The People of Mozambique, Language, Ethnicity, and Religion
Zambezi Valley, extreme north, cultural traits, Roman Catholicism, Bantu
The people of Mozambique generally speak at least one of eight native languages, which in turn partially defines their ethnicity. Most of the languages are Bantu in origin. In the extreme north are the Makonde people, who are related to the population of southern Tanzania. Their neighbors are the Yao, who live along the shore of Lake Nyasa. Most of Nampula Province in north central Mozambique is inhabited by Makua speakers, who are the largest single linguistic group in the country. The Zambezi Valley has been a meeting place of many different peoples over the centuries, and its linguistic makeup reflects this history. People north of the river speak languages related to those of Malawi and Zambia, often referred to as the Maravi language group. South of the Zambezi as far as the Save River are groups who speak languages related to Shona. South of the Shona-speaking peoples are Tonga speakers, consisting of ethnic Tonga people and ethnic Chopi, a distinct group near the coast. In the extreme south and in areas near the Malawi border are Nguni speakers whose ancestors migrated from South Africa in the 19th century. Because there are so many different languages, Portuguese, the colonial language, has remained the country’s official language.
Few if any of Mozambique’s linguistic groupings are unified; rather, they are subdivided into numerous ethnic identities that have been fashioned by external cultural influences. Near the northern coast are Muslims who share many cultural traits with the Swahili of Tanzania and Kenya. For centuries these groups were heavily influenced by Arab trade and customs. In the central Zambezi Valley, the identities of the many fragmented groups were shaped by Portuguese settlement. Roman Catholicism, which enjoyed a privileged status under the Portuguese, claims a significant number of adherents in the valley, as well as in the southern part of the country. Various forms of Protestantism also are practiced. About half of Mozambique’s population adheres to traditional, animist religions. Because Mozambique’s population is divided into numerous small ethnic subgroups, there is no dominant ethnic group. Ethnicity generally has not been a major factor in Mozambican politics or social status.
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