Decolonization and (Dis)Possession in Lusophone Africa

European decolonization was always a messy affair, both for those in power and those dispossessed of it (Betts 1998). Very often, it resulted in the mass migration of a large portion of the colonial population, suddenly and abruptly. This paper conceptualizes decolonization less as a historical event and more as an ethnographic moment, its postcolonial dissonances reverberating across time and space, amidst act of everyday and ordinary affect. The focus is Portuguese decolonization in Mozambique and Angola in the aftermath(s) of their colonial independence(s) in the year 1975, as seen through the eyes of three participant-observers, their focus on things significant. Together, these three testimonies (by Mozambican photographer Ricardo Rangel, a Portuguese Mozambican immigrant to South Africa by the name of Carlos Garcaõ , and Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński who was based in Luanda at the time of Angola’s decolonization) serve to complicate how we view decolonization from both a theoretical and methodological standpoint, as less a brief and simple space in the seemingly seamless transition from colony to postcolony, but rather as moments of “thick-description”(Geertz 1973) wherein one’s possessions come to stand in for loss, despair and hope in the face of an unforeseen future.

About the Author

Pamila Gupta is a Senior Researcher at WISER(Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research) at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She holds a PhD in Socio-cultural Anthropology from Columbia University. Her areas of interest include Lusophone connections across India and Africa, islandness in the Indian Ocean, Indo-Portuguese studies, heritage tourism, and visual anthropology. Two new joint projects include the history of a photography studio and archive in Stone Town, Zanzibar(with Meg Samuelson at UCT) and a study of the Marigold beads co-operative in Bulawayo with Joni Brenner. Her monograph entitled The Relic State: St. Francis Xavier and the Politics of Ritual in Portuguese India was recently published by Manchester University Press (2014).


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