Sunday, 7 July 2019

Mozambique Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest Mozambique settlements.

Maputo, the capital and largest city of Mozambique, was known as Lourenco Marques until 1976, this the name of the Portuguese navigator who explored this area in 1544. Maputo shares its name with the Maputo River, itself formerly known as the Suthu River, itself from suthu and either refers to the Basotho people or the colour of the muddy waters of the river. The present names of both were derived from the link to the Mozambique Liberation Front or FRELIMO and, from the etymologist's point of view, of little interest.

Angoche, like the capital, had been known by a different name prior to independence in 1976. Earlier the name of Antonio Enes referred to the 19th century Portuguese journalist and colonial administrator Antion Jose Enes.

Beira was named to honour the Portuguese Crown Prince Dom Luis Filipe, prior to that it was known as Chiveve after the local river. Beira is also the name of a rare antelope, it is not clear if this is why the name was chosen and the origin of the river name is unknown.

Catandica took its name from the son of a local chief who served in the army.

Chimoio is taken from one of the sons of Ganda, a chief of the Moyo clan. Chimoio was a great hunter, he once killed an elephant while on land held by a neighbouring tribe. This was considered a crime punishable by death. His father agreed to the execution but requested his family be allowed to settle close to the grave to watch over the remains. This gave the name of Chimoio or 'little heart' to the region.

Chinde shares a name with the Chinde River on which it stands, the meaning of the name is unknown.

Cuamba was originally named Nova Freixo, this taken from the name of Freixo de Espada a Cinta in Portugal, this the birthplace of Sarmento Rodrigues, the governor general of Mozambique. Cuamba is the original name of the place and of uncertain origin.

Gurue had earlier been named Vila Junqueiro, this taken from the name of a company producing tea Plantacoes Manuel Saraiva Junquiero. This is only slightly more unusual than the name Gurue, this a local tribal dialect either the name of a local tribal chief or their name for the peccary, a pig-like animal.

Inhambane had been known as Terra de Boa Gente by the Portuguese, this meaning 'the Land of the Good People'.

Lichinga was known as Villa Cabal to the Portuguese, this translates as 'full house' as it was designed to become a fast growth urban centre.

Manica takes its name from the Kingdom of Manica, its origins are unknown.

Matola is from the name of the kingdom here when colonists arrived, it continues to be a common surname locally.

Maxixe is named after an African chief.

Nampula is held to be from the word whampula, the name of a legendary tribal chief in this area.

Pemba was founded as Porto Amelia by the Niassa Company in 1904, named after the Queen of Portugal.

Ponto da Ouro translates as 'tip of gold', referring to the beach at the tip of the cape.

Quelimane has two explanations, neither of which are particularly convincing. Some suggest the Portuguese found an Arab here when they arrived, he acted as interpreter and the place named from the Swahili for 'interpreter'. An alternative explanation speaks of a visit from Vasco da Gama who, on reaching here in 1498, asked "Who are you?" and heard the reply kuliamani. Unfortunately the people misunderstood the question and thought he had asked "what are you doing?" to which they responded "we are cultivating", which is exactly what kuliamani means.

Tete comes from the local Nyungwe word mitete meaning 'reed'.

Vilankulo is named after tribal chief Gamela Vilankulo Mukoke, with some of the districts here named after his sons.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.


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