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Gungunhana: Mia Couto revives historic figure with connections to Terceira Island


After winning the most prestigious award for the Portuguese language, Camões Prize for Literature, Mia Couto announced that Gungunhana, a historic figure with connections to Terceira Island, is going to be the main character of his next novel. 

Ngungunyane, also known as Gungunhana Reinaldo Frederico Gungunhana, was a tribal king and vassal of the Portuguese Empire, who rebelled and was defeated by General Joaquim Mouzinho de Albuquerque. He lived the rest of his life in exile, first in Lisbon and later in Terceira Island, in the Azores.


Gungunhana was the last dynastic emperor of the Empire of Gaza, a territory that now is part of Mozambique. Nicknamed the Lion of Gaza, he reigned from 1884 to  1895, when he was imprisoned by Joaquim Mouzinho de Albuquerque in the fortified village of Chaimite. As the European press looked on, the Portuguese colonial administration decided to exile him instead of sending him to face a firing squad.

He was transported to Lisbon, accompanied with his son Godide and other dignitaries, and then transferred to the Azores where he died eleven years later. He learnt to read and write in the island and was converted to Christianity. He was baptized with the name of Reynaldo Frederico Gungunhana. On June 15, 1985, during the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of Mozambique independence, the Presidents Ramalho Eanes and Samora Machel accepted the transladation of Gungunhana remains to Maputo Fortress.

Mia Couto has been writing this new book for a year now. “Who really was this Gungunhana character?” is the question that the Mozambican writer pretends to answer with this book. 

Mia Couto, born in Beira, Mozambique, in 1955, is among the most prominent writers in Portuguese-speaking Africa. After studying medicine and biology in Maputo, he worked as a journalist and headed first the AIM news agency, then the daily newspaper Notícias de Maputo, and finally the weekly Tempo. Mia Couto has been awarded several important literary prizes and he is the best-selling author of 25 books and has been translated into 20 languages.

In 2002, a committee of African literary critics named his novel Sleepwalking Land one of the twelve best African books of the twentieth century. His novels have been awarded major literary prizes in Mozambique, Portugal, Brazil and Italy. He was the first African author to have received the Latin, Union Award of Romance Languages.


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