Nuno Domingos. Futebol e Colonialism: Corpo e Cultura Popular em Moçambique. Lisbon: Imprensa Ciências Sociais/ICS, 2012. 326 pp. EUR 22.00 (paper), ISBN 978-972-671-292-3.
Reviewed by Todd Cleveland (Augustana College)
Published on H-Luso-Africa (June, 2016)
Commissioned by Philip J. Havik (Instituto de Higiene e Medicina Tropical (IHMT))
Football and Colonialism
Nuno Domingos’s Futebol e Colonialismo examines the introduction and diffusion of soccer in the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique. More than just a sports history, the book employs soccer as a prism through which to trace the shifting interactions between Africans and Europeans in Mozambique and, in particular, the colonial capital Lourenço Marques (now Maputo). Domingos deftly brings the city alive through his historical reconstruction of this dynamic space, providing the reader with a solid understanding of the steady expansion and development of this urban center. Central to this effort is Domingos’s treatment of the growth of soccer in this milieu and the ways the game both reflected the broader social changes that urbanization was engendering and shaped this process. At the heart of the text are the African practitioners themselves, who adopted the game after being initially exposed to it by Europeans, but who gradually made it their own via a host of culturally based practices and understandings. This appropriation was manifested through a series of athletic gestures through which African players’ bodies expressed ways of conceiving and organizing the world. These performances had a particular, locally comprehensible logic and corresponding set of meanings. Domingos accesses a range of sources to enable him to interpret these corporal performances and make sense of their social and historical significance. The locales for these historical processes were the vibrant African suburbs which surrounded the predominantly European center of Lourenço Marques, known as the “cement city,” but these delimitations were not impermeable. Domingos demonstrates how the game of soccer served as a bidirectional conduit, through which aspects of both African and European culture flowed. In turn, members of the resident populations of both the European city center and African suburbs influenced one another and reciprocally shaped their respective historical trajectories. Ultimately, Domingos compellingly explores a range of social and historical dynamics through this novel study of soccer as a central component of popular culture in late colonial Mozambique, delivering both a fascinating and foundational text.
The book is laid out in a series of logically organized, and linked, thematic chapters that are only loosely chronological. Following a sufficiently explicative introductory chapter, Domingos dedicates the ensuing two chapters to discussions of the relationship between soccer and the (African) body, the first entitled “The body in the game,” and the second inversed: “The game in the body.” In the former, Domingos aims to highlight linkages between “the formal language of the game and the context in which it was produced” (p. 30). In the chapter, Domingos introduces the concept of “motor habitus” to argue that the players’ behaviors and actions reflected the internalization of intrinsic conventions of the game, which they then developed and modified through their movements (p. 44). In chapter 3, Domingos considers how the game was transformed as it became an emerging form of popular culture. As a public spectacle, the particular brand of soccer that was practiced in the suburbs was replete with specific--if dynamic--practices and representations, as well as ethical and aesthetic values, all of which featured forms of both direct and indirect participation. Overall, these two chapters are well presented, but they do require close reading by the nonspecialist, as Domingos accesses a range of theoretical writings upon which to introduce and anchor his concepts. In fact, due to the brevity of these adjacent chapters (fourteen and nine pages, respectively) one wonders if they could have instead been folded into a theoretical section in the introductory chapter, which would then have framed the subsequent discussion. Regardless of this organizational matter, Domingos adroitly works through this dense and, at times, daunting literature with a skilled hand and, as accessibly as possible, presents his theoretical framework to the reader in an engaging and compelling fashion.
In chapter 4, Domingos offers the reader the contextual information necessary to properly situate the study; maps and a series of instructive images assist in this endeavor. In this chapter, Domingos traces the founding and development of what eventually became the colonial capital of Lourenço Marques and how the racialized process of urbanization generated a bifurcated space, featuring a European core and an African periphery/perimeter. The eventual organization of soccer leagues, or associations, reflects this racially predicated spatial configuration. As part of Domingos’s focus on the formation of the African soccer association, the Associação de Futebol Africana (AFA) and its European counterpart, the Associação de Futebol de Lourenço Marques (AFLM), the reader also learns about the initial introduction and subsequent diffusion of soccer in the colony, as well as the growing popularity of new leisure and recreational activities more broadly. Domingos also incorporates in the chapter his first sustained discussion of the Estado Novo, the repressive regime that governed Portugal and its colonies for over forty years until its collapse in 1974. Of particular relevance is the tension between the state’s severe social policies and the slightly more relaxed activities that an “emergent sporting associativism” was promoting; both entities were, after all, “agents of legitimation” for the colonial system of social organization and, thus, should have featured complementary, or even overlapping approaches (p. 31). Although somewhat unwieldy at almost forty pages, this chapter provides information that is crucial to an understanding of the book’s core themes.
Chapter 5 explores in a more dedicated and probing fashion the ethos and attendant polices of the Estado Novo as they related to the African body in this setting. In particular, Domingos examines the ideological endorsement and implementation of physical education in colonial Mozambique, which was largely an outgrowth of that which had been previously introduced in the metropole. Through Domingos’s focus on this element of the colonial “civilizing project,” the reader can readily discern that government-advocated physical education and exercise were only marginally related to health and fitness; rather, they are more accurately understood as tools for regimentation and, ultimately, political and cultural hegemony. Domingos makes it clear that the state’s focus on the colonized body was anything but benevolent.
In chapter 6, Domingos takes the reader back into the African suburbs, the geographical heart of the study, in order to examine how the game was disseminated and how it both shaped and was shaped by the development of this particular space within the wider city. From humble beginnings, soccer became a widely appreciated public performance, though, of course, innumerable games transpired with no one else on hand to observe the proceedings but the practitioners themselves. On the dusty, impromptu fields hemmed in by both makeshift and more permanent structures in neighborhoods such as Mafalala and Chamanculo, the game not only took root, but, in many respects, assumed a social importance that transcended its seemingly innocuous function as a mere recreational or leisure activity. Within a reasonably short time, the rapidly growing sport was institutionalized, though unstructured instances of the popular pastime continued to coexist with, and funnel skilled players to, the organized leagues. Domingos draws attention to how these parallel (formal and informal) forms of soccer established, deepened, and reified social identities, but also to the ways that they drew community members closer and generated collectivities that could, at times, trump even long-standing social antagonisms.
In chapter 7, Domingos extends the reader’s stay in the suburbs of Lourenço Marques by exploring the language associated with soccer in this setting. This linguistic examination offers an analytical window into the characteristics, practices, and values of not only the soccer players, but also the fans who watched them and, by extension, the broader suburban communities. To reconstruct these shifting features, Domingos embarks on his first sustained examination of the works of the mestiço poet and journalist José Craveirinha, widely considered to have been Mozambique’s greatest poet. Although Craveirinha appeared on the first page of the opening chapter, and periodically thereafter, it is only at this point that Domingos treats the reader to a more extensive analysis of the master writer’s soccer-related output. Craveirinha’s generally laudatory, if often essentializing, treatment of the suburban soccer players affords us insights into the social values of both these players and their fans. Tellingly, the terminology associated with these cultural appraisals was expressed in Ronga, the local language, and had no direct European (Portuguese) translation. This cultural/linguistic disconnect highlights the ways that Africans had appropriated the game--adopting the formal rules, but imbuing the constituent actions that comprised a performance with meanings and values that were conceptually foreign to Europeans’ comprehension of the game.
In chapter 8, Domingos turns his attention again to the state and the ways that it continued to try to orchestrate life in the African suburbs of Lourenço Marques, including via aggressive policies related to private property, access to land, mobility, and work. Domingos introduces the concept of “suburban habitus” to capture the various ways that individual residents attempted to navigate and survive the uniformly challenging conditions that they faced in this environment (p. 173). Domingos argues that the social valorization of “malice” played a key role in residents’ creative responses to local conditions. Although his employment of this word/term is initially confusing, Domingos’s adoption echoes Craveirinha’s usage, who deemed it synonymous with cunning or astuteness. By the end of the chapter, Domingos resumes his discussion of soccer and considers how the game was shaped by the local political developments and policies that he examines earlier in the chapter.
Chapter 9 extends the discussion from the preceding chapter through a focused examination of how fetishism (or “witchcraft”) was practiced and manifested in both the arena of soccer as well as in everyday life in the suburbs. The persistence of fetishistic practices suggests that suburban residents continued to rely on traditional systems and concepts of power, malevolence, and protection. This ongoing adherence challenged the colonial state and, even more so, the Catholic Church, both of which had been actively attempting to root out these heathen aspects of indigenous culture. Given the durable popularity of these beliefs and associated practices, they inevitably surfaced in the world of soccer. Both practitioners and fans of the game dabbled, suggesting that once a match was underway there was an “invisible hand” involved in influencing players’ actions and gestures (p. 203).
In chapter 10, Domingos provides an interesting discussion concerning how the introduction of “modern” tactics and organization into suburban soccer robbed it of much of its flair and improvisational qualities. The professionalization of the game, which included formal training and practice, an emphasis on fitness, the internationalization of styles and formations (such as the “WM,” pioneered by Arsenal’s manager, Herbert Chapman), the influx of news about regional and metropolitan clubs, and the attendant desire to both emulate and compete against these teams, rendered local performance(s) less imaginative and unique and, ultimately, more generic. While results on the field suggested that these professional influences and measures had elevated the overall levels of skill of African players, the local game had been indelibly changed; the uniquely suburban style was to be forever lost.
Chapter 11 explores the role of popular culture in the late colonial period in Mozambique and examines the interplay between the three dominant, geographically defined types of leisure practices: “the suburban,” “the downtown” (associated with the so-called cement city where the Portuguese resided) and the “metropolitan.” As part of this analysis, Domingos considers the ways that these expressions related to the development of different forms of colonial power. The book concludes with chapter 12, entitled “Incorporated History,” which briefly reexamines the text’s principal themes and points, and stresses the importance of “incorporating” explorations of urban customs, social routines, and diverse ways of seeing the world.
In order to reconstruct this ranging, multifaceted history, Domingos accessed a multitude of primary and secondary sources. As the literature on the suburbs of Lourenço Marques is thin and scholarship on sports in Portuguese colonial Africa nonexistent, in order to build the evidentiary foundation for his study Domingos fruitfully mined archives in both Mozambique and Portugal. Arguably, though, the newspaper O Brado Africano constituted the most crucial source in the research process. Fully established by the 1920s, the paper was one of the first African weeklies, featuring contributions in both Portuguese and Ronga, and regular pieces by Craveirinha. For Domingos’ purposes, O Brado Africano offers unparalleled commentary and insights into daily life in the suburbs of Lourenço Marques, the epicenter of his study. Other Mozambican (and Portuguese) periodicals also proved useful, mainly due to their chronicling of the increasing importance of sport as a form of popular culture in both the colonies and metropole. Finally, Domingos conducted a series of interviews, primarily with former players, and adeptly sprinkles in the oral testimony he gathered throughout the narrative, illuminating many aspects of suburban life and soccer that are otherwise invisible in the written sources.
For all of this book’s myriad attributes, more direct and sustained engagement with the historiography that considers the “soccer process” in colonial Africa could have enhanced Domingos’s, albeit already substantial, contribution. Domingos is certainly familiar with this literature, as he periodically cites some of the key pieces within this corpus. However, an open dialogue with the analyses and conclusions of authors of relevant, contemporaneous histories in South Africa (Alegi), Zanzibar (Fair), and the French Congo (Martin) would have allowed the reader to fully assess what made the Mozambican case unique--and, similarly, what these examples may have had in common. Rather than simply constituting an exercise in comparative history, an engagement with these temporally parallel accounts has the potential to deepen an understanding of why Mozambicans responded to the introduction and dissemination of soccer in the particular ways they did and, conversely, to explain why certain responses were absent in that context.
This (virtually solitary) concern notwithstanding, Futebol e Colonialismo is much more than just a book about soccer. It provides a topically welcoming point of entry into a series of important historical dynamics, including encounters between European and indigenous cultures and the ways that Africans creatively responded to colonial overrule. Domingos has crafted an accessible, wide-ranging history that effortlessly oscillates between colonial policy and indigenous response. The book is ideal for an upper-level undergraduate course, but will be especially appreciated by graduate students and scholars interested in Lusophone Africa, colonialism and empire, social history, sports history, and popular culture, across a range of disciplines. The text’s broad appeal is a reflection of Domingos’ obvious comfortableness as he moves between the bodies of relevant historical, anthropological, and political science literature. Ultimately, future scholars from a wide variety of fields will benefit from Domingos’s rich reconstruction and analysis of daily life in the suburbs of Lourenço Marques, regardless of whether they are interested in soccer. Among the book’s wealth of contributions, this feature may well be the one that renders Futebol e Colonialismo so enduringly important.
. For example, Domingos occasionally cites Phyllis M. Martin, Leisure and Society in Colonial Brazzaville (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Laura Fair, Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community and Identity in Post-Abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890-1945 (Oxford: James Currey, 2001); and Peter Alegi, Laduma!: Soccer, Politics and Society in South Africa (Natal: University of Kwazulu-Natal Press, 2004), but neither references nor includes in his bibliography similarly relevant works, including Laura Fair, “Kickin’ It: Leisure, Politics and Football in Colonial Zanzibar, 1900s-1950s,” Africa 67, no. 2 (1997): 224-51; and Peter Alegi, African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World’s Game (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010).
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Todd Cleveland. Review of Domingos, Nuno, Futebol e Colonialism: Corpo e Cultura Popular em Moçambique.
H-Luso-Africa, H-Net Reviews.
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