This essay presents a history of articulations between the state apparatus and the realm of the “customary” in northern Mozambique, throughout periods of colonial rule, Socialism, civil war, and postcolonial democratic regimes. The analysis pivots around the ethnographic study of magico-religious rituals combined with postsocialist political rallies. In Mozambique, current recognition of chieftaincy and the “customary” by the state, supported by international donors, reverses decades of postcolonial ban on indigenous authority and practice. This peculiar case presents a paradigmatic perspective on the complex trajectory of indigeneity in postcolonial Africa, where local autochthonous structures and identities are entangled within a history of colonial violence, political oppression, and recent harsh conflict.
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