“X is like imperialism”

"Learning is an instrument of liberation." A Frelimo pro-literacy poster, 1980. (Source: Nordic Africa Institute)

The military junta that ruled Greece beginning in 1967 banned the Beatles, miniskirts, and the letter Z. (At least according to this movie.) Z was shorthand for the word zei—“he lives”— a pithy slogan of resistance that recalled the memory of assassinated leftist politician Grigoris Lambrakis. Historically speaking, though, the letter X tends to stoke more controversy. Malcolm Little became Malcolm X to protest the slave origins of his surname. (Incidentally, the letter X made Spike Lee more money than the film “X” did.) In 2007, the conservative blogosphere erupted at the (very dated) news that Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—the fatwa-issuing body that once declared the Earth flat—had rejected the name of a new company because the name included the letter X. X was reportedly deemed too evocative of the Christian cross.

The letter X also played a small role in the Mozambican revolution. More than a dozen languages are spoken in Mozambique, but in the early 1970s maybe only seven percent of the population read and spoke Portuguese. Teaching Mozambicans the European language was to be the liberation movement’s chief means of overcoming regional divisions and forging a shared sense of nationhood. Without a massive literacy push, an independent Mozambique wouldn’t stand a chance. Guerrilla leaders nonetheless felt the tug of resentment. Portuguese was the language of the oppressor. A FRELIMO teaching manual used in liberated zones compared the tricky pronunciation of the Portuguese “X” with the workings of capitalist exploitation.

X is like imperialism. Imperialism always hides from the eyes of the people and appears in many different forms. Sometimes it is colonialism, then it changes forms and appears as neocolonialism. Neocolonialism is a sly way of tricking the people of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. X also changes many times. It is like a chameleon; sometimes it is read “sh,” sometimes “ks,” sometimes “ss,” and finally “eis.” But the people always manage to discover and conquer imperialism, by struggling a lot. We too will be careful. We will study and we will discover the values of X.

More literacy posters from after independence:

"To learn to read is to create the New Man. Literacy transforms the worker, leading him to consciously assume Frelimo's political line." 1978. (Source: Nordic Africa Institute)

"To learn to read is to produce. Learning improves production." 1978. (Source: Nordic Africa Institute)

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8 Responses to “X is like imperialism”

  1. David Morton says:

    The passage from the teaching manual was quoted in Judith Marshall’s account of her years at Mozambique’s education ministry, which appears in A Difficult Road: The Transition to Socialism in Mozambique (1985), edited by John S. Saul.

  2. The Free Agent says:

    The Greek letter chi has been used to symbolize Christ since ancient times. Through the ages, it’s morphed into an X. Apparently the Saudis are as misinformed as people who freak out over Xmas.

  3. Mahomed Aniz Ismail Hassam says:

    “”Z”” is power orgie

  4. Were these publications designed and printed in Mozambique or done abroad? I am very much interested in the typography that is used for these.

    • David Morton says:

      I wish I knew more, Adarsh! Marshall didn’t properly cite the manual. My guess is that they were printed in Dar es Salaam, where FRELIMO was based at the time. Or do you mean the posters? They were almost certainly printed in Maputo, though I believe some Mozambican graphic designers received training in the Eastern Bloc.

  5. cantodomundo says:

    This is a great post. I read recently that there has been a resurgence in pride for the Portuguese language stoked by the popularity of Brazilian novelas. It seems that many Mocambicans are taking a cue from the Brazilians that the Portuguese language can be made their own, that it can made more beautiful than the tongue of their ex-colonialists. Have you heard any sentiments like this over there?


    • David Morton says:

      Thank you Alina, and sorry for the long delay in replying…blog’s been dormant for awhile. But I’m back!

      As for your comment, I haven’t heard anything like that. Mozambicans have spoken their own variants of Portuguese ever since there’s been Portuguese in Mozambique. Do you mean Mozambicans now using more gerunds and such, like the Brazilians do? Maybe you have a link to something regarding how the novelas are changing the way people speak? I’d love to see it.

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