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Raquelina: only me

Raquelina lost both parents when she was very young and was brought up by a relative “in the midst of poverty”. She is now widowed and two of her children recently died: “Now it is only me. I have to take care of myself.” But she appreciates the help of her neighbours with jobs such as roofing her house: “There is love for each other here in our village,” she says.

She manages to grow maize, but complains that hippos from the Limpopo National Park ruin her crops, rats eat her pumpkins, and hyenas kill people’s cattle. Although the government provides some food aid during drought, it has failed to put up a fence to keep the animals out.

Raquelina talks about traditional songs, dances and ceremonies from the past. Although some customs continue, such as venerating ancestors, “it is not like when we were growing up.” Children no longer play traditional games when they come back from school – they do their homework instead.

My mother died when I was very young; my father also died when I was still young… I was brought up by my father’s cousin. She brought me up in the midst of poverty but she did [what she could] and I grew up to be what I am today. There was hunger, but because there was food production, it helped us.  From there I came [to Mabalane] to marry, but since I came here there has been hunger, there has been poverty. But because we work in the fields we manage to get maize, and we do not feel the poverty so much.

After I got married, I lived with my husband… My husband died, my brothers-in-law died. Now it is only me. I have to take care of myself. I am living with no one; I have no son. I have four daughters left. Some others have died; one died late last year and another one, the youngest, died early this year.

“You had to pay the tax”

Since the time when I was young, there has been a little improvement because now one can manage to get a good capulana (traditional wrapper worn by women) but when we were growing up, we would use small capulanas that our mothers… passed on to us; we had no [other] clothes. There was a shortage of goods, and it seemed that our parents, when they had a child, would care only about giving him food to eat, giving him a bath and getting him to sleep. They seemed not to care much about clothes. We learnt then what poverty is. We had to produce and sell cotton to buy any clothes… we would sell it to [white people]…

The time I’m talking about, people were still well off, because [by] selling cotton – 20 or 30 bags – one could buy a cow. Yes, one could still buy some food…There were taxes, and even if something was left over from your harvest, they would take it away as tax. And if your husband refused to pay tax, they would come and take you away. Yes… they would take us for non-payment of tax. You could protest, but you had to pay the tax…

What helped us was the maize that we produced. When it rained we would produce cotton and maize. After they had taken the money for tax you still had maize to harvest and sell, to buy clothes.

Traditional cures help

We suffer a lot from diseases… Rheumatism, we always had that. Tinyokadjundzo (abdominal worms), we always had those, though not that frequently. But now, pain in the bones is becoming ever more frequent. These are diseases that attack from the feet up through the muscles [in the leg] to the buttocks… and they speak of other illnesses such as diabetes. But some new diseases have been named… such as cholera, which will cause you to have fever. And another one they call… malaria…

I am suffering from pain in my feet – the disease I’ve just talked to you about – which spreads to my back and up to my buttocks, affecting my joints, muscles and bones. This disease is called ndpswa (‘the burning disase’ – a form of herpes)… if you go to the hospital you will find it will not improve… But there are people who know about some roots, and try them, and so we find some improvement…

“The hippos ruined us”

All we do is just cultivate our fields. We have no jobs here…  Look – this year we cultivated them and we got a little bit of maize, but the hippos ruined us, pai (literally ‘father’; term of respect); the hippos ruined us. Just when the maize was starting to dry, they came in. So we do not know what to do, because since there’s no rain, they go along the river banks, where they find food… Those hippos are bad; they are bad. We do not know where to go [for help].

Also there are many problems now. Look at that pumpkin over there. I tried to fence it into see if we could harvest something, but the plant started spreading and producing, then rats came in and they are eating it up… Whenever we try to do something it goes wrong, because the times now are different. We live in a time of suffering.

Now, as for cultivation, there have been some people who cause problems here at the river bank…  We go and inform our chiefs [about land disputes]…  When you go to make a complaint, saying that that such-and-such is happening, someone is taking my field, the chief will fix a date and say today we are going to meet the person who likes taking other people’s fields. And then you go and see that the person is going beyond the limit of his field, and they will demarcate the boundaries so that the person does not go beyond those limits again.

Drought and wildlife bring “severe hunger”

This year we harvested some maize, then we cultivated again and we harvested, and then it stopped. We had no more good harvest. There was only drought.  Eventually this drought defeated us; we did not defeat it…[although] the government helped us a bit. On that score we can’t complain these days. They have helped by giving us maize…

Besides the poor soil, there are also the wild animals. The government helped us but they did not put up a fence. If they had first put up a fence and only then opened [the area] to the wild animals, it would have been much better, but they released the animals [into the park], and they are now all over…

Those animals have harmed so many people. They have brought hunger, they’ve brought severe hunger. Now what will the government do about us? We don’t know…

If [only] they had erected a fence… because even the government is helped by us people; with our hands we can do things to help the government. But since the government will only give us food to eat, will it satisfy us? I do not believe it will – and then we will die of hunger…

It is a shame because now the animals come in large numbers. Look – there are also hyenas. They frighten our children, who are now afraid to take the cattle to the pastures, because those wild animals will kill our livestock…

“There is love for each other here in our village”

As for life here in the village, our custom is to help each other. In the case of an accident, when you require help, somebody will help you. I feel my neighbours are helping me, yes, because in times of need, they do help me. The only thing is that neighbours will not help you every time you need help…

There is love for each other here in our village. Because I do not have a husband [they help me]… look at that house over there, the roof is broken, but if I had got grass to cover it, they would help me do the work, for just a little drink. If you want to do that, you invite them and they will do the roofing of your house for you. You buy a 20-litre container of alcohol, and you call them to help you find the grasses, and then transport them to your place, then they come to do the roofing work.

“The ceremonies of old”

There were dances and other things to do with tradition. Some people would dance, our fathers would dance, and we would dance makwayela, that was our tradition. And we would also sing Xinyambela, dancing and clapping our hands – this [tradition] existed, this is what I saw happening. Yes, and [there were] also the churches [and their festivals].

I used to dance makwayela, but the time came when I stopped, and joined a church. Then we would go and celebrate the end of the year.

Happy occasions are when I have a celebration, remembering my ancestors, and when my daughters come to visit me… Here where we are, people still conduct the ceremonies of old; still venerate their ancestors. They prepare traditional drinks, which are carried down there to the shrine. They go to pray…

“This song is no longer sung”

[So] there are customs that are still practised but it is not like when we were growing up. The lives of children have changed, now they do not know these things – for example “Xingombela xa nyata, juro ahe, ahe” is no longer sung, you see? This song is no longer sung.

Now children do their studies – look, they are doing their school work, over there. They are writing. When they leave there, they will go to fetch firewood; they come back tired. They no longer play, no – they just play a bit, football, that’s all…

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.


Raquelina: only me is produced as part of the Living with poverty: Mozambique oral testimony project.


Amélia: women are leaders

Antonio: collective responsibility

Arnaldo: teachers sell marks

Boafesta: cattle are hope

Gomes: working with youth

Jorgina: the value of cooperatives

Maria: totally forgotten

Pamira: great suffering

Pedro: importance of agriculture

Raquelina: only me

Rafael: worth nothing

Ucilina: living from agriculture

Key themes


Conservation conflicts

Collective action




Collective action

Livelihood and migration

Support for development

Conservation conflicts






Women’s status


Trade and economics