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Diccionarios Shironga-Portuguez e Portuguez-Shironga / Precedidos de uns breves elementos de grammatica do dialecto shironga, falado pelos indigenas de Lourenço Marques.



The first comprehensive and the earliest separately issued dictionary of the Ronga (ShiRonga) language, a Bantu tongue spoken by the indigenous people of the Maputo region of Mozambique and some neighbouring areas of South Africa, by Ernesto Torre do Valle (aka Mavulanganga), the coal baron who became deeply immersed in Ronga culture; includes a guide to Ronga grammar, a short history of the language and people, a Portuguese-Roga dictionary and a Ronga-Portuguese dictionary (importantly including vernacular terms, or ‘street language’), plus, a fascinating list of the Ronga names of dozens of Lourenço Marques’s European residents; published in the Mozambiquan capital by the state press; an association copy inscribed by the author to Rear Admiral Augusto Vidal de Castilho, the former Governor-General of Mozambique – very rare.


4° (23.5 x 15.5 cm): 320 pp., 2 ff., preserving original printed front wrapper, bound in modern quarter blue calf over blue patterned boards, gilt title to spine, author’s manuscript dedication to Rear Admiral Augusto Vidal de Castilho, the former Governor-General of Mozambique, to title (Very Good, overall clean and bright, just the odd light printer’s crease and some spotting to front wrapper and title).



Ronga (sometimes ShiRonga, GiRonga, or XiRonga) is a Bantu language of the Twsa-Ronga branch spoken by the Ronga people of the Delgoa Bay (Maputo) region of far southern Mozambique and some adjacent parts of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.  The Ronga today number almost a million people, of which around 650,000 in Mozambique speak Ronga as their mother tongue, while there are about 90,000 speakers in South Africa.  The Ronga language is like, and intelligible with, Tsonga and Tswa.  Ronga is sometimes referred to in old works as ‘Landim’, an archaic Portuguese term.

Like many Sub-Saharan African languages, Ronga was traditionally exclusively oral in nature.  While the Ronga were the people with the longest and most intense contact with Europeans of all the indigenous nations of the east coast of Africa, it was only in the 1890s that the first serious academic efforts were made to study their language.

The pioneer of formal Ronga studies was the Swiss missionary and philologist Henri-Alexandre Junod (1863 – 1934), who arrived in the Lourenço Marques area in 1889.  He was instrumental in seeing Ronga adapted to writing, following the same modified Latin alphabet developed by Methodist missionaries for Tsonga (this alphabet would be altered slightly in 1989).

Missionaries were responsible for the first books regarding, and written in, Ronga, with important early titles including Junod’s Grammaire Ronga (Lausanne, 1896) and Chants et les contes des ba ronga (Lausanne, 1897) and Henri Berthoud’s Evangeli ya Yohan ni Papela ḍa ku sungula ḍa Muapostola Paulus ku ba-Korinthe hi Šiṛong… (London, 1896), a translation of the Gospel of John, which was the first proper book entirely in Ronga.

Of direct relevance to the present work, the first steps towards creating a comprehensive Ronga dictionary were E.W. Smith Delacour’s A Shironga Vocabulary, Or Word-book on the Language of the Natives in the District of Delagoa Bay … (London, 1893) and Alberto Carlos de Paiva Raposo’s ‘Diccionario da lingua landina, português, inglês, landim’ (Lisbon, 1901), published’ in the form of a 76-page-long article in O Boletim da Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa.  Critically, while Paiva’s work was noble endeavour, it was far from being a comprehensive dictionary.


The Present Work in Focus

The present work is the first comprehensive dictionary of the Ronga language, in this case a dual Ronga-Portuguese / Portuguese-Ronga dictionary.  It is a groundbreaking work in that it not only includes the seminal elements of vocabulary, but also features many ‘slang’ terms, used by the Ronga people of Lourenço Marques in daily, informal conversation (Torre do Valle had such interactions with Ronga workers, friends, and family members every day). 

In the ‘Prefacio’, Torre do Valle notes that his work is not “scientific in character” but is rather “without pretensions of any kind”.  He recalls that he “worked for more than two years, often uninterrupted” on the dictionary, that its purpose was to be a practical aid to Portuguese people in Mozambique to communicate with the Ronga people in the manner of the street, and vice versa, as opposed by being an academic work, or, one of the parlance of formal meetings.

He notes how the dictionary incudes words of “a manifest foreign origin”, as Ronga was mixed with European languages, such that it was now “contaminated by foreign influences”, especially in Lourenço Marques, where the language seemed to “change daily”.

The work features several sections, of which ‘Da lingua Shironga’ (pp. 9 – 12), introduces the language.  The ‘Elememtos de Grammatica’ (pp. 15 – 36), explains the basics of Ronga, influenced by Junod, whom Torre do Valle refers to as “the Master”.


On page 41 there is a Specimen of a letter written in Ronga, while the section ‘Leve esboço da historia dos Baronga’ (pp. 45 – 48), provides a short history of the Ronga people (who were then often referred to by the Portuguese as the ‘Baronga’).

The body of the text is comprised of the ‘Diccionario Shironga-Portuguez’ (pp. 51 – 175) and the ‘Diccionario Portuguez-Shironga’ (pp. 179 – 315).

One of the most interesting aspects of the work is the Appendice / Contendo uma interessante resenha dos principaes cognomes ou alcunhas, pelos quaes são conhecidos entre os indigenses alguns antigos e modernos residentes em Lourenço Marques’ (Appendix / Containing an interesting review of the main cognomens or nicknames by which some ancient and modern residents of Lourenço Marques are known among indigenous people) (pp. 317-20), which provinces the Ronga names given to dozens of the Mozambican capital’s most prominent European citizens.  It was a great honour for a Ronga chief to grant a foreigner a name in their language, as it was a sign of the upmost respect and friendship.  Many Portuguese in Lourenço Marques, like Torre do Valle, wore their local names with pride.

One will, at first glance, be surprised that the present work was published in Lourenço Marques, as it is of a high print quality, with sharp typography commonly, on glossy paper, unlike the rather crude form of most works printed in the city up to the time.  A voluminous book, apart from a few minor errors, it has the superficial appearance of being printed in Lisbon.  Torre do Valle admits that creating the book was a great struggle for the government press in Lourenço Marques, as near the end of the work he writes that “The Imprensa Nacional was not qualified to produce a work of this nature, which resulted in lengthy or sometimes less perfect execution”, yet he thanked the printers for doing their best with the “deficiency of the typographic material they could dispose of”.

Importantly, the present example of the work is inscribed and signed in manuscript by the author, dedicated to Rear Admiral Augusto Vidal de Castilho Barreto e Noronha (1841 – 1912), the former Governor-General of Mozambique (1885-9), the Governor of Porto, and the future Portuguese Minster of the Navy & Colonies (serving in 1908).


Ernesto Torre do Valle / Mavulanganga: An Enlightened Portuguese Advocate of the Ronga People and Culture

The author, Ernesto Torre do Valle (c. 1865 – 1909), often known by his Ronga name, Mavulanganga (meaning ‘the one who opens a breast with single punch’) was a fascinating figure.  Born in modest circumstances in Portugal, he migrated to Mozambique around 1888 to work on the Lourenço Marques-Transvaal Railway (completed 1894).  He was later described by a friend as “a tall, slender figure, slightly curved, with a long face and huge sideburns, bushy eyebrows and very thick hands, one of the white people who arrived in the belly of ships transported like cattle to work on the railroad”.  However, not long after he arrived in Mozambique, he spotted a great business opportunity, buying coal from whole sellers and then distributing it to the women who hawked the product on the streets of Lourenço Marques.  He rapidly made vast profits, which allowed him to purchase a large coal whole seller, as well as a considerable logistics operation at the city’s port.  By the turn of the century, he was immensely wealthy.  He was one of the founders of the Lourenço Marques Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Governor’s Council, representing the Mozambican capital.

Unlike many (but certainly not all) Europeans in Mozambique, who kept their distance from the locals, in what was an Apartheid-like colonial system, Torre do Valle had a deep love and admiration for the Ronga people and culture and was immersed in its society.  He learned the language toiling side by side with local black labourers and socialized with them after work.  He married a Ronga woman, and his children were thus of mixed race.  He was known for treating his black workers with kindness and respect and was a tireless advocate for black civil rights in Mozambique.  His work, authored by Torre do Valle as ‘Mavulanganga’, A Rusga. Carta aberta ao Exmo Sr. Delegado e Procurador da Corôa e Fazenda, Curador dos Orphãos, serviçaes e indígenas (Lourenço Marques, 1900), is an articulate and impassioned call for the colonial authorities to improve their treatment of the indigenous people.

While Torre do Valle had virtually no formal education, being entirely ‘self-taught’, he was highly intelligent and came to have advanced academic skills.  Creating the present dictionary was for years Torre do Valle’s passion project, and its quality benefitted from his extensive practical experience with how Ronga was spoken on the street, and not just how it was employed in formal affairs.

He was a major patron of the emerging Ronga intellectual class in Lourenço Marques, and his closest friend was João dos Santos Albasini (1876 – 1922), the pioneering black journalist and writer who in 1908 founded O Africano, the first black-run newspaper in Lourenço Marques.  A leading civil rights campaigner and proponent of Mozambican identity, Albasini is today hailed as one of the forefathers of the Mozambican independence movement.

Sadly, in 1908, Torre do Valle’s health deteriorated, likely due to 20 years of working on industrial sites in tropical Africa.  He departed for Madeira, to regain his form, but tragically passed away not long thereafter.  Albasini was left to watch over his family, a charge he took very seriously for the rest of his years.

Torre do Valle’s legacy is not only this fine dictionary, but his life served as an example of what European-African relations could, or rightly should, have been.


A Note on Rarity

The present work is very rare.  It would have had only a limited print run, while the survival rate of books published in Mozambique during its era is low.  It is difficult to gauge the number of institutional examples, as the electronic copies are comingled with real examples on Worldcat.  However, it seems that there are only a handful of examples of the work in libraires worldwide, held by the likes of the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Library of Congress, and Harvard University Library.  Moreover, we cannot trace any records for other examples as having appeared on the market in the last 25 years.


References: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal: L. 6866 V. and L. 55745 V.; Library of Congress: PL8607.R734 T67 1906; Harvard University Library: Old Widener 2235.58.12.7; OCLC: 474990310, 7538007.  Cf. Rosemary GALLI, Peoples’ Spaces and State Spaces: Land and Governance in Mozambique (Lanham, Md.), pp. 105-130; Harry GOFF, A Bibliography of African Languages and Linguistics (1969), p. 110; L.J. LOUWRENS, ‘Contributions made by the Portuguese to the Development of Bantu Linguistics between 1500 and 1917’, Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies, vol. 18, nr. 3, 1988., pp. 29-33; Jeanne Marie PENVENNE, ‘João Dos Santos Albasini (1876-1922): The Contradictions of Politics and Identity in Colonial Mozambique’, The Journal of African History, vol. 37, no. 3 (1996), pp. 419–64.

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