I was always intrigued by the name Maputo. Maputo is the capital of Mozambique. It used to be known as Lourenço Marques. I once had a Mozambican friend who would refer to Maputo as Lourenço Marques and I always wondered why the name change and what it meant?
Maputo is known as the City of Acacias (because many of its streets are bordered by acacias) or the Pearl of the Indian Ocean; it is located 77 km from the South African border. The city was built on the northern bank of the Esturio do Esprito Santo, an estuary which leads to the Maputo Bay on the West. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the area in the 1500s, the area was known as an exchange place between Arabs and Africans, and was known as Catembe, on the southern bank of the estuary. In 1502, the Portuguese Antonio de Campos was the first European to get to Maputo Bay, but it was the navigator Lourenço Marques who explored it truly for the first time in 1544. Initially, the bay was known as Delagoa bay, as it was the first maritime transit from Goa. It was a village whose main economy was based on the Ivory trade. It is only in 1876, that the city became known as Lourenço Marques, after the navigator. A commission was sent by the Portuguese government in 1876 to drain the marshy land near the settlement, to plant the blue gum tree, and to build a hospital and a church. A city since 1887, it superseded the Island of Mozambique as the capital of Mozambique in 1898. In 1895, the construction of a railroad to Pretoria in South Africa, caused the city’s population to grow.
In February of 1976, after briefly claiming back its pre-colonial name of Cam Phumo (1975-1976), named after a Shangaan chief who lived in the area before the arrival of Lourenço Marques), Lourenço Marques was renamed Maputo, with its origin in the Maputo river which flows into the Esturio do Esprito Santo, also renamed Maputo bay. During the liberation war of FRELIMO against Portugal (1964 – 1974), the Maputo river, which marks the southern border of Mozambique with South Africa, became symbolic with the slogan Viva Moambique unido do Rovuma ao Maputo, i.e. Long-live the united Mozambique from Rovuma to Maputo, the Ruvuma river being the northern border of Mozambique with Tanzania. All symbols of colonial times were erased: the names of streets which carried the names of Portuguese heroes or important days, and Portuguese history, etc, were replaced to reflect Mozambican history, African revolutionary figures, and Mozambican choices.
Today, Maputo is a melting pot of several cultures dominated by the Bantu and Portuguese, but also influenced by Arab, Indian, and Chinese cultures (brought in from Goa and Macao). It is also very well-known for its beautiful style colonial architecture.