The Longest Ride – Part IX: Vignettes from Mozambique, 1947

Beira, Mozambique awaits, January 1947. Photo by Paul Beard.

The S. S. Carroll Victory arrived at the port city of Beira, Mozambique, on January 24, 1947. The ship remained anchored to a buoy in the harbor for a week before a berth opened up on the docks, where it spent another week for the unloading of the tons of phosphate aboard. For 50 cents round trip each, the seagoing cowboys could hire a launch to take them to shore during the first week, which many did.

Seagoing cowboys board a launch to take them to shore, January 1947. © Charles Lord

The tropical heat enticed the cowboys to move mattresses into the empty horse stalls.

Beating the heat, until rain chased them inside on occasion. © Charles Lord

It also heated up the ship’s water tanks. By the 11th day, Charlie Lord wrote home, “The water that comes out of the ‘cold’ faucet is too hot to wash your face in comfortably. I took a shower tonight and it was like a steam bath, I couldn’t stay under it for more than a few seconds at a time. I checked with a thermometer tonight, and the water from cold taps is 114º. . . . The hottest it got was 132º.”

Two days before docking, the entire cowboy crew hired a large launch to take them up the Pungwe River to view wildlife, mostly several hippopotami bobbing up and down spurting water and monkeys running along the river.

Seeing the sites on the Pungwe River, January 29, 1947. © Charles Lord

“We passed thatch villages,” said Lord, “met natives in dugout canoes, and stopped at a village where there was a sugar refinery.” They came back down river and turned up the Buzi River across the bay from Beira. In the town of Buzi, they feasted on bananas, papayas, bread fruit, melons, coconuts, and other tropical fruits.

Paul Beard took the challenge and successfully climbed a coconut tree, tossing three down. © Charles Lord

Other cowboys, including Charlie Lord, bought bunches of green bananas for 40 cents a bundle. Photo by Paul Beard.

On their second full day docked in Beira, Lord and two of his camera buddies decided to walk into the countryside to see what they could find.

A native hut by an ant hill outside Beira, Mozambique, February 2, 1947. © Charles Lord

They passed through several native villages, and then, Lord said, “We noticed a rhythmic beating sound that seemed to come from a village to our left.” They followed the sound. “The beating and pounding grew louder and louder. My heart was in my throat – hoping, hoping. We emerged from the buildings into a clearing among the trees to see hundreds of people packed around a crude stockade. In the stockade a native dance was going on.” For the equivalent of 60 cents, Lord got permission from the chief to take photos.

The rhythm section and leader of the native dance in a Mozambique village, February 2, 1947. © Charles Lord

“For a few minutes, they were self-conscious and stiff,” Lord said, “then the rhythm got into their blood and they forgot all about me. The line’s left wing was composed of people shaking boxes with sand, pebbles and other things back and forth in rhythm. Each box had its own tone. There were castanet-like instruments, and sticks, women who sang and chanted and on the right the drum section. Five or six men sat on the ground with tom toms between their knees. They were hollowed out tree trunks with skins stretched tightly over the ends. The big tom tom, about five feet long, had the most beautiful tone of any drum or tympani I have ever heard, bar none. It’s tone was uniquely bell-like. And did those people have rhythm!!! It just took you and shook you. They completely lost themselves in the ecstasy of the dance, their faces glowed with complete joy.”

As always, Lord talked with a variety of people to get a feel for the culture of the place. Mozambique at the time was a Portuguese colony in which only the Portuguese could vote, he was told. On their walk through the countryside, Lord and his buddies had come to a Chinese settlement. He reflected to his wife, “The social scale can be illustrated thusly in rough simplicity – Portuguese ride cars, Chinese bicycles, natives walk. The Portuguese do absolutely no work. The Chinese do work but almost entirely shop keeping, I think. Even they have the natives do their menial tasks. . . . The Greeks and other whites are in the Portuguese class, Indians are about on a par with the bicycle class, I think.” The natives did not think kindly of the Portuguese. Lord found the natives to be the friendliest people of all he had met on his trip.

~ to be continued