CASiLaC War and Culture Seminar Series

15 Jun 2015
CASiLaC War and Culture Seminar Series

The Colonial Hotel: Luxury and Violence at the Grande Hotel in Beira, Mozambique, ca. 1950s-1960s

Dr. João Sarmento (Assistant Professor at the Geography Department, University of Minho, Portugal) with Dr. Denis Lenihan (School of Human Environment, UCC) will be held on Monday 15th June 2015 in the O'Rahilly Building, UCC, ORB1.24 at 12.00.

The Colonial Hotel: Luxury and Violence at the Grande Hotel in Beira, Mozambique, ca. 1950s-1960s

Colonial rule entailed multi-faceted physical, psychological and epistemic violence, which was expressed in diverse ways and sites. Colonial plantations, fortifications and prisons, to name just three, are among the most obvious physical sites of trauma and violence. Here policing, repression, punishment, body control were the norm. A more elusive site of violence is the Colonial Hotel, a common feature of the built and social landscapes of many colonial cities, a space which participated heavily in the capitalist production of colonial spaces and one of the institutions of colonialism. The Colonial Hotel constituted a centrepiece of colonial representations. It has often featured as a centerpiece of film and novels, discourses and practices focusing on sophistication, technology, progress, order and civility, which often triggered nostalgic views of cities, buildings, lifestyles, sweet colonial remembering and an imagined benign past.  Contrasting with the above mentioned spaces, the Colonial Hotel cloaks the colonial project in progress and charm, promoting various emotional attachments, responsible for ways of knowing, being and doing the colony. Nevertheless, it is here argued, the Colonial Hotel is an equally exclusionary and unemancipatory site.

Accompanied by the growth of tropical modernism, the Grande Hotel in Beira, Mozambique, a colonial project which started to be imagined in the early 1940s, was advertised in the 1950s as the most luxurious hotel south of the Sahara. The Hotel was a key site for travel and tourism, part of the beach and safaris environments seduction, and central to the internationalisation and modernisation of the city and colony. For economic reasons, partially related to the unsustainable nature of the investment, partially due to an international changing environment related to Rhodesia, the Grande Hotel closed abruptly (it was only open between 1955 and 1963). While various performances continued to take place in the Hotel, as parties, balls, swimming events, beauty contests, dinners, etc. helped to create routines and a sense of harmony for the elites in the city at large, violence and instability were always at the Hotel doorstep. As instability grew the Hotel constituted a comfort and a contact zone where the white bourgeoisie encountered space for romance, intimacy, sport, social gathering, business, and for everyday normality.

The after-life of the Hotel reveals an enduring decay, as the site hosted the military and more recently a growing number of families (between 2000-3000 residents). While this paper is neither about ruins and poverty, it attempts to reconstruct, mostly through the analysis of disperse but detailed archival materials, the cultural geographies that were present in the construction and functioning of the hotel and city at large. On the one hand, embedded in the processes of the Hotel construction, functioning, closing and ‘post-mortem’ life we can find the larger issues at stake that characterise the inherent violences attached to the colonial project. On the other hand, by reconstructing the aspirations, performances, discourses and imagined geographies enveloping the Hotel, we can discuss the ways in which the hotel's modernism is an inverse representation of the violence in the colony.

CASiLaC War and Culture Seminar Series in collaboration with the School of the Human Environment

School of Languages, Literatures & Cultures

Teangacha, Litríochtaí agus Cultúir

College Road, Cork