Atlas of an Empire: Photographic Narrations and the Visual Struggle for Mozambique

  • Rui Assubuji University of the Western Cape

Abstract

This article engages with the historiography of the Portuguese empire with reference to Mozambique. It explores the impact of visual archives on existing debates and asks what difference photographs make to our interpretation and understanding of this colonial past. Deprived of their ‘historical rights’ by the requirements of the Berlin treaties that insisted on ‘effective occupation’, the Portuguese started to employ a complex of knowledge-producing activities in which photography was crucially involved. This article examines different photographic moments before and during the ‘Pacification Campaign’ that assured Portugal’s authority over the Gaza Empire in southern Mozambique in the 1890s, by official, commercial and missionary photographers. It identifies controversies over the small number of portraits of the Gaza king Ngungunyane that took on distinctive and disputed ‘other lives’ after their initial production. The realisation of how one image might be disassembled to generate others becomes an exercise – in visual terms – of rethinking colonial violence. A critical engagement with the slippages and repositionings around photographs, and the errors or disputes in various captions, allows for a better understanding of the production of both silence and particular narratives in the archives and popular history. The demonstration of these other lives matters because it stimulates awareness of what is seen, what is made visible, and addresses the desire to look beyond the image to find others in a continuous interrogation of photographic excess.