National Belonging and Social Integration Race and Migration in Mozambique

Multi-racial societies include citizens who embody ethnic loyalties that can challenge definitions of national identity. In African nations, it is individuals who do not fit within the black/white racial binary who most contest ideas of national belonging, particularly in a post-colonial context. In Mozambique, it is people of mixed-race and Indo-Mozambican (Mozambican residents of Indian subcontinent) origins who most clearly challenge national belonging. In times of uncertainty, these non-binary groups have been the most mobile, visible, and vulnerable. Yet, in times of domestic insecurity, these groups were also pitted against one another, rather than embraced into the national mainstream.

Over three years, I gathered oral narratives and analysed post-colonial theory to deconstruct the role non-binary groups played in defining and disputing Mozambican identity over the twentieth century. I found that mixed-race Mozambicans have a few, famous civil rights icons, like Noémia de Sousa and Joao Albazine, who used their privileged ethnic identity to politicize inequality. These examples were used to craft generalizations that all mixed-race people are political allies and that all Indo-Mozambicans are disinterested in politics altogether. Both assumptions are historically inaccurate. Moreover, non-binary groups are often overlapping, and they experience a diversity of experience among them. Indo-Mozambicans of mixed-race (mestiços) for example, have been mislabelled with migratory and economic privileges on par with those of mixed-race persons with white parentage (mulatos). Mestiços do not typically have a connection to their Indian or Pakistani fatherland and, thus, are not transnational migrants; whereas mulatos tend to retain their strong familial connections to European homelands and they use their migratory privileges to travel fluidly. Such faulty stereotypes force non-binary groups to defend their national belonging by competing against one another, rather than joining forces to dismantle the persistent narratives of distrust that have haunted them since the colonial era.

The overlapping and albeit incomplete racial paradigms from the Americas do not capture the full truth of Mozambican race relations, but they are good place to begin this conversation. I understand Mozambique’s racial context to be a hybrid of what Juan F. Perea describes as the US black/white binary and what Gilberto Freyre has called Brazil’s Racial Paradise. The former is summarized as a racial hierarchy that largely excludes non-black people of colour and depicts a linear racial antagonism between black and white people. In the US, white identity expanded over the twentieth century to include immigrants, like Italians, Irish, Jews, and Latin Americans. Black identity in the US, however, has been more monolithic. The one-drop rule ensured any person with any African ancestry (even ‘one drop’ of black blood) was legally labelled and racially categorized as black (and socially inferior to whites). This label was applied to descendants of slaves, free blacks, and new immigrants alike. This static paradigm on blackness reduced the complexities of US race relations to a linear and dichotomous spectrum between black and white races, suppressing the diversity among blacks and introducing the phenomenon of passing, whereby some light-skinned black people denied their ancestry in order to live as white. Furthermore, by labelling different mixtures of ancestry as simply black, US understandings of race have only recently begun to fully confront racism against non-black people of colour and black/brown immigrants. In contrast to the US paradigm, Brazil has a highly nuanced colour, rather than racial, spectrum.

I draw heavily from Melissa Nobles’ Shades of Citizenship, Anthony Marx’s Making Race and Nation: A comparison of the US, South Africa, and Brazil and Rebecca Reichmann’s Race in Contemporary Brazil for their interpretations of Brazil’s social context, racial categories, and manifestations of colour discrimination. Though Brazil is the country said to have the second largest population of African descendants, Brazilians of darker skin are still the most socio-economically disadvantaged. In Brazil, it is widely accepted that most Brazilians (except some descendants of World War I refugees) bear African heritage, so discrimination is not based purely on racial ancestry. Instead, colourism is more pervasive. Alice Walker, in 1983, defined colourism as ‘prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their colour.’ There have been few race-based laws in Brazil. Instead, colour hierarchies were socially imposed such that among this large populace of African descendants the lighter skinned had more opportunities and better living standards than their darker compatriots; Rebecca Reichmann, in 1999, even documented disparities among siblings of different hues. Unlike the static nature of race in the US, dynamism allowed Brazilians to self-identify as black or white, based on phenotype and class. The same person could identify as black to indicate their poverty and later as white to indicate their wealth.

Where both the US and Brazilian paradigms fail to capture Mozambican realities is in their blind spot on race in a black-majority space. Colonialism in Africa also compounded the oppression of racial discrimination, slavery, and labour domination. In Mozambique’s capital of Maputo (also referred to as Lourenço Marques (LM) before 1976), colonialism was implemented through racial segregation and forced labour. Similar to America’s hardened separations between black and white people, Portuguese colonial authorities in Mozambique implemented pass laws to limit racial integration and impede cohabitation. Social aspects of the urban Mozambican landscape also incorporated the Brazilian racial paradigm of colonialism whereby racial miscegenation was a tool of social control. Race-mixing was framed as a civilizing mission that benefited black people. Though there were genuine loving relationships amid largely transactional ones, miscegenation was a popular colonial tool to approximate to and emotionally control the black population.

In Mozambique’s majority-black context, miscegenation could not meet the eugenicists’ goal of social and genetic whitening of the population. Instead, miscegenation posed the opposite construction—it was a tool to shake the stigma of being a foreigner. It allowed non-blacks to assimilate and approximate to indigenous, black culture. Marrying or procreating with a black person allowed whites, Asians, and other immigrant groups to demonstrate domestic loyalty, cultivate local networks, and create cultural proximity with indigenous Mozambicans. With the passing of generations, mixed-race families crafted fluid national, ethnic, and racial identities. David Biale would call these ‘composite identities’. Many leveraged such identities to access what Aihwa Ong calls ‘flexible citizenship,’ i.e. multiple citizenships, residency statuses, and global capital facilitated through transnational, familial networks. Flexible citizenship and domestic belonging were unequally distributed among mixed-race people. Children of white-black parentage (mulato) accessed both Mozambican and European citizenships. Most children of Indian and black heritage (mestiços) lost access to Indian citizenship; Indo-Mozambican parents of mixed-race children, however, earned greater social acceptance and national belonging as Mozambicans—even when they retained Indian, Pakistani, British, South African, or Portuguese citizenship or residency.

By virtue of their phenotype and Indian sub-continent ancestry, mestiços still reported barriers to full social inclusion. I find this fascinating because in the two intergenerational interviews that I conducted with mestiço families, descendants felt themselves fully Mozambican and had grown up practising many more local customs than Indian ones. They did not have any immediate connection to India and had never identified relatives still on the sub-continent. Instead, they felt—as all Mozambicans do—a strong connection with their families. Like the Cape Coloureds of South Africa, mestiços of LM/Maputo tend to intermarry and perpetuate their unique linguistic particularities and mixed-race heritage. Mestiços, generally, do not feel that they exclude others, but their attachment to tight-knit family groups might make them appear to prioritize social bonds with other mestiços over inclusion with other ethnic and racial groups outside of their kinship networks.

Mestiço families I interacted with explained that Hindu and Muslim Indian men would often establish families with native, black, Muslim women. In a 2017 meeting, an administrator from the local Hindu Association said, ‘I bet if you go back far enough, every Indian Muslim here has some Hindu ancestor. They got here and converted. But, their roots are Hindu.’ In Hindu religion, physical touch (much less amorous relationships) between a Hindu and a non-Hindu is cause to expel the Hindu from caste and faith communities. Men who established such relationships in LM/Maputo were from humble economic means and they left India without any intention of returning. Many also died young and never passed on family genealogies to their kids. Children of such relationships tended to identify as mestiço, not Indian, and they were raised with native, Mozambican cultural practices. It is likely that there are two reasons that Indian forefathers held a permissive acceptance of interfaith relationships for themselves and exclusive adherence to local customs for their children. First, their own disconnect from India, having no intentions of returning, likely empowered them to fully integrate themselves and their new families into Mozambican society. And, having a native wife facilitated their social acceptance into their new homeland, though many never officially changed their citizenship. Today’s Indo-Mozambican mestiço community is the result of a localized composite identity; their insular nature comes from this inter-generational cultural inheritance of disconnect from a fatherland and contested inclusion in their motherland.


Labels of mixture, like mulato, mestiço, and misto all trigger social understanding that individuals are of mixed-race, but still native to Mozambique. In Mozambique, mulato usually means a mix between a white and black parent, and mestiços usually means a mix between black and others, and misto is a catch-all term that I have never really heard in common parlance. All three terms identify the mixed-race person as born in Mozambique. An Indiano, by contrast, is an immigrant, a foreigner outside of the mainstream Mozambican assimilation networks. One who describes him/herself as Indiano is assumed to have no aspiration of Mozambican integration. Calling a Mozambican-born individual an Indiano strips them of their Mozambican nationality.

In the absence of genetic testing, terms of racial and ethnic blends try to guess aesthetic and ancestry. The lengthy narrative below is from my conversation with Naya, a woman who described different terms used for mixed-race people by using her own family as a reference. I do not agree with all of Naya’s definitions, but this excerpt illustrates the difficulties of describing Mozambican ethnic origin and immigrant descent. She struggled to use a singular term to describe herself. I left our conversation confused about phenotypic labels, but committed to dissecting their social implications.

Naya: I know that my dad’s mom was the daughter of an Afghani. My dad is from Tete. So, his mom’s Dad was from Afghanistan and his mom’s mom was a mixed-race of Indians and Africans. So, I’m the 4th generation. And then my dad’s dad’s dad was also from India, Gujarati side of India, and then he got married to my grandmother who was the daughter of an Afghani and an African. And I know that my dad’s dad, due to trade, he ended up in Tete because things in India were not so good. So, he was just here for something like five years. He left his first wife in Gujarat in India with 3 sons and then he moved to Tete for better conditions. Since he was alone, he was looking for the second wife.

My dad’s mother was divorced. She had a small baby, my aunt, who is 65 now. She was also divorced, so they arranged the marriage. So, the Gujarati grandfather and my mixed-race grandmother got married through an arranged marriage. They’re Muslim. She was the second wife. My grandfather used to come here I think on a ship—I don’t know how—and then he opened this small grocery shop and then he got married. He only did the Nikkah [Islamic religious wedding ceremony]. Since he was already married in India, he couldn’t get a civil marriage. So, they did a Nikkah. They moved in together and then what happened is that my grandmother, she was a farmer, she’d sell fresh stuff from her farm and my grandfather would take that money from her and would send it all to India. Can you believe that? [Instead of getting divorced, Naya’s grandmother agreed to live in a separate house away from her husband and his first wife, who eventually joined them in Mozambique.] …

The kids [Naya’s father and his siblings] used to get along, but my dad’s stepmother did not like him because of the mix. You know what happened is that the Indians here, the Muslim community is a bit racist. We have mixed-races. We don’t speak Indian and we wear sleeveless clothing. And they can be very discriminatory. They say, ‘Yeah, she’s not Indian. She doesn’t speak Indian. Look at how she dresses, and you know she’s mixed. Her mom was not a real Indian. And you know they’re very discriminatory with any other races besides Indian. That’s what the stepmother was to my dad and my aunties and my grandmother. She would tell her husband, ‘How could you get married to a woman that’s mixed race? Her mom is black, and her father is Afghani. Why? They are not even Indian. They are not part of our culture. They are not our race and she doesn’t speak Indian.’

My mom’s background is that she speaks Chinese. She’s Indian. She’s got white. She’s got black in the family. My mom’s mom was born from a half Chinese and a half white and Indian. And I know that her grandfather was a Chinese guy, a ‘comerciante’ [merchant]. He used to sell ‘makojojo’ [sea worms]. I don’t know where he was from, but his name was Won Chang. She was the daughter of the China guy, the sea worm seller, and a black woman. And then my mom’s dad is the person that I don’t know much about. I heard my mom tell me that he was the son of a white guy from the [Portuguese] colony. One of those bad guys. They said he used to whip people. [He] was mixed with an Indian woman. Half Indian. He had blue eyes.

NA: I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had about defining ‘Mulato’, ‘Monhê,’ and ‘Mestiço.’

Naya: …You know what? I’m considered ‘Mulata’ because I don’t speak Indian. I am and I’m proud of it. But usually ‘Mulato’ is when there is a mix between black and white. That can generate other ‘Mulatos.’ As long as she’s got bright skin and curly hair that’s a ‘Mulato.’ Me, I’m considered Indian, but I’m not Indian. I’m ‘Mulata,’ because I’m mixed-race. In our community, I’m considered ‘Mulata,’ because I don’t speak Indian, but others that are not in our community see me as an Indian…

Then you have the ‘Mestiço,’ it’s like mixed. That would be me. ‘Mestiço’ would be people that have mixed races, but they don’t understand what ‘mestiço’ is. They usually don’t use that term that much, but I’d just use ‘mestiço’ instead of ‘mulato.’

NA: Because ‘Mulato’ is typically a black and a white mix? So ‘mestiço’ is any other mix?

Naya: Yes, ‘mestiço’ is any other mix—like me, I am a ‘mestiça’ because I have mixed-race in my blood.


There is a lot of overlap and tension between Indo-Mozambicans and Mozambicans of mixed-race, because they do not fit within Mozambique’s black/white binary. As a result, their ability to assimilate and integrate are constantly questioned. Both fall outside the linear racial spectrum, yet they are often presented as polar opposites with regard to political activism. I concur with David Biale, Michael Galchinsky, and Susannah Heschel’s assertion that the politics of identity ‘too often assumes that a monolithic and inherited identity should dictate political action.’ I consider such action to be a measure of an individual’s convictions around their imagined and real equities in the context of evolving national identity.

Noémia de Sousa (poet activist) and the Albazine family (journalist activists) are oft-cited examples of mulato leadership in the struggle for racial equality during the colonial period in Mozambique. They lived in the Mafalala neighbourhood of the capital city. Just at the boundary of the cement city for whites, Mafalala was the nearest reed city for blacks. Under the cloak of night, forbidden interactions were known to happen between thrill-seeking white men, and black women with limited financial opportunities. Black men were only allowed to leave Mafalala during the working day if they could provide a pass to prove their employment. This labour segregation by day and miscegenation by night produced mixed-race children who lived with their black mothers in the reed city. White fathers in the cement city were known to provide for their children living in the reed city. Some kids were sent to Portugal at their father’s expense. However, mulatos lived a bifurcated existence. Some used their privilege to speak out against colonial inequalities. This revolt is similar to that experienced throughout Latin America, where it was the children born in the colonies to European fathers who most visibly campaigned against colonial hypocrisy. Like in colonial Latin American societies, in Mozambique it was unclear if mulatos were fighting for racial equality for all or just their own access to withheld privileges of whiteness. In either case, mulatos’ vocal protests were the beginning clamours of Mozambique’s anti-colonial movement.

The stereotype of the activist mulato goes back to these 1920s figures and stands juxtaposed with the persistent image of the de-politicized Indiano. These characterizations persist today, despite the reality that there have been numerous and highly visible, politically active Indo-Mozambicans throughout the late twentieth century. These characterizations persisted in spite of examples like Aquino de Bragança and Oscar Monteiro, both high-level Indo-Mozambican political advisors. Whereas a similarly small number of mulatos took on civic leadership, mulatos in general have been credited with the positive stereotype of having a penchant for politics and a vested interest in equality. In contrast, Indo-Mozambican anti-colonial figures were framed as exceptions, not representative of most Indo-Mozambicans’ political interests. The notion that Indo-Mozambicans are immigrants with external loyalties, continues to be an undercurrent in the contemporary social and political narrative.

Indo-Mozambicans, including mestiços, are no more or less politically active in LM/Maputo than any other group. Also, as relative to their national population, Indo-Mozambicans are, perhaps, over-represented in national politics and the economy. The label of foreignness, however, serves to discredit their contributions. That same label is used to dismiss even their political actors as exceptional and in no way representative of the larger community. If that gaze holds for Indo-Mozambicans, it should also hold for mulatos. Nevertheless, there is a double standard. White privilege fuels the double standard’s inherent positive association for mulatos. Juxtaposing the full inclusion of mulato contributions with the minimal inclusion of Indo-Mozambican contributions into the national narrative further reinforces the black/white binary in Mozambican race relations and a social preference for whiteness.

In Mozambique, the phenomenon of miscegenation was gender-specific. By and large, mixed families always had black, native mothers and immigrant fathers. There was an inherent power of the race and nationality of that immigrant paternal figure, who I call the ‘forefather.’ The politicization of the mulato in Mozambique is often compared to the de-politicization of the Indo-Mozambicans, including mestiços. I argue that mulatos were emboldened to challenge their inability to access the full range of privileges entitled to whites. Born to white forefathers, they felt that paternal patronage would protect from political reprisal. During the colonial period, even when mulato resistance was met with State reprisal, punishment was usually exile to Portugal. Consequences for a mestiço were vastly different. Their exile could be to the cocoa farms of São Tomé, not to the metropolis of Lisbon. Additionally, in the interviews I conducted for this study, many mestiço children of Indian forefathers had a sense of rootlessness. With the exception of Goans, the departure of Indian-origin forefathers from the subcontinent was a permanent rupture. Children of white Portuguese forefathers—many of whom maintained trans-national ties to their native towns—were connected to a European homeland. Mulatos retained both flexible citizenship and privilege within the Portuguese colony of Mozambique; mestiços had limited social privilege in the colony and only a small minority were rumoured to have access to their paternal citizenship.

During times of political instability, power of ancestry was mobilized to define each group—mixed-race persons and Indo-Mozambicans—as, according to Saskia Sassen, a ‘separate class, one represented as not belonging to the country of residence’. Mestiços did not have flexible citizenships to facilitate their flight. And in 1962, more than 2,000 Indian passport holders (many of whom had spent the majority of their lives in Mozambique) were interned and forcibly deported in retaliation for India’s annexation of Portugal’s colonies on the Indian subcontinent. Even when Indo-Mozambicans were born in Mozambique or had managed to reside in-country for generations, despite war and State removals, they were still socially perceived as immigrants.

Indo-Mozambicans have never shed the stigma about their Indiano forefathers, and they are always vulnerable to being socially considered foreigners, or immigrants, in spite of their permanence in Mozambique for many generations. Their colonial legacy complicates their post-colonial inclusion. The perception that ethnic minorities are a threat to the State and society goes back to colonial times; Mahmood Mamdani would say settlers, as a political term, includes racial groups that encompass the master race (white) and subject races (Asians, Colours, Arabs, etc.). Settlers contrast with natives, who include indigenous ethnic groups. In Mozambique, the independence government’s socialist rhetoric was a reactionary counterbalance to racist and repressive colonial policies. Post-colonial unity in multi-ethnic Mozambique, however, never fully addressed the belief that subject races were complicit in colonialism and so the independent nation still suspects them of disloyalty and self-interest.


Experience shows that in Mozambique, interracial marriage was not nearly as forbidden or uncommon as stigma assumes. Susana Pereira Bastos’ 2006 text, ‘In Mozambique, we didn’t have apartheid: Identity constructions on inter-ethnic relations during the Third Portuguese Empire’ offers the following insight into Hindu forefathers among mestiços:

‘Whether they opted for new migratory projects after the decolonization process, or they remained in Mozambique, the identity narratives that centre upon interethnic relations during the colonial period always refer to a first phase of insertion, when sexual relationships between Hindu Gujarati men and local women (adhering to traditional religions or Islam) were very frequent, and resulted in the birth of descendants who were known as «mistos» [mixed] or «mestiços» [half-breeds]. However, only exceptionally the offspring of these relationships were integrated in the Hindu religion. Even in those cases in which the relationship was maintained, these children usually were integrated in the mother’s family and mostly grew up as Muslims. As is often stressed by our informants, the situation of those who grow up «between two influences, that of the father and that of the mother», or those who end up «being neither one thing nor the other» is usually repulsive to the average Hindu.’

In the case of Mae, she and her husband were third generation mestiços. I asked if she considered herself an immigrant and she affirmed, ‘I was born in Mozambique.’ She explained that her father was a Hindu who immigrated from Diu, India. He married her native, black Mozambican mother in Inhambane. He continued to practise Hinduism, but Mae’s mother remained Muslim and raised the children as Muslims. Mae said she always identified as Mozambican, never as an Indian, because her father did not teach them anything about Hindu culture or share anything about his past in Diu.

In both Mae and Saadiq’s families, members attested that they are fully integrated into Mozambican society and they have proven their national loyalty by never having emigrated. Despite their perceived access to migratory escape during the time of independence in 1974, for example, these families felt a sense of permanence to Mozambique. They had no alternative. They did not speak an Indian-subcontinent language, had no living memory of paternal relatives, and they were all deeply dismissive about a permanent return to India. I would argue their forefather’s own sense of distance from his birthplace passed on an inherent knowledge of no return to his descendants. In contrast to the children of white Portuguese forefathers, the children of Indian forefathers needed to accept and abide by Mozambican culture and politics, or they could very well end up politically and socially stateless. For better or for worse, mestiços’ permanence in Mozambique was not up for negotiation. Yet, their national loyalty was regularly questioned. Even today, this group struggles with an unfulfilled request for social belonging and integration.

Saadiq and Ibtihaj are Muslim mestiços who intermarried. Their experiences illustrated how their individual senses of belonging affected their adoption or abandonment of certain national identity markers during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Ibtihaj’s native, black biological mother abandoned her Indian-immigrant father. She was raised by her Indian step-mother and her Indian father. Ibtihaj spoke Gujarati fluently and watched Bollywood movies. She went to Islamic school for her education. She acknowledged that in many ways she was accepted as fully Indian. It was only at her wedding when the invitation included her biological mother’s name that friends and family realized she was mestiço.

Saadiq, of a similar ancestral composition, took great pride in his mixed heritage and fully acknowledged his African roots. He grew up with his black family members. Though he was Muslim, he also practised his native religion. His Mozambican royal heritage offered a sense of personal pride, as well as a narrative to validate his national belonging. From that sense of ancestral belonging, he disproved many stereotypes about mulatos, mestiços, and Indianos. He shared that he was deeply offended by being asked why he never left Mozambique in the 1970s. Saadiq attested then, and now, to his loyalty to Mozambique.

I never knew my [Indian] grandfather. I don’t know if my father even knew him. My grandmother, my father’s mother, was from the Tembe tribe. She was the niece of the last king of Ka Tembe, Unguanaze Tembe. I don’t know what happened to the population, but the King fled to the province of Natal in South Africa. I’m not sure if it was because of tribal wars. My grandmother is the daughter of the youngest brother of Unguanaze Tembe. What they called Lourenço Marques, in the 1950, 40s, 30s, 20s, was called Delagoa Bay. These Indians, my grandfather, I believe, was a travelling merchant. So, where did he spend the night? He stayed in the house of the tribal chief. When he arrived there, he messed around with the girls of the local tribe to not be bothered by other groups. He is the Inconuana, the son-in-law of the king, the son-in-law of the local chief.

The majority of mestiços in the south, on our maternal side, we are Mamotos, Nhacas, Mphungues, of tribal chiefs. This was so that they would not be bothered by the rest of the population. The white, the Indian, that was the son-in-law of the Chief [and] was respected. My father was born in Natal. My grandmother would come to LM on occasion. But when her husband left her, she brought her kids to LM. They are children of Hindus, of an Indian. Even today, 90% of Africans think every Indian is the same bag of flour. But they have their castes, religions. They are all Indian, but they are all different.

So, my grandmother brought her kids here and here they became Afro-maometana. Afro-maometana was a school of Muslims. So, they converted my dad and uncles and aunts to the Muslim faith, but their origins are Hindu. My uncle was born in 1905. My aunt must have been born in 1908. My dad was born in 1910…

Why did I not leave and go to Portugal? What connected me to Portugal was only colonization. I have nothing to do with Portugal. My origin is Indian and, aside from this, the father of my mother was Dutch. I have nothing to do with Portugal. But this thing existed, and always will exist, where people look at me and upon seeing someone of a different race or a different colour—because the race is the same, the human race—they will ask me ‘Why didn’t you leave?’

Saadiq was offended by being typecast as someone who would flee his country. He had met people in Portugal who claimed to be Mozambican loyalists, but who refused to leave Portugal. He asked rhetorical questions about whether or not those people’s Mozambican identity was questioned the same way that his was. He never regretted his decision to stay in Mozambique, but he did lament not having allowed his wife to teach their children Gujarati. He understood that speaking a native language—native Indian or native Mozambican—would be used to ascribe an identity claim. He felt that learning Gujarati would make his children feel superior to other mestiços who, like himself, had grown up disconnected from Indian cultures and lived outside the boundaries of acceptance as an Indiano. I wonder if his children had shown more affinity to their maternal connection to India rather than their Mozambican roots, if that reality would have provoked further doubts about Saadiq’s own national allegiance. The politics of perpetually defending and negotiating one’s nationality defies the rhetoric of racial inclusion upon which Mozambican independence was founded.

Saadiq and Aisha, one of Mae’s daughters, are similar in that both had no specific knowledge of their Indian forefather. When I asked Aisha why she had never left Mozambique during the civil war, Aisha said she never identified with anywhere else. When the opportunity presented itself shortly after independence, she responded with a strong sense of national loyalty.

A: When the time came [to flee], I said to myself ‘My home is here, not there.’

NA: Where were you planning to go?

A: We were going to go through Swaziland to South Africa. From my generation, many people did this. Many emigrated. Once my high school did a visit to Namaacha around 1978. All you had to do was go down past the barrier and enter Swaziland. Some of my classmates did that.

NA: Did anyone in your family ever think to go back to India or to Portugal?

A: No, no one. Some cousins on my mother’s side went, but the majority stayed here.

NA: Went to India?

A: No, Portugal. No one went to India.

This lack of Indian connection is part of mestiço identity. It is also what proves their permanence and loyalty to Mozambique. Their heritage is not a network of loyalties that can be mined for flexible citizenships. Mestiços have Indian-forefathers who hail from a variety of different backgrounds, but who offered little to no information about his family on the subcontinent. Their descendants inherited that void. Despite constant projection of foreignness upon them, mestiços are less mobile than both mulatos and other Indo-Mozambicans. Mestiços are part of an imagined community based on genuine ancestry. What binds them to each other is their shared imagination, syncretic customs, and generations of interfaith tolerance. I hypothesize that their kinship relationships grew stronger in the face of wider out-group rejections, which hardened justification for cultural reproduction through intermarriage. This composite identity of mestiços is a uniquely Mozambican creation, the result of uniquely Mozambican social realities.


In this article, I tried to debunk a variety of historically unfounded generalizations that have been socially employed to deny non-black and non-white Mozambicans full belonging to the Mozambican national identity. Individuals who do not fit within the black/white racial binary test narratives of Mozambican diversity and national belonging. Belonging for these non-binary groups is constantly contested; they are often compared to and pitted against one another. For example, a handful of mulato activists have been used to claim that all miscegenated people are more loyal and socially integrated than Indo-Mozambicans; the social currency mulatos gain from this positive stereotype masks the fact that many mixed-race individuals are politically apathetic. Conversely, Indo-Mozambican political activists and public servants have had their legacies dismissed and they have been dis-incentivized from taking on visible civic roles. These comparisons distract from the unsettling reality that racial and ethnic minorities are socially labelled as foreigners, despite their citizenship, political engagement, or long-time residence in Mozambique. The persistent gaze of foreignness undermines the integrity of Mozambique’s multi-racial society.

Mestiços, in particular, still struggle to be socially accepted as full citizens. They are often misidentified as Indiano to emphasize their foreign heritage and to insinuate transnational networks that most do not actually possess. Mestiços, like many others of Indo-Mozambican heritage, can rarely shed the stigma of their Indiano ancestry and are vulnerable to being socially labelled as immigrants. During the colonial period, miscegenation and political activism were tools to integrate. Post-colonial national identity was formed in reaction to colonial realities that privileged settlers over native blacks. In reaction, post-colonial society has demonstrated an ambivalence and distrust towards those once privileged groups.

As a majority-black but multi-racial society, Mozambique’s nationalist rhetoric espouses full political equality of citizens of all racial groups; social integration, however, for both new and old immigrants (and their non-binary descendants) is still individually negotiated. Now firmly past the post-colonial transition, scholars in Mozambique would do well to research and define for themselves the applicable paradigms of race and social hierarchy. Such scholarship would de-mystify localized processes of social and political nation building. Furthermore, such analysis would contribute to African perspectives in global dialogues on race and migration in modern societies and young democracies