« A xikomo xa lomu, iku tira ». Mozambican women and the experience of urban life in Lourenço Marques, 1945-1975.
Social science models of urbanization and labor migration in colonial Southern Africa historically assumed that male actors and both colonial policy and regional social norms strongly discouraged women from moving to and living in « white man’s towns ». Nevertheless, the number of Mozambican women legally registered to live and work in and around Lourenço Marques (today Maputo) grew rapidly in the closing decades of the colonial period (1945-1975). Women whose personal access to the usual forms of rural production and support was compromised were increasingly aware of the opportunity to provide for themselves and their children as factory laborers in the fast developing cashew-shelling industry headquartered in Lourenço Marques. Women who could not produce in their fields with their hoe could live by factory labor. They explained : « a xikomo xa lomu, iku tira » – « the hoe of the city is a job ». This essay confirms the hostility and stereotyping faced by women seeking urban waged labor, but concentrates on the ways in which Mozambican women understood and assigned meaning to their experiences of migration and urban life. In contrast with colonial and male narratives that portrayed urban African women as debauched, misplaced or invisible, women’s narratives acknowledged their displacement but reworked the language and ideals of rural lives to suit their situations in the city. They centered and took pride in the innovations and accommodations they forged to live by the hoe of the city.