neighbour has this and that, buys a car and people try to arrange themselves.” There is a Portuguese word called “enrascar” which in Mozambique is used to describe how people manage to organise themselves, to get by, even if they don’t really have any money or ressources. “People enrasca to secure their houses”, Fernando Amisse says. Looking further down the street, most houses have an unplastered cement block front going black with mold. When mentioning “development”, he pointed at these houses. They both know that the new roof will make the new house very hot, but Safina is content. Now things will be better.

End of March: The house remodelled this week in the backgorund

End of March: The house demolished this week in the background


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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7 Responses to 10. … One Two Three Gone!

  1. Stefano Ferroni says:

    an idea could be … “adopt a macuti house” … a responsible tourism agency make a deal with some of the owners of the houses and finds people interested in living in it for few weeks per year … part of the profit goes to the owner for maintainance of the house

  2. Silje says:

    Thank you Stefano,
    There are some ideas for a project brewing, including B&B in the macuti neighbourhoods, plus telling the history of this part of town to tourists etc. But I believe by the time the people involved agree on an organisation, the project gets going, gets funding etc, most of the macuti houses at least in Areal and Marangonha will be gone… Let’s see what we can do.

    • Silje says:

      Oh, and ps, there are of course a lot of people – probably most people here – who find it meaningless trying to conserve houses of macuti and pau a pique….

  3. carmo mota says:

    It is a pity if these macuti houses would become “an endangered species” in Ilha, but the authorities are also responsible for this. Isn’t one of the tasks of the GACIM (?) to keep the architectonic aspects of all the buildings? People are looking for cheap solutions for “confort”, but if they had no financial problems maybe they would choose macuti roofs…

    • Silje says:

      Carmo, this whole issue is quite complicated. You are right that the authorities have a responsibility to keep the “Outstanding Universal Value” of the World Heritage Site. However, there is no clear strategy exactly how to do this. I will be writing more on this issue when my research really gets going. The macuti ends on the roofs of tourist lodges rather than on local people’s roofs at the moment….

  4. Paula says:

    Macuti is not the only material that could be used. The mainland waterfront is beautifully roofed with various types of weeds, uniform looks, cheap, available in quantities required! The cheap zinc roof sheets rust away almost as fast as good macuti, but they look like “development”. I think that one of the very difficult things to change is the general attitude towards grass roof looking “poor and backward”.
    Reward the nicest houses, make competitions and public campaigns, macuti-music, take ministers and presidents to visit “good examples”, make public picture shows of the good ones and make maps for tourists to go and find them, tell the house-owners to keep something that they can sell on the verandah so that the tourists sit down to have a beer or softdrink, or something. Having a nice house could be made profitable!

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