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The Chisena of Mozambique

Identifier: Film Collection no. 155

Scope and Contents

The film begins with narration and maps depicting the early exploration of Mozambique and dwelling particularly on the arrival of the Portuguese. The capital city of Lourenò‡ Marques (now Maputo) is recorded with footage showing its harbor, architecture, and native market. The next sequence of the film illustrates the contrasting elements of the city of Beira and the capital. The filmmakers proceed into the interior of Mozambique, crossing the Chengane River by barge on their way to the Gorongosa National Park. This footage is followed by a sequence showing the dry, burned landscape and the ecological difficulties the Chisena people face. In their study of one village, the filmmakers present a portrait of the Chisena sect of the Sena cluster, a part of the Nuasa people. Centering this segment around the headman and his three wives, the film presents a vivid depiction of the Chisena way of life. The women are filmed processing corn and gardening. The pottery technique of hollowing out the center of a lump of clay is also shown. This method is an interesting departure from the coiling method employed by most "primitive" peoples. The female members of the village assume a large number of the domestic duties, as is further depicted by footage of the women bathing babies, washing clothes, digging a water-hole, carrying water, and buying and selling tobacco among themselves. The film shows the men of the village cooking, constructing a hut, and eating live wood grubs. One man is shown taking his turn in a watch-tower overlooking a garden; the garden must be watched in order to keep baboons and other animals away from the cultivated plants. There is footage included of the headman's wife-of-the-week bringing him food, and kneeling before him with her hands clasped to show respect. The baobab tree, which is often hollowed out to collect water, is shown. The next sequence of the film deals with the mother-in-law avoidance ritual. The mother-in-law arrives and kneels on a mat while, about fifteen feet away, the headman also kneels. They each begin to clap, but great care is taken to avoid looking at each other. The following section of the film depicts several aspects of the Chisenas' magicoreligious life. The first ritual shown in this sequence is an invocation to ancestral spirits connected with planting. During the invocation the headman pours salt and/or corn, and the women curtsy and leave. Next comes a vivid sequence in which sickness or evil is exorcised from the headman by a witch doctor, who is accompanied by his two wives. The witch doctor bites the patient's skull, then withdraws and vomits out the evil. During the ceremony the witch doctor becomes increasingly weaker until the headman is cured. The film shows a celebration dance performed to celebrate the headman's recovery. Another interesting sequence of the film shows the Chisena butchering and preserving meat given to them by sportsmen. The hunters take their trophies and leave the remaining game carcasses to the natives. The film contains footage showing a number of indigenous animal species including: lions, sable antelopes, wildebeests, waterbucks, elephants, impalas, hippopotamuses, warthogs, Cape buffaloes, nyalas, marabou storks, vultures, zebras, and baboons.


  • 1960

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Not available through interlibrary loan. Contact AMNH Library Special Collections for terms of access.


1 Film Reel (65 minutes) : sound, color ; 16 mm.

1 Videocassette (U-Matic (65 minutes)) : sound, color ; 3/4 in.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

3/4 in., U-Matic, viewing copy


Original format: 16 mm. print.



Oshin Agathon, producer, director and writer; Michael Crotty, assistant to Oshin Agathon; Bernard Birnbaum, editor and technical director; T. Anders Pehrson, narration; Colin M. Turnbull, scientific consultant; Martha S. Anderson, script adaptation; Alberto N. de Sousa Araujo and Francisco Coimbra, field advisers.

The Chisena of Mozambique, 1960
Iris Lee
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
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