Linkages between Tangible and Intangible Heritage in Mkadini Village of Bagamoyo, Tanzania

This week, we have a guest blog from Miza Alex, an MA student who has provided a blog about their research in Bagamoyo.

Miza Alex, University of Dar es Salaam


My study details research carried out at Mkadini village in the Pwani (Coastal) region of Tanzania from February to May 2019. The study focused on the linkages between tangible and intangible heritage, whereas some of the research questions I envisage to address included why the management of several heritage sites in Africa have failed to link the two, hence, a failure to achieve intended goal of ensuring heritage sustainability (Chirikure 2013; Schmidt and Pikirayi 2016). Despite the inseparability of heritage sites and the spiritual attachment local people have for them, the management of several heritage sites particularly by government officials, antiquities and heritage professionals, have failed to recognize the intangible heritage embedded in these sites which local people value most (Ndoro 2001; Munjeri 2002; Ichumbaki 2015). Cultural heritage studies conducted in Tanzania have contributed to our understanding of the existence, management, conservation and protection of various cultural heritage assets in the country. However, these studies and management institutions have placed more emphasis on the tangible cultural heritage, while intangible cultural heritage has attracted less attention. Consequently, local people, heritage professionals and government officials have developed uses of tangible cultural heritage that is not linked to the intangible. As part of an intervention, my research intended to evaluate the perceptions of local people of the intangible heritage embedded in monumental ruins and the surrounding landscape against those imposed by the government and heritage professionals using Mkadini village in the historic town of Bagamoyo as the case study.

The study was conducted in Mkadini village, UTM 0482919/9294976. This is a fishing village located about 13km north of the 19th century historic port town of Bagamoyo in the Pwani (Coastal) region of Tanzania. There are two means to access Mkadini village. From Bagamoyo town, the village is accessible by two ways which is either by road or boat. By road it takes about one and half hours. By boat it depends with the type of the boat one opts to use. With a traditional boat that uses a sail, locally known as dau (dhow), it takes about two to three hours depending on the direction of the wind. On the other hand, the boat with an engine, it takes the maximum of two hours to reach the village. The selected study area provided an ideal case study for the following reasons. First, preservation of cultural heritage sites is heavily dependent on local taboos the management strategy implemented and practiced by the local people called Wakwere reveals power relations that silences, manipulates and uses local epistemologies to achieve sustainability. Second, compared to many other ruins and sites along the coast of central Tanzania, Mkadini has not been exposed to domestic or international tourism, and there are no associated businesses that generate income from it. This means that, the local people have not attached economic value to heritage sites that are located in their area. Third, the ruins and baobab trees in Mkadini village are close to one another and, as noted previous studies at the site (e.g. see Ichumbaki 2015), both the ruins and the baobab trees are used for spiritual practices. Therefore, the area provided the researcher with viable settings for applying the theoretical and practical methodology.

Analysis of the data obtained through in-depth interviews, focus group discussions, physical survey and mapping as well as observation and participation, revealed that local people value the, reef crest, baobab trees, the ruins of stone-built tombs not because of their external appearance but because of the spiritual practices (healing, rituals, offerings, etc.) they undertake either within or around these sites. In addition, local community in Mkadini Village believe that spiritual practices done at these sites, resolve community problems.

Some of the site with spiritual value recorded during physical survey includes the reef crest, locally named Binti Chanuo. The area is known in Kiswahili as Mzimu wa Binti Chanuo (the spirit of Binti Chanuo), Mzimuni (the spirit) of Kijiwe Mtu (reef looking like a person). The reef crest is located in the southern part of Mkadini Village and its UTM point is 483302/9295606. It is located on the western side of the sea and is at the northern end of the Ruvu River. This site is accessed by walking along the beach or, during high tide, by a dhow along the shore from Mkadini Village. The reef crest is 17m long and 8m wide. It is the most visible feature at the site, although there are other smaller reef crests. In the vicinity, there is a thick mangrove forest and a perennial stream called Chalawe River.

The local people interviewed said that Binti Chanuo is visited by people from the villages of Mkadini, Winde, Kijitokamba, Chalawe and Utondwe, as well as from Dar es Salaam, Bagamoyo and Kibaha. According to the local guide at the site, Mzimuni is mainly visited during what is locally known as Mfungo Tatu, which is when visitors clean all the spiritual sites so that their ancestors dwell there free from dirt. Some spiritual practices are also conducted to honour the ancestors and request their intervention to resolve various community problems. As in the case of other sites found in the village the visitors to the reef crest bring animal sacrifices with them, which are accompanied by traditional medicines, food, cooking vessels, fragrances and many other things to enable them to say prayers and offer spiritual practices. Locals’ narratives are supported by the cultural materials which were recorded during the physical surveys. The materials recorded from around the reef crest included white bottles, some of which contained liquids, scatters of coconut shells with some marks, coins and local ceramics. Other cultural materials included incense sticks, green and brown glass bottles, matchboxes, chicken feathers, plastic bottles which local communities identified to contain spiritual medicines.

Figure 1: Binti Chanuo reef crest where spiritual practices are conducted

Figure 1: Figure 1: Binti Chanuo reef crest where spiritual practices are conducted

The results of my study contradict the Government of Tanzania perceptions of what constitutes heritage whereby Tanzania’s Department of Antiquities legally mandated to protect the cultural heritage which values the monumental and aesthetic importance of heritage sites at the expense of their spiritual value, which local people greatly respect. Hence, it is where this study concluded that in order to achieve the sustainable conservation and management of heritage sites, government officials and scholars should consider the importance of the intangible heritage associated with monumental ruins and the surrounding landscape.

Back to All News