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.
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.
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.
“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.