Women’s Identity, Textiles and Heritage: Coastal Style in Mozambique (WITH Coastal Style) is a one-year project (June 2019-June 2020), researching and promoting women’s identities and concerns linked to marine heritage in Katembe District, Maputo, Mozambique.
The WITH Coastal Style project, supported by the Rising from the Depths Network https://risingfromthedepths.com/withcoastalstyle/, continue to undertake research into the role of material heritage amongst women in coastal Katembe district, across the bay from the Mozambican capital city, Maputo. The project focuses on understanding and highlighting the complex relationship between tradition and change in the lives of women in Katembe through the capulana, a cloth worn by women throughout Mozambique. Through discussion about capulana, the project provides a forum for women to discuss wider issues relating to their lives.
The project is investigating contemporary and historical capulana practice through focus group surveys, individual interviews and archival research. For example, project Research Assistants, Emilia Machaiaie and Claudio Mondlate, have been undertaking archival research at University of Eduardo Mondlane. In addition, research at the Iconoteca do Arquivo Histo’rico de Mozambique, has identified photography from the early to mid- 20th century, which provides us with fascinating early visual references to the use of capulana by women in the region, from market scenes to the use of the cloth as a wrapper for new-born babies. Research has also led us to the Centro de Documentacao e Formacao Photographic Archive, Mozambique where there is a collection of photographs taken by the famous Mozambican, Maputo based photojournalist, Ricardo Rangel, whose work includes a series on Katembe, taken in the mid-20th century.
I returned to Mozambique in November to catch up with the Maputo-based team members and to join them for more research visits to Katembe to undertake focus groups and interviews with women identified by Project Co-I Valda Marcos through Romao Vicente and Bernardo Martiaho from the Department of Fisheries. During these visits, the project gathered information from communities in Katembe distributed along the coastline. This was made possible with the support of community leaders. The complexities of liaising with women with busy working lives required flexibility. Many of the women are responsible for the processing and sale of daily catches of fish and for growing vegetable crops on their small plots of land. During my visit there were torrential, and unusually long-lasting bouts of rainfall, attributed by the Katembe community to climate change, which necessitated some interviews to be re-scheduled at short notice as women went to work in their fields to maintain their young crops, particularly precious as the previous season’s drought, also believed to be the result of climate change, had resulted in a seed shortage.
Over three days of research visits in Mahlampfane, Guachene and Incassane neighbourhoods, we were able to reach and speak to a total of sixteen women ranging in age from 19 to 67 years. Focus groups and interviews, in either Shangana or Portuguese languages, were led by Research Assistant Emilia. All the women included in the research were born and raised in Katembe. Many of them are mothers and daughters who still live in close proximity, while others, if not related, are lifelong friends.
These included a focus group in Mahlampfane with three women Ana, Katarina and Zenia who ranged in age from mid-sixties to early twenties. Following our arrival and our introduction to the project, one of them went into her house and returned with three capulana, which she kindly presented as gifts of welcome for each of the team. The capulana is a popular gift for special occasions including birthday, Valentine’s day, naming ceremonies, weddings and funerals.
The interviews focused on personal capulana collections, which included Cristina, who we first met in July during a focus group. She has an extraordinary collection numbering over 150 different patterned cloths which she had collected over some twenty years.
In our interviews with mother and daughters Margarida, Tsaura and Rosa, also in Guachene neighbourhood, the role of the capulana as a symbol of shared identity was revealed, when they each showed us cloth with the same design, chosen by their group of family and friends and worn on National Women’s Day celebrations in Katembe in 2018.
We were delighted to welcome Dr Solange Macamo, Rising from the Depths Network Co-ordinator for Mozambique on the visit to Incassane where we held a focus group of nine women aged 32-67 years. The opportunity to participate in the project was greeted with a degree of curiosity and then enthusiasm, with our questions provoking detailed responses and discussion, just as elsewhere in Katembe district.
While I was in Maputo we also began the next phase in planning and design of the project exhibition at the Fortress Museum, overseen by Curator and Project Co-I Moises Timba. We will draw on the photographs of the research visits by project photographer Yassmin Forte, and the forthcoming transcriptions of the interview’s audio recordings in Portuguese and English for display content.
Before I returned to Edinburgh I also took the opportunity to visit Casa Pandia with Emilia, a Maputo ‘institution’ trading in capulana, where I bought two more contemporary capulana with coastal themed designs to add to another from the market. These will join those already acquired on my first visit for the Fisheries Museum and National Museums Scotland textile collections. With a total of eleven to date, I’m not sure there are many left to find, but we will continue to look out for more!
The final interviews are scheduled to be completed following the end of my visit and I look forward to more revealing insights into the role of the capulana in the cultural heritage of women in the coastal communities of Katembe.