Kamba Simango

I run into Eric Morier-Genoud at the peace and reconciliation meeting. It’s a small world.

Eric is Swiss, married to a Mozambican, and on the African history faculty at a university in Northern Ireland. We exchange a number of e-mails four or five years ago. He too is interested in Kamba Simango.

My interest in Simango has to do with the church. He is the key figure in my study, forming the sub-title of my Toward an African Church in Mozambique. But when Simango leaves Mozambique in 1936, he heads to what is now Ghana, his wife’s home. That is where Eric’s interest lies.

                                                                                      Kamba Simango

We sit at a table after lunch is finished, and we talk. When the Gold Coast becomes independent in 1957, he reminds me, Kwame Nkrumah makes a commitment to the liberation struggle in the rest of Africa. That commitment includes Mozambique. He establishes a ‘Portuguese service’ on Ghana’s radio – providing news for Mozambicans and Angolans in Portuguese on the progress of the struggle – and Kamba Simango becomes its head. Apparently a parade of Angolan and Mozambican liberation leaders, including Eduardo Mondlane, come to Accra, and work with Simango.

This all ends when Nkrumah is overthrown. Simango remains in Ghana. At some point he apparently is asked to assume a leadership role in the liberation movement Frelimo, but he declines. ‘I am too old,’ he reportedly says. Finally, in 1966, he is hit by a car while crossing a road, and dies.

Eric and I are not the only ones interested in Kamba Simango. There is a scholar in Brazil writing about Simango and his anthropological work. While in New York in the 1920s, Simango works with the pioneer Africanist Melville Herskovits and the pre-eminent American anthropologist Franz Boas. Margaret Mead is there at the time. I recall writing her in the 1970s about Simango, but it is close to her death, and I never hear back.

There is a musicologist Eric has come across who has written a brief paper on Simango and the mbira.

Simango is at least on the fringes of the Harlem Renaissance, living in Harlem at key times, and friends with Paul Robeson.

He is remembered in Mozambique, not just in the church. One of the latest generation of Simangos tries to use Kamba Simango’s name to build up his lineage in the recent election campaign.

It does not work.