I have this large batik hanging on my living room wall which I’ve loved because of the craftsmanship, beauty, and colors. However, recently I’ve started disliking what it represents. It started with a conversation I had last week with my conversation partner.
For the past few weeks, Sonia and I have been discussing “assigned” topics each week. Last week our topic was Mozambican Women. She started the discussion by telling me about the neck problems she had been experiencing since the weekend because she had carried large, 40kg (88lb) containers of flour on her head. It is a common sight to see women carrying capulana-wrapped bundles or large plastic containers on their heads. I know they’re heavy because when a woman gets off a chapa the cobredor (doorman), sometimes with the help of another person, must hoist a container onto her head. A woman can’t lift it up alone. Imagine a container two or more feet in diameter and a foot and half deep filled with fish or tomatoes. Or imagine a 25kg (55lb) sack of flour or potatoes. Now imagine those on your head. I’m always very impressed with these women. I experience shoulder and neck problems from carrying my heavy laptop for too long. But honestly I just assumed that because women here have grown up carrying heavy objects on their heads, they must have super-strong neck and back muscles. (And they all have excellent posture!)
However, Sonia described to me the neck and back problems so many women experience. She admitted that she was in pain because she’s not used to carrying such heavy weight on her head, but even women who do it regularly can experience a great deal of pain. I asked her why she did it alone, and she said there was no one else to help her, only young kids were at her house. And how else was she going to get the flour home? This is life without a car or cart or bicycle. It’s also life in a society where men do very little physical labor.
The life of a man, it seems, especially in the districts (rural areas) is to eat and procreate. A district man may have as many as six, seven, or eight wives. Sonia’s father, who was a well-known curandeiro (witchdoctor) in Beira, unusually (for the city) had 12 wives and 59 children.
The daily life of a woman is to walk to the fields (sometimes a couple hours), work there for the majority of the day, then walk home, prepare dinner for her husband and children (over a coal fire), and clean the house. It is her responsibility to harvest crops and carry them home or into town to sell, hence the bundles on heads. I’ve seen women with a load on their heads, a baby strapped to their backs, plus carrying other things in their arms. I rarely see men carry anything heavy.
So back to my batik. As Sonia and I were discussing the life of a Mozambican woman, especially district women, she pointed to my batik and said that it shows district life. It was then that I noticed the women outnumber the men – not unusual if a man has multiple wives. She pointed to the huts and explained how a man will build a hut for each of his wives and their respective children, and he has his own hut in the middle. The wives take turns visiting him on different nights. I also noticed in the batik that all the women standing have bundles on their heads. None of the men are carrying anything. Plus, the two women who are not standing are kneeling on the ground in front of a man on a stool. Kneeling before a man is a sign of respect in Mozambique, although not in the cities anymore.
Now I have mixed feelings about my batik. What I used to admire as a beautiful depiction of rural Mozambican life is now leaving me angry and sad about the lives of Mozambican women.