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Hidden Histories: untold stories of land and sea

Photos invariably reflect the owners of the cameras. We only see select viewpoints. Street scenes like this, and the photo below, suggest more questions than answers. Why are colonial rulers so interested in buildings? What are the people in the photos doing? What are they thinking? How did they earn their livings? How did they relax? Did anyone ask them if they wanted their photos taken?

And in the photo below, what did the soldiers feel about not even being issued shoes as part of their uniforms when the colonizers got leather boots? Cameras are, and were, expensive. Owned mostly by colonial occupiers, and reflecting their interests, concerns and agendas.

Africa and World War I | World War I | DW | 16.04.2014

PAGE 2 The Forgotten Tanzanian Soldiers

This photo – below- is incredible. It’s taken me several years to find any photos of Tanzanian soldiers. According to John Illife’s research, Germany had thousands of soldiers in southwest Tanzania 1916, out of whom 3000 where German and 15,000 were Tanzanians. Despite the people in the photos below having shoes, NONE of the Tanzanian soldiers’ names were recorded.

Askaris practice shooting World War I, Tanzania
Askaris (local soldiers) during shooting practice in German East Africa – now Tanzania

Our project is looking at the absences. So much is missing about what people (Tanzanian) did, thought and said in their own histories. The project aims to witness, document and co-create through podcasts, photos , testimonies and blogs areas of history. Focusing on the little, the daily… stuff that gets overlooked, and is often the stuff that women do, make, or use. We’re looking at the micro to investigate bigger themes. We’re rummaging around for lost skills and approaches, things that might get lost as we rush towards modernizing, maendaleo. Like the game of Bao, or African chess, or rope and carpet making:


Life changes, plastic is now everywhere in Tanga, replacing traditional materials. Things like corrugated iron are very popular and are replacing reed and rush roof. Once every house had a number of baskets, now they’re rare, replaced by these containers that cooking oil is sold in. So what happens to the people (women) who made makuti (reed and brush) roofs? How do they survive? Why has corrugated iron now become associated with modern living, forward thinking?

Tanzania, Tanga. Bi Asha (Asha Juma), seaweed farmer
No photo description available.


Hidden Histories, a collaborative oral history project recording the knowledge, skills and aspirations of Tanga people, Tanzania

Talking 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 would also cook a small amount of surplus, to sell later in the evening in Tanga market, about five miles away. There was a confident, slightly brazen 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 Jumane, fish-buyer and seller, Mwambani beach 2019 (photo Copyright Jenny Matthews)

There was so much about this small world that fascinated me: how did men get work every day? Were they unionized, in co-operatives? Why was there no proper market place, it was all done on the floor, on the beach. 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 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.

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

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.
Sophia Kinogo cutting up spinach she’s grown in her garden for supper, 2020
  • 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.

  • 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. We also want to explore what modernity and modernising (Mandaeleo) means in this context to people living in this area. This will involve making tangible the intangible, working with Tanga Museum, and bringing the research back to the community eventually so they can keep copies of the recordings and photos within their own communities.
Zawadi Jumane, collecting firewood from the mangroves, Mwambani 2020 copyright Jenny Matthews
  • 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. Focussing more on women’s inputs- through clothing, dance, cooking, working, farming, attitudes to work and modernising.
  • 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.
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
  • 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.
Youth unemployment, disillusion and depression is rampant in Mwambani; fishing is a dying trade, as is boat-building, 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.
  • To create a UNESCO document that will start the conversation to create much greater appreciation, funding and recognition of Swahili intangible heritage. You can read the UNESCO document here.

Early History in Tanga and Swahili identity

Tanga is typified by historical absences: it is less visibly ‘Swahili’ than some of the more distinctive coastal towns (Lamu, Stone Town, Pangani) with their Islamic architecture and small winding souks. Instead, Tanga is living testament to colonialism: German grid streets laid out in squares after being heavily bombed, and the hospital and school (built by the Germans) were the first in the country. The racially divided geography continues ‘soko uzunguni’ (whites market) and ngamiani, pictured below, which was a segregated black district until independence.

Ngamiani, Tanga, Tanzania |
Ngamiani, Tanga, Tanzania

Tanga has a large port that is currently (2020) being dredged by Chinese tankers. Contemporary Tanga, and Coastal Swahili intangible heritage, which is the focus of this project, can not be understood without understanding the history of invasions, resistance, global trade, imaginative re-purposing, hybridised cultures, the role of slavery, and Tanga populations varied adapting responses to these.

TANZANIA Tanga, sea port at indian ocean Stock Photo - Alamy
Tanga port is operating at a low capacity presently; one ship a week leaves on Monday to take fuel to Zanziabar, nad the occasional Chinese ship.
Tanzania, Tanga. Mwabane. Fisherman resting after a 14 hour stint of night fishing with no sleep. Photograph copyright Jenny Matthews 2019

Background: early beginnings

According to evidence at Olduvai Gorge and in the Manonga Valley, Tanzania is humanity’s place of origin. Recent research indicates Swahili coastal Neolithic culture and domestication of chickens, which in turn suggests extremely early trading between Africa from Asia. Stone artefacts over 25,000 years old have been reported from the Kuumi cave in Zanzibar, providing some of the earliest dates for coastal occupation in equatorial eastern Africa. (1)

Around CE 500 Bantu peoples, the ancestors of the majority of the modern population, began entering the area. There are important settlement and trading sites at Kilwa, Pangani, Mombassa, Lindi and Bagamoyo (further South than Tanga) dating from the 9th Century, and evidence of emerging growing indigenous. human settlements that were Islamic and used coral to build. (2)

Sea and land trading

Tanga owes its existence to using sea and land for its advantage. Trade in ambegris, ivory, gold, rhinoceros horn and ultimately slaves contributed to its establishment, and it was sustained by trade, intermarrying, sea travel, and the emergence of a layered, hybridised and complicated identity: “Coastal Swahili” from the Arabic “Sawahil” meaning coast. Artesenal fishing continues to be the mainstay of the majority of people’s lives on the coast. It is precarious, dangerous and no longer gives people a steady income. You can listen to Vuai Khamis talking about this HERE

Tanzania, Tanga. Mwabane. Fishing canoes on the beach; this beach is earmarked to be a built fish market. Until 1940 it was the unofficial site of slave trading according to one of our interviewees. Photograph copyright Jenny Matthews 2020

There is undoubtedly Arab influence in Tanga, in words (beit, shukran) and prominently in styles of celebration (Maulid) dress, song, food, dance, ideations around gender, and behaviour.

Tanzania, Tanga. Mwabane. Salama Bwanga and her friend, masseuses and unyago leaders, December 2019 Photograph copyright Jenny Matthews 2020

Arab coastal settlement and the introduction of Islam took place between CE 800 and 900. Around CE 1200 Yemenis, Iranians (from the Shiraz area), Indians and South Asians and Omanis settled in Zanzibar. The Yemenis built the earliest mosque in the southern hemisphere in Kizimkazi, the southernmost village of Zanzibar. A Kufic inscription on its mihrab bears the date AH 500, i.e. 1107 AD. (1). Using the alternating monsoon (Kaz kazi) winds to sail across the Indian Ocean, they landed at the sheltered harbours in Bagamoyo, Tanga and Zanzibar. There is also evidence, from ming dynasty pottery found in East Africa, of Chinese navigators along the east African Swahili coastal areas early as the 9th C AD.

Fishermen Mr Nevil and Peter, Tanzania, Tanga. Photograph copyright Jenny Matthews 2020

Boat building Marine Cultural Heritage

The significant skills of boat building (Dhows and Jihazis) were at their peak in this period. Today the boats are much smaller, carrying crews of between 1 and 12 men, and traditional boat builders are scarce. Tanga resident, and master boatbuilder and craftsman of over 40 years Vuai Khamis talks about boat-building HERE

Aswell as fishing, there are many associated jobs that women do, from cleaning fish to selling it informally on the beach, house to house, or taking into the city centre. These are highly precarious seasonal livelihoods, dramatically affected by over-fishing, climate change, a tiny tourism market and rising sea temperatures. Zawadi Jumane came to Tanga when she was 14 from inland, and has worked as a fish seller for 17 years. You can listen to her HERE

Tanzania, Tanga. Zawadi Jumnane, fish seller, photo copyright Jenny Matthews Januuary 2020

The Arab Slave Route and Beginnings of Slavery

read about Arab slave routes in more detail HERE in the teaching packs looking at the British Empire in East Africa.

By the 12th C People arriving in Tanga traded with an already established local network of highly organised and knowledgeable land based traders who had set up comprehensive caravan routes into the interior, as far as lake Nyasa (2). in collaboration with some of the coastal peoples of the mainland, they set up a slave trade, with parties of slavers raiding communities in the interior and driving people to local markets at such inland centres as Tabora. From there, they would be forced to walk 1000’s of miles, without their consent, and sold on to major centres at the ports. Although there is no pictoral or written evidence of the brutality of slavery from the earlier periods, the sophistication, layout and evident wealth of ruined cities (South of Tanga) in Songo Mnara, Mafia and Kilwa Kisiwani suggest highly stratified indigenous societies and prosperity. A phase of urban development associated with the introduction of stone material to the construction industry of the African Great Lakes littoral began from the 10th century AD.(3).

Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara - UNESCO World ...
Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara (UNESCO)

Traders began to settle in small numbers on the Swahili Coast in the late 11th or 12th century, intermarrying with the indigenous Africans. The earliest documented hereditary ruler (known as the Mwenyi Mkuu or Jumbe), emerged among the Hadimu, and a similar ruler, called the Sheha, was set up among the Tumbatu. Trade was in silver, pearls, perfume, earthenware and porcelain. Perfume or ‘oud’ is still an important part of Swahili life today.


Unyago is a series of lectures, practices, lessons and ideas that Swahili teenagers used to undergo; a full unyago can take several years, and involves learning music, dances, ‘deportment’ as well as safe sex, sexual techniques. It’s not clear when unyago started, but it often was something uncles, aunties and grandparents did for the younger members of their families. As it has become rarer, people have started charging to carry out unyago.

One of the most ‘celebrated’ practitioner of the music to accompany unyago and mark big occasions is Fatuma binti Baraka, or Bi Kidude as she is always known. She sings Taarab- a mixture of Swahili and Arab fusions, and several centuries old.

Tanzania, Tanga. Mwabane. Salama Bwanga with sandalwood perfumed ball used for massaging, perfuming and preparation of the woman in unyago rituals for marriage. Photograph copyright Jenny Matthews 2020

Bi. Kidude is considered the undisputed queen of Taarab and Unyago music. Much of Bi Kidude’s life is uncorroborated, bordering on the fantastical. Along with her extraordinary voice, her tumultuous life of poverty, riches, poverty and finally stablity, has led to being viewed as very special person. She was born in the village of Mfagimaringo, the daughter of a coconut seller in colonial Zanzibar somewhere around 1910.

Bi Kidude gets ready for unyago
Bi Kidude gets ready for unyago–a traditional dance performed during initiation rites for young women. Image c/o

As a child, Bi Kidude was singled out for her fine voice and, in the 1920s, sang locally with popular cultural troupes, combining an understanding of music with an equally important initiation into traditional medicine. At age 13, after a forced marriage she fled Zanzibar to mainland Tanzania. She toured mainland East Africa with a taarab ensemble, visiting the major coastal towns and inland as far west as Lake Victoria and Tanganyika, becoming famous both for her voice, and the fact that she walked the entire country barefoot in the early 1930s fleeing another unhappy marriage. In the 1930s she ended up in Dar es Salaam where she sang with Egyptian Taarab group for many years. This fantastic film by Andy Jones gives a great sense of Bi Kidude and the context.

Early Colonialism


Kilwa Kisingani, Site of early mosque, civilisation, occupation and trade, Tanzania copyright UNESCO

It has been suggested that the Arab slave trade created a whole new disruptive social system, “fragmenting society and leading toward the emergence of distinct cultural groups,” among them undisciplined, detribalized African men, neither slave nor free, who formed marauding private armies.[3]

There’s a great deal of excellent information about early Swahili life (Iron age and start of occupation) HERE

Portuguese rule

The sultanate of Kilwa enjoyed a period of prosperity in the 14th and 15th centuries but the coastal towns suffered a decline thereafter, with the arrival of Portuguese conquistadors and Vasco Da Gama in 1499 (3).

After significant resistance from Tanzanians, in 1503 or 1504, Tanzania became part of the Portuguese Empire when Captain Ruy Lourenço Ravasco Marques landed and demanded and received tribute from the sultan in exchange for peace. Tanzania remained a possession of Portugal for almost two centuries. (4, 5)

Omani Rule

Women on the beach, taking in the sun, and relaxing, Their clothes and head-coverings are imports from Dubai, and reflect present day Arab influences, especially in fasion. Bi Iddi (far right) is also wearing Tanzanian made ‘Kanga’. as a skirt Tanga. Photo Jenny Matthews

In 1698, the Transatlantic slave triangle was beginning to emerge, and colonial powers were about to embark on two centuries of some of the most militarised, ambitious, increasingly competitive, brutal and well funded trade missions, with the Portuguese, French, Dutch, German, Spanish and English colonial headquarters competing to keep track of, and control their expanding empires. This was a period where human cargo was lumped together with sugar, cotton, rum, gold, silver and spices. Tanzania and Zanzibar became part of the overseas holdings of Oman, falling under the control of the Sultan of Oman. The Portuguese were expelled and a lucrative trade – for Omanis- continued in slaves and ivory thrived, along with an expanding plantation economy centring on cloves. Military garrisons were established by Omani wealth in Zanzibar, Pemba, and Kilwa. Press on the link below for a look at the extent of slavery over 4 centuries…. PLEASE CLICK BELOW FOR AN INTERACTIVE MAP

The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

315 years. 20,528 voyages. Millions of lives.

Of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans to eventually reach the Western Hemisphere, just 388,747—less than 4 percent of the total—came to North America. This was dwarfed by the 1.3 million brought to Spanish Central America, the 4 million brought to British, French, Dutch, and Danish holdings in Europe and the Caribbean, and the 4.8 million brought to Brazil.

The height of Arab rule for Tanga came during the reign of the brilliant tactical stategist Seyyid Said (more fully, Sayyid Said bin Sultan al-Busaid), who in 1840 moved his capital from Muscat in Oman to Stone Town in Zanzibar, 27 miles across the sea from Tanga. He established a ruling Arab elite and encouraged the development of clove plantations, using the island’s slave labor. Managing the uneasy tasks of keeping hungry Dutch East Indies and British commercial interests at bay, he encouraged Indian merchants and traders to settle on Zanzibar.

The German and  British Empire in East Africa

for a very detailed look at this period, please download the British Empire in East Africa teachers pack (suitable for A-level and University students) HERE

The Sultan of Zanzibar controlled a large portion of the African Great Lakes Coast, known as Zanj, as well as trading routes extending much further across the continent, as far as Kindu on the Congo River. However, from 1887 to 1892, these mainland possessions were lost to the colonial powers of the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy, with Britain gaining control of Mombasa in 1963.

Zanzibar was famous worldwide for its spices and its slaves. Tanga, 27 miles away, and Pangani and Bagamoyo were departure points from the mainland to Zanzibar, and from then on to Europe, US and Brazil. Zanzibar was the Africa Great Lakes’ main slave-trading port, and in the 19th century as many as 50,000 slaves were passing through the slave markets each year. British early interest in Zanzibar was motivated by both access to commercial resources and strategic advantage, much as it is today.

Tanzania, Tanga. Mama Mefaki , coffee seller. The custom of taking coffee or chai on the barazza (terrace/pavement) with a small sweetmeat is hundreds of years old, and an important Swahili tradition of discussing, reflecting and relaxing in the year-round humidity. Photo Jenny Matthews February 2020

By the end of the 19th century, MPs and civil servants of every hue in Westminster and a bewildering collection of lobbyists were questioning the rationale of supporting such extensive foreign spending, and British role in its imperial colonies, including Tanzania. There was a vigorous and growing movement of Africa political figures, freed slaves such as Oloudah Equiano and white philanthropists who felt slavery was morally repugnant, but as ever propaganda was at work: many of the horrific scenes, photos and etchings were to serve a political point: that Britian was no longer squandering its money on failed colonial experiments, and was and the determination to end the slave trade. In 1822, the British signed the first of a series of treaties with Sultan Said to curb this trade, but not until 1876 was the sale of slaves finally prohibited.

Our oral interviews revealed slavery continued informally in Tanga until the early 20th C, and the slave trade to Arab states, well into 1940’s. Listen to some Tanzanian interviews HERE.

People that we talked to in Tanga immediately how angry the subjects of the photo below look. They identified the same kinds of pot and cooking utensils that they still use, nearly 200 years after this photo was taken. What has changed dramatically is people’s style of dress, and freedom.

Slaves in Zanzibar, Collotype print. Part of the Michael Graham-Stewart slavery collection, circa 1833 Image courtesy of RMG, UK

Despite a small abolitionist movement growing amongst concerned groups in the UK, representations of slavery in European mainstream media completely obliterated much of the brutality, to keep readers and shareholders happy.

Published in ‘The Graphic’, 3 May 1873. Part of the Michael Graham-Stewart slavery collection.

German Rule in Tanzania

Tanga was occupied by Germans from 1898 until 1918.
This article highlights how history often overlooks colonial outposts and the contibution of colonial subjects.
This article explores the German colonisation of Tanzania. Efficient buildings were constructed, but at great cost to Tanzanians. The first hospital and school in Tanzania were built out of cement in Tanga by the Germans, and they set up the first sisal plantations.

Tanzania, Tanga. Sophia Kinogo, housekeeper, farmer, grandmother. Sophia’s father worked on the sisal plantation, and she grew up on the plantation, with memories of life there.

To listen to Sophia talking about life on the sisal plantation please click here:

The sisal suffered a big decline in the 1960’s and 70’s but are now being revived. Sophia Kinogo grew up on a sisal plantation, you can hear her talking about it HERE

Tanzania, Tanga. Cutting sisal leaves to feed cows.
Hospital in Tanga, German East Africa (now Tanzania). Date Stock ...
Tanga Hospital, built under German occupation, photographer unknown.

The ‘Boma’ in the centre of Tanga is now a museum. This photo of German dignatories from 1914 shows that the Tanzanian soldiers were not given any shoes. (Or names, or credit)

Swahili cultural heritage

Meanwhile, our oral history interviews suggest crafts such as reed and thatch making (for nets, roofs, fences, mats and baskets), have been undertaken for several hundred years. In the 1950’s these highly skilled practices were taught in schools, along with experimental and traditional farming techniques as vocational subjects. This has now stopped and some older farmers lament that younger people lack skills and motivation to farm efficiently.

You can listen to interviews of people talking about this and old crafts HERE

Tanzania, Tanga. Sophia grating coconut on a traditional stool grater on a hand made rug using local reeds and dyes that she made herself.
Tanzania, Tanga. Margareth, daughter of Mwanamvua Salehe , mat maker and traditional healer

African complicity and collusion in slavery and ‘Tippu Tib’ (Hamad bin Muhammad bin Juma bin Rajab el Murjebi)

Read more about the complicated trading, social relationships in East Africa during this period HERE in the teaching packs looking at the British Empire in East Africa.

We are slowly coming to terms with the disturbing African complicity in slavery within Africa, and internationally (for more see Akala Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire and Natives). Inter-marrying and rape between Arab slave traders, and their slaves, was common, as it was between European slave owners/traders and slaves. So it can problematic trying to establish when and how the slave trade became ‘less Arab, and more African’. However there is no doubt that humanly, financially, and quantatively, Europeans were dramatically more aggressive in Slavery.

Tippu Tip was a wealthy slave owner and trader, born in Zanzibar, his birth name was Hamad bin Muhammad bin Juma bin Rajab el Murjebi. However, he was more commonly known as Tippu Tib, which translates to “the gatherer together of wealth”. His mother, Bint Habib bin Bushir, was a Muscat Arab of the ruling class. His father and paternal grandfather were coastal Swahili who had taken part in the earliest trading expeditions to the interior. In his twenties, Tip led a group of about 100 men into Central Africa seeking slaves and ivory. Tippu Tip built a trading empire, using the profits to establish clove plantations on Zanzibar. Zanzibar historian Professor Abdul Sheriff reported that when he left for his twelve years of “empire building” on the mainland, he had no plantations of his own. By 1895, he had acquired “seven ‘shambas’ [plantations] and 10,000 slaves”.

Tippu Tip - Wikipedia

“29th July, 1867.—Went 2½ hours west to village of Ponda, where a head Arab, called by the natives Tipo Tipo, lives; his name is Hamid bin Mahamed bin Juma Borajib.” (David Livingstone diary entry)

in 1867, Ill and destitute, the British explorer and anti-slavery campaigner David Livingstone accepted help from this Tipo Tipo. (Tippu Tib). The great slaver gave the great abolitionist supplies and guaranteed safe conduct on the next legs of his journey through a region seething with violence. The horrors of this trade exceeded all else he had so far seen in Africa.  “To overdraw its evils,” he wrote, “is a simple impossibility. The sights I have seen, though common incidents of the traffic, are so nauseous that I always strive to drive them from memory.” 

Resistance and Rebellions

There were over fifty armed rebellions along the Tanzanian coast between 1888 and the first world war. There were elaborate and extensive trading, socialising and religious networks along this coast, and British and German attempts to recruit porters, soldiers, people to work on the plantations met with a great deal of different types of resistance, or ignoring. You can read about it HERE in the teaching packs looking at the British Empire in East Africa.

After the Berlin Conference, between 1884 and 1887 Tib claimed the Eastern Congo for himself and for the Sultan of Zanzibar, Bargash bin Said el Busaidi. An excellent tactical politician, he juggled position as protector of Zanzibar’s interests in Congo, good relations with the Europeans, and famously successfully attacked a British fort, led by Captain Walter Dean after allegations of mistreatment of slave women. Tib, like the leaders in the later Maji Maji rebellions, were sucessful resistors of British slavery, but are not widely known.

Kanga and Zanzibar
Undated image, people unknown, early photo showing enslaved women, wearing both the early designs of kanga, covered by the thick canvas sail cloth ‘Amerikani’ that they were forced to wear. Also carrying traditional tanga woven mats. Photo: Compliments of Zanzibar National Archive, AV 53.54

Around 1890, realizing that the Belgians coming up the Congo River from the west and the European missionaries and Germans penetrating the interior from the east were gaining the upper hand politically, Tippu Tib returned to Zanzibar and wrote his autobiography, which is the first example of this literary genre in the Bantu Swahili language. It was translated into English and published in Britain in 1907. Tippu Tip died in 1905 a vastly wealthy man, having accumulated seven huge clove plantations on Zanzibar and some 10,000 slaves to work them.

Map showing slavery routes within the interior of Tanzania and into Arab States (nautical and on foot, in caravans)

The slave routes out of Tanzania and Mozambique 18th C onwards showing internal and international slave routes

Most of the thousands upon thousands of slaves taken here were used to carry ivory to the coast and supplies back to the interior; they were not for export. Of every caravan, at least 20 percent died en route of hunger, disease, and exhaustion, a loss that required constant replenishment. The numbers taken in this internal slave trade are not known, but this trade should be acknowledged in any total count for the Arab slave trade.[2]

British embarrassment over slavery begins to emerge at the end of the 20th Century…. the anti-slavery treaty is signed in 1870. It doesn’t end in Tanzania until well into the 1940s, according to our interviewees.

Listen HERE to Joseph Nyasolo talk about slavery in Tanga

wood engraving “Arabs murdering exhausted slaves” Page taken from the J. W. Buel’s ‘Heroes of the Dark Continent’ (1889). Part of the Michael Graham-Stewart slavery collection. James William Buel (1849-1920) published his ‘Heroes of the Dark Continent’, and how ‘Stanley found Emin Pasha’ in various editions across North America in 1889-90. The book, which deals with European exploration of Africa, with illustrations, many of them quite shockingly graphic depictions of the appalling brutality of the East and Central African slave trade.

Sultan Barghash ruled Zanzibar from 1870 until his death in 1888. During his reign he signed an anti-slave trade treaty with Britain (1870).

Albumen print in carte de visite format. Barghash bin Said (1837–88) was the second sultan of Zanzibar, following the division of Said bin Sultan’s territories into their Zanzibari and Omani components after his death in 1856. This photograph, or carte de visite, was taken when Barghash visited London in 1875. image c/o of RMG UK

Swahili identity

Swahili idenity and language has co-opted and benefited from a long history of trading with the Arab, Indian and South Asian countries. This includes significant input from Asian sailors, who mastered the Swahili boats (dhows) and there is direct evidence of Asia in much of Swahili cooking.

1938 Print Street Hindu Shops Tanga Tanzania Africa Seaport ...

The Wonderful World of Kanga

The history of Kanga is implicitly bound up in the history of slavery. Slave women were forbidden to wear colourful, printed or decorated cloth, forced to wear plain, uncomfortable, very durable, but very hot white canvas. The kangas on sale today in Tanga and Zanzibar reflect along historical deep embrace of life, and freedom.

Kanga’s Woven Voices
Photograph C. Samantha Reinders, from the blog ‘Woven Voices’

As slavery began to diminish (long after it was formally made illegal in 1833 in GB, 1865 in the US), locally made and imported colourful fabrics, called Kanga, were a deliberate rejection of the dull, heavy canvas cloth ‘Amerikani’ that colonial subjects were forced to wear (2).Like the Capulana fabric in Mozambique, women’s rebellion and resistance to colonial rule in Tanzania took the form of wearing bright colours. the early kanga were hand printed. This is one of the earliest photos of women, the servants of the Zanzibar Princess Salma, wearing hand decorated kanga:

Tanzania / Zanzibar: Swahili women dress in high fashion wearing elaborate  kanga, late 19th century, Stock Photo, Picture And Rights Managed Image.  Pic. GBP-CPA020906 | agefotostock
Floral motifs on the patterned clothing of free Swahili women. Here the servants of Princess Salma of Zanzibar proudly model their clothing. As concubines of the Sultans and mothers to princes, royal servants were entitled to dress and be treated as free Swahili women. Photo: Compliments of Zanzibar National Archive, AV 31.32

Modern kangas reflect floral patterns and contemporary designs, and come in a variety of qualities.

Khanga – clothing for Africa | Tanzania-Experience

Aswell as dance, song, poetry, literature, smart colourful clothes, good manners, discretion, hospitality and appropriate sexual conduct are key to Swahili cultural heritage.

Tanzania, Tanga. Washing clothes, compound of Mwanamvua Salehe December 2019

Kanga comes in many colours designs and can be wax printed on heavier cloth, or directly printed, but kanga is always two pieces of material. The kanga is often decorated with proverbs, sayings, strong beliefs or personalised insults. This dates back to the British colonial government, who in post abolition East Africa, favored members of the Swahili society, reserving certain types of privileges and rights only to them. To access such rights, many ex-slave women claimed Swahili identity. So they learned Kiswahili and adhered to Islamic ways of behaving involving piety, discretion, politeness and a ‘gentle tongue’. Kanga was one of the few ways women could express ‘unIslamic’ thoughts, and is therefore an integral part of Swahili society, and women continue to use kanga to challenge social, religious, and political ideals within their society.

The Kanga Map of Africa from thekangabook
Design by @miakoraltd. Kindly check out their Instagram profile.


Translation: “An evil person does not talk about her evil deeds; she talks about other people’s evils”


Swahili women chide bad behavior through the publicly acceptable medium of kanga cloth. In this example, a well known proverb advises people to beware when someone speaks ill of others. By wearing this kanga in the vicinity of a well known gossiper, a disparaged victim exacted a fitting revenge against her attacker.

Tanzania, Tanga. Young male entrepreneurs try and make a living offering motorcycle taxi services called pikipiki, or boda. Business is slow, many hours are spent hanging out in the village and playing Chinese slot machine
Tanzania, Tanga. Margareth John, traditional healer on the back of the pikipiki


  1. Ceri Shipton, Alison Crowther, Nikos Kourampas, et al (2016) Re investigation of Kuumbi Cave, Zanzibar, reveals Later Stone Age coastal habitation, early Holocene abandonment and Iron Age reoccupation, Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, 51:2, 197-233

2. Performing the Nation: Swahili Music and Cultural Politics in Tanzania, Volume 2
Kelly Askew, 2002

3. Spear, T. (2000). Early Swahili History Reconsidered. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 33(2), 257-290. doi:10.2307/220649



Toiling the soil

The Tanga region, where our project is based, is really important agriculturally. The coastal soils supported sisal, cashew, jute in massive quantities, giving thick reeds and fibres that can be used for rugs, ropes, roofs, transporting equipment, baskets. Sisal is still grown, but it’s declining and ‘makuti’ roofs (made of reed thatch) are considered old fashioned. Moving inland, and higher, the rich soils of Lushoto, Pare and Same mountain ranges grew coffee and tomatoes, spinach, carrots, cabbages. Is there a social and cultural case to revive sisal, not just an economic one?

ain’t nothing neutral….

We tend to think farming is ‘neutral’ when of course it isn’t. The colonial project was, (and arguably still is, via jatropha and industrial interventions with sugar), to maximize yields. This often means mono-cropping, or finding the best seeds to get the best yields, with the limitations and advantages of the area. This intensely competitive, and lucrative business, of developing and selling seeds, and pushing out more ‘conventional’ methods is happening all over Tanga…so where once sisal was the main crop in Tanga, it’s slowly being reduced. It just can’t compete with polyurethane rope.

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sisal plantations, near our research site in Tanga
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the grasses are blowing in the wind….

This image below is so great: it showcases the grasses exported in the 19th C to New Zealand by Suttons from the UK to support lamb. At the moment in Tanzania various seed firms are very keen indeed to capture the domestic markets for maize, rice and tomatos; 1000’s of tons of each are consumed every year. Our project will be looking at which crafts and agricultural practices are being lost, or left behind, and whether this matters. And how people are using old skills to adapt to new possibilities.

Original image

Selecting seed
“Over the last 250 years, seed researchers and scientists have continued a tradition spanning 12 millenia. Founded in Reading, England, Suttons Seeds was known for its high quality grass and farm seed. In nineteenth-century New Zealand farmers realised that sheep preferred English to native grasses. By 1925 almost a quarter of the country featured European-style pastures with non-native grasses. This cabinet contains some of these grass types. This reminds us that farms are human creations as much as they are natural. It also shows how colonial processes shaped and impacted on local communities and environments”.MERL 2004/27 (Photo by Laura Bennetto)

Selecting seed….

Lushoto, tanga region, Tanzania

Beans are such an integral part of Tanzania we take them for granted. But the wonderful bean tells a big story: of being cooked in various ways, of being the star of the show for christenings, marriages, birthdays; for being the breakfast before a long days’ work. How can we ignore the bean? Intangible cultural history is about focusing on the stuff we take for granted. The daily, the normal, and finding stories in the everyday.

Power, dreams, hopes, absences…

Development is talked about in rather abstract terms. But we’re all developing. So what does it mean in practice, in terms of how people change how they collect milk, or power their homes, or collect food, or feed their livestock?

cows living next door to the family, Lushoto, Tanga

What do the farmers themselves think about this?

Farmers at a community plot testing different forages. Local livestock feed does not have the same nutritional value as improved varieties. Livestock farmers in the district of Lushoto, in the Tanga region of Tanzania, are finding ways of boosting their production and lowering their environmental impact by planting improved forages. For more information contact us at @CIAT_ Credit: Georgina Smith / CIAT

Gratitude, big-ups, props and thank you

So much goodwill, time, analyses, thought, leadership, lateral and obvious ideas, inspiration and patience have been given by many people. It’s sounds corny, but when I was starting out, trying to get this going, before the incredible partners and the money came along, there were people who believed in this. They went out of their way, and had faith in the complicated, difficult concept, and they were precious. They still are. I’m honoured to know people who are just so good at finding solutions, or more reserves, when it looks bleak. I could be accused of turning this into a ‘write on a post-it what you really admire’ workshop, but I really do feel profound gratitude to the following people:

Dr Dina Matar (SOAS)- stamina amazon, brain-box, and diplomacy queen, mentor and all round champion

Sara Wajid OBE, Museum of London- stamina amazon, brains, Olympic networker, bringer of humour and diplomacy, teacher and strategist

Kala Payne and Dr Tracey Jensen. Everything. All of it. conversations, criticism, crap tv, great food, friendship.

Professor James Fairhead, University of Sussex – mentor, patient prof, intellectual gymnast, invaluable sounding board

Professor Paul Lane, University of Cambridge. Strategist, supporter, wise supportive mentor

Dr Dacia Viejo Rose, University of Cambridge, inspiration and excellent questioner. Thank you for having such enthusiasm, competence and faith in us.

Farid Hameed (cultural commentator, Zanzibar)- dear friend, honest fair critic, visionary, brother

Professor Tony Dowmunt (Goldsmiths University)- generator of wisdom, so many ideas, friendship, network, kindness and tenacity

Sybille Reidmiller (Chumbe Island)- visionary, olympic networker, passionate, informed, smart and dedicated thinker, peerless advocate of Tanzanian marine conservation

Professor Mike Collyer, University of Sussex – ‘make things happen man’ ‘translator of academic bureacracy’, brainbox, calm presence, good man

Dr Jon Henderson, University of Nottingham- Celtic powerhouse, dynamic change-maker, confidence and faith giver, honest fair critic

Prof Andrea Cornwall (SOAS)- supporter and door-opener

Prof Elizabeth Harrison (Buzz) University of Sussex- supportive colleague and ‘make things happen’ woman

Prof Alan Lester, University of Sussex, for reading and checking the teaching pack and being really supportive

Prof Ben Rogaly University of Sussex for encouragement, proof-reading and support

Prof Geert De Neeve for offering patience, smiles and good ideas

Jiggy Bhore- independent wise person. Thank you for being lovely. Consistently.

The Anti-Racist Educators Network: my sisters, fellow soldiers, love and respect.

Dr Nadine Beckmann (University of Roehampton) – original supporter and giver of great advice, ideas, edits, funding leads, and faith

Dr Gemma Houldey (University of Sussex)- honest critic, soul- searcher, great friend, giver of great advice and entertainments co-ordinator

Teohna Williams (Business Plan for Peace)- soul sister, ideas-generator, great friend, giver of wisdom

Karen Hampson (Senior Programme Manager Farm Radio International) – central co-ordinator of wit, humour and support; alcohol co-ordindator, vessel of wisdom, experience and ‘getting it done’.

Professor Anna Mdee (University of Leeds)- excellent editor, networking queen, stalwart supporter and profferer of informed excellent advice

Rebecca Ae-Young-Corey (director NAFASI arts, Tanzania)- ideas developer, arts queen, action amazon

Marina De Alarcon Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford- supporter, lovely vibrant originator of many good ideas, door-opener.

Dr Ollie Douglas Museum of English Rural life, University of Reading- lovely, self-deprecating, smart bloke.

Dr Aaron Jaffer (Royal Museums Greenwich) and his colleagues Ben Wedell and Sarah Lockwood

Professor Heike Schmidt, Professor Emily West, Dr Rhi Smith and Dr Sarah Cardey (University of Reading)

And very much not last or least, Jenny Matthews, Aida Mulokozi, Kyle G Brown, Dr Revocatus Machunda, Amani Mhinda, wonderful partners all. Thank you.

We have literally no idea, “Uliziiba kutoka kwetu”.

Pitt Rivers Museum – or more specifically Marina de Alarcon, Meghan O’Brien Backhouse, Faye Belsey, Mel Rowntree and the education team- in Oxford have very kindly allowed us to make copies of figurines that they have in their store rooms, gathering dust, for over 60 years. It’s hard to over-stress what a fantastic opportunity this is. They were collected by an unnamed English colonial offical from Pangani, Tanga, in 1953.

(This is a few kilometres down the road from where our project takes place). But we have no idea what they are. What they’re for. Why they were even collected. So we’re (me, Aida Mulokozi, research associates Sylvester Mkwaya, Neema Mtenga), are taking photos back to Tanga to ask people if they know what these are about.

It provides a good conversation starter. But who knows what the reaction in Tanga will be.

I mean, maybe people will be understandably a bit annoyed that they were taken? Also, what was going on with the colonial official when he took them? Did he have all sorts of peculiar mis-placed fantasies about voodoo and primitive magic? There are just so many unanswered questions…..

It seems extraordinary (rude?) that literally nobody Tanzanian was recorded as being consulted/asked what these figures are, who made them, and why. They could be high abstract art, or basic children’s models….? We have literally no idea. But this is the wonderful thing about of this type of work: it requires asking many questions to the right people… and this is what’s also so amazing about Pitt Rivers Museum- they open themselves up to this sort of project.

who made this, and why?

Aida Mulokozi – a co-partner on this project, from DARCH, and I chatted about these small figures (they’re only about 12 cms high, and made of unfired clay/sand mix) and wonder if they’re part of the ‘Kongwe’ rituals. Effectively sexual/moral/personal education for aspirant brides/grooms that a shangazi (auntie) or mama ndogo (little mama) would take on in the Swahili coastal regions.

These practices are a way of talking about behaviours and codes for people preparing for marriage. ‘Tabia nzuri’ (good behaviour in Swahili) is a very broad term covering all elements of marital life, including how to keep a relationship going, what to cook, how to deal with extended family, as well as the more physical sides. But they are largely dying out, and people now often consider them old fashioned.

What did people think of the Makaramo figures?

We introduced the photos after we had interviewed people for several sessions, and we had built up a rappor. The style was very informal, we wanted to really hear what people had to say.

Younger interviewees like Mwini Kombo (20years old and saving to go to university) didn’t know, but he still improvised:

Whilst older women like Mama Mwanamvua knew exactly what the Makaramo figures were for, as containers for bad spirits (Majinni) and curses.

They are just papers, decoration, they are not the real thing. They are made of soil, and clay, the real thing (0:01)

Neema if I showed you the actual object, not just the photo would you be afraid?

Mwanamvua: Yes I would definitely  be afraid, especially when you meet it face to face.  You must  be afraid. (0:18)

Interviewer: Why?

Mwanamvua: Laughing………..If you encounter these mkaramo in person, face to  face you must be afraid because you don’t know them, they’re not familiar and they’re not friendly, not human. You must afraid these are (majidudu) this is the devil, it’s not human (0:23) What happens is that they are the container for majidudu, they have been invested with curses.

Interviewer: So you can either meet them, these majidudu (spirits) in the sea or in the wilderness?

Mwanamvua: Sometimes you may find them in the sea, actually under the waves,  on the way in the forest, in the wilderness, hidden somewhere under a tree. But these are just papers, (photos) they are harmless, they’re not the real thing. Sometimes mganga can use these small things  to cause harm to someone. They are so powerful that depending on their use, and the spirit in it, you can either die or live (0:05)

Interviewer: Do you mind if these clay figures are staying in an English Museum?

Mwanamvua: No problem let them have a look, they can keep them, and even if they wish they can modify them or change them, it’s not up to me.  There is no problem, I don’t want to get involved, this is sorcery stuff, and I don’t want to be talked about as a witch, so I have no  comment, I don’t want someone to say that I am a snitch. (sanamu) (1:06)

Interviewer: Is this stuff important for the kids to know? Is this important cultural heritage do you think?

Mwanamvua: Mh! No definitely not! No! children can’t learn about this stuff and they mustn’t know. This is big work for the qualified witchdoctors and not for messing around with. Shiiiiiiiiiiiii… How can you do it, do you know how they started? Do you understand this stuff really and do you want to be like they are? You don’t know, this is their (witch’s) work. (1:36)

Interviewer: You said that sometimes these small figurines are left for designated people to find in places that they will find them, like under the baobab tree?

Mwanamvua: Yes, these things (Majini) you can find them in the baobab trees. What happens is that the mganga who is practicing witchcraft will make a spell and curse the figurine, then they will leave them somewhere, and once the designated person who has been cursed finds it (and they will find it, because that is part of the curse) they…. They  can either become crazy or even in some cases die. And sometimes we may find someone who is not feeling well, they start to experience odd aches and pains. When we take he/her to the witchdoctors they say that was attacked by Majini and that’s the explanation for their illness. (0:04)

aBS en ce s

We are looking at the sea, and land, how they support trade, locally and internationally. Two of the partners are Greenwich Museum (RMG) and Pitt Rivers Museum (University of Oxford). They have supplied us with images from archives and collections that relate to the sea, and the place we’re working: Tanga, Tanzania. What’s so striking is the LACK of information about the photos. None of the Tanzanians in the photos EVER HAVE NAMES. Like this one, entitled only “Slavery collection, circa 1892”. (courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich, London, Michael Graham-Stewart Slavery Collection).

(Image courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich )

We’re interested in these absences. We asked elders, people around and in Tanga town about these photos, what they think, what they know, what they feel when they see them. For short podcasts on their reactions click HERE

(Image courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich )

The painter of this image, Robert O’Donelan Ross-Lewin was the Royal Navy chaplain aboard HMS ‘London’ in 1876-77. ‘London’ was an important instrument in the Royal Navy’s anti-slavery campaign along the East Coast of Africa. The ship sailed to Zanzibar to take up her position as a stationary depot vessel to counter the slave trade and maintain a presence against European rivals in the region. England is always presented as having a strong part in defeating slavery, or stopping it. But how much were these efforts actually to stop their rivals gaining the stronger position?

Our research and interviews with families in Tanga reveals that slavery was going on well into the early 20th C, despite officially having being abolished. Charles Kuyoka, a Tanga musician, tells us about the Arab slave market, exporting Tanzanians to Arab states, that continued well in the late 1940’s HERE.

The photos in Greenwich museum that relate to Tanzanian- UK trade are extremely problematic and very sensitive. They’re mostly about slavery. Which is, of course, really painful for people who were traded, or did the trading, to discuss. They often show women and men portrayed in deliberately dehumanising ways, stripped of agency and personhood (for example naked, un-named, not having consented to be represented, or humiliated) that are highly offensive. It stirs up ethical problems academically, and problems around how we manage and expose ourselves to the very harsh and brutal practices which people often choose to forget or ignore, to protect themselves. This also potentially opens up the can of worms around how people were compensated, whether any redress or apologies have happened, and what the longer term legacies are.

No slaves were ever compensated by the British. None.

Instead the slave owners received compensation.

Many significant buildings in the UK were either literally built by slaves (Westminster Abbey) or on the wealth of slave labour and efforts. See HERE for more information

Slave with slave merchant, 1864, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Michael Graham-Stewart Slavery Collection. Acquired with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund

We did not, and do not, want to make slavery the subject of this project. But it also can not be ignored. The sisal and jute plantations in Tanga until the late 1950’s were staffed by people who were collected in slave gangs in Tanzanian interior and Congo (now DRC) and often walked up to a 1000 miles, in chains, living on maize and water for a month, according to one of our contributors. He was told this by his grandfather, about his great grandfather. For Sophia Kinogo’s interview about life on a sisal plantation click HERE.

The young girl/boy/teenager in the photo below has no name, age, place, we only know the photo was taken in Tanzania some time in 1890, as part of the abolitionist campaigns, which focussed on the European’s efforts to end slavery. S/He would have been traded, like lumber, sugar, coffee, sisal or jute, out of the port at either Tanga or Dar es Salaam.

‘An Arab master’s punishment for a slight offence. The log weighed 32 pounds, and the boy could only move by carrying it on his head. An actual photograph taken by one of our missionaries.’. From at least the 1860s onwards, photography was a powerful weapon in the abolitionist arsenal. Photographic images of slavery provided vivid and irrefutable evidence of the ongoing cruelty of the East African and Indian Ocean trades. They were often used as the basis for engravings reproduced in popular journals such as ‘The Graphic’ and ‘The Illustrated London News’.(Image courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich )

The image below is a photo of people trapped in a dhow, captured in East Africa, by colonial inspectors. Colonial powers are keen to present themselves as protectors and rescuers, less keen to talk about the pressures they experienced from English parliament about the collosal failures of the plantations, and the ever rocketing expenses of colonial civil servants living the high life as ex pats. Colonial roles and African collusion/involvement in actually setting slavery up as a major trading approach is integral to many aspects of contemporary British life, attitudes, social norms and economics. Slavery was also about brutal collusion: and is not a black and white issue, another reason why it’s often side-stepped. For more resources on how to teach and talk about slavery click HERE

Image published in a London newspaper, ‘The Graphic’, 8 March 1873. This print also appears in ‘Dhow Chasing in Zanzibar Waters’, by Captain G. L. Sulivan, commander of the HMS Daphne, published London 1873. The caption says it is based on a photograph taken by the author, who is not named. (Image courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich )

‘Cargo of Newly released Slaves on board H.M.S. London’ 1880

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…

…the buildings?

…the people

…the clothes

…the hairstyles

…the places

…the objects

…the plants

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 at!cbrowse

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. one man 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 short cut 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 families business as slave traders, too upset and embarrassed to go into detail.

Slavers Revenging Their Losses, mid -late 19th C.

For a 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


So it’s really hard to find images of Tanga, Tanzania, where our project will take place. The images are dominated by a commercial, tourist-driven approach,

Pangani Tanzania (1)

And rarely, if ever feature Tanzanian people… here’s one of the exceptions:

Image result for Images of pangani

Images are directed at a white, Western gaze, one that needs a fantasy dream-scape, an empty canvas on which to impose all sorts of modern escapist jiggery-pokery

And I think that’s a problem…. because, as the audience or viewer we have literally no idea how people live in Tanga, we are not engaging with, asking or listening to what it’s like to live inside this landscape.What people might be thinking about, doing, imagining, talking about…. I would suggest that rather than chilling and looking at the sea, it’s most likely these kids are WORKING. Finding worms for fishing, or shells to eat….

(this photo really captures Tanga for me…beauty, Islam, innovation….action, movement, dominated by the adverts for mobile phones, the backbone of life in Tanga)

And even when a photo, like this one

is really problematic. Although it shows someone working, he’s not named, or given a proper location (it says only Pangani). We have no idea what his story is. Who he is. How he learnt his trade, from whom, whether he enjoys it, how it’s changed.

Making beds, by hand, is a skill, and one that is, or was, famous in this area, and Zanzibar. Marriage beds with hand-made glass panels were an essential bridal gift. But none of this is even hinted at in this photo. This is *just* a man who has a pencil in his hair who looks sceptical about having his photo taken.

Was he even for permission to have his photo taken?

Welcome to Hidden Histories!

This is a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary project, using media and arts-based methods to document, witness, record and co-create stories and images from the Tanga coast region, Tanzania.

On this blog you will find:

An introduction to the project, including our partners and the history of it’s conception and birth.

What we’re trying to do

An outline of our methodology (what we’re doing, how and why) plus excerpts from the Research Assistants (RA’s) and partners about their focuses….