por trás duma performance

Errant practices in Mozambique’s cultural panorama: the Tufo dance

by Rosa Tolla

The small island that gave the name to the country – the Island of Mozambique, was for many years the access gate to multiple cultural expressions. The story goes that with the arrival of the Arabs, a dance whose origins relate to a particular moment in the life of prophet Mahomed after having fled Mecca, began to spread. When Mahomed arrived in Medina he was received by the followers of the doctrine of the Koran, praising the name of Allah with new chants and dances. Tufo today, beyond being considered the dance that is most representative of the communities living in the north of Mozambique – the Makhuwas, it has achieved recognition across the country.  No longer only associated with Islamic holidays, Tufo is called to numerous private and public events be them traditional or political. Its peculiarity is the fusion of dance and lyrics created according to the specific event, hence creating a space of intangible memory in which aesthetics is all but one mode of communicative action. Tufo can be considered a ‘total social fact’: a performance is the result of the fusion of private, economic and social elements, together with those of gender, affective, religious and mythical. Initially, the prerogative was exclusively of men though with time, it was opened to women. Today, men’s single task is limited to drumming along the movements of the Muriana Orena – the beautiful ladies. The groups follow a hierarchical division and are led by a ‘queen’, chosen for her capacity to maintain the group’s cohesion, coordinating and resolving eventual problems.

The careful manner in which the colourful fabrics, known as capulanas, are combined and foldedtogether, or the facial drawings made with mussiro, a white cream made from the powder of a local root and water, used primarily in the north as feminine beauty treatment, are elements that distinguish the Makhuwas from other Mozambican women. During the performance, bodies enrichened with the best jewels they own capture the attention of all. Also of those who don’t understand the lyrics, thanks to the ever increasing speed of movement and the intense and sensual gaze.



The dance is a specific corporeal language which varies according to the context in which it is developed. As with any system of structured human action, to go beyond the spectacle and understand its social meaning it is necessary to decipher a complex expressive code. Within the Mozambican cultural landscape, forged since the beginning of time by the meeting of different peoples and cultures, the art of dance plays an important role and should be considered as a fundamental instrument in the process of constructing and disseminating national identity.

A considerably large group of Makhuwas migrated to the south for different factors since the country’s capital was transferred from the Island of Mozambique to Lourenço Marques (Maputo). The migrants chose a specific area in Maputo, amongst those allowed for the blacks during the colonial period, to reconstruct their social fabric and perpetuate their traditions. Still today, the neighbourhood of Mafalala is for many in the capital known as the neighbourhood of the Makhuwas. It is here that the authenticity of practices is remodelled, representing a bridge between different worlds within one single country. There are various Tufo groups in Mafalala but the Associação Cultural Tufo da Mafalala with the collaboration of Associação IVERCA has managed to export this dance beyond local and national borders, enphasising in the lyrics of the songs a belonging to Mafalala, despite the links with their roots.

Recognised by the resident community as a cultural expression characteristic of the neighbourhood, the Tufo works towards a new image for Mafalala, far from the negative overtones that used to characterise it.

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