Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Mozambique Diaries Part 1: Saturday Boulevard Market in Maputo by Debasish B

A dip into the Ocean of African Artisan Crafts – Saturday Boulevard Market in Maputo, Mozambique

Guest Post by Dr. Debasish Bhattacharya.

I started my freelancing career with a special attraction of travelling to places more frequently. As I was always travelling as a part of my profession, I wanted more of it and decided to go for freelancing that had provided me opportunities to work abroad also and thus I could see a lot of places beyond the country’s boundary. But, I earned some complements from my nearest ones this way – hardly stays at home…..always on wheels…..ha ..ha ..ha.

My first assignment abroad happened to be in Africa….the land of my dreams since the days I was studying Anthropology. The country was Mozambique, a country where people speak Portuguese, some in local dialects including Afrikaans (the national language of South Africa) due to its proximity as the nearest neighbour.

Before leaving I searched net and found an interesting story about the country and that was so similar to one about my birthplace Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta). The first Portuguese ship harboured near the shore saw a man working on the beach. The captain asked him the name of the place and he replied ‘Musa Ali Baig’, as he thought the foreigner asked his name. The captain informed his team – Hey, this place is ‘Mozambique’. Isn’t it similar to the story about our ‘City of Joy’? I was more surprised by the Indian connection about the country’s name. I searched more and found that many Indian slaves via Arabian business routes used to be ported to this land much before it became a Portuguese colony.

My flight from Delhi took me to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique via Nairobi, Kenya. From Nairobi we were shifted to a smaller aircraft for Maputo. While flying above Mount Kilimanjaro I heard our flight crew asking us to see from the right windows. I was fortunate to sit near it and I saw a steep peak rupturing the clouds like a spearhead trying to reach our miniscule aircraft. I was spellbound to see the way the mountain raised its high head from a barren undulated terrain below. Suddenly, within a few minutes, there was another announcement – Look below…….. I was like…confused….what was that!!!! A thick cloud of yellow dust filling almost the whole landscape below, and the cloud was led by dark black mobile patches……oh my God….wildebeests…Yes, said the crew member…..they are on a long journey. From such a height it was so spectacular and unexpected that I could not sit without dropping my jaws. It was not in my dream travel itinerary……I was feeling extremely lucky.

From Maputo International Airport my client organization picked me up and took me to the office cum guesthouse. Since it was a Saturday I was briefly introduced to the team members who waited ignoring their weekend just to say hello to me. I was provided with some documents on my project on Nacional Estradas 1 (National Highway 1). Then started my weekend holiday, oh it was such a welcome.

I asked my driver (fortunately he could speak and understand English a bit) to take me to some nearby places since it was a holiday. Sir, why can’t we visit the Saturday street-side market? – said my driver. I was not very keen on seeing a weekly market there in Maputo, but I nodded positively. He took me to a boulevard in front of Maputo Port on the shore of Indian Ocean.

Sir, we have arrived – said the driver. I got down from the car and was simply bowled over by the scene of the spot. It was a special market…..a weekly market of handicrafts. I murmured to myself – thank God, I did not refuse this trip thinking of a mundane place for just buying and selling. I also realised how different and nice experiencing traditional markets instead of peeping through large glass windows in larger than life, extra-sophisticated malls all around in my present hometown Delhi.


Saturday Market, Maputo



Wooden carvings and batik items were displayed all around the place. The craftsmen themselves put on their stalls….even they engraved names on wooden utensils, key rings or pen-stands. There was ebony with stark glossy black finish, brightly painted wooden fruit-trays, dolls, refrigerator magnets, intricately engraved walking sticks, grass bags and so on. I was just getting lost in the ocean of hand crafted products so indigenous of Maputo City. I knew how to do batik as I was trained in my school. But the wall hangers, dress materials and bed sheets were so different in treatment that I could not take my eyes off. The designs, the use of colours and the conceptualization of the batik items were inspired by local people, animals, culture and mythical stories. There were few more things which attracted me – pendants, earrings, bangles all made of colourful wild seeds and wood pieces. I was awestruck to see necklaces made of dried baby coconuts. The craft items also had some products made of clamp shells, cowries and dried coral twigs.

Saturday Market, Maputo


Saturday Market, Maputo


Saturday Market, Maputo


Now, it was the turn of my driver to get bored to see me spending so much time watching the craft products, talking to the artisans and taking snaps of the place. He could not hold asking me to leave the Saturday market as he wanted to show me some other places in Maputo. As it was nearing darkness we bid adieu to the craftsmen there and pushed off for detour through city roads.

On the way back we stopped at the Cathedral of Nossa Senhora da Conceicao. It was a marvelous building majestically standing tall on an important road crossing.


Cathedral of Nossa Senhora da Conceicao


My Saturday Maputo trip was coming close to an end. I asked my driver to take to the beach-side for quenching my thirst with fresh green coconut water. We spent some more time near the beach and left for my guesthouse through a calm and shadowy bay road.


Bay road, Maputo



I enjoyed talking while coming down to the guesthouse with my driver and got to know from him that we would go out for a field trip coming Monday along Highway 1 for a not-less-than 1200 km one-way trip by the road.

To be continued ...