by Katrina Spencer, UW-Madison Libraries
If you travel to the late-20th century region of Mozambique, you will immediately become aware of at least three things: 1. Many Sub-Saharan African nations of this time were seeking independence from their European colonial rulers; 2. The name of the group leading anti-colonial resistance in Mozambique was called “FRELIMO,” Frente de Libertação de Moçambique in Portuguese and “Mozambican Liberation Front” in English, a movement that dedicated itself to Marxist-Leninist ideologies; 3. While the struggle for independence was much akin to a contagious fever sweeping large swaths of Africa, after more than 400 years of Portuguese rule, not all Mozambican citizens were compelled by the idea of taking up arms to shirk off the old ways. Moreover, neighboring countries like Rhodesia and South Africa engaged in similar plights were precarious. Instead of opposing European domination, white governing bodies appeared to favor it (“FRELIMO”). It was in this environment that Xiconhoca was born. The battle to proclaim sovereignty to itself was won by Mozambique through a decade of bloodshed and was then followed by a 16-year-long civil war. In a period in which Mozambicans desperately needed to unify in terms of political goals, to aspire to a nation that would be able to meet the citizens’ needs, and establish its autonomy sans reliance on European powers, the Xiconhoca caricature became a figure that, in addition to supplying an opportunity for humor in dire moments, provided the people with a common enemy– a traitorous, good-for-nothing schemer that embodied a slew of undesirable values most everyone could agree on.
Published by the Mozambican Liberation Front’s Office of Mass Communications in 1976, the Xiconhoca comic enterprise was destined to demonstrate the satirical manifestation of an unpatriotic citizen in a newly independent Mozambique. Aside from the character’s questionable wheelings and dealings, even his name conjured connotations of violence, trickery, and betrayal: “Xico” coming from an infamous law enforcement officer, Xico-Feio, and “nhoca” meaning “snake” in many of the indigenous dialects from the Mozambican region (Thiranagama 31). As Mozambique disavowed itself of its ties to its former Portuguese colonial power, it was in the country’s interest to aggressively chase a new identity that would be separate from European influence, that would be autonomous, and that would be distinctly new. In order to establish the desirable characteristics of the new man or new citizen to be cultivated, the Office of Mass Communications painted an off-putting portrait of the inverse of the ideal: a citizen who boorishly stifled the country’s growth and cooperated with parties loyal to Portugal. The Xiconhoca caricature, then, was a counterpoint or foil from which Mozambicans should recoil, and the reach of the publication, with its transparent imagery, was meant to reach both the literate and illiterate masses with impact. The Office of Mass Communication aimed to spread a sense of derision for the citizen who held fast to colonial values and/or in any way threatened the new nation’s unity in its efforts to secure and maintain its independence. It was during this period in which a nascent Mozambique plodded a new path that the figure became familiar in “radio messages, murals, cartoons, public speeches, posters, newspaper features, theater plays, and songs” (Buur 31).
Visually, the Xiconhoca character and his behavior portrayed a very loose, selfish, and self-hating morale. Hardly ever smiling, always protesting, swindling, or conniving, overweight, disheveled, often at leisure, and perpetually accompanied by a bottle of alcohol, the Xiconhoca figure represented a citizen disinterested in his country’s progress that exhibited traitorous behavior and one who moreover regularly prioritized self-interest. In one comic depiction, Xincohoca speaks to a white man and degrades the traditional dances of a local Mozambican people stating that their art is savagery and that true culture belongs to Europeans and Europeans alone (Meneses 34). In several, Xiconhoca undermines the new government’s attempts to supply reliable provisions for the Mozambican people by working as an independent trader who moves merchandise on a black market and entices citizens away from the established trade (macua.blogs.com). In another, Xiconhoca guides a military tank towards a Mozambican group of resistance that will be ambushed and soon meet its own obliteration (35). With these visual narratives, we see the “internal enemy” trope that defines Xiconhoca as an untrustworthy schemer that lives among and betrays the people he ought to protect. His nefariousness lies in that he looks like his countrymen and women, he speaks their language, and he knows their habits and values. In spite of this, he willfully pursues alliances that will forward his personal agenda, enrich him, and curry favor from the European elite. He is therefore the most poisonous source that keeps the nation “backward,” underdeveloped, and dependent upon a colonial identity that must die in order for a new one to begin.
The Xiconhoca series, then, was a masterful tool of wide influence that served a specific political purpose: to convince and compel new Mozambicans to aspire towards unity, obedience, and trust in the FRELIMO regime. The comic is perhaps more humorous for the outsider, particularly 40 years following its initial publication, as there is a great degree of emotional and cultural distance from the struggles depicted in the work. However, for the Mozambicans of the late 20th century, this manifestation of popular culture depicted their very real and intimate struggles that ranged from impacting what Mozambicans would be able to eat and how often for their survival, what land they had rights to and where they’d live, and the lurking, omnipresent paranoia felt by an insecure government that yearned desperately to establish itself as authoritarian, legitimate, and competent. Xiconhoca was as much a caricature designed to invoke derision as it was to inspire model citizenship. It was, too, however, a strategic effort to distract attention away from governmental shortcomings and failings to deliver on promises and serve its people. There were certainly conflicts and discrepancies the government was unable to solve quickly or easily, a particular highlight being that of tribal differences and diversity in a nation that wanted to promote the idea of oneness. The comic intelligently acknowledged these frictions and simultaneously relegated them to secondary importance in light of the grander effort to advance the State. Xiconhoca, ultimately, is an historical relic that marks a period of fear, transition, and skillful, intentional consciousness-shaping in a postcolonial African context. With this art, a product of its time, humor proves once again that its incisiveness can move both hearts and minds perhaps as efficiently as pen and sword.
- Buur, Lars. “Xiconhoca: Mozambique’s Ubiquitous Post-Independence Traitor.” Traitors:
Suspicion, Intimacy, and the Ethics of State-Building, edited by Sharika Thiranagama and Tobias Kelly. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. pp. 24- 47. Web. 27 December 2016.
- “FRELIMO.” Wikipedia. Web. 27 December 2016.
- Meneses, Maria Paula. “Xiconhoca, o inimigo: Narrativas de violência sobre a construção de
nação em Moçambique.” Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, 106, 2015, pp. 9-52.