The bead-seekers of Mozambique Island

If you go to the eastern Coast of Africa, to the atmospheric place of Mozambique Island, you will see a strange image in the evenings. Groups of women, men and children linger on the beach and seem to be looking for something. And if you are lodged in one of the hotels on the beach, they will without doubt come to you and try to sell you what they found. Beads. Beads that come from the ocean.

Africa has a surprisingly rich maritime cultural past. Native African populations, ancient Indo-Roman traders, Arab seafarers and Portuguese discoverers – numerous ships traveled the region’s shores, be it for war or for commerce or to trade slaves. Many of them came to Mozambique Island. And many of them lost their ships on its shores. Among them was for instance a grandson of Vasco da Gama, who lost a battle off the Island.

The Island of Mozambique lies off northern Mozambique, between the Mozambique Channel and Mossuril Bay. Prior to 1898, it was the capital of colonial Portuguese East Africa and Portuguese is still being spoken there. For centuries, the Island has witnessed extensive seafaring and trade, from which remains a rich and extensive underwater cultural heritage legacy. Unfortunately, this heritage was commercially exploited and in part sold on international markets. Artifacts went to the jewelry makers, to the auction houses and even to the microchip industry.

Only recently has the country been able to halt this situation. For now the local population is yet collecting the beads that the ships brought in exchange for slaves. Let us hope that they soon go not any more into the pockets of tourists, but into the new underwater heritage museum that is being set up in the old Fortress of Mozambique Island.

Images: Mozambique Island (c) U.C. Ringuer

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