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Cuamba was created by the Niassa Company, a royal charter company in what was then known as Portuguese East Africa. The land concession of the Niassa Company extended from 1891 and 1929, and it established a military outpost initially called Kuamba in this period. The name referred to a small kingdom in the area, and Cuamba became the official name of the settlement in 1937. Its name was changed to Nova Freixo in 1952, a reference to the city of Freixo de Espada à Cinta, Portugal, the birthplace of Sarmento Rodrigues (1899-1979), the colonial governor-general of Mozambique. The town reverted to its original name of Cuamba in 1976, and was elevated to city status in 1971.
The town is home to the School of Agriculture of the Catholic University of Mozambique.
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