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9— 'We are all Portuguese!' Challenging the Political Economy of Assimilation: Lourenco Marques, 1870–1933
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Introduction and Perspective

Shared cultural identities are central in providing a criterion for determining whether, and how, people share access to decision making, to land, to control over labour, factors and instruments of production, to favours of all sorts, and indeed even whether, and how, people labour or allocate the product of their labour. People who think of themselves as comprising a 'we' hold notions of sharing which emerge from a multi-level, ever-changing kaleidoscope of meaning and identity. The notion of comprising a 'we' is as important at any single moment as it is difficult to nail down. What at one moment, on one level, is the consciousness of a sharing 'we' can, at another moment and on another level, split into a consciousness of 'we' and 'they', with notions of sharing altered accordingly.

This essay is concerned with one such situation. In the early decades of this century a group of educated black males in Lourenco Marques conducted a prolonged struggle against the realignment of their cultural frames of reference which occurred as the Portuguese colonial state sought to subordinate the majority black population of Mozambique to the evolving political and economic demands of the colonial capitalist system. Jockeying to share as 'we' and to exclude others as 'they' was an on-going process, ebbing and flowing at all levels of society as the economy contracted, expanded, or simply changed. What clearly emerges from an overview of this period is that hard times caused by a myriad of economic and political factors were paralleled by the redefinition of both individuals and groups into sharply narrower categories. Shared cultural characteristics were energetically deployed to reduce the sharing 'we' as


economic opportunities to share were reduced. With each crisis members of the black elite lost ground vis-à-vis the white community and experienced severe tensions among its own members. While the ultimate fate of nineteenth century educated Africans, compradores and culture brokers was commonly displacement and subordination, the timing and nature of the process varied considerably, as did perceptions of shared meanings and identities.[2]

This essay explores the experience of a generation of predominantly Catholic, mission-educated Africans and mulattoes who were associated with the Grêmio Africano, a social clique and political lobby founded between 1906 and 1908. It relates their struggle to participate in the colonial economy as unfettered Portuguese citizens, the class orientation of their struggle, and the often conflicting co-identities within the urban black elite as the political economy changed. The Grêmio's struggle emerges in the articles, editorials and correspondence published in their newspapers, O Africano (1908–1918) and 0 Brado Africano (after 1918), particularly in relation to their campaigns to oppose what they called 'laws of exception'. These laws included both legal and social constraints tied to racially determined categories of citizenship. The Grêmio's opposition to exceptional requirements for persons considered by the Portuguese colonial state to be indigenas ('natives') forced the issue of just who was to be considered an iodigena and who was not. Their challenge in turn prompted the formulation of yet another exceptional category: assimilado (culturally assimilated black or honorary non-native).

That the Grêmio identified these constraints and sought to undermine their legal promulgation or, failing that, to thwart their implementation is revealing at two general levels. First, it demonstrates a keen awareness that any and all forms of legal exclusion which coincided with racial distinctions compromised all black persons, even those of privileged status. From the outset, the thrust of the campaign was the unacceptability of race as a criterion for distinctions among citizens. The Grêmio's refrain 'We are all Portuguese!' asserted equality tempered with the assurance of loyalty.[3]

At a second level, the struggle sheds considerable light on conflicting co-identities within the black elite. Although as a group they remained unwilling to concede the basic premise from which racist relations of domination ultimately proceeded, individuals and sub-groups within the elite nevertheless manoeuvred to enhance their own interests in the narrowing arena, with some being able to present themselves as 'more Portuguese' than others.

The elite's campaign against laws of exception took different forms at different times. It originated in the first decade of the century in opposition to legislation designed to restrict the freedom of blacks to market their labour in Lourenco Marques. The campaign gained momentum as the state attempted to gain greater control over African activity between 1913 and 1919. It was subsequently blunted in the 1920s, when, for a number of reasons, some members of the black elite found it expedient to cooperate with the laws of exception. Competition with the rapidly growing urban white population to secure employment became more difficult as patronage linked to Portugal began to take precedence over local patronage—a process sharply intensified with the overthrow of the Republic in 1926. Politically inspired job protection and social welfare programmes intended for whites only which were developed by the state to alleviate the devastating economic consequences of the Depression exacerbated social tensions at all levels so that by 1933 educated blacks barely bothered to oppose the principle that a legal process should separate them from their citizenship. Divisions within the elite emerged in sharp relief, and unity within the mature elite and between the mature and


younger members crumbled under this burden.

Although the Grêmio framed its challenge in terms of common values and a 'way of life' entitling them to participate in the colonial economy on an equal footing with any other Portuguese, the challenge was replete from the start with contradictions based on gender, class and ethnicity. My purpose is to demonstrate neither that the elite was capable of mounting an intellectually impressive argument for unfettered citizenship—which it was—nor that the elite had so internalized the meanings and identities of the hegemonic Portuguese middle class culture and ideology that, despite its often brilliant manipulation of meanings and identities, it could not convincingly challenge colonial domination. Rather, I shall explore the changing economic and political relationships in the struggle to decide who would and who would not share and under what circumstances. Through such an investigation one may arrive at a more general understanding of cultural relations as a medium of domination and subordination. Why were idioms of cultural identity projected and manipulated by both dominant and dominated groups at different times to advance their conflicting postures? And what were the limits of such manipulation?

To avoid misunderstanding from the outset, I must summarize the basic perspectives which shape this essay. First, this is a study of male protagonists in the public sphere of the growing capitalist sector, based on their published thoughts, recapturable actions and socio-economic identities. Women most often emerged in Grêmio publications subsumed in terms of 'ours' and 'theirs'. The developing economics of assimilation revolved around a series of changing combinations of rights and obligations, inclusions and exclusions, tempered by varying degrees and types of privilege and harassment, but all assumed the subordinate position of women. As the parameters of the struggle took shape in the first quarter of the century, the status of women did not even merit explicit recognition in law. By 1927 when qualifications for 'non-native' status were tightened, the assumed subordination of women was made at least implicit: wives and children of those persons considered non-native would be considered non-natives if they lived in their husbands' or fathers' house (Dip. leg. 36, 12 November 1927). The ways in which women interacted in the rearrangement of the social basis for economic and political participation in the city in this period is therefore only indirectly considered here.

Second, the record of published thoughts and recapturable actions draws more heavily on some sections of the black elite than on others. By the early twentieth century the black elite of Lourenço Marques was made up of several intersecting and overlapping groups. Each group comprised families who generally intermarried, shared the same religion, spoke the same language, and looked to one another for social support. There was a slight tendency for male members of each group to be employed in similar sectors of the economy—a tendency which reflected religious and linguistic characteristics—but places of employment and public forums were usually the venues at which various elite groups interacted. There were two principal elite groupings, one Catholic-educated and Portuguese-speaking (the Grêmio group) and the other Protestant-educated and Rjonga-speaking, many of whom later came to comprise the membership of the Instituto Negrófilo.[4] Consideration of other groups here tends to reflect the intensity of their interaction with the Grêmio group. The men who originally came together in casual association in 1906 and then formed the Grêmio Africano in 1908 were from at least two groups. The majority were Catholic, Portuguese-speaking Afro-Europeans and Afro-Goans, but some of the most revered members—Estácio Dias for example—were Africans.[5]


Finally, in contrast with those who find a critical division in Portuguese colonial society between persons who came to be legally classified as indígenas and those who did not—thus emphasizing the gap between indígeaas on one hand and mulattoes and assimilados on the other—I argue, following the legislation which eventually fashioned such legal categories, that the line fell between 'all persons of the black [later Negro] race and descendants of the same' and all others.[6] I therefore use the term 'black' to refer in general to both mulattoes and Africans.

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