This project documents intangible cultural heritage and skills that are disappearing in Tanga. We talked to farmers and fishermen, about their lives, hopes and knowledge. This AHRC project began in December 2016 with chats on the beach, under the baobab tree, with a group of 6 older fishermen. There were also 3 women there, not on bicycles, there to buy fish for their (extended) families. They cooked a small amount of surplus, to sell later in the evening in Tanga market, about five miles away. There was a confident outspoken woman (Zawadi) who never mentioned a husband: I liked her, she was there every day, on the tides, buying up fish and really knew her species, her markets, and how to present the best cuts to get maximum profits (about £1.50 a day).
Zawadi Jumanene, 35, mother of 3, working as a fish collector and seller since the age of 15 when she left home and started up alone on the beach in Michokeni (photo Copyright Jenny Matthews)
Our research took place in a small coastal hamlet Mwambani/ Mkocheni, of about 3000 people, just outside Tanga town, Tanzania. Tanga town is situated within Tanga region; Mwambani/Tanga village in Tanzania is the end point for the $1.5-billion Chinese funded, (Hoima/Uganda- Tanzania) pipeline.
Zawadi and her colleagues go through the scraps left in the nets for smaller, young fish which are fried immediately and sold my the roadside as cheap snacks. Michokuni, November 2019. Copyright Jenny Matthews
Satellite map of Tanga to zoom in on: https://satellites.pro/#-4.549046,41.610718,7
Google maps Tanga: https://www.google.com/maps/@-5.093822,38.111839,532351m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en-GB
Using the material: talking about painful and dehumanizing issues
Another element of this project, is understanding how centuries of looking at slavery from a European perspective has fundamentally moulded our reactions in the UK.
Our research team- all Tanzanian- took copies the photos above to a group of people in Tanga.
We knew that slavery is taught in very little detail as part of the Tanzanian curriculum, but our interviews reveal that large chunks were missing. You can listen to some of the interviews HERE.
Many conversations emerged, over three months using participant observation, and the following prompts:
(Thanks to Aaron Jaffer at Royal Museums Greenwich)
- Have you seen an object/photograph/picture like this before? If so, where and when?
- Can you tell us anything about what is show in the photographs/pictures, including anything about…
- How do they make you feel?
- How do you think our museum should display these objects? What stories would you use them to tell?
These and other objects/images relating to East African history can be viewed online for free HERE.
Of the photographs that elicited most reactions – tears, sorrow, stunned silences were the ones of the young person chained to a block of wood he had to carry. Many of our interviewees had relatives that walked hundreds and sometimes 1000’s of miles to get to Tanga for work. One of our interviewees recounts his grandfather telling him stories of walking from the interior HERE.
But crucially, also, Tanzania’s historical role in slavery informs us why and how people were keen to disassociate themselves from the trade- either as slavers or traders- by establishing their Swahili identity, which is a shortcut for saying that they were not forced to be on the coast, they were not traded, but were established here. Equally, one woman who has Omani ancestors felt unable to talk about her family’s business as slave traders, too upset and embarrassed to go into detail.
Slavers Revenging Their Losses, mid-late 19th C. (c) Royal Museums Greenwich collection
For downloadable teachers pack on how to use this material HERE
For a downloadable toolkit on how to undertake oral history about really sensitive issues, HERE
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT OF THE RESEARCH
After speaking to the fishermen and women, I had a preliminary discussion with an experienced Tanzania land rights lawyer, about the poverty and lack of land deeds in the Tanga coastal region, and the impending construction of a port and pipeline to process and transport liquid natural gas and oil.
Evictions and construction began in Tanga in 2013 and 2018 respectively, although the enormous projected gains from oil and liquid natural gas from Uganda to Tanzania, carried down a transport ‘corridor’ are yet to materialise. Mooted as one of the largest projects, ever, in Africa, the belt and road initiative includes maritime – road shipping lanes, railways, roads, a new port, an oil processing plant, and linked media, education, mining and military policies. At present however (June 2021) only the port in Tanga has been dredged. There is uncertainty about whether this ambitious massive Chinese international development initiative will happen within the projected time frames, if it happens at all.
There was so much about this small world that fascinated me: how did men get work every day? Were they unionized, in co-operatives? Where did they learn such in depth fishing skills? How did they remember where the fish were and which moons they would rise with? Who was still making these old boats? Why was there no place that celebrated the incredible knowledge and experience they had? Why was there no proper market place, it was all done on the floor, on the beach.
After every fishing trip the net has to be detangled, repaired and laid out for the next trip. This method is called long net fishing: two boats cast out the nets and gradually draw closer, bringing the nets, and the fish in with them. The holes are relatively large, so all young fish escape, making this much more sustainable than the EU and Chinese trawlers that also (illegally) fish here. Mzee Peter, Mwambani 2019, copyright Jenny Matthews
How many people were involved in this informal, precarious lifestyle, and how could it survive, if the trees that were used for boat-building were being pulled down, if the fish in the seas were so dramatically depleting, if the port and oil processing plants were scheduled to be built where they fish?
In June 2019 we finally received an AHRC grant to document the stories of a small village on the Tanga coast. I know this area very well, I’ve been going to the same house (which is opposite the baobab tree) since 2012. Now I was living in it, and listening to the calls, jokes, arguments of the fishermen leaving on dawn tides, and sounds of boats being weather-proofed.
Boats are weatherproofed by burning eucalytpus or other oily trees below the hulls. This draws out the natural resins in the wood, but also closes up the porous holes in the wood. Copyright Jenny Matthews
The focus of our research has seven strands:
- To document the skills and knowledge in this small community and look at how they inter-connect, so for example how boat-building, rush-weaving and fishing are all interlinked, as they all support each other.
- To start with land and sea as resources, and look at how they are used by people in material ways. From there to draw out the cultural and symbolic practices, behaviours that are unique to the Swahili coast. For example unyago, medicinal healing, witchcraft and kanga.
Sophia Kinogo cutting up spinach she’s grown in her garden for supper, 2020, copyright Jenny Matthews
- Tease out the stories and knowledge stored in people’s heads (not written down) in the area and think about positive ways to honour them, draw constructive attention to them and feed some of it back to younger members of the community.
- Explore what modernity and modernising (Mandaeleo) means in this context to people living in this area.
Mzee Namna, fisherman, Mchokuni beach January 2020, making rope out of a thick reed, that is time consuming and water-hungry to grow. It has largely been replaced with nylon ropes. Sisal, grown widely in the area, was also spun into ropes, and 1000’s of people lost their jobs on the sisal plantations when nylon factories emerged in the late 60’s and 70’s in Tanzania. Sisal ropes- made in homes- were on sale in the markets as recently as 2012. Copyright Jenny Matthews 2020
- To work proactively with organisations involved in Swahili marine cultural heritage (other NGOs, the museum sector) to find ways to celebrate Swahili cultural heritage, over and above buildings. Influence policy and decision making and promote ICH.
Mama Mwamvua, who’s in her 80’s collects a particular type of thin rush that is now harder to find (because it’s very thirsty and this land is now being used to grow rice). To make this food cover takes several weeks, and is very labour intensive. None of her kids want to learn this skill. Mwambani 2020, copyright Jenny Matthews
- To focus on women’s stories. Too often research projects mainstream the male experience, without even realising it. It’s slightly harder to get women to collaborate in Tanzania, however our small research team was predominantly female, run by women, and we went out of our way to find younger and older women to listen and talk with. We also tried to work as much as possible in Swahili.
An undated and untitled photo from the sisal plantations, in Tanga province, with the railway tracks in the foreground. Sophia Kinhogo says they remember their parents having good memories of working on the plantations: work came with housing and was secure, reliable and relatively well paid.
- To explore the history of the area (slavery, the use of ‘uchavi’ and witchcraft, the groundnut and sisal schemes) through the eyes of people who still live there, and can recount their experiences. Currently the history of Tanga is mediated predominantly through a colonial lens, or prisms of white European knowledge production, when in fact there is a huge amount of information, knowledge and discussion alive and kicking in Tanga.
- To create a series of policy recommendations that can be used by UNESCO that will start the conversation to create much greater appreciation, funding and recognition of Swahili intangible heritage. You can read the UNESCO document HERE.
Youth unemployment, disillusion and depression is rampant in Mwambani; fishing and boatbuilding are dying trades, so are thatching and farming. Many young people tell us they want to be mganga – traditional healers. There’s few vocational training opportunities in the locality, and a chronic lack of jobs since the fish processing plant shut down. Elders talk a great deal about the poor opportunities for work, education or training for the majority of the population who are under 30. Copyright Jenny Matthews 2020
What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?
Physical cultural heritage is stuff we can hold, touch, look at: baskets, beads, pottery, jewellery, mosques, historic ruins, tombs, gold and sculpture. Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is harder to define. At its most basic, it’s stories, ideas, knowledge, experience, the stuff in peoples’ heads. It can also be habits, rituals, practices, dances, ‘the way things are done’ so that it includes behaviours like hospitality or discretion that are particular to a certain group. ICH is often more fragile, and more contested, and more political, because it’s harder to define, and often it’s dominant elites who determine ICH, at the expense of those unable to access books, writing, official record keeping and institutional cultural sites.
‘Ngoja ngoja, inaomiza matumbo’
A long wait hurts the stomach
Gathering information about intangible heritage is time consuming, labour intensive, and therefore slow. Immaterial or intangible cultural heritage is defined as
“[…] The practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history(ies).
[…]Emphasis is not only placed on the objects, but also in the context that grants them meaning, including the information of ecological, economical, climatic and geographical type of the archaeological area, which allows for an interpretive framework of the culture and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity” .
Our research took intangible cultural heritage to be interpreted as any one, or combination of many, of the following:
- Languages and oral expressions.
- Knowledge and practices on nature and the universe.
- Culinary knowledge.
- Traditional medicine.
- Elaboration of objects, instruments, wardrobes, constructions and corporal ornamentation.
- Musical and sound expressions.
- Dance expressions.
- Ritual, scenic and ceremonial expressions; festival acts, games and sports.
- Traditional forms of social, legal and political organization. (Baron 2008)
Zawadi (27) also left Arusha to start a new life as a taxi driver when he was 15. He wants to start a poultry business. He was our driver for this project and part of the team.