Remembering the Camps

Updated: Jan 25, 2020

Portuguese De-Colonization, Competing Colonialisms in Mozambique, and Deportation to India

By Nafeesah Allen

Since the 15th century, Mozambique has had a sizeable population of residents from the Indian sub-continent (herein referred to as Indo-Mozambicans). In reaction to Portuguese de-colonization in India, the African colony became a theater for forced migration and coerced citizenship articulation. The 1961 end of the Portuguese empire in India triggered transformational shifts in Indo-Mozambican migration and identity patterns. This paper briefly summarizes that history and presents recently recorded narratives from those who were interned, deported, and left behind as children. Their recollections of the camps trace layered legacies of colonialism which affected different identity groups during the de-colonization process. Local differences emerged among Indo-Mozambican merchants of different nationalities and religions. Those sub-identities and intergroup rivalries persist today.


From 2014 to 2017, I conducted doctoral research in Maputo to identify Indo-Mozambican (Mozambican residents of Indian-subcontinent origin) layers of migration and identity that emerged in reaction to geopolitical shifts in the Indian Ocean and Lusophone worlds. Twentieth century migration, both voluntary and involuntary, was an ethnographic entry point to explore agency, citizenship, location, and belonging in Mozambique’s national context. In controlling the identity group (Mozambicans of Indian-subcontinent origin), geographic space (in Lourenço Marques before 1974, named Maputo after 1975), and temporal lens (1947-1992), I found that four historical punctuations triggered migration and ethnic identity formations among Indo-Mozambicans: first, the end of the British empire in India and the subsequent partition of India and Pakistan in 1947; second, the end of the Portuguese empire in India, with the annexation of Goa, Daman (also spelled Damão), and Diu (also spelled Dio), in December 1961; third, the independence of Mozambique from Portugal in 1975; and, finally, the civil war of Mozambique from 1977 to 1992. Oral narratives from Maputo today illustrate these punctuations of forced migratory experiences that splintered the larger Indo-Mozambican community into smaller sub-identity groups and cultivated intergroup conflict.

When I began fieldwork, I did not know much about Portuguese colonial history. Thus, my initial research was biased towards Anglophone colonial history. I expected British colonial independence and self-rule movements to be causally linked to Indo-Mozambicans’ use of migration as a survival tool. Specifically, I anticipated that the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the independence of India in 1947, the founding of Bangladesh in 1971, and the expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972 would all prove deeply relevant to Indo-Mozambicans’ memories of the 20th century. During my fieldwork, however, I learned that British markers were far less relevant than Portuguese ones. The most important of these markers was the end of the Portuguese empire in India, with the de facto Indian annexation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli in 1954 and the subsequent annexation of Portugal’s remaining Indian enclaves in December 1961.

This article offers oral narratives of current Maputo residents, who experienced this de-colonization movement as children through the lens of Portugal’s retaliatory internment of people of Indian and Pakistani-origin in Mozambique. Those children are now elders and I consider them as co-researchers. In my dissertation, memory contested colonial archives, a body of primary source knowledge typically biased to de-legitimize the lived experience of the colonized. Here, however, I focus exclusively on oral narratives as valid, primary source data; much in the same way that researchers prioritize (often flawed) written records. For example, I preserve respondents’ use of the term ‘concentration camps’ to describe their internment sites, because everyone who experienced internment referred to it this way. Methodologically, this work offers complexity to South-South studies (by using colonial and colonized children, cum adults of various political positionalities) to re-examine post-colonial and heritage studies. The names in this article are all pseudonyms with one exception. Salim Sacoor, a vital collaborator, consented to use of his real name and to report on his family business, N.M. Sacoor, a shipping company deportees used to return to India and Pakistan.

A Brief History of De-Colonization, Competing Colonialisms in India and Mozambique

In response to Portuguese de-colonization in India, Mozambique – then, a Portuguese colony—became a theater for forced migration and coerced citizenship articulation. Shortly after British India gained independence in 1947, India’s independent government raised with Portugal and France the topic of integrating their colonial enclaves into liberated India. Hostility increased as Portugal repeatedly refused to discuss the integration of Dadra, Nagar Haveli, Goa, Daman, and Diu (Da Silva 1976: 50-52). In 1954, India invaded Dadra and Nagar Haveli; India’s blocking Portugal’s access to these landlocked enclaves triggered de facto annexation to India. In December 1961, the Indian military launched ‘Operation Vijay,’ annexing the three remaining enclaves. Despite Indian reports that Operation Vijay had less than a handful of causalities, Diogo Simões Roque Moço (2012: 55) reported that Portugal’s military police calculated 1,018 people as “dead, injured, or disappeared.” Countermeasures were implemented across the Portuguese empire, but none more than in Mozambique. The 1963 edition of Africa Today reported that 15,000 Indians were arrested or interned throughout Mozambique (Anon. 1963: 12-13). From N.M. Sacoor records, I found that between 1962-3, over 2,400 Indo-Mozambicans boarded ships to depart the colonial capital of Lourenço Marques for Pakistan and India; most were Indian-citizen deportees and their dependent children of various citizenships (N.M. Sacoor, Lda. Business Records).

This decade-long escalation is often minimized to the gross misnomer of ‘Goan independence’. While there were certainly people who preferred annexation to India over colonization by Portugal, there is strong evidence that Portuguese colonial subjects in India wanted self-rule. Goan-origin interviewees told me the use of the terms ‘liberation’ or ‘independence’ was inaccurate and offensive; it was annexation after invasion. Popular sentiment among Goan Mozambicans was that India’s idea of liberation was an imposed and unwelcomed neo-colonialism. They mourned their connection to Portugal, though some did not agree with Portugal’s retaliatory deportation of Indian passport holders from Mozambique. Collectively, these local histories of iterative self-rule movements and imperfect independence counter celebratory post-colonial metanarratives of African and Asian solidarity; further, they raise the possibility that once-colonized countries can become hegemonic themselves.

The generation that still remembers the camps and the ships are aging; the following sections capture their childhood stories of family, factionalism, and forced migration. These narratives offer a glimpse into the memories of detention, deportation, being left behind, and inter-group rivalries. The 1961 invasion of Portugal’s colonies on the Indian sub-continent splintered the larger Indo-Mozambican community into sub-identity groups and cultivated intergroup conflict that previously did not exist, but persists into the present day.

Detained: Portuguese-citizen child of Muslim Parents

Though she was just three or four when she went to live in a camp in Matadouro, in downtown Lourenço Marques, Ibtihaj remembers the camps. While her biological mother was Mozambican, Ibtihaj was raised by her stepmother from Pipodara and her father born in Ghandar—both Muslim Gujaratis and Indian passport holders. Ibtihaj and her husband, Saadiq, recalled the camp:

Ibtihaj: It was in the railway station… I stayed in the concentration camp for two or three months with my parents, but they stayed there longer. We [Ibtihaj and her brother] had to leave, because we had Portuguese nationality. We were born here in Mozambique… I think [my parents] stayed five or six months… Since they had Indian passports, they did not want to go to India because all of the Hindus were being returned, no? Well, all Indians…
Saadiq: But those who were Portuguese stayed. Because her father and step-mother opted to be Portuguese, they ended up staying [in Mozambique]…[1]
Me: There wasn’t any violence?
Ibtihaj: No, I am not going to lie. I didn’t see violence… At that time, I did not see violence. We had food… We had military guards who protected us. Each of us who were interned had a military guard. So one group stayed one week and then left. Then came another group, like that, successively… When it came time for Muslims to fast, many Muslims here helped and sent food to those of us interned…We weren’t mistreated or anything. We also had visiting hours, so family members could come and converse openly. We were free in there, but we couldn’t leave whenever we wanted (Ibtihaj and Saadiq, personal interview, October 2015).

Deported: Portuguese-citizen child of Hindu Parents

With her daughter’s English translation assistance, Rama, born in 1952 in Lourenço Marques to Hindu Gujarati merchant parents, responded to my detailed research questionnaire about Indo-Mozambicans’ cultural and assimilation experiences in Mozambique. Rama explained that her father first immigrated to Mozambique in 1942 “because [he] had relatives in Mozambique. That’s one of the reasons and he saw good opportunity for business… He liked Mozambique, but had to leave because of the [1961] war. [He] was forced to leave by the Portuguese government back in Lourenço Marques” (Rama, Questionnaire, 2015). She remembered her family’s stay in a camp in Matola, a suburb of Lourenço Marques, before being deported in 1961 to their ancestral village of Porbandar, Gandhi’s birthplace:

This year the colonist country Portugal had made an agreement with the Indian government that if Portuguese had to leave India-Goa, so would the Indians living in Lourenço Marques leave their country. I was only nine years old and was dependent on my family. Both my parents were Indian and therefore I had to leave the country. We were force [sic] to live for six months, before going to India, in a secure place/building by the Portuguese government. Thereafter, we were directly deported to India in a ship. We reached India in twenty-two days. Our house in Lourenço Marques, every property my father owned, was sealed and taken by them (Rama, Questionnaire, 2015).

Intergroup Rivalry among those Left-behind

Throughout my research, Hindu Indo-Mozambicans asserted that Muslim Indo-Mozambicans profited from the deportation of Indian citizens. Joana Pereira Leite and Nicole Khouri’s 2013 in-depth study showed that Ismaili Muslims took loans to purchase confiscated businesses at auction, suggesting that the Goan crisis, and the subsequent expulsion of Hindustani merchants created new business opportunities for those who managed to stay behind in Mozambique. They write that in fact ‘(…) oral sources outside of the [Ismaili] community attest that it was at interesting prices that some Ismailis acquired establishments that had belonged to Indian citizens, who had been forced to abandon the colony’ (Leite and Khouri 2013).

Deni is the Lourenço Marques-born son of a Hindu tailor, who came to Mozambique in 1920. Deni was seventeen years old when he and his brother were left behind, after his parents and younger siblings were deported to India. He recalled:

Deni: [My parents] stayed almost three months in the concentration camps, until they regularized the situation… Here there were two factors: there were Indians who were Hindu and Muslims. The Muslims were lucky that time. The Embassy of Pakistan gave them passports.
Me: In 1961 and ‘62, they were changing their passports?
Deni: Yes, that’s why they stayed here. We [Hindus] were all kicked out. The Portuguese didn’t know who was Indian or Muslim. The Muslims put up signs with the Portugal flag in all of their homes and stores to symbolize that they were friends of Portugal. This was to distinguish between the Pakistanis and the Indians. We had to stay in the concentration camp until they sent us away. Each person had to buy their own ticket back to their country. Many people did not have money. The little that they had was pooled together and they helped each other to buy tickets… It was a cargo ship that had sleeping quarters. The trip took twenty-eight days… The Muslims just laughed. They bought the majority of the Indian stores. They became more privileged. (Deni, personal interview, July 2017)

Who Boarded the Boats?

N.M. Sacoor company records: Postcard of the S.S. Karanja (Photo taken by the author, 2017)

N.M. Sacoor business records: Postcard of S.S. Kampala (Photo taken by the author, 2017)

No one knows exactly when N.M. Sacoor, the shipping company deportees used to return to India or Pakistan, was founded, but Salim Sacoor, the current owner of the company, guesses it must have been in the 1920s. His Muslim grandfather (likely originally from Gujarat), Aboobakar Suleman, fled to Mozambique from South Africa and got a job with the company. For reasons that are still unclear, the owners left the business to Salim’s dad (young Sacoor) around 1947. N.M. Sacoor eventually became the local vendor for the British India Steam Navigation Company. When Portugal ordered all Indian citizens be detained and deported from Mozambique, Salim remembered that deportees came to his father to purchase ship tickets:

Panic spread throughout the city. Policemen broke into the houses and shops to look for those with an Indian passport, so they could be arrested and taken to a concentration camp, located near the C.F.M. [the train station in Lourenço Marques]. Then came the expulsion order from Portugal, so the race was tremendous for the purchase of tickets at N.M. Sacoor. And purchases were made standard, regardless of the friendship they had with Young Sacoor when the order was implemented (Sacoor, personal interview, 2018).

Salim did not remember how many deportees bought tickets, but my review of N.M. Sacoor records showed that approximately 2,469 people took the S.S. Karanja and S.S. Kampala from Lourenço Marques to India between January 1962 and July 1963. The largest of these journeys were the August 1962 voyage of the S.S. Kampala with 628 ticketed passengers and the January 1963 voyage of the S.S. Karanja/ Sirdhan with 1550 ticketed passengers. The timing and scale of these departures are congruent with oral histories that confirm that deportees waited months before receiving official deportation orders and then they waited again in internment camps for three to six months, before paying their own fare on passenger ships to comply with the deportation order. Throughout my research, I found that N.M. Sacoor was the only passenger ship with a concession to travel from Lourenço Marques to the Indian-subcontinent when deportation orders took effect. While I can not be certain that all of the Karanja and Kampala’s 1962-1963 passengers were deportees, I hypothesize that the vast majority of them were.

N.M. Sacoor Business records: Page 15 of 15 listing passengers on S.S. Kampala’s Aug 1962 voyage. Photo taken by the author, 2017.

N.M. Sacoor Business Records: Page 12 of 38 pages of 1550 passengers on the S.S. Karanja/Sirdhan voyage of January 1963. Photo taken by the author, 2017.


It is counter-intuitive to fathom that an Indo-Mozambican Muslim merchant, representing a British company, directly profited from Portugal’s deportation of Hindus back to their native India. Yet, ethnographic research about those directly affected by 1962-63 internments and deportations revealed the normalcy of such stories; new fault lines of identity and nationality emerged in Mozambique, in reaction to the multi-layered and protracted de-colonization processes on the Indian subcontinent. Across the Indian Ocean, competing British and Portuguese colonialisms (and their layered legacies of post-colonialism) resulted in local rivalries among expatriates who had previously regarded one another as countrymen.

Nafeesah Allen is an independent researcher with an interest in diaspora studies within the global South. In 2019, she completed her Ph.D. in Forced Migration from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 2013, she completed a postgraduate diploma in Folklore & Cultural Studies at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) in New Delhi, India. She received IGNOU’s Gold Medal for academic performance for her ethnographic study of women of the Indian Diaspora. She completed a Masters of International Affairs at Columbia University in 2009 and graduated cum laude from Barnard College in 2006.

[1] Though it went unexplained at the time of interview, research shows that Muslims, like Ibtihaj’s parents, obtained Portuguese or Pakistani citizenship to avoid deportation. These citizenship choices were not available to Hindus, who had little recourse against deportation proceedings.


AFRICA TODAY (1963) ‘Indians in Mozambique.’ February.

DA SILVA, L. (1976) The Americanization of Goans, Toronto, Ontario, Selbstverl.

DENI (2017) Interview with author, July 2017.

IBTIHAJ and SAADIQ (2015) Interview with author, October 2015.

LEITE, J.P. and KHOURI, N. (2013) Os Ismailis de Moçambique: Vida Económica no Tempo Colonial, Lisboa, Edições Colibri.

N.M. SACOOR, Lda. Business Records. Accessed 2018.

RAMA (2015) Questionnaire, 2015.

SACOOR, S. (2018) Interview with author, 2018.

SIMõES ROQUE MOçO, Diogo Manuel. (2012) ‘Prisioneiros na Índia 1961-1962.’ D.Phil.

thesis, Universidade de Lisboa.