Queer life in Africa can also be stuffed with pleasure – remembering the carnival in Mozambique

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In late colonial Mozambique, within the metropolis of Lourenço Marques (at present’s Maputo), a carnival pageant was held nearly yearly. From the Nineteen Fifties to the Nineteen Seventies, the occasion was greater than only a avenue parade. It additionally turned an area of queer expression and pleasure.

As a Brazilian queer scholar primarily based in South Africa, I’ve been painfully conscious that English-speaking contexts are usually much better represented in queer African research. I’ve chosen to give attention to nations whose queer politics and historical past are lesser recognized and under-studied – equivalent to Mozambique and Angola.

A poster showing an illustration of a clown face and with the words Carnaval 1964. Carnival 11 February.

Carnival poster.

Which is how I got here throughout the historical past of carnival celebrations in Lourenço Marques. With the assist of Johannesburg’s Gala Queer Archive and LGBTIQ+ organisations such because the Arquivo de Identidade Angolano in Angola and Lambda in Mozambique, I’ve been gathering queer histories in and from these nations.

In these documentary initiatives, I attempt to steadiness the focus on “African homophobia” by discovering histories and areas by which queer African cultures have additionally flourished (and, at occasions, proceed to flourish).

In a latest analysis paper, I flesh out how the Mozambique pageant opened up an area of freedom to the marginalised. Particularly ladies of color and queer folks, black and white. It additionally constructed on and activated transnational networks within the wider Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) world. Brazilian musicians and cross-dressing performers, for instance, travelled throughout borders to develop into essential presences in late colonial African society.

Celebrating these histories of pleasure is essential as a result of it permits the archive to develop into a website of freedom too, the place one would possibly reclaim the previous and picture a brighter future.

Carnival as queer tradition

Like others elsewhere on the planet, the carnival pageant in Lourenço Marques was a interval of momentary subversion of dominant morals and social hierarchies of race, class, gender and sexuality. Whereas the festivity had been celebrated in Mozambique since a minimum of the 1900s, it went by means of a renewal within the late colonial interval.

From the Nineteen Fifties till the early Nineteen Seventies, the carnival occurred in unequal worlds. It was within the racially segregated areas of elite golf equipment and resorts, on the one hand, and in the preferred and racially combined environments of the subúrbios (suburbs), on the opposite. These middle- and low-income neighbourhoods, equivalent to Mafalala, Alto Maé, Xipamanine and Malhangalene, had been recognized hotspots of African tradition and creativity.

Transnational connections formed the celebrations too. Carnival events typically featured Brazilian musicians and rhythms, particularly samba. Mozambican playwright Manoela Soeiro suggests that dancing samba and having fun with the Brazilian-style carnival supplied black Mozambicans a form of pleasure that was in any other case denied to them by dominant colonial tradition.

Moreover Brazilian musicians, Lourenço Marques additionally acquired travestis, cross-dressing queer performers. Travestis had been changing into more and more profitable in leisure tradition in Brazil and elsewhere, in theatre and movie and nightlife. Brazilian travestis, equivalent to the long-lasting Rogéria, held inventive residencies in Mozambique within the late Sixties and early Nineteen Seventies. In Lourenço Marques and Beira, they carried out usually in golf equipment and cabarets, serving to spur an rising queer subculture.

An advertisement showing a cross-dressing person with mini and blonde bob and handbag, arms folded, unimpressed.

Newspaper commercial for a Rogéria efficiency.
Notícias da Beira

The Mozambique-born Portuguese author Eduardo Pitta explains that their presence was an indication of cultural change. It signalled a relative openness on issues of gender and sexuality that mirrored the worldwide sexual revolution of the late Sixties.

These rising city and youth cultures pushed in opposition to the sexual and ethical conservatism of the Portuguese colonial regime. Particularly in the course of the carnival. Whereas travesti performances had been secluded in golf equipment attended by a principally white and middle-class clientele, standard types of cross-dressing had been frequent within the carnival.

A poem printed within the Mozambique press in 1958 inspired the follow as an expression of freedom:

Let go of the sorrows consuming you/ do what you’re feeling like/ if you’re a lady, put on a male masks/ don’t thoughts being remodeled/ if you’re man, make your self into a lady.

João, a working-class black Mozambican, described to me his expertise of becoming a member of the road festivities dressed as a lady, even “carrying breasts”.

João talked about his need to experiment with femininity as a toddler, which he had by no means accomplished for worry of outing himself. What was notably compelling concerning the carnival, he mentioned, was the power to get pleasure from this freedom with out social repercussions. Tales like this recommend that in Lourenço Marques the carnival might be a website of queer pleasure, nevertheless fleeting.

Within the aftermath of independence, the ruling get together Frelimo cancelled the road carnival. The socialist regime supposed to construct a brand new revolutionary tradition by preventing practices related to colonial society, together with consuming and sexual licentiousness. It’s not stunning that the carnival was caught up on this moralist wave. Whereas the pageant skilled a rebirth within the late Nineteen Eighties, it by no means regained the standing it as soon as had.

Remembering queer pleasure

In gender and sexuality research, a lot has been written about how needs are regulated and the way gender stereotypes are produced over time. Trying on the carnival invitations us to focus as a substitute on moments of sexual transgression and gender-bending, to think about the potential of freedom and disruption, regardless of the inherent violence of the colonial state of affairs and its aftermath.

Learn extra:
Being queer in Africa: the state of LGBTIQ+ rights throughout the continent

In 2015, after 40 years of independence, Mozambique joined the rising listing of nations to put an finish to colonial period “anti-sodomy” legal guidelines. Regardless of this authorized landmark and the nation’s relative tolerance in direction of LGBTIQ+ folks, a latest report means that Mozambique nonetheless must extra successfully battle discrimination and violence in opposition to sexual and gender minorities.

Areas of queer self-expression and pleasure exist extra visibly now, however they’ve additionally flourished within the not so distant previous. In remembering the carnival, we’re invited to convey pleasure again to the centre of our collective reminiscence. Not for the sake of historical past writing alone, but additionally to undertake the transformative labour of queer liberation – because the queer icons and dancing queens in Mozambique remind us.


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