Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

They helped us in our fight for independence!

18 Dec 2014

The capulana especially made for the celebrations

When I went on a duty trip to the Mozambican gas province Cabo Delgado a few months ago I met several Mozambicans, all Makonde[1], who told me that they had been educated by the Dutch fathers of Montfort, a part of the Mozambico-Dutch relationships that I had not been really paying attention to before. But I became fascinated by what I was told. Not only had the Dutch priests taught the Makonde to sing and to play soccer, they had also helped them in their struggle for freedom and independence. I really started ‘digging’ (I am a historian by training) when I was invited to participate in the celebrations of 90 years of evangelization of the Planalto dos Macondes (the Makonde highlands) and came into contact with the keeper of the archives of the Fathers of Montfort (Montfortanen in Dutch, Monfortinos, in Portuguese) who had been working in Cabo Delgado himself and who provided me with more information.

Vasco da Gama arrived in Mozambique in 1498 and ever since then the Portuguese had been working on enlarging their position as a colonial power. But the Makonde were colonized only in 1917. The Portuguese were not able to take care of all the area of Mozambique and there were not sufficient Portuguese priests to deal with evangelization, education and medical care and that is how from 1924 the Dutch Fathers of Montfort were asked to take care of the Makonde. They did so with a lot of enthusiasm but it was never easy. Overall Portuguese priests regarded priests from other countries with suspicion because, understandably, the foreign priests were not (or less) interested in perpetuating Portuguese dominance in Mozambique. At a certain point the Pope himself became involved in the conflicts and asked the Fathers of Montfort to stay[2]. I could write a whole book about all the difficulties of the Dutch fathers. But against all odds they continued working until the nineties with the Makonde. They had an enormous influence, in the first place because their schools were the only ones where young Makonde could be educated – there were no schools and no hospitals in that part of Mozambique. I was told that many Muslim families decided to send their sons to the school and even approved of their sons becoming priests[3]. Many of them dropped out of the seminary however, some because they really did not want to become priests. Although when one of them raised it with the Fathers he was told: if you leave, your chances for education will be lost. Stay a bit longer and act as if you want to become a priest, at least you will be educated. Some became too involved in the colonial political tensions and they were kicked out. The ones I met remained all catholic though. Even the younger generation Makonde, including the recently elected president of Mozambique told me that although they had not been educated by the Fathers themselves, they had been influenced by what the Montfort education had meant for their elders.

In the end I did not go to the celebrations in Cabo Delgado but participated in the celebrations in Maputo. I attended mass and stayed on for the festivities afterward, including Mapiku traditional dance. The mass was celebrated by the first bishop of Pemba[4] after independence, emeritus bishop Januário Machaze Nhangumbe (1975-1993). There was a lot of singing, even a hymn especially composed for the occasion and most people present were wearing the polo shirts and capulanas[5] also specially made for the celebrations which made the church look very festive.

After mass we had a meal together and the stories really started flowing. When ice cubes were being put on the table, one guest remarked that the first time he saw ice cubes was at the house of one of the Fathers. We also discussed the habit of punishment by ruler. Some of my interlocutors really disliked it; some thought it had been good for them. They even remembered some Dutch curses……But overall the talk centered on the enormous importance of the Dutch education for the Makonde and the gratitude they still feel because of this.

Overall it cannot be exaggerated what the Dutch Fathers have meant for the Makonde youngsters in the run up to independence. One of them, Alberto Chipande is credited with firing the first shot of the war for independence on 25 September 1964.

He was educated by the Fathers of Montfort.

Next time when I will be visiting Cabo Delgado again to attend the opening of a regional training centre for the gas industry (a Dutch-Mozambican Public Private Partnership), I will make an effort to visit Nangololo as well.

[1]The Makondes, an ethnic group in the southeast of Tanzania and northern Mozambique

[2] Pope Pius XI, 1938

[3] The Consolata Missionary Sisters took care of the girls

[4]The capital of Cabo Delgado

[5] A coloured fabric worn primarily in Mozambique

With the organisers of the celebrations Dancing after mass

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  • 18 Dec 2014, 8:00
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About the author

Frédérique de Man
Written by Frédérique de Man

Dutch ambassador to Mozambique

Previously Frédérique de Man was ambassador to Macedonia and Chargé d’ Affaires in Afghanistan. Apart from various other postings abroad (e.g. Tanzania, Pakistan, Paris ENA, Luxembourg, Brussels and Burkina Faso) she held several responsibilities at the Ministry in The Hague of which the one as Head of the Humanitarian Affairs Department influenced her most.