(2010) JLP 61: 81-108
This paper analyzes a land dispute between local residents and an adjacent national park in Mozambique. The disputed land is a mountain that is ascribed spiritual powers by the local population. The metaphor of the ‘landscape of powers’ is used to describe the position of various actors involved: the management of the National Park, government, traditional authorities, the spirits, and the local population, the latter being divided between tradition and Christianity.
At first sight, the management of the Park seems to have the strongest position and is able to impose its power on the mountain communities. On investigation, however, it becomes clear that the power of tradition pervades all other views of the landscape. Referring to Schoffeleers’ writings on ‘territorial cults’, the paper argues that as a ‘modern invader’ the management of the Park might be able to take over the political power on the mountain, but spiritual power will remain in the hands of the local ‘owners of the land’, and that they are able to impose the rules of tradition on external actors. Although people generally argue that the rules of tradition are defined by the ancestral spirits that reside in the area, it is argued here that the local dwellers are able to re-define these traditional rules and revitalize their power when this is judged to be necessary. Tradition then is equally invoked by traditionalists and Christians as a dynamic and powerful mechanism to defend their rights.