18. Participation – mapping urban heritage

During my stay in Ilha I am working with the Conservation Office improve heritage management in the 7 bairros making up the “macuti town”. There is currently quite a lot of confustion as to how to treat this part of the World Heritage site. In order to proceed with recommendations, I have bought a flip chart, pens in different colours and decided to conduct small workshops and public meetings in “the community” in order to understand different points of view with regards to the heritage value of the macuti houses. 

The ideas of “participatory planning” have been part of development practice since the 1990s, and today any self-respecting NGO seems to have manuals on participatory planning and community involvement. There are databases with hundreds of titles in several languages, referring to almost any kind of process which involves asking the people who are supposed to benefit from development projects what their priorities are, or even just conducting training sessions explaining the programmes to local communities. Using mapping as part of processes understanding environmental problems, land use issues and management of waterways and infrastructure services has become well established as good practice and a way to bring out knowledge of the physical environment shared by the communities. I intended to employ some very basic interactive techniques to add alternative views to an understanding of the architectural and urban heritage in the southern part of Ilha de Moçambique and to facilitate a discussion.


I called meetings through the 7 bairro secretaries in order to discuss my ideas for urban management policies which could improve conservation of the built heritage of the macuti bairros. I was surprised when large numbers turned up, most of them having no idea what the meeting was about. This is generally the way public meetings are called. I put up laminated A3 size photographs of macuti houses as their streetscapes, which attracted a lot of attention. There was a general feeling that people were happy I came to their bairro to talk to them. Normally the leaders of the bairros are called to the other side of town and expected to communicate what happens at various workshops to their communities.

However, there was also the general expectation that I was coming to help them with some kind of development project, being involved with the government heritage management office and generally being a white foreigner assumed to come with pockets full of money. When I turned the discussion around to ask them what they could do to generate income to help maintain the crumbling family houses of macuti and pau a pique, there was a bit of confusion but also people who came up with ideas of being a tourist guide selling handicrafts or other ways small businesses could be made out of the heritage in the bairro. Poverty and lack of supply of the increasingly expensive macuti leaf, is making it difficult for people to maintain their houses and cover the roofs, irrespective of whether they are World Heritage or not.


Based on the people showing interest at the meeting, often dominated by the women owning macuti houses but not havingt he means to keep them in good order, I called a mapping session with a smaller group to see how the macuti houses could fit in with the general idea of heritage in the bairro, which had been discussed at the public meeting.Some bairros had a very clear idea of what the heritage of their bairrro was. Marangonha has an old well which existed before all the macuti bairros were constructed and in which the legend says a white man put a crocoldile, and the map in the bairro reflected the square around the well. Then was added rows of houses closest to where we were sitting when doing the exercise and ending in the corner market called “the night market”, which is important for the bairro and has a history going back to at lest the 1920s.

Other bairros started drawing all the houses which belonged to someone “important” in the bairro, more or less all their friends and neighbours who had been living in the bairro for a long time. In Litine the old madrassas were drawn, where a sheikh from Yemen, from the Comores or from the old families on the mainland had established schools and taught. The houses of artesans and dances were identified. Generally shops were indicated, and a lot of importance was given to the stories of the staircases giving access to the low lying neighbourhoods from the streets running higher up. At points in the process I intervened in the discussion in the local language I still don’t understand, to ask whether things they drew were “heritage”, and at points this was forgotten in the process of mentioning what was really important to them when identifying sites in the bairro. The old football club could maybe also be heritage? Which attributes of urban history and urban identity carry the heritage values??

The drawings will be drawn digitally and made into maps the communities can use, possibly as part of a form of tourist information. Some of them will be presented in a forum at the cultural festival coming up at the end of October. As part of my research they open up a window for me to see how the urban identity and history of the bairro could be represented by the group present and initiating the discussion of what urban heritage may be in this part of Ilha. There are other initiatives going on based on immaterial heritage conservation and training of people to conduct cultural tourism tours. Linking these to the urban heritage could be partly achieved through the maps. The process could continue to include writing of histories linking school children with the older members of the community, for example, linked to the museum, if there was capacity to run such a project. As was said by the Brazilian consultant in creative industries who came by last week, “culture is not a scarce resource”. Heritage may be a scarce resource, though, and is still generally seen as such.


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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