People & Culture

Many groups

Mozambique is home to a variety of groups, who speak around 40 different languages and dialects belonging to the Bantu family.

Groups include the Makua, Thonga, Shona/Ndau, Sena, Nyungwe and Yao. Mozambicans often move around to find work and as in most countries, people are used to intermingling.

Language difficulties: Following Portugal’s colonial rule until 1975, Portuguese remains the official language and is used by government, law and business. However, Mozambicans grow up speaking a local mother-tongue. They must therefore learn Portuguese at school. Since school attendance rates are poor, less than half the population speaks and writes Portuguese with fluency.

Local customs and culture

Many customs in Mozambique are rooted in the culture of local groups, passed down by the generations. Local culture affects how people practise their religious beliefs, healing methods, rites of passage for young men and women, and how they deal with their community leaders. Song and dance play an important part in many local customs and ceremonies.

Tofu goes global

In 2011, the international pop star Beyonce flew a group of tofu dancers from Mozambique to the USA, so they could teach her dance team their unique moves.

Local dance ceremonies include the hunting dance of the Chopi, where the dancers dress in lion skins, the ‘hopping’ dance of the Makua men who move around on tall stilts and the tofu dance of Mozambique Island and the northern coast. In Tete, a common dance is nyanga, where the dancer sings and plays the panpipes (also called the nyanga). Another dance of the region is the Nyau Gule Wamkulu Dance.

Perhaps the most well-known example of a local ceremony is the mapiko dance of the Makonde people, who live in northern Mozambique. The men cover themselves with cloth and wear carved wooden masks. Here, they represent spirits who come to frighten the local women. The dance is said to have grown out of male attempts to challenge the power of their women, because the Makonde are a matrilineal society (as explained below).

As well as carving Mapiko masks, the Makonde are also known for their wood sculptures. These often include a number of figures for stories about the generations. This type of sculpture is known as “family trees”.

Mothers or fathers?

When it comes to cultural differences, there is one main distinction between groups. In southern Mozambique, groups such as the Thonga are patrilineal, where families trace their descent through the male line.

But in northern areas of the country, many groups are matrilineal. This means males trace their ancestry back through their mother. In these groups, it is common for husbands to live near their wife’s family.

Different religions

Mozambique has a mixture of religions. Around a third of Mozambicans are Christian, with Roman Catholicism the major denomination. Around a quarter are Muslims, mainly in the northern regions.

Nearly half the population practises traditional animist beliefs, where the spirits of ancestors can affect the lives of the living. Many groups also believe in an all-powerful God, as well as spirits. Therefore, it is not unusual for traditional beliefs to be incorporated into Christianity.