A Little About Mozambican Culture
This is for those of you who want to know a little more about the culture we are reaching out to – I think it’s absolutely fascinating, but I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Our other recent update has the information about what has been happening in our lives and our praise reports and prayer requests.
I got a chance last night to speak to a missionary who has been here 15 years. He had a ton of insight into the culture, especially things like the family dynamics that had just confused and frustrated us. So, after talking to him, I feel like I can actually write a little more about the culture we are reaching out to.
In American, there seems to be this concept that all cultures and backgrounds are equally healthy. We seem to think Pacific islanders and other natives led a care-free existence till we stamped out there cultures. It’s true that missionaries for many years confused bringing the gospel with bringing the western culture – cultures were deplored for their lack of hard work, their dress, and the food they ate and those were seen as non-Christian. However, we are seeing that a culture without Christ is very self-destructive. For instance, take Lobolo, the tradition of paying your in-laws a high price for your wife-to-be. There is nothing wrong with the tradition at all, and in Christian households can be a reminder of a husband’s love for his wife and the wife’s worth in his eyes. However, in non-Christian cultures, the Lobolo is held over the wife’s head. “I paid ____ for you and you had better live up to it!” Many times the wives are beaten because they fail to live up to the husband’s expectations and it’s acceptable culturally because the husband paid for her. The violence, guilt, condemnation, and dehumanization that come from the mis-use of the practice is what we want to help the people change, not the actual practice itself.
Anyway, that’s more of a Southern Mozambique thing – where we are with the Makua tribes, we were told marriages were more of a “rental” thing. Every year, the husband goes to the in-laws and give them grain and food and clothing etc., but marriages seldom last a year. A Mozambican guy can see a pretty girl walking on the street early in the morning and be married to her that night. The concept of married couples being friends also is completely foreign. The missionary knew a number of husbands that didn’t even know the name of their wife! One teenage guy told me that marriages here last only 3 weeks; I asked for clarification in Portuguese because I couldn’t believe it, but that’s what he said.
In addition to the extreme brevity of marriages, a Macuan woman, if she is pretty enough, will usually have a boyfriend or two on the side so she can get a little extra money and presents, etc. You can see why AIDS and other STDs are such a problem here – this cycle can start for the women at 13 or 14 and for the guys, whenever they can afford it.
Of course, having a 13 year old mother and new fathers every couple months is unbelievably hard on the kids. The mother’s family is actually considered the important family, and it is the mother’s brothers (the kids’ uncles) that play the father figure in the kids’ lives. Even if a family has a relatively stable marital situation, the kids tend to not respect or listen to the father, making the analogies between God and a father quite difficult for the Makuans to grasp. Everything is based around the mother’s family, and the husbands move from family to family while the women own most of the property, houses, etc.
The missionary told us that the worst thing that could happen to a Christian family was for the mother to die. In that case, the mother’s family get together for a meeting and divide out all of the family’s stuff, including the kids. The father isn’t even allowed in the meeting – he gets absolutely nothing and all his kids go to different houses to live. It’s interesting to see that here, where men are usually more marginalized than women, more men respond to the gospel than women whereas in the south, more women respond than men.
The business situation is also ridiculously bad… They have this belief that after you make enough money, you don’t have to work anymore. All white people are in this category, as well as other
successful people like the Indian and Middle Eastern merchants and a few Africans. As a result, if you give a Makuan a raise, there is a chance they will just stop working entirely and still expect to be paid. To them, there is absolutely no correlation between hard work and money. None – money comes to the lucky or the ones that can steal a lot. Also, most of the money you make won’t go to your home – if you have a job, you most likely have 8 or 9 other relatives who are too
lazy to get a job but show up at your door every payday, and you are obligated to help them.
Also, Makuans have no guilt about stealing. Things get stolen all the time from missionaries, but our missionary expert told us that they steal far more from each other. Their jealously also extends far beyond ours. For instance, in America if your neighbor gets a new car and you get jealous, you will probably work harder in order to get a car for yourself. In Mozambique, if your neighbor gets something you don’t have, you do everything you can to sabotage it. The missionary I was talking to said this was a huge problem in his church with marriages – the Makuans with bad marriages will try to sabotage a stable marriage by spreading rumors and lies about both people. It’s so frustrated and so self-destructive! I can see why so many missionaries have just given up on the Makuans… But I can also see why God would choose their culture to impact so powerfully.
There are so many other things about the culture, but this is enough for this e-mail. I hope this helps you truly realize the miracle that is behind every one of the dedicated Christians here. In most aspects of their culture, they are swimming completely upstream. I also help it gives you a new look on the problems we face every day, but more than that, I hope it helps you see how life-transforming the gospel is! If Jesus can change an entire culture and situation like this, He
is most certainly more than enough for whatever cultural and personal transformations we need in America!
– Jon and Carla Reinagel