When a Mozambican Woman Gave Birth in a Tree

Written by | Features

At the start of the new millennium, Mozambique found itself pounded by weeks of excess rainfall and a series of disasters.

From late 1999, the southern African country suffered one disaster after the next, receiving the equivalent of an annual rainfall in a mere two weeks. The rain filled the rivers and wiped away homes, especially after three major rivers, including the Limpopo River, burst their banks. It was the worst such flooding in the country in over 50 years, and it was just about to get bizarre.

In February 2000, the disaster went a notch higher when Cyclone Eline made landfall. Whatever the months of flooding had left standing, the cyclone blew away. Thousands of people were trapped on the few remaining structures such as trees and stone buildings. Over 800 people died and hundreds of thousands lost their homes. Then in March 2000, something spectacular happened in the village of Chockwe, 100 miles from Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique.

As a helicopter crew worked to rescue tens of people trapped in one tree, one of them spotted a pregnant woman in the late stages of labour. The 26 year-old woman, Sofia Chubango, had been in the tree for three days. By the time the labour pains began, she was hungry and exhausted and there was little hope of being rescued. 

The labour pains had actually stated on a different tree. Sofia’s stepmother arranged to have her carried to a different tree where a local woman experienced in childbirth was perched, waiting for rescue. So the heavily pregnant was carried across the trees. There, the combined effects of the labour pains and the days of exhaustion made her come in and out of consciousness as she lay on a branch barely a meter from the water level.

Hope finally came in the form of a rescue helicopter doing the rounds in the region. By the time the crews got to her, however, the new life inside her was already on the way and there was no waiting.But nature’s machinations are often on their own time-clock and wait for no one, even a rescue crew. So the tree became a makeshift maternity bed, and a new human being began her ardous journey into a flooded world.

Sofia Chubango’s story became the epitome of resilience in the middle of a disaster. It also attracted international attention to the raging disaster and plight of the Mozambican people. As the South African army flew a medic in to cut her umbilical cord and fly her to safety barely an hour later, the bizarre birth story marked a ray of light in what had been months of grim hopelessness. The newborn girl, now in her early teenage, was named Rositha Pedro. Her first name is from her grandmother, Sofia’s stepmother, with whom she was trapped on tree on that bizarre day in March, 2000. 

Last modified: April 16, 2015

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