The Portuguese Secret Police during the Colonial Era in Mozambique Remembrance Has Several Chapters

Inadelso Cossa in the interview
Inadelso Cossa in the interview | © Goethe-Institut

The Mozambican director Inadelso Cossa made a documentary in 2016 about the victims and perpetrators of oppression under the PIDE, the Portuguese secret police, during the colonial era in Mozambique. “Uma memória em três atos” (A Memory in Three Acts) is, as he puts it, an exercise in post-colonial remembrance.

By Teresa Althen

The starting point for this documentary film is the fact that this chapter in the history of Mozambique is not taught to young people in the nation’s schools. As he began researching, Cossa came to realize how difficult it is to access any archival materials on the subject. It is symptomatic of the way in which his country deals with the past, says the filmmaker, that it does not encourage a critical look at colonialism and hardly allows any public access to archival materials. Schools merely teach the conventional narrative of the great struggle for independence. “When you grow up, you realize there are different stories that don’t go along with the ‘truth’ taught in school,” he says. “You have to dig around a lot and struggle to find out our true history.” So Cossa’s film is largely based on the accounts of those who lived through this history and owes its intensity to the tradition of oral testimonies.

Working on the history of his country is both a challenge and a responsibility: “How can I stir up memories with the aid of material that was once used for propaganda purposes? How can a filmmaker use it to tell the story of a whole country, a whole generation?” The director seeks to build bridges and heal wounds with Uma Memória em Três Atos – and hopes that many other films about his country’s past will follow.

Most of the documentary films made in colonial contexts are now kept in European archives. And only a fraction of that footage was shot from the perspective of the colonized themselves. So to whom does this material really belong? To whom should it be accessible – and how? Why are some of these archives left to gather dust and what can be done about that? Archivists and filmmakers who work with archival footage address these questions in the following interviews.