Narrating Ruins. Landscapes of belonging and the remains of history in a southern Mozambican district

Drawing from ethnographical research in the district of Manjacaze, southern Mozambique, this paper reflects on the use of the word “ruins” by its local inhabitants to simultaneously translate particular geographies of belonging and critically comment historical processes, moving beyond colonial and postcolonial dichotomies. The territory of Macasselane, a village in Manjacaze district, is read by its inhabitants as having two distinct spacialities: the “village”, a neighborhood created in 1984 that draws upon a colonial effort of spatial and social ordering, and the “ruins”, comprising the old family homesteads. This word, “ruins”, becomes a constitutive layer of a cartography of memories and life experiences, acting as a powerful metaphor for a sense of loss and “ruination” (Stoler (ed) 2013) that pervades the narratives about the present. Though an ethnography attentive to the sensorial dimensions that sustain daily life (Stoller 1989), we can observe as the term “ruins” not only refers to the physical remains that dot the landscape but also to a critic of contemporary life, where colonial past is frequently used to counterbalance present time. By calling their places of memory as “ruins”, local population writes their own history and gives meanings to the ruins among which they live.

About the Author

Pedro Pombo has recently received his PhD in Anthropology at ISCTE – IUL, Lisbon, focused on places of belonging, space and history in a southern Mozambican district, bringing the colonial archive to the ethnographic field and exploring a dialogue between written sources and oral history. He will briefly join the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, India, as a postdoc fellow, with a research titled “Mapping Mozambique in Diu: narratives, places and senses of belonging across the Indian Ocean”, that continues previous research on the cultural links between Western India and Mozambique. In 2014 and 2015 he was a visiting scholar and teaching assistant at Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, India. He was engaged in long term ethnographic research in Southern Mozambique for his doctoral research and in Goa, India, as grantee of the project “Colonial logics: space and society in Goa” directed by professor Rosa Maria Perez. His research and professional interests cross academic boundaries, linking spatial studies, cultural and architectural heritage with anthropology and ethnographic research.


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