There is a distinct scent of disconnection in the air.
Getting on a boat and watching Maputo’s coastline dissipate in the sunny mist is only the beginning of a journey of unorthodox dynamics and epiphanies. It is, after all, Inhaca Island we are talking about.
A Ilha de Inhaca, Inhaca Island, was initially part of the mainland, until nature had its course and broke its earthly ties 7000 ago, positioning Inhaca at 40km offshore Maputo.
Boasting of a wild and diverse marine life, Inhaca has a reserve and does not fall short in its spectacular coral reef collection, considered among the most beautiful in the southern hemisphere.
A Journey With No End
The travel begins early in the morning, with a rough damage of 200-400MZN, $3-$6 for tickets in two classes, basic and “executive”. The only difference being that you either sit in the basement, or on the deck where you can see the sea. But, well, once the journey’s out, you can wander around so freely that the price discrepancy doesn’t do itself no justice.
2 hours gallivanting through the elongated sighs of the Indian ocean is no joke, especially when the weather goes from poetically sunny to potentially life-threatening.
It’s important to note the conditions of travel, and though there are arrangements for privately hired boats, which take on average 45 minutes to arrive in Inhaca bay, the peasantries of the government-owned means of locomotion is part of the adventure itself. The “big” boat, with a carrying capacity of approximately 50-100 people (everything is possible in Mozambique), takes its course in the only way it can: by stopping in the middle of the ocean for the passengers to disembark… into a smaller boat. The small boat showed no dissimilarities to those used by the fishermen, and did the job which was to transport passengers to Inhaca bay, since the sea level is too low for the “big” boat to complete the journey.
Inhaca is far away. Both literally and conceptually.
The very act of dislocation from boat to boat, amidst the immensity and unpredictability of the ocean is reason enough to discourage the majority from taking the journey.
The distance in languages is another factor, for though Portuguese is Mozambique’s official language, most inhabitants of the island are proficient in other tongues such as Tsonga and variants of Shangaan.
The switch is not elegant, so skirts, dresses and fancy laptop-cases are strongly discouraged. Though you can always count on the amiability and generosity of your neighbours, which is where the your journey into Inhaca’s people really begins.
This means that though Inhaca is for everyone, not everyone is for Inhaca. The visitor needs to unlearn certain behaviours that disrupt, and often offend, Inhaca-born dynamics.
Inhaca Hospitality, Feels Like Home
I was honoured to stay at a traditional family’s home. The Chaincomo family is well-known in Inhaca, as both the craddle of Inhaca’s origins and gatekeepers of knowledge and spirituality, literally — they were the first family in inhabit the island.
On a tour of the family’s home, I began to notice the slight differences in mindset and behaviour between town’s people and island’s folk. There, spirituality was deeply engraved in every aspect of the daily life, and the vegetation was so luscious and green it made town’s trees look depressed.
The ancient spirits, the ancestors, each have a small house in commemoration of their efforts, and in appreciation for their guidance and wisdom. Theology aside, this was, to me, a clear indication that Inhaca’s people maintain a certain kind of humility that is often lost in the process of urban assimilation. In Maputo, there is an increasing craving to neutralize everything, to devalue culture and, subsequently, demonize “alternative” means of self-actualization, which may involve the practice of indigenous beliefs.
Food For Thought, Food For Survival?
In Inhaca, the collective psyche of the people is reflected in their conversations and interactions. An island of not so many inhabitants, and plenty of space occupied by biodiversity, but paradoxically imposing on the nutrition scale and consumption of its people. There is no bread, and the concept of monetary transactions is almost unwelcome. People fish to survive, and trade to sustain themselves.
Then came the ravens.
The story goes that a South African couple brought along a few ravens from India, in the 70s. They lived with ravens as domestic pets, and everything was as peaceful as ever. Recently, however, the raven population has gone beyond the capacity of the Island, threatening the livelihoods of people by eating their chickens, goats, plants; by stealing and directly harming children and women.
“Even these ravens are sexist!” — we laughed.
The local government authorized the immediate slaughtering of the raven population, an extreme measure, certainly, but also an urgent one, as Inhaca’s poverty deepened.
Capitalizing On Inhaca’s “Nothingness”
Being an island with a lack of resources, its people get bored.
Boredom which is usually solved with a regular late-night outing to one of the two improvised bars.
A comment from a colleague was that, should you walk into a bar, you would be shocked to find 7, 8, 13-year-old dancing in the middle of older people.
Immediately, my thoughts went to those who would be exposed to the threat of sexual assault, physical violence and robbery. Quickly, though, my mind was pacified by the reality that no one really steals, no one really assaults – in Inhaca.
Imagine me, ready to denounce the fact that young children are at a vulnerability in the bar-like space, when in fact all the factors that constitute the threat are simply… non-existent.
Parents allow their teens to come home at 2, 3, 4am, because they know nothing happens!
This is Inhaca: nothing ever happens.