The Mwani of Mozambique: People of faith & fear
Connected to prayer
This article was first featured alongside our Prayer Diary in November 2017. You can download the November 2017 prayer points here or sign-up to receive future editions by post or email.
People of faith & fear
The Mwani are a Muslim people who live and fish off the sandy, coconut palm clad shores of northern Mozambique. Their name means ‘beach’, and the men seem at one with the ocean in their white-sailed dow boats, as do the women who hover over the rocks collecting cockles or small fish. The Mwani have a deep respect for God and pray regularly in the local mosques, and yet, to be Mwani means your life is often dominated by fear. Fear of death, fear of sickness, fear of not having enough food, and especially fear of evil spirits. Knowledge of God does not seem to protect them from the evil one. Protective charms – often with Quranic verses – are an important part of their life, whether hidden in the hull of their fishing boat or tied around the necks of their infants. If an owl lands on a roof they worry that someone in that household will die that day. If they do not keep a strict fast they fear the criticism of local leaders or elders in their family.
Hospitality among the Mwani
Learning what is considered right or wrong in a culture can be tricky, but is greatly important for a visitor. When an informal survey was done among the Mwani it was interesting to see that lack of hospitality was often rated as a much worse sin than adultery or theft. Whether it is slaughtering a goat for a funeral or sharing your plate of little fried fish with all the family and friends who happen to walk into your yard that day, hospitality goes a long way to seal relationships. Even young children are taught to split their biscuit into pieces to share with their friends – a nibble each is better than someone going without! They would be horrified at our attitude of eating a packed lunch in front of other people without offering round the contents of your box first!
Interestingly the opposite attitude is applied to knowledge. Knowledge or skill means power and therefore is best kept to oneself. One lady had been taught by a Westerner to make a variety of wonderful homemade cakes. Even though her friends pleaded she would not show them her new found skills as this meant she could be the only woman in the town to sell such cakes! It seems strange to us when teaching and sharing knowledge are such a big part of our culture. God probably sees ways we can learn from each other, as he cares about our material wellbeing and also wants us to learn and grow in his ways. He shared the ultimate gift with us – his son. Our hope is that the Mwani would accept this gift and want to share it with others.
Trusting in Jesus
We spent ten years among the Mwani people and remember awakening one particular morning in Mocimboa da Praia to discover that every house had a tree branch attached to the doorway. Wondering if this was some festive decoration we enquired about the meaning. It seemed news of a spirit of death and sickness was approaching the town and the only protection for the household was a branch from the acacia tree. Neighbours urged us to cut one and hang it over our threshold. This was one of many opportunities for us to tell the community that whatever faced us we would chose to trust in Jesus and not in protective charms. We have lived to tell the tale!
Some Mwani choose to put their faith in Jesus and face their biggest fear; the rejection of their families and community. They worry about who will provide for them financially, who will care for them when they are sick and even who will bury them. (Funerals are a big, community affair among the Mwani). These few are learning that the name of Jesus holds power. As Christians we are given spiritual armour to overcome things that trouble us and God’s perfect love helps drive out our fears. We pray that more Mwani find courage and faith in Jesus to replace their fear and superstition!
Singing about Jesus
Mwana is a typical young Mwani woman, hard working, strong-willed and yet has a big smile. She finished her school studies at the same time as raising her baby daughter. Her husband lived away in another town. She scraped a living selling cosmetics in a small kiosk and relying on handouts from her family.
When I met Mwana I noticed her eagerness to learn about Jesus and join with our activities. After studying the Bible together she was soon baptised. She was naturally nervous of her family finding out about her faith but was always keen to open the Bible and learn about how God wanted her to live. She especially loved singing about Jesus.
“…Mwana is living proof of the power of God’s ability to reach into a child’s heart and call them to follow him.”
I wondered why the step of faith seemed so easy for her and not for others, and she explained that she had believed in Jesus since she was a little girl when a group of Christians had started a children’s Bible study in their backyard. She enjoyed singing about the Father God who loved her, and accepted Jesus’ love with a child’s faith. Now, the Bible has been translated into her language she said it seemed the obvious step to learn more about God!
Let the little children…
People sometimes question how worthwhile it is to engage in outreach to little children. Most of the time they just seem to want to play, and in this type of society, parents have a strong cultural hold over their children. Yet Mwana is living proof of the power of God’s ability to reach into a child’s heart and call them to follow him. Now she has a child of her own and teaches her the songs. Her journey of faith continues. It will not be simple as she is moving to the big city to find work and join her husband. We trust God will bring other Christians into her path to encourage and continue to disciple her.
Tim & Bronwen Heaton
Tim is AIM Europe's mobiliser for the south of England and Wales. Until recently the family lived in Mozambique among the Mwani people.Find out more…