Mozambique cultural insights
The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.
On this page
Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:
- Communication styles
- Display of emotion
- Dress, punctuality & formality
- Preferred managerial qualities
- Hierarchy and decision-making
- Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
- Privileges and favouritism
- Conflicts in the workplace
- Motivating local colleagues
- Recommended books, films & foods
- In-country activities
- National heroes
- Shared historical events with Canada
- About the cultural interpreters
- Related information
When meeting someone for the first time, it would be appropriate to greet and ask, "How are you?" Generally, shaking hands is appropriate. Women, when meeting other women, will give one kiss on each cheek. This is also sometimes true for women when meeting a man in a casual setting. In the workplace one would ask about the other’s work and at first, stick to work-related topics. In the beginning, it would not be appropriate to touch any more than a handshake. It would be advisable during the first meeting to avoid discussing politics. In addition, it would probably be better not to ask where the other comes from because there is some tension between the northern, southern and central regions of the country and the question may be mis-perceived. Note, however, that Mozambicans will generally want to know where you come from, simply out of curiosity. After a relationship has developed it would be appropriate to ask about the other’s health, family, etc. Mozambicans generally have a great sense of humour and if you feel comfortable, joking around is acceptable.
Mozambicans have a great sense of humour and enjoy sharing anecdotes and funny stories. This has helped them through very troubling times.
When Mozambicans meet, they kiss each other on the left and then right cheek. Men usually do not kiss men but they will kiss women and women will kiss each other as well. Men might shake hands or just nod the head. At a first meeting, your host or a colleague might introduce you to someone and say your name and their name or they might say their name. This is regarded as an "official presentation".
At a first meeting you would not ask someone about how they lived during the war years or if they lost any family members. Once people get to know you they might refer to the war period, and they might tell you how they were affected. This is usually after a certain amount of trust is built up because for many people it is still a difficult thing to remember. It is definitely not a good idea to talk about politics during a first encounter either as there is still a lot of polarization along Frelimo and Renamo lines. People would also wonder what motive you had in raising the subject. You could talk about the cost of things in the market or the weather, or you could talk about the traditional foods that you have eaten. You might also ask people what part of the country they come from and if you have been there then that is another fairly safe topic.
When speaking with someone, it is appropriate to keep an arm’s length distance, though Mozambicans generally have a smaller personal space than Canadians. It is not necessarily important to maintain eye contact. Generally, whether you touch someone or not depends on the relationship you have with them. With colleagues, it’s better not to touch while speaking. With friends, touching is fine. Canadians will note that Mozambican men touch each other while talking more than their Canadian counterparts and it is not uncommon to see men holding hands. Women should note that it is not common for men and women to touch each other unless they are intimately involved and, therefore, if a man touches a woman there is likely an assumption of intimacy. Mozambicans tend to talk with their hands, using lots of gestures and pointing at others while talking is appropriate.
Mozambicans are not as sensitive about personal space as Canadians are. An acceptable distance might be less than two feet at times.
Mozambicans tend to touch each other more than Canadians; it is common to see two women or two men who are friends holding hands while walking down the street. Greeting and saying good-bye are done with a kiss on the left and then the right cheek among women and between women and men. Men will shake hands or if they know each other well may hug each other and clap each other on the shoulders.
In terms of eye contact, you will notice that a “superior” e.g. a boss at work, might look at an employee but the employee may look down out of respect. The same thing usually happens between an older and younger person, or with a man talking to a woman (the woman keeps her gaze down). From time to time, the person who is averting their gaze may sneak a quick glance at the other.
Display of emotion
Public displays of affection are appropriate; although this is much more common in urban centres than in rural areas.
In relationships, it is not usually acceptable to kiss in public, although you may see this with the younger crowd.
Dress, punctuality & formality
Dress for work will depend on your position but men are advised to wear a shirt and tie and women are advised to wear dresses or skirts, though not all expatriates follow this. The most important thing is that you should present yourself as clean and tidy. It is important to be well washed and to wear washed and ironed clothes. Mozambicans are less punctual than Canadians. While everyone is expected to arrive at work on time, people do arrive late to meetings.
Mozambicans generally are also absent from work more than Canadians, usually because of higher rates of illness and because of family responsibilities. For example, missing work to attend a funeral is quite common. In Mozambican culture, a deceased person’s relatives (close and distant) and friends and friends of relatives will be expected to attend a funeral and to attend religious ceremonies at various times after the death and, thus, a staff person may miss repeated days of work.
Women usually wear a dress or blouse and skirt. African fashion is becoming more and more popular and you will see Mozambican women paying large sums for West African style cloth or outfits. Men usually wear pants and a shirt, in very formal settings they would wear a tie. Men never go without a shirt in public and find that Canadians who do this are in bad taste e.g. someone taking off their T-shirt on a hot day and walking down the street with it in hand. Note that in the rural areas, and at home, women will often wear a piece of cloth called a capulana wrapped around their waist, and a kerchief on their head. When women have young children or babies they are often tied on the back and breastfed in public wherever they happen to be, and sometimes as they are walking down the street.
It is really important to call your colleagues partners husband or wife whether they are married or not. This is out of respect and decency since during the war years many families were separated by distance or death and many made new families. Also, it is very expensive to get legally married in Mozambique so many people do not.
Introductions are very important, and some people will "pretend" that they haven’t seen you until you are formally introduced in the workplace. Where you meet superiors is important too as I once had a situation where I was with a colleague in the Ministry of Health parking lot and the Minister came by. My colleague spoke with the Minister and did not introduce me, which as a Canadian I felt was rather rude at the time. Later he explained that it was not proper to introduce someone like the Minister in a parking lot, and would have to be done in the correct manner in the Minister’s office. In fact, if you are in a room and have greeted everyone by kissing them on the cheeks, someone may introduce you formally to someone new and you will kiss each other again and then know each other’s names.
Punctuality is hard to define as people may show up on time for work and others may arrive late. Generally, it is good to be on time for meetings in the workplace and outside it, but people may be late for more informal occasions. People are often absent for funerals, especially now that HIV/AIDS has begun taking its toll in Mozambique.
Preferred managerial qualities
Employees are expected to show respect to their superiors whether local or expatriate. A person’s higher position commands respect though education, skills and experience add to it. This will be true for locals and expatriates though Mozambicans will generally assume that an expatriate has more experience than a local and will likely consult an expatriate more than they might consult a local. It can be difficult to judge how your staff will view you because Mozambicans tend to do what they can to avoid conflict. You will learn to read your staff in time.
I would say that experience is important, because Mozambicans did not have much chance to study before Independence in 1975. When a male boss or director has a big belly, then people will say that he must be doing well or he wouldn’t be able to maintain that stomach (from eating and drinking!)
This will change for an expat and people may want to see that person displaying leadership and being personable. You may not ever know how your staff view you!
Hierarchy and decision-making
In the workplace, anyone can make a suggestion but decisions and plans are usually made by upper management and consultation with staff may be minimal depending on the organization. It is acceptable to ask for feedback.
In general, the boss usually makes the decisions and expects others to follow them. There are a number of theatre pieces about this type of boss, which are hilarious for the public to see as they can identify so strongly with it.
Ideas might be generated by other people and used and this person may or may not be credited for it. You could go to your immediate supervisor for answers and feedback.
Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender
The relationship between men and women is a very current topic in Mozambique and there have been great strides in working towards equality. For example, there has been a campaign to introduce improved rights for women in Mozambique’s Family Law, which has generally favoured men in areas of marriage, divorce, child custody, etc. Mozambican women are primarily responsible for the maintenance of the home and the family in addition to their other work in creating income (for rural women this would generally be family farm work and for urban women this would be wage labour). In many rural areas, the majority of men are migrant workers and women are heavily burdened. Women are still more involved in the informal sector where wages are low and unstable.
Religion & ethnicity
Mozambique is a large and diverse country with people from many different cultural, religious, economic and geographical backgrounds. In addition to the many indigenous groups, Mozambique has received waves of colonialists, immigrants and migrant workers over the years which all add to the great diversity of Mozambique. Newcomers might be surprised to find that the shop on the corner is owned by a Mozambican of Indian decent or that their dentist in the clinic is a Mozambican with a mixed heritage of Portuguese and Chinese. There are dozens of ethnic groups represented in Mozambique along with many different languages. Almost half of the population holds traditional African beliefs. The largest established religion in Mozambique is Roman Catholic, followed by Islam. In the face of this diversity, Mozambique has worked hard to ensure the equality and maintain harmony among all Mozambicans. There is also a lot of work being done to equalize the relationships between men and women. Still, there are certain attitudes that a newcomer should be aware of.
Class is a significant way in which people distinguish themselves one from the other. Generally, the wealthiest people live in cities and the poorest live in villages. The upper classes generally isolate themselves from the lower classes. Because of a two-tiered system in education and health, wealthier people have access to high-quality education and health in private schools and clinics.
Another important distinction in Mozambique is the north/south distinction. Much of the population, wealth and, significantly, government institutions are located in the south of the country, near Maputo. Both before Independence and after, the south has been more developed, and has much better infrastructure than the north. This, combined with the south’s proximity to South Africa, means that the south has been much more prosperous than the north and also has a much stronger voice in decisions about national and regional development. Not surprisingly, there is some tension between the north and the south over these issues.
It is very important to realize that Mozambique is a very multi-cultural, multi-racial place with over twenty local languages and influences from the Portuguese and the Asians and the Swahili traders. It can be divided into three basic divisions of North, Central and Southern regions.
In the south it is patrilineal, and in the north it is matrilineal, so attitudes towards gender will be influenced by this. In the north the matrilineal culture on the coast received a lot of influence from the Moslem Swahili traders who had a more patriarchal culture and this caused some interesting shifts.
The predominant religions are Roman Catholic, Islam and Animist. I found that many Roman Catholics also practised traditional religion, which is similar to what is found in Brazil, which also has an Afro-Portuguese heritage. The Muslims vary greatly in their observance of the religion with some men wearing a special hat and others drinking beer and eating pork. The women are usually not distinguishable from Christian or women of other faiths in their dress. During the Marxist-Leninist years people were not so overt in practising their faith, and during the war years they often could not conduct religious ceremonies in their home areas. This is happening a lot now as people return to their home areas either to resettle or to visit. The ancestors are very important and people will talk about some of the dead relatives as if they are still here, as they believe that they are at least in spirit.
I did not find any "cliques" forming around religion or gender. Some of the potential conflicts that could arise might be between Mozambicans and foreigners, because if you have a problem with someone at the office, then often the Mozambicans will rally round that person and assume that they are "right" and you are "wrong".This is not always the case but it does happen frequently. Sometimes your colleagues might meet to discuss an issue affecting you and decide on a course of action that they think will help you, and do this without consulting you--which can lead to conflict, as you might prefer to be involved in any discussion involving you!
In terms of class, I suppose that you could consider that Directors and Senior Management would have a lot of prestige and you would have a difficult time in opposing a decision that they made, especially publicly. In fact, some people who have opposed ministry officials have been sent home in 24 hours with only 20 kilos of luggage! So, it is best to tread lightly, especially in your first months in the country. I think that it is important to realize that on the surface things might appear uncomplicated, but relationships in Mozambique, as well as politics, are much more complex than many foreigners realize.
There is sometimes some animosity between North, Central and South Regions of the country as it is felt that the South has benefitted from the Presidents since Independence all being from there. Also, Frelimo has most of its support from the South and from Cabo Delgado where it began after a notorious massacre of unarmed men, women, and children by the Portuguese at Mueda. Within the workplace you may find that the southerners stick together — they even have a somewhat derogatory term for northerners, which is "shingondo" from one of the local languages. There is a lot of suspicion and mistrust between Renamo and Frelimo supporters and you must be extremely careful not to openly support one or the other political parties. This is especially felt in the rural areas.
It is not part of the culture to have personal relationships at work because if there is a personal problem between two colleagues it can affect the work. That is not to say that friendships do not develop but one should remain cautious. It is important, however, to demonstrate friendliness and this can be accomplished by asking about the health and well being of the colleague’s or client’s family.
It is very important to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business. This can include offering coffee or tea and biscuits (or soft drinks and fruit — whatever is on hand), and asking about the family. If you try to start right away with business, the person may think that you don’t care about them as a person. Canadians sometimes think that this is a "waste of time" but it can actually save time as people will not want to work with you if you do not establish some personal contact initially.
Privileges and favouritism
Local colleagues will likely expect special considerations if you have a personal relationship and might ask for different favours, both personal and work-related. Again, it should be noted that it is not common for men and women to be friends and any man-woman friendships will have different expectations so Canadians should be direct about their intentions if they pursue friendships with Mozambicans of the opposite sex.
It would be unfair to generalize as most colleagues or employees simply want to have a genuine friendship. However, in my experience, certain colleagues will assume that because you are a foreigner and making more money, you can afford to give them small loans, which will not be repaid. You have to decide how much you can afford to "donate" before you make such loans, as you will often not be repaid. This is not to say that no one will ever repay you, as some of my friends or colleagues did do so. Others did not and it is safe to say that the larger the loan requested, the less likely that it can and will be paid back.
Similarly, there are many cases where housekeepers, maids, guards and others who work in the home may take sugar and other foodstuffs without asking. This is another area where you will have to use your own judgement. In our case, we paid the few staff that we had a generous monthly salary including money for transportation and their meals while at work e.g. tea and bread in the morning and the same food that we ate at mealtime (some people only give dried fish and stiff porridge to their staff).We would often bring back gifts for them if we travelled and help with purchase of medicine if they were sick. If items such as clothing started disappearing, that was a cause for instant dismissal.
Conflicts in the workplace
Mozambicans will generally try to avoid conflict and so direct confrontation is not advised. The same will hold true if a colleague is having problems with you. They will likely simply try to avoid you but may write an anonymous letter.
It would be preferable to speak to the colleague in private at first. The situation may or may not improve. If a colleague is having problems with you, you may not hear directly from that person, but from another colleague who the first one has spoken to. This is indirect. Sometimes, you may even find that a number of colleagues have a problem with you that no one has told you about, but that they have written a letter to your supervisor or your embassy about! In other circumstances, if they feel that they want to "help" you, they may meet together and try to come up with some solutions which they will share with you afterwards.
Motivating local colleagues
Generally, Mozambicans will be motivated to work hard and perform well if they have job-satisfaction and are paid well with good benefits.
Money is clearly not a motivation for performing well on the job in Mozambique, because people have extremely low salaries. People often have other "negocios" or small jobs or businesses on the side to try and support their families.
One motivation is commitment as many Mozambicans are committed to what they do. Another is the possibility of "perks" including tea and bread at break time, opportunity for training workshops and if you are very fortunate some training or at least conferences abroad. In some cases these "perks" can be abused as in the case of teachers who insist that their students must provide them with soft drinks and other snacks, food and money in order to "pass" a test or a grade! Similarly many police officers will "turn a blind eye" after you are pulled over for some real or imagined traffic infraction if you give them some money.
Recommended books, films & foods
While still in Canada, it can be difficult to learn about Mozambique and its culture. The best thing to try from Canada is looking on the internet. Some suggestions are: www.kanimambo.com, www.tvm.co.mz, and www.mozbusiness.gov.mz.
Couto, Mia:one of the more well-known Mozambican authors. He wrote some lovely stories for children and Magaia, Lina. Dumba Nengue: Run For Your Life—Peasant Tales of Tragedy in Mozambique: Africa World Press, 1988. This author tells the stories of her neighbours and friends in rural Gaza province, the human targets of apartheid’s proxy terror campaign. Lina Magaia is a journalist and was also a member of parliament or "deputado", a very interesting character.
Useful internet sites
Mozambique News www.mozambiquenews.com; Mozambique News Agency—AIM reports www.poptel.org.uk/mozambique-news; CIA-The World Factbook-Mozambique www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos.mz.html; Embassy of the Republic of Mozambique (in Washington) www.embamoc-usa.org; UN System Mozambique www.unsystemmoz.org.
MediaFax (a daily newssheet) www.mediacoop.odline.com; Kanimambo www.kanimambo.com (Kanimambo means welcome in southern languages of Mozambique and this site gives links to artists and other information.
Once in Mozambique, how you learn about the culture will depend on where you are and what technology you have access to. In large centres you can learn a lot by visiting theatres, concert halls and nightclubs where different theatre troupes, dance groups and musicians present their talents. Films in Mozambique are usually American or Indian but the cinemas are gathering places and can be fun. The national television station, TVM presents many shows in Portuguese about Mozambique and its culture, including news and music and dance programmes. Radio Mozambique, the national radio station, also has a variety of interesting programmes also in Portuguese. In Maputo, there are a number of private and public galleries that show the diversity of Mozambique’s artistic community. There are many museums and these are good places to learn about Mozambique’s history. Going to the outdoor markets and participating at a church or mosque are also good ways to learn and become involved with people. In small centres and villages, the best way to learn is to talk to people and become involved, as much as you can, in community events.
To meet a cultural interpreter, you might want to consider a neighbour with whom you have good rapport or a person at a church or mosque. It would be best to choose a cultural interpreter from outside of your workplace.
Mozambique has a rich musical tradition.The Machope people of Inhambane Province are known nationally for their "timbila" or xylophone music, while the women in Nampula Province are known for their dancing in a line and using a skipping rope.One of the most well-known bands is Ghorwane, a group from southern Mozambique who sing in local languages.Other popular musicians include: Ali Farque from Nampula, an albino singer who some people have referred to as the Salif Keita of Mozambique; Zaida and Carlos Hlongo (pronounced Shongo)—a husband and wife team, Carlos plays the lead guitar and Zaida sings and dances; Stewart is a young Mozambican from Zambezia Province; Euphyro, a group from Nampula.
Marrabenta is the name of a dance from Mozambique which can be seen in nightclubs, and which some may feel is "scandalous" because of the suggestive movements.
There are often opportunities to see these performers live in Maputo, and in other provincial cities. The Franco-Mozambican Cultural Centre which is located in Maputo has been an excellent venue for showcasing both local and international talent in music and other arts, and would be a good place to locate early after arrival in Mozambique.
There are a number of internationally renowned Mozambican artists, and a large number of new talent. The Nucleo de Arte in Maputo is a good place to meet young artists and see the work that they are doing. Alberto Chissano was a famous sculptor — there is a house in Matola, outside of Maputo, with his artwork. Malangatana is one of the most well-known artists of all. He has done a number of murals including the one commemorating the fight for liberation which is close to the airport. Renata is a Makonde woman from Cabo Delgado province in the north. The Makonde people are known for their facial tattooing and their carved ebony. Traditionally the men do the carving, but Renata has taken the ceramics which women usually do and transformed it into works of art by using the same types of images that you would see in the men’s carvings. She has a workshop beside the Museum of Natural History, which is not far from Hotel Cardoso and the Maputo International School in Maputo.
One of the most well-known dishes is "Matapa" which originated in the southern provinces and is prepared using green leaves (either ground-up cassava leaves or pumpkin leaves or bean leaves) mixed in a stew with coconut milk and peanut flour and flavoured with fresh or dried shrimp or crab or small fish. This is very tasty and nutritious and is served over rice or "Xima" which is the stiff cornmeal porridge. In Zambezia Province there is a dish called "Mucuane" which is similar to Matapa, but much drier and with green papaya added to it. This traditional food is not often found in restaurants, but may be served at the homes of friends. If you have someone come to work at your house to help with meal preparation, you could ask specifically to have local food prepared, or it may be assumed that you will prefer "international food" such as grilled chicken and chips.
In the central region the local diet is more Massa (like Xima but the local language is different) and dried fish. Portuguese influence in cooking can be seen in the use of lemon juice and garlic, while there is also Indian influence in the use of curries and spices.
Cafes and restaurants
Socializing is very important in Mozambican life and there are lots of little "kiosks" where beer and other drinks and snacks are sold. These are very popular, especially for men, who will go there after work to chat with friends. These are open quite late—very different from the neighbouring countries which were colonized by Britain. Cafes are also popular and there are lots with coffee and Portuguese pastries.
Nightclubs are popular and most people don’t go until midnight and then stay until the wee hours of the morning. Dancing in couples is favoured and fun!, like salsa or samba. The music is lively and although there are important Mozambican musicians, a lot of the popular dance music is from Angola and Congo (former Zaire).
You might find a cultural interpreter at a Café or one of your colleagues might assist you if you request them to.
Combatants and politicians are considered to be national heroes because they fought for independence and are the founders of the country. To learn more, look for celebrations of Hero’s Day and other days throughout the year to commemorate specific people.
Ngungunhane was a famous chief in the southern part of Mozambique in the early colonial period. He was a fierce fighter and managed to evade the Portuguese for a long time. Eventually he was captured and taken to Portugal where he died. It is said that the Portuguese gave him a certain type of fish to eat although this was a taboo food for his clan, and this is what killed him.
Eduardo Mondlane was the first leader of Frelimo, and was assassinated by a letter bomb in Tanzania where the freedom fighters were based during the liberation war. He had come back from a professor post at a prestigious university in the USA. Because of his idealism and belief in his people’s struggle. He was from Gaza Province.
Josina Machel was the first wife of Samora Machel, the man who became president of Mozambique after independence. She died of illness while a freedom fighter "in the bush".
Samora Machel was the first president after Independence in 1975.He was killed in a plane crash in 1986 while returning from signing some important documents in Zambia. The plane crashed in South Africa and it is believed, though not proved, that there was South African involvement in sabotage to ensure the plane crash.
Graca Machel was the first lady of Mozambique as she was the wife of Samora Machel. She is now married to Nelson Mandela, and gaining international recognition for her work with children, especially those affected by war.
Shared historical events with Canada
Not really any historical events—there are not that many Canadians in Mozambique and there are few Mozambicans in Canada.
Canadians talk about "Mozambican time" and assume that Mozambicans will be late which is not always the case. Canadians also do not realize that it is cultural to treat a guest with honour and give them the best food etc.
About the cultural interpreters
Your cultural interpreter was born in Inhambane City in southern Mozambique. He is his mother's eldest son and has 20 siblings. He was raised in Inhambane until the age of 17 when he went to serve in the army as an emergency medic. He was later trained in nursing at the Nursing College of Mozambique and worked for many years as a trainer in community health programmes. He speaks ten languages including English, Portuguese and eight African languages. He immigrated to Canada in the late 1990s and is currently a student.
Your cultural interpreter was born in Sudbury, Ontario the eldest of two children. She was raised in this city until the age of eight years, when her family moved to Walkerton, Ontario. She studied English Literature and Anthropology at the University of Toronto and has been overseas many times, living and working in such countries as France, Israel, and New Zealand as well as in numerous countries in Central and Latin America, Africa and Asia. She returned to Canada in 1989 to study Social Development at the Coady International Institute in Nova Scotia and in 1993, moved to Mozambique, where she lived for five and a half years. Your cultural interpreter returned to Canada again in 1998 to pursue a Master's in Rural Planning and Development at the University of Guelph. She has been living in Ottawa since August 2000 where she works as a Programme Manager for the World University Services Canada; she returns to Mozambique on a regular basis.
Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.
You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.
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