Archives of the Intimate

Archives of the Intimate: Queer Oral Histories of Maputo, Mozambique

A Governing Intimacies and GALA Project

by Caio Simões de Araújo (Lead Investigator)

The project Archives of the Intimate started in June 2019, after an agreement had been reach between the Governing Intimacies Project of Wits University and GALA. At that stage, the lead investigator started to gather any available sources and publications on LGBT histories of Mozambique in order to better situate this project in relation to the existing literature and the gaps in currency research. As a matter of fact, while the volume of scholarly and historical on LGBT issues in the country has been on the increase over the years, this is still a marginalized area of enquiry, about which very little has been produced, especially in English. Besides compiling the specialized literature, at this point the lead investigator also started to mobilize his network of contacts in Maputo, in order to better organize the first fieldwork visit, which was scheduled to the second half of June 2019.

The first research visit to Maputo, which took place from June 15th to June 22nd of 2019, had the following purposes: first, to establish a working relationship with the NGO LAMBDA. As the only LGBT Association in Mozambique at the moment, LAMBDA is a natural and necessary partner in this project, as they are able to assist in contacting members of the community who could potentially give oral history interviews. In addition, LAMBDA itself has ran over the last years an oral history project, called Testemunhos, in which interviews of LGBT people have been collected and publicized in the organization’s website. At that point, all this material was available online. As a result of the partnership between LAMBDA, GALA and Governing Intimacies, it was decided that the oral history interviews already conducted by LAMBDA would be translated into English, and deposited in GALA’s archives, therefore making it available to a broader readership outside of Mozambique. In addition to the Testemunhos, LAMBDA also agreed to donate to GALA a substantial part of its digital archive, which includes visual materials, publications, reports, studies, newspaper clips, etc. A second purpose of this visit was to find a suitable Maputo-based research assistant to join this project. Nelson Mugabe, an anthropologist finishing his PhD on the transgender issue in Maputo, agreed to participate. His role is to produce a literature review on what has been produced on LGBT issues in Mozambique, which will be archived at GALA and work as a guideline to future researchers. In addition to this, he would also assist in finding possible informants and gathering additional materials from archives or other institutions in Maputo. This includes BA studies produced at the University Eduardo Mondlane, which he already gathered.

The second research trip took place from August 10th to August 28th, 2019. This visit was mostly designed to conduct oral history interviews, scheduled with the help of LAMBDA and of the research assistant. Two types of interviews were envisaged. First, profile interviews with members of LAMBDA. These interviews are not in-depth oral history interviews, but shorter conversations about particular policies or areas of action in which LAMBDA operates. They will hence help the researcher to know more about LGBT activism rather than about LGBT histories in an individual sense. Depending on availability and time, interviews were made with Francelino Zeúte (head of Communication and documentation department), Dário de Souza (head of Human Rights and Advocacy Department), and Pepetsa (head of the Transgender Policy Project). These interviews were rather interesting and instructive, as they covered issues of policy priorities, LGBT activism, human rights and advocacy work, visibility and recognition, and the place of transgender questions in the local LGBT agenda.

The second group of interviews conducted during the second research trip are the main contribution made by this project, that is, the oral history interviews. A questionnaire was produced, comprising 134 questions on a variety of subjects, from religious upbringing and racial and ethnic belonging, to consumption habits and experiences of discrimination. Surely, the questionnaire was indicative rather than normative, and the way it was applied changed from interview to interview. We opted for allowing informants to speak at length about issues they considered more interesting, while being more succinct on questions they found they did not have much to contribute. We aimed interviews to last from one to two hours, and this estimate changed dramatically depending on the respondent. People spoke at different paces, and, as a rule, older respondents tended to feel more comfortable in giving more elaborated answers, while younger respondents tended to be more succinct in their answers. In this phase, ten people were interviewed in total. This included four gay men, one lesbian, and five trans women. The higher number of trans respondents was due to the extensive network provided by Dr. Mugabe, the research assistant, whose research was on the trans community. Given his already established relations, he was able to source these respondents rather easily. When it turned to gay men, we used both LAMBDA’s connections and relationships we established in the field through social media. Reaching out to lesbian respondents was possibly the most difficult task and some of the people approached at first did not consent to give an interview.

In selecting respondents, we had in mind general rules of representation in the sampling. As anywhere else, the LGBT experience in Maputo is very diverse, and this diversity is expressed in various manners, from issues of gender, race and class to questions of religious affiliation or ethnic background. In selecting people, thus, we tried, as much as possible, to allow for the most diversity we could find. We have been successful in securing respondents of various religious, professional and racial backgrounds, including Muslims, Catholics and Evangelicals; blacks or mixed; and activists, sex workers and liberal professionals. The most challenging part, however, was to translate the generational diversity of the LGBT population in Mozambique. Older LGBT people are usually in the closet and are not part of the networks associated with LAMBDA’s activism and advocacy. It was, hence, a challenge to find any respondent above 40 years of age. The only respondent in this category, Louiggi, is a fashion designer who lived most of his life abroad, in Portugal and Brazil. His unusual life trajectory perhaps explains his willingness to talk without reservation, and we thought his narrative was highly interesting in its uniqueness.

The third fieldwork visit was carried out from November 3rd to November 16th, of 2019. Two further oral history interviews were conducted, with a gay man and a lesbian woman. Eight additional interviews were conducted with members of LAMBDA’s cultural collective, speaking of artistic expression (such as singing, dance, drama, drag performance, voguing, etc) in relation to sexuality and gender identity. The purpose of these interviews is to explore the critical potential of the arts as a form of LGBT expression and activism.

As of November of 2019, the project Archives of the Intimate collected about 30 hours of recorded original interviews, with 22 LGBT people from Maputo. To be sure, the most demanding and time-consuming stage of this project will be the processing of all this material, and particularly the transcription and translation of oral history interviews. At this moment, all the interviews collected by LAMBDA have been translated in their entirety, in a total of 27 testimonies of LGBT people from all around Mozambique. At the same time, 3 of the shorter interviews with LAMBDA’s staff members have been transcribed and translated in full. Only 6 of the in-depth oral history interviews have been transcribed. Of these two have been translated. This is explained by the fact that these are long interviews, going from one to nearly three hours, which requires a significant amount of time and labour in their transcription and translation. In any case, it is expected that by the end of January 2020 all oral history interviews will have been translated.