Mueda massacre: the musical archive

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • Abstract:

    As in Pidjiguiti in Guiné-Bissau or Baixa de Cassanje in Angola, the massacre that occurred in the northern Mozambican town of Mueda on 16 June 1960 has been inscribed in the nationalist narrative as the breaking point of anti-colonial unrest and the trigger of the armed liberation struggle. In the past 20 years several scholars have questioned the central tenets of the nationalist interpretation, especially the idea that the aim of the demonstration was political independence – a claim considered too lofty to be articulated by a mass of illiterate peasants guided by leaders enmeshed in ethnic organisations. Caught between the rhetorics of resistance and revisionism, the colonial archive and oral testimony, the event itself has been rendered illegible. To rescue 16 June from such deadlock, this article turns towards a different kind of historical material: song. Proceeding archaeologically, it moves from songs that reproduce the official version; through more ancient songs, which express some direct experience of the event, however layered and reformulated; to songs that were sung at the time of the massacre. These songs and the echoes they elicit from other sources pave the way to a re-interpretation of the event: from the point zero of a vanguardist history of national consciousness, to a utopian moment in which independence appeared as a possibility, however unclearly understood, the political imagination expanding beyond any consideration of objective constraint.