“We learnt what it means to do Interdisciplinary Research” University of Dar es Salaam Students Narrate

Elgidius Ichumbaki, Edward Pollard, Jean-Christophe Comte

The Kisima Project

A team of researchers consisting of coastal archaeologists, hydrologists and cultural heritage management scholars have returned from fieldwork on Kilwa Kisiwani Island, in southern Tanzania where they are implementing the Kisima Project. The Kisima Project funded by the Rising from the Depth Network administered by the University of Nottingham investigates the possible links between freshwater conditions (presence, absence, salinity) in the stone-lined historic water wells and the economic rise and fall of a maritime community in East Africa. As part of capacity building, fieldwork for the Kisima Project involved students from the University of Dar Es Salaam (UDSM) to provide them hands-on experience of some of the theories they learn in class. UDSM’s Archaeology and Heritage Management programmes’ students namely Claudia Lubao, Neema Munisi, Hassan Juma, Betuel Mbogoro, Irene Reuben, and Javern Sabas share their experiences.

On the final fieldwork day, Elgidius Ichumbaki asked these students to share experiences gained from participating in the Kisima project field activities. Their joint response was, ‘we learnt what it means to undertake interdisciplinary research.’

They explained that the experience gained from working with a team of professionals was exceptional as they never had such a chance before. “Working with the hydrologists, archaeologists and maritime heritage scholars from Tanzania, France, Britain and Ireland confirmed what I recently heard from one of my instructors that ‘the best research projects must be multidisciplinary’” said Javern Sabas, one of the participating students pursuing BA Heritage Management.

Regardless of whether it was one’s first, second, or third time to visit Kilwa Kisiwani, they expressed their perceptions that the visit this time was special. “…. having studied at the University of Dar es Salaam for three years and having heard about Kilwa Kisiwani in six of the thirty-two courses I have studied, it was a shame that I had have no opportunity to visit Kilwa. Kisima project has quenched my thirst to visit Kilwa and learn about the Swahili civilization”, Irene Reuben, another group member narrated.

Cementing the same point, Claudia Lubao said, ‘…. I have visited Kilwa Kisiwani about three times, but my experience this time is different.  Visiting the families in Kisiwani, sharing food with them in their homes, as well as discussing issues about Kilwa history made me see another side of Kilwa Kisiwani that I didn’t know.’

Claudia Lubao (in the middle) discussing various project issues with a group of women from Kilwa Kisiwani.

Figure 1: Claudia Lubao (in the middle) discussing various project issues with a group of women from Kilwa Kisiwani.

Photo by E. Ichumbaki

Intervening the conversations, Irene Reuben added…. ‘although I have attended two practical training in archaeology, I have never been given opportunity to practice some of the skills such as undertaking mapping, interacting with local people to record their narratives as well as working together with other fellow students to address particular topics. Working together with the hydrogeologists gave me an exceptional experience.’

Likewise, another student explains how taking part in the project triggered a passion for becoming a professional photographer. “One of my interests has been to produce images that communicate a particular message to people of all walks of life. It came as a surprise to learn that I was supposed to capture images of various wells we mapped and excavated as implementation of the project continued” Hassan Juma, another team member informs.

Hassan Juma taking a photo of a historic well at one of the monument in Kilwa Kisiwani

Figure 2: Hassan Juma taking a photo of a historic well at one of the monument in Kilwa Kisiwani

Photo by E. Ichumbaki

Of much interest was to learn that the project changed some of perceptions they had regarding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects as one of the students narrated. “The belief of many students in Tanzania is that ‘science and engineering subjects are hard to pursue.’ Participating in Kisima project has allowed me to question this wisdom! For nearly one week I managed to learn how to record geographic coordinates and elevation of wells using a differential GPS, configuring and installing groundwater loggers in the wells, and using these instruments to understand changing water level, salinity, and temperature. These methods are commonly regarded as ‘too scientific’ to be accomplished by students undertaking arts subjects. In fact, it is not very complicated to do ‘science’ as part of a multidisciplinary project” informs Javern Sabas, another project member.

Javern Sabas (in the middle) listening to Dr. Jean-Christophe Comte (right) from the University of Aberdeen and Dr. Simon Melchioly (left) from UDSM.

Figure 3: Javern Sabas (in the middle) listening to Dr. Jean-Christophe Comte (right) from the University of Aberdeen and Dr. Simon Melchioly (left) from UDSM.

Photo by E. Ichumbaki

The students have gone further to explain their interactions and engagements with some members of the local community. “I could not believe that the local people were eager to learn about our research topic and give constructive comments. Within a short period of our stay, some local people became aware of our research, gave ideas and advised strategies of how to collect data. Kisima Project has allowed me to physically witness the practice of ‘community archaeology’ I learnt in class” narrated Betuel Edson, another group member.

Agreeing with Betuel, Claudia Lubao added, “Kisima Project has enabled me to interact with fishermen and fish with them. Being the only woman in a team of six men fishing in a traditional boat, and listening to the songs fishermen sing or narrate as they travel from the beach to the ocean, undertake fishing activities, navigate back to the beach, land their dhows, and sell fish on the beach was the first time I experienced these activities.”

On a similar note, Neema Munisi comments that “local people’s narratives, myths, stories, beliefs, and customs about ancient wells are very interesting and must have contributed to preserving wells and ensuring sustainable water use.” She further narrates that “…. for me seeing beads that are made from the local aragonite minerals was exciting and evidence of the highest level of civilization of Kilwa people during the ancient times”.

The students also faced challenges during fieldwork, and they expressed the troubles they went through. ‘Some local people asked for money before they talked to me and others were not ready to hold discussions. I did not have money to offer them’ says Claudia Lubao.

Neema Munisi (left) and Irene Reuben (right) filling well survey forms

Figure 4: Neema Munisi (left) and Irene Reuben (right) filling well survey forms

Photo by E. Ichumbaki

On her side, Irene Reuben notes that “…people had perceptions that our movement from one well to another, asking them about the problems associated with water, and establishing archaeological trenches nearby the wells would directly improve their water access, hence, solve their water shortage problem. Indeed, it was a disappointment for the local people to learn that our research will not immediately solve their acute problem despite being a first step towards it.”

Language was another challenge the students faced as they were collecting ethnographic information. Claudia Lubao narrates that ‘some elders code-mixed and code-switched Kiswahili and their local languages, the later of which was unclear to me’.

“For me, the difficult moment was when I interacted with a boy; a student at Kilwa Muslim College. He completely ignored me and would not answer my questions. When I asked him about his name, he responded that his name is ‘mume wangu’ meaning he is my husband. Such response was a disappointment, but it did not stop me from carrying on with the interview”, says Irene Reuben.

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