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Mozambique: Mia Couto's 30 Years of Literature Honored with Prestigious Prize

[All links lead to pages written in Portuguese unless stated otherwise]

Mia Couto's three decades-long career in literature was acknowledged on the 27 May, 2013 when he was awarded the 25th Camões Prize in literature, worth 100,000 euros, and widely considered one of the most prestigious prize for Portuguese-speaking writers. Author of 23 books [en], among them romance novels, poems and chronicles translated into 22 languages, Mia became the second Mozambican author to win the prize, after poet José Craveirinha, who won it in 1991.

Mia entered the literary arena in 1983, with the publication of his first book of poems, Raiz de Orvalho. His first romantic novel came with Terra Sonâmbula (1992), considered one of the twelve best African books of the 20th century by the International Book Fair in Zimbabwe (2011). The work exposes Mozambique's history after the colonization process, decolonization and political independence [en], as pointed out by Pedro Puro Sasse da Silva of Rio de Janeiro Federal University, in a literary blog:

Já nas histórias de Kindzu encontramos inicialmente as previsões de seu pai sobre a independência do país fatos que poucos conheciam. Essa marginalização dos processos políticos do país revela que mesmo com os ditos revolucionários atos de descolonização, a vida do povo não mudou em nada, para eles, ser explorado por um branco ou por um negro em pouco mudava sua vida. Saindo de uma guerra para uma seguida entrada em outra o povo apesar de desconhecer as motivações, sabiam bem como defini-la, assim dizia Taímo: “A guerra é uma cobra que usa os nossos próprios dentes para nos morder.”

(…)

Percebemos, então, através dessa análise, que Terra Sonâmbula é um vivo retrato do povo moçambicano, uma descrição histórica de como a guerra acontece por trás da perspectiva da capital. Um povo que vive na dualidade de um passado rico em mitos e crenças, com um presente duro e cruel.

In Kindzu's histories we initially find his father's forecasts about the independence of his country, facts that only few knew. This marginalization of political processes of the country reveals that even with the revolutionary tales, the life of the people didn’t change in anything, for them, being exploited by a white or by a Negro didn’t change their life. A war after another, though not knowing the reasons, they knew how to define it, so said Taímo: “The war is a snake which uses our own teeth to bite us.”

We perceive, then, through this analyse, that Terra Sonâmbula is an alive portrait of Mozambican people, a historical description of how the war happens behind the capital perspective. People that live in duality of a past rich in myths and beliefs, with a hard and grim present.

Another one of Mia's books, Cada Homem é Uma Raça (1990), explores the race-perspective in Mozambican identity politics, as pointed out by Willian Conceiçao of Santa Catarina Federal University in Brasil:

Entre os mortos e vivos. O colonial e o independente. Entre raças? Cada homem é uma raça, possui algo que é próprio, todos com seus conflitos, vivenciado de formas especificas. “A pessoa é uma humanidade individual. Cada homem é uma raça, senhor polícia” [Aspas internas de Mia Couto].

Among the dead and the living. The colonial and the independent. Among races? Each man is a race, possesses something which is proper, all with their conflicts, living in specific ways. “The person is an individual humanity. Each person is a race, Mr Police” [Mia Couto's internal quotation marks].

By Luis Miguel Martins from Portug

Photo: Luis Miguel Martins/ CC-BY-SA-3.0/ via Wikimedia Commons

One of the political themes that features prominently in Mia's writing is that of Mozambican independence from Portuguese colonialism. The preface of the book Cronicando (1988), as mentioned in Sermos Galiza, helps shed light on the man himself:

Os intelectuais europeus olharam-no, ao conhecê-lo, com surpresa: era um jovem apesar de ter nome feminino (Mia), era um branco (cabelos louros, olhos claros) apesar de ser africano”, escreve Fernando Dacosta no prefacio de Cronicando, para explicar a posição do escritor no mundo, que responde à própria origem do género humano, “desobedecer aos mapas e desinventar bússolas, sua vocação é a de desordenar paisagens”, diz o escritor.

“The European intellectuals look at him with surprise: he was a young man although with a feminine name (Mia), was a white man (blonde hair, light eyes) although he is African”, writes Fernando Dacosta on the preface of Cronicando, to explain the position of the witter in the world, who answers to the origin of the human gender “disobey the maps and miss invent compasses, his vocation is to clutter the landscape”, says the writer.

Liliane Lobo, from Lusophone University in Lisbon, wrote about Mia's literary style in her blog:

A sua escrita apela o lado mais “natural” das coisas, explorando a ligação humana à terra, à natureza. As suas obras têm levado a língua portuguesa além fronteiras, enaltecendo sempre a sua estreita ligação com as tradições e cultura africanas. Mia Couto rejeita a ideia que a lusofonia seja um sentido singular, considera que existem várias lusofonias.

His writing appeals the most “natural” side of the things, exploring the human connection to earth, to nature. His works have taken the Portuguese language beyond frontiers, always exalting his straight connection to African traditions and culture. Mia Couto refuses the idea that lusophony is a singular sense; he considers that there are several Lusophonies.

In a recent presentation in Figueira da Foz, in Portugal, Mia reflected on the conception of lusophony – the group of Portuguese speaking countries – answering questions from the audience, as shown in the video below:

Mia says that:

(…) [A] certa pressa em proclamar a lusofonia assim como o nome dessa família(…) Agora há uma reação inversa que foi criada porque é preciso perceber que Moçambique tem outras línguas (…) que são suas, que são línguas maternas, que a maior parte dos moçambicanos não falam português no seu cotidiano, falam outras línguas e tem com essas línguas essa relação de amor que nós todos temos com a língua materna(…)

(…) Certain rush to proclaim the Lusophony as well as the name of this family (…) Now there is an inverse reaction that was created because there is need to perceive that Mozambique has other languages (…) which are his, which are mother tongues, that the majority of Mozambicans don't speak Portuguese regularly, they speak other languages and they have with these languages this relationship of love that we all have with our mother tongues. (…)

Born in July 5, 1955, in Beira City to Portuguese parents, Mia Couto was baptized as António Emílio Leite Couto [en]. In 1971 he went to live in Lourenço Marques, now, Maputo, capital of Mozambique. Leaving his medical studies, he opted for a journalistic career in 1974, having contributed to newspapers like A Tribuna, Notícias and Mozambique Information Agency (AIM). In 1985, Mia returned to university to graduate in biology at Eduardo Mondlane University, where he teaches currently.

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