Many of the cultural traditions of the Mozambican people survived centuries of colonialism. The Makonde in the north are renowned for their ebony sculptures and masks. The Chopi of the south central coast are famous for their complex musical arrangements and dance. Mozambique’s tradition of visual art has produced several modern artists who have achieved international renown. One of the most famous Mozambican artists is Malangatana, whose paintings portray the sufferings of the colonial period and the civil war.
Mozambique enjoys a great range of cultural and linguistic diversity. Islamic culture, Swahili language, and matrilineal Bantu-speaking groups coexist in northern and central regions, reflecting prevailing patterns in neighbouring Tanzania and Malawi. The great variety of people of the Zambezi valley overlap culturally and linguistically with neighbouring Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and patrilineal, cattle-keeping people who share a heritage with neighbouring Nguni-speaking groups in South Africa and Zimbabwe are common in the south. Amid the variety of languages, social relationships, artistic traditions, clothing, and ornamentation patterns is a common theme of dynamic and creative cultural expression in song, oral poetry, dance, and performance.
Although material and performance arts are deeply embedded in daily religious and social expressions, some regional traditions are well known throughout the nation and beyond. The haunting paintings of Malangatana Valente Ngwenya, commonly known as Malangatana, have captured an international audience. Malangatana and the muralist Mankew Valente Muhumana have inspired the formation of artist cooperatives, particularly around Maputo. The carved wooden sculpture and masks of the Makonde people of northern Mozambique and Tanzania and the complex Chopi orchestral performances, or midogo, are among the best-known artistic traditions. Popular music includes the work of Alexandre Langa, Xidimingwana, and the Nampula group Eyuphuro. Soccer is the nation's favourite sporting activity. Mozambique's soccer team competes with other African nations and within the Portuguese-speaking Sporting League, which also includes Angola, Portugal, and Brazil.
Mozambique's first inhabitants were San hunter and gatherers, ancestors of the Khoisani peoples. Between the first and fourth centuries AD, waves of Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from the north through the Zambezi River valley and then gradually into the plateau and coastal areas. The Bantu were farmers and ironworkers.
When Portuguese explorers reached Mozambique in 1498, Arab-trading settlements had existed along the coast and outlying islands for several centuries. From about 1500, Portuguese trading posts and forts became regular ports of call on the new route to the east. Later, traders and prospectors penetrated the interior regions seeking gold and slaves. Although Portuguese influence gradually expanded, its power was limited and exercised through individual settlers who were granted extensive autonomy. As a result, investment lagged while Lisbon devoted itself to the more lucrative trade with India and the Far East and to the colonization of Brazil.
By the early 20th century the Portuguese had shifted the administration of much of the country to large private companies, controlled and financed mostly by the British, which established railroad lines to neighboring countries and supplied cheap--often forced--African labor to the mines and plantations of the nearby British colonies and South Africa. Because policies were designed to benefit white settlers and the Portuguese homeland, little attention was paid to Mozambique's national integration, its economic infrastructure, or the skills of its population.
After World War II, while many European nations were granting independence to their colonies, Portugal clung to the concept that Mozambique and other Portuguese possessions were overseas provinces of the mother country, and emigration to the colonies soared. Mozambique's Portuguese population at the time of independence was about 250,000. The drive for Mozambican independence developed apace, and in 1962 several anti-colonial political groups formed the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), which initiated an armed campaign against Portuguese colonial rule in September 1964. After 10 years of sporadic warfare and major political changes in Portugal, Mozambique became independent on June 25, 1975.
The last 30 years of Mozambique's history have reflected political developments elsewhere in the 20th century. Following the April 1974 coup in Lisbon, Portuguese colonialism collapsed. In Mozambique, the military decision to withdraw occurred within the context of a decade of armed anti-colonial struggle, initially led by American-educated Eduardo Mondlane, who was assassinated in 1969. When independence was achieved in 1975, the leaders of FRELIMO's military campaign rapidly established a one-party state allied to the Soviet bloc and outlawed rival political activity. FRELIMO eliminated political pluralism, religious educational institutions, and the role of traditional authorities.
The new government gave shelter and support to South African (ANC) and Zimbabwean (ZANU) liberation movements while the governments of first Rhodesia and later apartheid South Africa fostered and financed an armed rebel movement in central Mozambique called the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO). Civil war, sabotage from neighboring states, and economic collapse characterized the first decade of Mozambican independence. Also marking this period were the mass exodus of Portuguese nationals, weak infrastructure, nationalization, and economic mismanagement. During most of the civil war, the government was unable to exercise effective control outside of urban areas, many of which were cut off from the capital. An estimated 1 million Mozambicans perished during the civil war, 1.7 million took refuge in neighboring states, and several million more were internally displaced. In the third FRELIMO party congress in 1983, President Samora Machel conceded the failure of socialism and the need for major political and economic reforms. He died, along with several advisers, in a suspicious 1986 plane crash.
His successor, Joaquim Chissano, continued the reforms and began peace talks with RENAMO. The new constitution enacted in 1990 provided for a multi-party political system, market-based economy, and free elections. The civil war ended in October 1992 with the Rome General Peace Accords. Under supervision of the ONUMOZ peacekeeping force of the United Nations, peace returned to Mozambique.
By mid-1995 the more than 1.7 million Mozambican refugees who had sought asylum in neighboring Malawi, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Zambia, Tanzania, and South Africa as a result of war and drought had returned, as part of the largest repatriation witnessed in Sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, a further estimated 4 million internally displaced returned to their areas of origin.