THE QUEIMADAS

We’re coming into the most dangerous time of the year for the Nhamacoa Forest now – a time called The Queimadas (the burnings).

The Queimadas usually take place at the end of winter and beginning of summer (August/September/October) when the vegetation is tinder dry and the grass is tall and yellow. It’s a cultural thing and has always been practiced by the Mozambicans to clear their fields for planting before the rains start.

Everywhere you look you see people lighting fires and because these fires often aren’t controlled, they get out of hand and cause terrible damage and even loss of life.

Unfortunately, children like to take advantage of this time of the year to start a fire just for fun or to catch rats and others will even deliberately stoop to arson.

Here in the Nhamacoa, we’ve been set on fire every year. So far we’ve been lucky and always managed to get to them before they have destroyed too much.

The worst thing about the Queimadas is that they occur at the time of year when animals produce young and sadly, many little creatures too young to run end up being burnt to death.

This happened to some weaver birds when we first came to the Nhamacoa.

It was a hot October day and some women opening a field not far from us started a fire which grew into a quite terrifying inferno. We started back-burning in an effort to protect ourselves and as I watched the flames roaring towards us, I saw it begin to engulf a tree which was laden down with weaver’s nests. Inside these nests were little weavers, too young to fly.

In terrible agitation, a mass of parent weaver birds circled frantically above the tree, unable to do anything to save their young and then, as the flames rose up it, the weavers settled in another tree and watched their nests and offspring burn. When it was all over and nothing was left except the blackened and smouldering remains of the tree, the weavers rose up in a great group and flew away. And to this day, this particular type of weaver has never again made its nest in the Nhamacoa.

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