Portuguese and local languages in Maxixe, Inhambane, Mozambique

1. Abstract

In recent years, the use of local languages in Mozambique has been the subject of great debate by different linguists and institutions in the country. That debate is due to the fact that these languages are not valued or not even known by some citizens, especially in urban areas. As argued by Ba Ka Khosa (2011), Craveirinha (2007), Neto (1980) and others, the official language, Portuguese is the language preferred by citizens of these areas. The reason of that preference is that the Portuguese language is almost the only language to get access to employment, as well as being an instrument of unity and international communication. Maxixe being a city made up of people from different ethnic groups, we will try to understand how the citizens of this city use their local languages compared to the Portuguese language. In this study will also be analysed the effects brought by the exclusive use of the Portuguese language in cultural perspective. The education system and making local languages official are other elements that will deserve great attention in this study, because they are a major key in the value and recognition of Mozambican identities.

Keywords: language, Portuguese, local language, education, culture, identity.


2. Introduction and Background

The main question of this study is: How does the Portuguese language share the space with local languages in Maxixe?

Local languages are not given great attention in urban areas, especially with regard to their value. People of these areas consider Portuguese as the main language for their communication in their daily activities. Lack of recognition or appreciation of local languages is also seen in many state and private institutions. This also occurs in Maxixe and it is explained on the basis of historical reasons, the policies adopted since colonial times up to the present. The first reason is that the Portuguese language has always been seen as the language of unity and international communication. On the basis of this conception, people have developed the habit of “abusive” use of the official language in different urban areas. As a result, certain citizens who were born after independence are unaware of their parents’ mother tongues. Ignoring these languages, it influences the culture of these citizens and their identity to be lost automatically.
The second important reason that contributes to the devaluation of local languages is the employment. The Portuguese language continues to be the main language of access to employment in the country. Knowing only the local languages means to be condemned not to have formal employment. Thus, people are imposed to use the Portuguese language without caring about whether they dominate it or not. Many citizens are still unaware of the value of the use of our Mozambican languages. Even those people who know their local languages do not use them as frequently as they would use Portuguese. These citizens are not interested in exchanging experiences and knowledge in their local languages.
The study of language has always attracted the attention of several scholars from the past but it has only become scientific recently, in contemporary age. According to Lyons cited in Ngunga (2004), it is in the 19th century that the new science appeared, linguistics, which is defined as the science of language, or simply ”scientific study of language”.
The definition of the language is not universal because each thinker defines it according to his point of view. “Sapir (1981) defined the language as something purely human and not instinctively used to communicate ideas, emotions and desires through voluntary production of sounds. Bloch and Trager (1942) on the other hand, defined the language as an arbitrary vocal signal system through which a social group cooperates” [Victorino (s/d)]. In all these definitions we understand that they have a common aim: communication. The language is defined as the ability to express our thoughts, ideas, opinions and feelings. It is understandable that language is related to communicative phenomena, which means that once we have language, we have communication. Through language, individuals belonging to different people exchange life experiences between themselves.
From a political point of view, in Mozambique we can identify two types of languages: official and autochthone. An official language is in the definition given by UNESCO, the language used in the context of several official activities: legislative, executive and judicial of a sovereign State or territory (http//pt.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingua_oficial). An autochthone language on the other hand is the one that is native to a region and spoken by indigenous people but was reduced to the level of a minority language (http//pt.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingua_indigena).


3. Aims and Objectives
General aim:

The purpose of this study is to analyze what influences people in Maxixe to value more the Portuguese language than their local languages.
Specific aim: Suggest ideas that can help in a better use of local languages. 


4. Rationale / Justification

One day when I was strolling, I heard a lady asking a student at the Massinga bus stop in the Cicopi language where the Number One Supermarket as located. The student, who appeared to be 12 years old, had difficulties to address the lady using the local language. So, the student started to explain to the lady using the Portuguese language. The lady did not understand the official language and she asked another person who could address her in her local language. This fact impressed me because I believe that if the girl had been taught local languages she would not have difficulties to give address. So, I decided to research about this trying to understand how people use their local languages compared to Portuguese in Maxixe and what influences them to do that.

Shops at Massinga busstop in Maxixe
Massinga busstop in Maxixe
Supermarket Number One

5. Critical Questions

  1. How does the Portuguese language share the space with local languages in Maxixe city?
  2. What influenced the citizens of Maxixe to give more value to the Portuguese language?
  3. What impact was brought by the exclusive use of the Portuguese language in Maxixe, in a cultural perspective?


6. Hypothesis

  1. In Maxixe, Portuguese is most valued in comparison to local languages. Daily, people use more the official language to communicate than their local languages.
  2. From colonial times to the present, the Portuguese language has never been discriminated both from the individual point of view as well as social. In other words, the Portuguese language has always been a means of exclusion of the local languages.
  3. Young people have lost contact with the local languages that represent their culture, the main tool for our identity.


7. Literature Review

7.1 The Portuguese language and local languages

Language is an important tool for people because in all societies of the world it can represent identity. Societies that value better their identity, do not use their local languages only but they also implement them in various State activities. “Bantu languages that many people consider to be the only true Mozambican languages are not yet recognized as an added value, both from the individual point of view as well as social” (Gonçalves, 2012) cited in Santana (s / d). The local languages, the languages of Mozambican identity do not enjoy the same rights when compared to the Portuguese language. Although it is stated in Article 9 of the Constitution of the Republic (2004) that ”the State values the national languages as cultural and national patrimony and promotes their development and increasing use as languages of our identity” such valuation does not seem to be practical since Article 10 continues to maintain Portuguese as the only official language.
Citizens, especially those who live in urban areas, use Portuguese more often than local languages. The usage of this language is also seen when people exchange messages in cellphones in social networks (facebook and whatsapp). Messages are exchanged solely using the Portuguese language or sometimes some can also choose English as an alternative. Even in cases where the individual has no fluency in the official language, s/he makes every effort to write and speak in Portuguese. Therefore, the idea or information of this person may not be that of quality due to language limitations.
Fortunately, on 14 July 2015 the Council of Ministers threw the ”green light” for provincial assemblies. Members of the Provincial Assembly are allowed to use their language and they have to create conditions for translation and interpretation in the languages they use. On this day, Ngunga said “speaking on democracy, there can be no participation if people do not use the languages they dominate”. He also challenged other institutions so that the language must not be a barrier in communication (DW Made for minds). This decision tries to solve the problem posed by Honwana (2009) cited by Gonçalves, who said that local languages were almost not used in entertainment programmes and also not used in the noble space of assemblies, even in cases where its members do not have the required fluency in Portuguese, thus, impairing the quality of the contribution that they could provide if they used their mother tongues.
Local languages have always been oppressed since the time of colonialism until our days. If we go back to the past, we realize that in colonial times speaking the Portuguese language was crucial for Mozambicans, to avoid being considered ”Indigenous’’ and be subjected to hard activities, without enjoying the rights given to the children of Portuguese. A black who spoke and wrote well the Portuguese language, had a way out to free himself of this adjective and would be called ”assimilated”. Being assimilated, the person would have almost the same opportunities provided to the children of Portuguese natives. It is important to note that to be considered ”good speaker” of the Portuguese language, it was not just a simple matter of joining the words correctly but it was also necessary to pronounce like a native speaker (from Portugal).
Firmino (2002: 14) cited by Santana said, to spread ”civilization”, at the beginning of the 20th century, the colonial authorities banned the autochthonous languages from institutional domains and became mandatory policy that all schools should use Portuguese as the only language of education. In this way, conditions were created for the devaluation of the local languages.
The same mistake was repeated by Frelimo (Frente de libertação de Moçambique) after the independence in 1975, when they adopted policies that excluded our languages from the education process. It was like a copy of colonial policies. Students continued to be forbidden in schools to use their local languages even during the break-times. This prohibition of the use of local languages, extended also to political meetings in the local settings and institutions of the State. The document drafted by Goncalves (1996: 17) cited by Santana, clearly demonstrates the oppression that local languages have suffered:

“[…] Symbol of the establishment. The Portuguese is ‘the only language of party-government: the political meetings, the leaders only use Portuguese, using interpreter translators where the population only speak Bantu languages. It is also the only language of written information, and the Radio is the only space of information where the use of local languages is allowed.
Portuguese is also the only official language of education and literacy: at school students are not allowed to speak their native or Bantu languages even during the break-time”.

Why was Portuguese chosen as the only official language?
The government of Frelimo inspired by socialist policies after independence, thought that including local languages in education would not help in national unity. The choice of the Portuguese language as the official would not unite Mozambicans only but would also facilitate the communication with other countries. In this way, it is understandable that the Portuguese language had two functions: the national unity and communication. This conception is seen in the document on the opening speech of the First Seminar of the Portuguese language by the former prime minister of Education and Culture quoted by Gregorio Firmino which says:

“Portuguese is the language of communication among all Mozambicans, breaking the barriers created by the mother tongues. Through it, the Frelimo party ideology which regards interests of the workers and express their revolutionary values is widespread and studied to be applied, guiding our people in the struggle for the creation of a just society and happy, socialist society (…) we are still using the Portuguese language to communicate with other people of the world, conveying the rich experience of our country …”

In the vision of Ba Ka Khosa (2011), the former government transferred the principle ruling of killing the tribe to build the nation. In addition to that, he said “the 3rd Congress of Frelimo in 1977, legitimized the cultural and ideological uniformization as the only condition for national unity”.Thus, Portuguese became the main language for communication in the government institutions. It is important to note that many institutions are located in the cities and citizens were automatically influenced by the policies of uniformity.
Joao Craveirinha (2007) on the other hand argues that the policies adopted after independence despise our traditional languages. This idea is seen in this passage of his document in which he says:

“Here is a paradigm of our wealth despised for decades and decades. The problem is not that ethnicity (from Greek Etnos- Nation) but the policies totally anti-cultural of any system that devalues its own origin. And that is what happened in Mozambique in post- independence …”

Among the 24 languages spoken in Mozambique (Bitonga, Chope, Chuabo, Koti, Kunda, Lomwe, Makonde, Macua, Marendje, Mwani, Ngulu, Nsenga, Nyanya, Nyungwe, Phimbi, Ronga, Sena, Shona, Swahili, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswa, Yao and Zulu) according to Firmino, the Portuguese language is the one that was chosen as the official. The others were “forbidden” to share the same space with the Portuguese language. Thus, as Craveirinha said, the dream of the anthropologist Eduardo Mondlane, that of “valuing our national languages, for also developing our capabilities in ”Africanês”, came to be destroyed”.
According to Cossa (2007) from 1993 to 1997, the INDE, through the guidance of the Ministry of Education, had been implementing bilingual education known as Bilingual Education Program in Mozambique (PEBIMO) in Gaza and Tete, involving Xichangana Languages / Portuguese and Cinyanja / Portuguese. But it was in 2004 that bilingual education was officially implemented in   the whole country with 3 schools in each province. “First, this process was implemented in 23 schools and currently is in about 500 schools, where 16 languages are taught involving almost 80 thousand students” (DW Made for minds). It is important to notice that bilingual education is only implemented in grades of primary education.
After primary school, “Portuguese, the official language is the only teaching-learning language at other levels of education as well as the language that allows access to employment in other institutions of the country and therefore plays an important role” (INDE, 1999) cited by Cossa. This educational model harms for two reasons:
– Because it is limited only to primary schools: since education is a process, children need to learn the local languages even after the primary level so that they can know and value them better. Students could also have freedom of choice of language they want to use or develop their intellectual capacities.
– Being an instrument of exclusion: taking into account that Portuguese is the only Mozambican language to get employment, all those citizens who do not have fluency in Portuguese are excluded and automatically violated their rights because they are not given the opportunity to test their knowledge in another optional language (local language).
As Neto (1980: 34) cited by Santana says, “the exclusive use of Portuguese as the official language and usable currently in our literature does not solve our problems and both on primary, and probably on the secondary level, the usage of our languages will be necessary”. “Children whose mother tongue is not Portuguese sometimes take three years in the same class, and it has the immediate consequence of losing resources and the major indices of cancellation or even those who continue, they finish late their first level-grade 5 – around 15 or 16 years of age in rural areas, whereas in the cities the average is 11 years” (Ngunga, 2000 cited by Cossa). 

7.2. Portuguese language in the cities
With the formalization of the Portuguese language as the only condition for the unity in Mozambique, it became the language of use in different spaces of the cities such as in the markets, shops, offices, government institutions and even at home. Many means of communication began to broadcast in Portuguese. Parents began teaching more the official language to their children than their local languages. It can be said therefore that the condition to be considered ‘a real urban citizen’ was the knowledge of the official language.

An important issue that must be understood is: what impact did the choice of Portuguese as the only official language bring?
Ideas of some scholars show that former-colonial languages do not help in the integration of national identity. Colonial languages do not identify us as Africans. Some of the most important opinions are defended by Mzrui and Tidy (1984) cited by Firmino who say that although the languages of ‘wider communication’ help to integrate Africa into the world culture, colonial languages do not encourage in national integration. Another important idea is argued by Ba Ka Khosa (2011) who says that the policies adopted by the government of Frelimo show wrong thoughts by considering that national unity means uniformity. For him, diversity should not be seen as a disturbance to national unity. This opinion is seen in one of his documents, in passages, where he says:

“(…) Today, I liberate the country, we must fight against the simplistic tendency to refuse the diversity as a way to achieve unity. Doing this means considering wrongly that diversity is a negative element for the creation of national unity; that national unity means uniformity”.

In addition to that, Ba Ka Khosa says when Mozambique became independent “it was expected   that the Portuguese language, the language of development and unity, would share its hegemonic space in education, in information dissemination, in public and private space, with other languages as it happened in the beginning of the 20th century, when there was a Bilingual newspaper, Portuguese/Ronga, O africano and afterward called O brado Africano, and a daily newspaper in the English language, the Lourenco Marques Guardian.” (ibid). Going beyond, this thinker is concerned about the consequences caused by not teaching the local languages to the young generation. These consequences have great impact in the urban areas where the speakers of the Portuguese language are in larger numbers than in rural areas. The new generation is most victimized by this phenomenon. Ba Ka Khosa says ”our children, specifically those who live in urban areas, the immediate generation of independence, they lost completely the contact with the mother tongues of their parents or grandparents.” (ibid)


8. Research Methods, Data Collection Techniques and Data Analysis

For the gathering of the data, this investigation is based on three methods: literature review, interviews and observation.
We interviewed 30 people (10 in each place) in the city of Maxixe in 3 places: Praça de Massinga, Mercado Tsuwula and Praça da Mangueira. The choice of these 3 places is due to the fact that they are crowded by people of different ages. Since we wanted to collect data from people of different ages, we considered these places useful.
At Massinga’s bus stop, 9 assumed that Portuguese was their most used language both in the interaction with other citizens as well as in social networks (facebook and whatsapp) and one citizen took a contrary position. In Tsuwula market, although some people said that they do not use Portuguese in the social networks, they assumed that they use it more in their daily activities. Of 10 interviewees, 7 are frequent users of the official language while the remaining 3 are those who use more the Citswa and Guitonga languages.

Listen below to an interview at Massinga’s bus stop. The interview is in the Cicopi language with seller/student Rafito. Rafito argues that nowadays citizens have lost their culture because of the excessive use of Portuguese. Stories are not told anymore because there is no communication between old and new generations.

Seller/student Rafito (right)

Listen below to another interview in 4 parts at Massinga’s bus stop. The interview is in the Citswa language with a seller. He says that in the past he used to sit with his parents around the fire listening to stories. But nowadays it doesn’t happen anymore. He also says that if a person doesn’t know Portuguese, s/he is more likely to suffer when s/he needs help in different public or private institutions such as banks.

The seller being interviewed at Massinga's busstop

At Praça da Mangueira, 8 out of 10 interviewees acknowledged that they use more the official language in both social networks as well as in daily interactions and the other 2 took the opposite position.

Listen below to an interview at Praça da Mangueira. The interview is with the seller Osvaldo who argues that every child should learn the local languages of his/her parents. In addition, he says that s/he who knows many local languages doesn’t have limitations; s/he is able to communicate with people from different tribes. The first interview is in English and the second interview – same topic, same interviewee – in English.

Mangueira busstop in Maxixe

On another day, some people were observed in their interactions at Praça de Expansão / Chicuque and it was realized that in some cases, people from the same cultural and linguistic background, expected to be seen using their local language, they preferred the Portuguese language during the conversation rather than their local languages. Both interview and observation showed that the young generation is the one that uses more Portuguese than local languages when compared to old generation. These findings came to validate the opinion by Ba Ka Khosa (2011) in which he says that “our children specifically who live in urban areas, they lost completely the contact with the mother tongues of their parents or grandparents”.
Thus, the study revealed that the attitude that influenced many urban citizens in the country from the colonial period remains in Maxixe city. Portuguese is still on the top for the fact that it is the most used language by the majority in daily activities. Many urban citizens just value Portuguese because it is the language that allows them to achieve their professional, social objectives.


9. Conclusion

As Moeketsi said (2014), the language reflects the beliefs and culture of a society. For him, a man without language is like a tree without root. A true identity of any group of people is only achieved when they know the true meaning of their cultural identity. Adopting local languages in teaching is a medium that brings citizens closer to their culture, helping in promotion and recognition of their identity.
”Developing multilingual competence is to value the construction of identity through languages contact and cultures by the promotion of education for citizenship of openness and respect for difference” (Goncalves and Andrade, 2007: 64) cited by Menezes. Language differences help in unity and help us to build identity. When local languages are taught, they increasingly fortify the union and allow citizens from different parts of the world to know them and share the culture of the speakers of those languages.
As opinioned by Craveirinha (2007), our local languages should be taught in parallel with the languages of international communication. According to him, even an Asian or European with children studying in a private or public school in Mozambique should study our languages. In addition to that, Craveirinha says ”in Swaziland I was thrilled to see white children writing and speaking in xiSwazi … in 1976, the prime minister of South Africa Peter Botha corrected the Shangana of Samora Machel because he dominated it more than him …”
In South Africa for example the use of local languages in the rural area and in the cities has become normal. Even among governmental employees, the communication in local language is not seen as a problem. This is the result of the policies adopted by the constitution of the country which value the local languages. Moeketsi (2014) says that SA constitution holds that ”all the citizens of South Africa have the democratic right to speak the language in which s/he feels comfortable anywhere, whether in court, church, school, etc.”.


10. Recommendations

The real Mozambican identity can only be known if all citizens value seriously their local languages. To achieve this aim, families have an important role. Since the lack of valuation of local languages is seen in urban areas, citizens from these places especially in Maxixe should teach their local languages to their children so that they will help to recover the identity that is lost by these children. Children should know local languages and value them the same way they value Portuguese.
Apart from that, local languages should also be made official and should not be limited only to Primary schools. Citizens should use their local languages in private institutions as well as public such as courts, hospitals, police stations, shops, banks, schools or other places where they might be needed. Portuguese should not be a means of discrimination of local languages and institutions should adopt also our languages as means for the access to employment. Schools should teach local languages even after primary schools as a way of encouraging the young generation to value the languages of Mozambican identity: local languages. Students should not be taught reading and writing in local languages only but they should know why they are learning these languages. In other words, students should be taught to value the languages of Mozambican identity.



– Ba Ka Khosa, Ungulani (2011) Memòrias Perdidas, Identidades sem cidadania (Comunicação apresentada no Colóquio internacional “Portugal entre Desassossegos e Desafios”, Coimbra.

– Constituição da Repùblica, Moçambique.

– Cossa, L. Eugénio (2007) Lìnguas Nacionais no Sistema de Ensino para o Desenvolvimento da Educação em Moçambique, Porto Alegre.

– Craveirinha, João (2007) A Questão das Lìnguas Nacionais na Identidade Africana3, Lisboa.

– Firmino, Gregório (2000) A situação do português no contexto multilingue de Moçambique, Maputo: Ine.

– Gonçalves, Perpétua (2012) Lusofonia em Moçambique: com ou sem Glotofagia, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (Moçambique). 

– Menezes, L.J.J. Maria (s/d) Plurilinguismo, Multilinguismo e Bilinguismo: Reflexões sobre a Realidade Linguística Moçambicana, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane.

– Moeketsi, V. S. Monare (2014) The Demise of Sesotho Language in the Democratic South Africa and its Impact on the Socio-cultural Development of the Speakers, South Africa: Central University of Technology

– Ngunga, Armindo (2004) Introdução à Linguìstica Bantu, Imprensa Universitária.

– Santana B. Pereira de (2010) A Difusão da Lìngua Portuguesa no Contexto Multilingue Moçambicano, Universidade de Èvora.

http//: pt.m.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingua_oficial.

http//: pt.m.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingua_indigena

– Dw Made for Minds. Available at www.dw.com/aprovado-uso-de-linguas-moçambicanas-nas-assembleias-provinciais/a-18590383

– Victorino, C. Baptista (s/d) General Linguistic Module. Universidade Pedagógica, Inilda Ibrahimo Khan Edition

This article was first presented in Portuguese by Anselmo Sebastião Muvale during the week of the Jornadas Cientificas at the Universidade Pedagógica in Maxixe, Mozambique in September 2015. Anselmo translated the article into English for publication on www.taletraders.com and added interviews and pictures.

Full title: The way the Portuguese language shares the space with local languages in the city of Maxixe, Inhambane Province, Mozambique.

Anselmo Sebastião Muvale studied English at the Universidade Pedagógica in Maxixe, Mozambique.

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