In overdue colonial Mozambique, within the town of Lourenço Marques (these days’s Maputo), a carnival competition was once held nearly once a year. From the Nineteen Fifties to the Nineteen Seventies, the development was once greater than only a boulevard parade. It additionally become an area of queer expression and pleasure.
As a Brazilian queer scholar based totally in South Africa, I’ve been painfully conscious that English-speaking contexts have a tendency to be a ways higher represented in queer African research. I’ve selected to concentrate on nations whose queer politics and historical past are lesser recognized and under-studied – reminiscent of Mozambique and Angola.
Which is how I got here around the historical past of carnival celebrations in Lourenço Marques. With the enhance 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 amassing queer histories in and from those nations.
In those documentary initiatives, I attempt to stability the focus on “African homophobia” through discovering histories and areas during which queer African cultures have additionally flourished (and, now and then, proceed to flourish).
In a up to date analysis paper, I flesh out how the Mozambique competition unfolded an area of freedom to the marginalised. Particularly girls of color and queer other folks, black and white. It additionally constructed on and activated transnational networks within the wider Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) global. Brazilian musicians and cross-dressing performers, for instance, travelled throughout borders to transform essential presences in overdue colonial African society.
Celebrating those histories of pleasure is essential as it lets in the archive to transform a web page of freedom too, the place one would possibly reclaim the previous and consider a brighter long term.
Carnival as queer tradition
Like others in different places on this planet, the carnival competition in Lourenço Marques was once a length of brief subversion of dominant morals and social hierarchies of race, category, gender and sexuality. Whilst the joyful celebration were celebrated in Mozambique since a minimum of the 1900s, it went via a renewal within the overdue colonial length.
From the Nineteen Fifties till the early Nineteen Seventies, the carnival happened in unequal worlds. It was once within the racially segregated areas of elite golf equipment and inns, at the one hand, and in the preferred and racially combined environments of the subúrbios (suburbs), at the different. Those middle- and low-income neighbourhoods, reminiscent of Mafalala, Alto Maé, Xipamanine and Malhangalene, have been recognized hotspots of African tradition and creativity.
Transnational connections formed the celebrations too. Carnival events regularly featured Brazilian musicians and rhythms, particularly samba. Mozambican playwright Manoela Soeiro suggests that dancing samba and taking part in the Brazilian-style carnival presented black Mozambicans one of those pleasure that was once another way denied to them through dominant colonial culture.
But even so Brazilian musicians, Lourenço Marques additionally won travestis, cross-dressing queer performers. Travestis have been turning into increasingly more a success in leisure tradition in Brazil and in different places, in theatre and picture and nightlife. Brazilian travestis, reminiscent of the long-lasting Rogéria, held inventive residencies in Mozambique within the overdue Nineteen Sixties and early Nineteen Seventies. In Lourenço Marques and Beira, they carried out often in golf equipment and cabarets, serving to spur an rising queer subculture.
The Mozambique-born Portuguese author Eduardo Pitta explains that their presence was once an indication of cultural exchange. It signalled a relative openness on issues of gender and sexuality that mirrored the worldwide sexual revolution of the overdue Nineteen Sixties.
Those rising city and formative years cultures driven towards the sexual and ethical conservatism of the Portuguese colonial regime. Particularly all through the carnival. Whilst travesti performances have been secluded in golf equipment attended through a most commonly white and middle-class clientele, standard sorts of cross-dressing have been not unusual within the carnival.
A poem revealed within the Mozambique press in 1958 inspired the apply as an expression of freedom:
Let move of the sorrows eating you/ do what you are feeling like/ if you’re a lady, put on a male masks/ don’t thoughts being reworked/ if you’re guy, make your self into a lady.
João, a working-class black Mozambican, described to me his enjoy of becoming a member of the road festivities dressed as a lady, even “dressed in breasts”.
João discussed his want to experiment with femininity as a kid, which he had by no means achieved for concern of trip himself. What was once in particular compelling concerning the carnival, he stated, was once the facility to experience this freedom with out social repercussions. Tales like this recommend that during Lourenço Marques the carnival generally is a web page of queer pleasure, then again fleeting.
Within the aftermath of independence, the ruling birthday celebration Frelimo cancelled the road carnival. The socialist regime supposed to construct a brand new progressive tradition through combating practices related to colonial society, together with consuming and sexual licentiousness. It isn’t unexpected that the carnival was once stuck up in this moralist wave. Whilst the competition skilled a rebirth within the overdue 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 the years. Taking a look on the carnival invitations us to center of attention as a substitute on moments of sexual transgression and gender-bending, to consider the potential for freedom and disruption, regardless of the inherent violence of the colonial scenario and its aftermath.
In 2015, after 40 years of independence, Mozambique joined the rising listing of nations to put an end to colonial technology “anti-sodomy” regulations. Regardless of this prison landmark and the rustic’s relative tolerance against LGBTIQ+ other folks, a recent report means that Mozambique nonetheless must extra successfully combat discrimination and violence towards sexual and gender minorities.
Areas of queer self-expression and pleasure exist extra visibly now, however they have got additionally flourished within the now not so far-off previous. In remembering the carnival, we’re invited to deliver pleasure again to the centre of our collective reminiscence. Now not for the sake of historical past writing on my own, but in addition to adopt the transformative labour of queer liberation – because the queer icons and dancing queens in Mozambique remind us.