Sunday, 12 September 2010


Last week I received my copy of a paper written with archaeologist Stephanie Wynne-Jones and just published in the journal History in Africa. It's about the changing role of slavery in the stories that local people tell about the past in Shimoni, in south-east Kenya. Here's the beginning of our paper, preferably read while listening to Roger Whittaker's "melodramatic warblings" (Trillo 2002: 514):

When Kenya-born singer-songwriter Roger Whittaker sang these doleful words in 1983, the village of Shimoni was a relatively quiet backwater on the southern Kenya coast, known primarily for its deep-sea fishing club. It is now a much larger and busier place, where tourists come to see the 'slave cave' that gives Shimoni its name (Swahili shimo-ni, "at the cave"), as well embark on boat trips to Wasini Island and the nearby Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park [...]. Whittaker’s song played a significant role in this development, by bringing Shimoni and its caves to wider attention, and focusing on one of a number of narratives about the caves' past usage. The lyrics of "Shimoni" did not simply embellish a local tale, but (re)created it in the image of metanarratives about the history of slavery on the East African coast. As we will argue in this paper, these metarratives now dominate reconstructions of the past in Shimoni, and are reinforced by the activities and institutions that constitute and promote the caves as an important site of cultural heritage. (Wynne-Jones and Walsh 2010: 247-248)

While Stephanie did most of the hard work, including tracking down Whittaker's lyrics, I thoroughly enjoyed my part in our joint research, which mainly comprised rummaging through old books, field notes, and my memory of the days when "Shimoni" was inflicted on the Kenyan population more often than it is now. This rummaging (I can't resist using the word twice) brought forth a series of visual delights that thrilled me even more than the aural experience of hearing Whittaker's song for the first time in many years. Here, then, are some of the images that I'd like to include in the deluxe multimedia reissue of our paper, when the world is ready for it...

Ernest Hemingway at Shimoni Camp in February 1954, after falling into a fire

The issue of Sports Illustrated which includes Robert F. Jones' seminal article about Shimoni

Front and back of Pemba Channel Fishing Club brochure with updated prices

Shimoni Reef Fishing Lodge brochure, c.1986

Wasin Island dhow trip brochure, c.1986

Kisite Dhow Safaris brochure, c.1986

Daily Nation article opening with that song, the cave, and slaves (August 1988)


Jones, Robert F. 1982. Passage to the past. Sports Illustrated 56 (5) (8 February): 92-108.

Okumu, Victoria 1988. Women strive to improve their lot. Daily Nation (Nairobi), Friday 12 August: 13.

Trillo, Richard 2002. The Rough Guide to Kenya (7th edition, updated by Okigbo Ojukwu and Daniel Jacobs). London: Rough Guides Ltd.

Wynne-Jones, Stephanie and Martin Walsh 2010. Heritage, tourism, and slavery at Shimoni: narrative and metanarrative on the East African Coast. History in Africa 37: 247-273.

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