Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween: did you see what the mulungos were wearing this weekend???

Yesterday we had a Halloween party for the trainees and their host siblings complete with costumes, candy, roasted marshmallows, limbo and the monster mash. Most Mozambicans have never heard of Halloween. Here’s a conversation I had with Filó (in Portuguese) trying to explain this strange holiday:

Me: “Filó, there’s a party on Saturday for Halloween.”
Filó : confused silence
Me: “It’s an American holiday. Halloween, do you know it?”
Filó: “Nooo…”
Me: “Well um, it’s a day where people pretend to be something they’re not. They wear make pretend costumes and they do Trick or Treat.”
Filó: silence
Me: “Trick or Treat… the kids go to the door of their neighbor and say ‘Trick or Treat.’ It’s like ‘if you don’t give me a sweet something bad will happen,’ but they always give the kid candy.”
Filó: “okaaayy…”
Me: “Sometimes the costumes are scary, like ghosts or monsters, but it’s for fun. There are haunted houses too.”
Filó: look of concern… “Haunted houses?”
Me: “Yeah! But they’re not really haunted, it’s just fun.”
Filó: “Do you believe in spirits?”
Me: “No, I don’t believe. Do you believe?”
Filó: “Yes.”
Me: “If I saw one I would believe.”
Filó: “Do you believe in God?”

If our training village didn’t already think we’re nuts then Halloween sealed the deal. My three year old host sister, a cousin, another trainee and I were all zebras. The idea came from a zebra-striped bed sheet I found in the market. We picked up other trainees on our way to the party at the other end of town. Alice had made a beautiful pair of fairy wings and matching frilly skirt out of a bed sheet. Her husband AJ was rocking the eighties spiked hair, a “Hester the Molester” mustache, aviator sunglasses and a sports coat. The zebras and 80’s man started walking but the fairy had forgotten her wand and ran home to grab it and catch up. At the sight of a white girl with wings running down the street the Mozambicans were, for once, left speechless. We then picked up a bunch of grapes (Joyce covered in green balloons), two lady bugs (Meaghann and host sister), and a landmine (Bao), and walked about a half mile down a muddy dirt road past the confused stares of Mozambicans out to “passear” on a Saturday night. They all thought AJ (80’s man) looked GREAT and at least one Mozambican told him, in all sincerity, that he was “chique de doer” (“looking so good it hurts!”).

An interesting cultural note…
Halloween is an exceptionally strange concept for Mozambicans because many of them believe in spirits in a very real way. Ancestor worship is still common practice, especially in the older generation. People believe that if they don’t offer food to their deceased relatives they will haunt them from the other side. If someone becomes ill or runs into some misfortune, you can blame it on a disgruntled ancestor seeking revenge. In Mozambique, haunted houses are no laughing matter.
The solution for disgruntled ancestor problems is to go to your local curandeiro (“witch doctor”). They do the potions, bone throwing, fortune telling and general health consulting. Oftentimes they will suggest you make an offering to a certain deceased relative or return to your “Fatherland” to pay a visit of respect. There are curandeiros here in the training village, but you wouldn’t know who they are. Their alter egos look like a typical Mozambican and they don’t have advertisements outside their homes. The villagers just know. The Peace Corps frowns on volunteers visiting curandeiros so all my knowledge of this will have to be second hand.


  1. Clancy, I don't know the "western" religious affiliation of Mozambicans, if there is one, but if they're Catholic or some other Christian denomination, they may well celebrate November 1 as All Saints/All Souls Day. It's a pretty important church feast day; Halloween (Hallow's Eve) just sets the stage for the departed to be remembered on the following day.

  2. Laughed so hard at that.

    1. That conversation is priceless! Filo makes a good point - why are spirits so much easier not to believe in than god for most?

    2. Those are some great costumes! LOVE the image of the fairy running through the streets. Its funny, we know that halloween is a goofy thing, but to see it from another perspective is just fabulous!

  3. I'm sure Filo was shocked at your answer to his last question. You're answer may have made you seem crazier!...I seem a pattern here in your host homes.