The Gande ruins

For decades Gande's store was the commercial hub of this stretch of the Zambezi Valley.

As one reader noted, a number of the houses that can be seen in the photos of Chirodzi-Sanangwe look impressively put together. I didn’t even show you a full shot of the two-story hut that the local police chief built (but that has been listing dangerously to one side since he abandoned it). And in the year that passed between visits, a handful of brick structures—the community’s first—started construction. But the buildings that really grabbed my attention were the ones that seemed the better clues to Chirodzi-Sanangwe’s deeper past—and that weren’t really buildings anymore.

A colonial-era path marker by the confluence of the Sanangwe and Zambezi rivers.

On each margin of the Zambezi River there were jumbles of large rocks. One pile I was told was a former store, the other had been a recruitment center for commercial farms in colonial Zimbabwe—”the English.” A three-mile path led from the riverside to the central village, and along the path, appearing at what seemed to be regular intervals, were squat concrete markers. The markers were obviously from the colonial era, though I was never able to decipher the combinations of letters and numbers–other than what I took to be years. The markers ended near the confluence of the Chirodzi and Sanangwe rivers, and there on a rise above the Chirodzi was a giant baobab tree and what remained of a store, one much larger than the one lower down by the Zambezi. I was told that this store had belonged to an Indian trader named Gande, and for a significant part of the previous century it was the only one in the entire district.

Nearly everyone I spoke to over the age of 60 had something to say about Gande. If you lived near the confluence of the Chirodzi and Sanangwe between the 1930s and 1960s, or further down where the Sanangwe met the Zambezi, like as not you worked for Gande for a time, or at least one of your parents did. Men in Chirodzi-Sanangwe worked in the store as clerks or as personal cooks for Gande, and women worked mostly in Gande’s living quarters, on the second floor. Gande’s large canoe would transport fabric, corn, sugar, salt, and other goods from Tete city upriver to the store in Chirodzi-Sanangwe, and manning the canoe would be a crew of oarsmen from Chirodzi-Sanangwe, who wore gray uniforms for the two- to three-day trip. Before the canoe returned to Tete, Gande would buy fish from local fishermen for sale in the city. Gande also employed a number of people from Chirodzi-Sanangwe at his store and compound in Tete.

People did not feel moved to elaborate on what Gande was like. He was described to me in plain terms: a stout man who was generous and laughed a lot. One story, I think, will suffice. Until the last decade of Portuguese rule, Mozambican men who were not employed in formal businesses or who did not pay their hut tax were liable to be taken for chibalo—a minimum six-month term of forced labor. Nearly every older man I spoke to had the experience of being trucked away, in chains, to unload ships at Beira or to clear roads in Chiutá. It was the task of the local traditional leader (in this case the father of the man who is now the community’s political leader) to come to your home and march you to the truck. I was told that Gande would frequently ask the leader for the chibalo list. In cases of tax delinquency he would pay off the debt. The condemned men would go free.

I’d get confused sometimes during my conversations about Gande, because people did not always distinguish between Gande and the various South Asian men who worked with him over the years. There is a stone-covered grave just below the store, by the edge of the Chirodzi. One woman assured me that it was not the grave of one of Gande’s children, as many people said, but rather that of a baby who had been born stillborn to the wife of one of Gande’s Indian employees. It was clear however, that in the mid- to late-1960s, around the time the liberation war came to Tete, Gande and his associates left and never came back. The store hasn’t been a store for more than 40 years. Stones taken from the ruins have been arranged in a circle nearby to demarcate the church of the evangelical congregation that meets there.

When I returned to Tete city I tracked down Gande’s family. One thing I discovered was that “Gande” was the result of a mix-up. His real name had been Ismail Hassam.

(Story continued here.)

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3 Responses to The Gande ruins

  1. Pingback: The House of Gande | Hotel Universo

  2. Pingback: A pretty flag | Hotel Universo

  3. James R. Coplin says:

    I suspect your concrete “path markers” are actually surveying markers used to lay out the course of the river. I’m not sure why they would want something so permanent though. If it was a government project, the geological survey people would be able to tell you.

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