Thursday, 29 August 2013


by Martin Walsh

The relevant passage in W. E. Taylor's African Aphorisms (1891: 93)
In an earlier note on A click in Swahili I drew attention to the Reverend W. E. Taylor's description of an interjection/ideophone in the Mvita (Mombasa) dialect that contains a dental click (1891: 93). Taylor struggled to render this unusual sound in print, and offered three different transcriptions for it in his African Aphorisms, as can be seen from the entry that is reproduced here. Judging by the eccentric composite -- "Mng'wpc" -- that appeared in Burt's Swahili Grammar and Vocabulary (1910: 13, fn. 1), Taylor was never able to settle on a satisfactory solution. This wasn't really his fault, given that there was little agreement on how to write down clicks and the languages using them at this time.

Abdulaziz 1979
When I posted my note in June 2010 I wasn't aware of any other references to Taylor's Mvita click-bearing interjection, though I did know of the occurrence of a nasalised dental click in similar contexts in different dialects of Digo, spoken to the south of Mombasa island (Walsh 2006). Last night, however, leafing through the edited verses of Mombasa's most illustrious bard, Muyaka bin Haji al-Ghassaniy (c.1776-c.1840), I stumbled across what seems to be an earlier example of its use. Most of Muyaka's poetry is thought to have been written between roughly around 1810 and his death. We owe the survival of his corpus to the extraordinary collaboration between the Mombasa scholar Mwalimu Sikujua bin Abdallah al-Batawi (who collected and wrote down Muyaka's Swahili poems in Arabic script) and the same Rev. Taylor (who transliterated them in Roman script and added linguistic and other notes). The originals are in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London: I owe my own access to Muyaka's poetry to Mohamed Hassan Abdulaziz's study (1979), which I never tire of dipping into.

The poem in which the Mvita interjection appears is in his compilation of the many 'Miscellanous Verses of Muyaka' (1979: 156-335). Abdulaziz's brief gloss on the whole poem is that 'Muyaka here makes fun of certain Wachangamwe women folk (one of the Three Tribes of Mombasa) who are pictured as having maltreated a certain Bacheni' (1979: 287). The Wachangamwe were the inhabitants of Changamwe and thereabouts on the mainland to the west of Mombasa island; in the 19th century they spoke their own variety of the Mvita dialect (Lambert 1958), and were evidently looked down upon by their more cultured island cousins. The identity of Bachemi or Ba Cheni (Baba Cheni, 'Cheni's father'?) seems to have been forgotten: all we have to go on is the poem itself. It is reproduced below, complete with the inconsistencies of spelling in Abdulaziz's edition -- note though that the italicisation of dental /t/ and /d/ is Taylor's. In the book Taylor's transliteration and Abdulaziz's English version are on facing pages (1979: 286-287): here each Swahili verse is followed immediately by its translation. Perhaps understandably, Abdulaziz didn't attempt to translate the poem's title:


Habari ya Wachangamwe niwambiapo mwateka,
Watoshile kamwe kamwe si wake katika rika
Wake washinda waume siombe wakihizika;
Ba Cheni walimshika wakamfanya mng'wa!

Digo mother and child, 1985
When I tell you about the Wachangamwe you first laugh.
They exceed the bounds of acceptable behaviour!
Women can be worse than men when they go astray,
They got hold of Bacheni and bit his lip "Mngwa".

Ni watenzi Wachangamwe hutenda vikitendeka,
Wajipatishile sime zatinda kama kitoka
Ni kweli wake si wamwe, siombe wakipotoka,
Ba Cheni walimshika wakimtinda mng'wa!

The Wachangamwe are people of action, what they do they do well!
Their short swords stuck in their belts, cut clean like hatchets
It's a fact that women are mischievous, beware of them when they get out of hand.
They got hold of Bacheni and cut his lip "Mng'wa."

Ukitakapo hakika kamwulize Mwanasha;
Ati aliyekipika, taa asijaiwasha;
Achondoka kutandika awele kubishabisha.
Habariye isikwisha na kumtenda mn'gwa!

If you want to know the truth go and ask Mwanasha
Who was supposed to have been cooking even before she had lit the lamps.
But when she went to make the beds she was already nagging?
And the whole thing ended with her biting "Mng'wa."

Alipoakimrudi na maneno kumwambia,
Alikitunga mkadi ili kwenda kutembea;
Akema kumradidi una kijana walea,
Awele kumruk'ia na kumkata muomo mng'wa!

When he tried to tell her off and give her a good talking-to
She was stringing the mkadi flower, preparing to go out;
When he went on at her, saying you have a baby that you're (supposed to be) nursing,
She jumped at him and bit off his lip "Mng'wa".

I don't know whether the variant spellings of mng'wa are in Taylor's transliteration or errors introduced during the preparation of Abdulaziz's book. He glosses it as an 'onomatopoeic expression for cutting' (1979: 286, fn. 4), but to me this looks like an over-interpretation influenced by the lines in which it occurs, two of which refer explicitly to cutting. Instead I suggest that it should be read as an approximate rendering of the same interjection-with-a-click-consonant that Taylor tried to describe in African Aphorisms and that he defined as 'an expressive protest against impertinence' (1891: 93). In Muyaka's poem we might think of it as roughly equivalent in meaning to our own 'Hah! So there! Like it or lump it!' Without seeing the relevant archival material it's difficult to know why Taylor himself didn't draw the connection (or why Abdulaziz didn't pick up on it), but it may be that Mwalimu Sikujua's Arabic transcription of the Swahili interjection masked its distinctive enunciation, and that Taylor hadn't yet heard it being spoken. In any event, I've tried my hand at a more idiomatic translation of Muyaka's poem that incorporates this suggested new reading. I'm not an expert in 19th century Swahili poetry or the language in which Muyaka composed his verse: the Mvita that he spoke in Mombasa and the northern dialect forms that he blended in for poetic effect and credibility. But I've drawn on Abdulaziz's text and notes (it's not clear which of these might have come from Taylor), and like him, happily declare the tentativeness of my efforts. So, take it or leave it!

Screw pine, mkadi
You'll laugh when I tell you about the Changamwe
They're just too much and their wives don't act as wives should
The women have the upper hand, Oh beware their shamelessness
They seized Ba Cheni and treated him so!

The Changamwe are doers, and do what they set out to
They wear short swords that cleave like sharp axes
It's true that their wives aren't well-behaved, Oh beware when they misbehave
They seized Ba Cheni and slashed him so!

If you want the truth, ask Mwanasha,
Who was supposed to be cooking, but hadn't lit the lamp,
And carried on quarrelling when she went to make the bed
Which all ended up with her treating him so!

When he came back at her and told her off
She threaded a fragrant flower,* ready to go out
And when he complained that she had a child to look after
She turned on him and cut his lip so!

* A reference to the scented white flower of the Screw pine, Pandanus kirkii (Swahili mkadi)

Despite the superficial similarity, I don't think that there's any link between this Mvita interjection and another expressive nugget that occurs in imprecations in 19th century Swahili poetry, the use of Mngwa- or ngwa- to prefix subjunctive verb forms (Biersteker and Shariff 1995: fn. 254). This has been convincingly explained as a euphemistic contraction of the phrase 'Mungu a-', 'May God...' (Sacleux 1939: 683). Otherwise Sacleux seems to have missed Taylor's interjection and click.


Abdulaziz, Mohamed H. 1979. Muyaka: 19th Century Swahili Popular Poetry. Nairobi: Kenya Literature Bureau.

Biersteker, Ann and Ibrahimu Noor Shariff (eds.) 1995. Mashairi ya Vita vya Kuduhu: War Poetry in Kiswahili Exchanged at the Time of the Battle of Kuduhu. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.

Burt, F. 1910. Swahili Grammar and Vocabulary. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Lambert, H. E. 1958. Chi-Jomvu and Ki-Ngare: Sub-dialects of the Mombasa Area (Studies in Swahili Dialect III). Kampala: East African Swahili Committee, Kampala College.

Sacleux, Charles 1939. Dictionnaire Swahili-Français. Paris: Institut d'Ethnologie.

Taylor, W. E. 1891. African Aphorisms; or, Saws from Swahili-land. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Walsh, Martin T. 2006. A Click in Digo and its Historical Interpretation. Azania 41: 158-166.

Sunday, 18 August 2013


  by Martin Walsh

My Giriama copper pendant
There's a copper pendant hanging on my wall, one of the few examples of crafts(wo)manship that I've kept from Mombasa. I love its weight (c.75 g) and slinkiness: in my hands it feels like a miniature piece of chainmail. I can't remember now exactly when and where I bought it; maybe in the handicraft shop of Tototo Home Industries on Msanifu Kombo Street; or perhaps Labeka, the well-stocked craft shop on Moi Avenue whose owner was a member of Tototo's board. I worked with Tototo in 1985-88, studying the women's group programme that this Mombasa-based NGO ran with the support of World Education in Boston. The women's groups, scattered throughout what was then Kenya's Coast Province, supplied some of the local handicrafts that were sold in both shops (McCormack et al. 1986: 50-55; Walsh 1989: 375-376), including pendants made by Giriama women.

Kamba girl's apron (from Lindblom 1920)
I wrote a little about these pendants in my study of the Tototo-assisted women's groups and their enterprises (Walsh 1986; abridged in McCormack et al. 1986). They were generally referred to in Giriama (aka Giryama) as ndale, a name that one woman told me properly referred to the copper wire that they were manufactured with. The Reverends Krapf and Rebmann defined ndale as brass (or copper) beads (1887: 299), and noted the expression mudzele wa ndale as the name for a Kamba women's leather apron decorated with the same, and in Rabai the border of beads around a woman's dress (1887: 268). W. E. Taylor (1891: 16) likewise recorded ndale as a Giriama name for brass beads; while making it clear that the generic term for brass, ng'andu, could also refer to copper (ng'andu t'une, 'red brass', 1891: 20, 28). In her Giryama-English Dictionary Florence Deed also defines ndale as 'brass beads' (1964: 71), and has an entry for ngudhi, a 'neck ornament of ndale stitched on leather' (1964: 74).

These names are interesting because they provide clues to the history of these crafts and this particular kind of ornamentation. The Giriama term ndale is clearly related to Kamba nthale, glossed in a modern dictionary as 'brass or iron ornaments affixed to the clothes of women' (Mwau 2006:195), and in an older work as 'little brass or iron cylinders sometimes used in making old women's aprons and as ornaments on the straps of the nthũngĩ', a kind of small woven bag (A.I.M. 1939: 159, 161). According to Charles Hobley only the brass beads on a married woman's apron or kimengo were called nthale: iron beads had their own name (1910: 72). Gerhard Lindblom called these brass beads nzale (1920: 374), a local variant (or mistake) for nthale. He also illustrates a young women's neck collar called nguthi (1920: 377), a name clearly related to the Giriama ngudhi. In this case though the collar is made of iron chains, not beads or cylinders sewn onto leather. The Kamba are inland neighbours and have long been traders among the Giriama and other Mijikenda, and it may be that these items of adornment and their names were taken from them. Or they might have been introduced by the historical Segeju, a group of people closely related to the Kamba, who had a significant impact on Mijikenda society and language in the middle of the last millennium. Linguistic evidence suggests that the Segeju were adept at metal-working and transferred a number of related practices to the Mijikenda and the Giriama in particular (Walsh 2013: 35).

'Gohu elder's amulet', Cantor Art Center, Stanford University
(Accession No. 2012.114)
The ndale pendant in my possession is made of copper beads (twisted from wire) and copper chain threaded together with twine; there are also a few odd brass beads strung together with the copper ones. There's a pendant in the collection of the Cantor Art Center at Stanford University that is very similar in form, but is stitched on leather and includes a central panel of three cowrie shells. The online catalogue describes it as a 'Gohu elder's amulet', the gohu being one of the 'secret societies' that senior Giriama elders could be initiated into. Collected in 1978, it looks a lot older than this, or at least grimy and worn, so much so that it's not clear whether it was made of brass or copper beads and chain. In The Wrath of Koma, Maurice Kambishera Mumba's novel about tradition and tragedy in late colonial Kaumaland, the fictional Jibana 'medicineman' (mganga) Mokoli Mwiru uses a powerful talisman called 'Chiwele', inherited from his grandfather, to access the world of spirits and divine the spiritual affliction and possible courses of action open to his Kauma patient, Old Chembe (Mumba 1987: 6-13, 21-24, 112-113, 143). Chiwele, used here as a personal name, is described as 'a leathery object coated with small cowrie shells, which was dangling from his neck at the end of a short chain' (1987: 6). The cognate term kiwele, plural viwele, was used by modern Giriama producers as the generic name for the women's copper and brass pendants that they made (see below) and that many women first acquired when they were married. This perhaps represents the wider application of a term that was once more restricted in use, and referred originally to the chains hanging down from the amulets. Elsewhere in his novel Mumba refers to ndale as a kind of 'traditional necklace' worn by women (1987: 32, 146), and this indeed seems to be the more widely used name.      

Bomani in 1985
I could probably ferret more information out of the literature, and Mijikenda colleagues and scholars more familiar with their culture could no doubt tell me much more (please do!). I wasn't aware of any of this when I was first working for Tototo. I did, however, learn something about the contemporary making and marketing of Giriama ndale pendants when I was undertaking the third of my women's group case studies in a village some 20 km north of Malindi. Bomani Women's Group had its origins in an adult education class (ngombaru) that started in 1973; Tototo began working with the group in 1978, at the very beginning of its women's group programme. When I arrived to study the group in late 1985 it was best known for its bakery project: for a time this had been the showpiece of Tototo's programme. But the first enterprise that Tototo had fostered in Bomani involved the production and sale of ndale. Here's what I wrote about it in my 1986 report:

  More lucrative [than a group farm] while it lasted was the handicraft trade initiated by Tototo. This was based upon the production of traditional Giriama ndale necklaces for the tourist market. The women bought lengths of ndale copper wire from specialist producers and fashioned these into viwele, heavy pendants, and virangi, with brass and coloured beads added. 1½ feet of wire, bought for 1 sh, was enough to make 2 or 3 viwele, the commonest product, sold to Tototo for 10 sh each, while virangi fetched 20 sh. Women report being able to make up to 100 or 150 viwele in a week and at one point group members engaging in this trade are recorded as making between 35 sh and 500 sh each in a fortnight. Tototo shop records show that in 1978 14,969 sh was paid out to individuals and 920 sh to the group, which took the proceeds from one necklace in every batch an individual produced. This money was ploughed back into the bakery along with the money raised from group subscriptions. The women, however, produced more necklaces than the Tototo shop could sell, and after 2 years the trade came to a halt along with other forms of handicraft production which Tototo had attempted to introduce. Looking back upon this enterprise group members blame Tototo for its failure, an experience similar to Mkwiro's [another group that I studied]. The local, Malindi, market for necklaces remains small -- they are bought by Kamba middlemen and sold to tourists in the town -- and ndale production is not a significant source of income in Bomani; much the position when the group's trade with Tototo started. (1986:

A young member of Bomani Women's Group in 1985
There's more detail in my field notes, though group members gave different accounts of the sequence of events and the role of the various actors. According to Bomani's chairwoman, they were shown how to make ndale in 1978 by Daudi Mtingi, one of the three older men (wazee) who had started the adult education class that gave rise to the women's group. He was already marketing the ndale made by his two wives, who were founder group members, taking the pendants to Kamba middlemen in both Malindi and Mombasa. Tototo started taking them for sale in Mombasa in the same year: the pendants were collected every Thursday or sometimes taken to Mombasa by the group's secretary, Esther Kenga (who later became a Tototo employee).

According to another group member, Mary Ngonyo, they bought strings of ndale beads that had already been made by folding small lengths of copper ('red') or brass ('white') wire around pieces of thread (nyuzi) using a special instrument, and it was these strings that they bought at the price of a shilling for each length of around 1½ feet. The women then added coloured beads (virangi), bought in the local shops, to make neck pieces, and chains (viwele) to make the pendants, which were rather easier to produce. At first they just took them to Malindi for sale, but found it difficult to sell them. It was Esther Kenga who first wrote to and visited Tototo. There were around 20 women in Bomani Women's Group at this time. They were joined by women from the nearby village of Madzayani when they heard that there was a market for ndale, though after Tototo stopped taking the pendants they left to form their own group. As well as ndale, Tototo also persuaded the Bomani women to produce small woven bags, baskets, and straw hats for sale. But all this came to an end when Tototo told them to stop. By this time running the bakery had become the group's main focus. Some women continued to make both copper and brass ndale as well as other items of women's jewellery, and two or three years before I did my research Kamba buyers had begun coming directly to the village to purchase them. The group's chairwoman still kept a few pendants to show guests and in 1985 had presented some to a group of official visitors from Zimbabwe.

Feeding the next generation, Bomani 1985
The failure of collective marketing is an all too familiar tale. Selling local handicrafts was a great idea, but supply and demand weren't always well matched. Tototo's handicraft operation had problems of its own: staff often lacked key marketing and other business skills, and the shop wasn't particularly well run. To make matters worse, some managers were suspected to be dipping their hands into the till or fiddling the accounts -- widespread practices in an era of rampant corruption at every level of society. It's ironic that just as field staff were advising women's groups on how best to manage their various enterprises, their colleagues in Mombasa were sometimes struggling to manage the NGO's own affairs. Although Tototo received extensive help from World Education and other partners, the shop lost the comparative advantage that it once had, and the organisation itself was eventually closed down. Nevertheless, in the heyday of pendant production and marketing a fair number of these attractive handicrafts must have found their way into the hands -- and perhaps even around the necks -- of visitors to the coast. I imagine that they are still made in at least small quantities, though I can't see any evidence of this on the internet.

Kamba girl's necklace (from Lindblom 1920)
Disappointed though they were by Tototo's actions, the ndale episode wasn't an entirely negative one in the history of Bomani women's group and the evolution of local gender relations (and as it happens, greater disappointments were to come, detailed in my 1986 study). There are two particularly heartwarming stories that deserve to be told and remembered in this context.  One is the role that Daudi Mtingi played in fostering and supporting the adult education class, an associated nursery class, and then the women's group -- as well as introducing them to ndale production and marketing, he also provided significant assistance to the bakery business by injecting capital into it at a time when it was floundering, and then selflessly handing the profits over to the group. The second is a story that I've already told in brief in an article about the gendered control and use of income from group activities, which explains why women's income generation doesn't necessarily translate into their empowerment within joint households (Walsh 1987). Following a long personal struggle to attain economic independence and the right to educate her son, Bomani's chairwoman, Jumwa Kiti, encouraged group members to invest their profits from pendant sales in goats, and kept their money in safekeeping until they had accumulated enough to do so. This acted as a check on husbands' ability to commandeer their wives' ndale profits, and though it didn't stop some of them from later appropriating their wives' livestock, it did enable a number of group members to accumulate and exercise a degree of control over assets that wouldn't otherwise have been possible.

It's quite likely that the pendant hanging on my wall was made by one of those women, and possible that it contributed in its own small way to her greater empowerment and the improved welfare of her children. It might equally have been a token of hope that turned to disappointment, as her newly-acquired wealth was seized by a greedy husband or her expectations of greater profit were dashed by Tototo. And whatever the case, it may well have helped to line the pockets of one of that organisation's less scrupulous employees. I can only guess. But I feel much more satisfied having these and other possible histories to ponder than I would have done without knowing anything about my shining pendant's past.  


A.I.M. 1939. A Kikamba-English Dictionary. Compiled by: The Language Committee of the Africa Inland Mission in Ukamba (third unrevised edition, 1970). Nairobi: The Literary Centre of Kenya for The Afrolit Association.

Deed, Florence 1964. Giryama-English Dictionary. Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau.

Hobley, C. W. 1910. Ethnology of A-Kamba and Other East African Bantu Tribes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krapf, L. and Rebmann, J. 1887. A Nika-English Dictionary (edited by T. H. Sparshott). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Lindblom, Gerhard 1920. The Akamba in British East Africa: An Ethnological Monograph. Uppsala: Appelbergs Boktryckeri Aktiebolag.

McCormack, Jeanne, Martin Walsh and Candace Nelson 1986. Women's Group Enterprises: A Study of the Structure of Opportunity on the Kenya Coast. Boston: World Education, Inc.

Mumba, Maurice Kambishera 1987. The Wrath of Koma. Nairobi: Heinemann Kenya.

Taylor, W. E. 1891. Giryama Vocabulary and Collections. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Walsh, Martin 1986. Interim Report for a Study of Income Generation and its Effects among Women’s Groups in Kenya’s Coast Province. Report to World Education Inc., Boston.

Walsh, Martin 1987. Buying power? Some outcomes of income for women. Reports (World Education Inc., Boston) 27: 14-16.

Walsh, Martin 1989. Tototo Home Industries: assistance strategies for the future. In C. K. Mann, M. S. Grindle and P. Shipton (eds.) Seeking Solutions: Framework and Cases for Small Enterprise Development Programs. West Hartford: Kumarian Press, Inc. 365-385.

Walsh, Martin 2013. The Segeju Complex? Linguistic evidence for the precolonial making of the Mijikenda. In Rebecca Gearhart and Linda Giles (eds.) Contesting Identities: The Mijikenda and Their Neighbors in Kenyan Coastal Society. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press. 25-51.

Saturday, 17 August 2013


by Martin Walsh

I've just finished The Wrath of Koma, Maurice Kambishera Mumba's entertaining tale about tradition and tragedy among the Kauma, published by Heinemann Kenya in 1987. The back-cover blurb of the paperback introduces the story:

Old Chembe, a Kauma man from the Am[i]dzichenda people of the Kenya coast, is gravely worried about his son, Dundu, who appears to be going mad. He travels across many ridges to see Mokoli Mwiru, the famous medicineman, for a diagnosis of his son's problem. Mokoli Mwiru gives his diagnosis: Dundu, born after intercession to the ancestral sprits, is under the wrathful attack of the spirits who resent the ingratitude of Chembe's family. Mokoli Mwiru prescribes a ceremony of appeasement.

Old Chembe, weak and irresolute, botches the ceremony... What tragic fate awaits him, his son and his larger family as the unappeased spirits seeks their revenge?

I won't spoil the plot here. Although I bought this short novel in Mombasa shortly after it came out, this is the first time that I've read it from cover to cover. It may not be great literature, but I've enjoyed Mumba's story-telling, the tales-within-tales, the dissolution of the text into poetry, and his wry description of rural life and morality in the waning years of colonial rule. The Wrath of Koma is especially interesting for its anthropology, and not just because the Kauma are among the least written about of the Mijikenda. I've mined Mumba's tale in the past for ethnographic and in particular ethnoornithological tidbits (as in my 'Birds of omen and little flying animals with wings'), but there's much more in it that deserves to be exposed and analysed anthropologically. This includes passages that revolve around the gendered perceptions and motivations of spirit possession and the sometimes violent reactions of men to the claims made upon them. Hearing the distant sound of an exorcism ritual (kupunga pepo), the protagonist reflects on his own experience:

As the sound of the pepo drums faded in the background, becoming less and less audible as he plodded on, Old Chembe thought of the costs he had incurred in having pepo [possessory spirits] exorcised from his four wives.

  There were moments when Old Chembe wondered whether his wives had not conspired to feign that they were possessed by pepo so that they could acquire items which he had refused to buy for them. But Old Chembe was not like his eastern neighbour Jaramba, who once flogged his wives with his walking stick to exorcise the demons in them--none of them 'dared' to be possessed by pepo again after that! (p.29)

The text goes on to detail how Jaramba came to administer this punishment, and how Old Chembe acceded to requests for the treatment of his possessed wives despite his scepticism. This is literature grounded in the observation of everyday life, a fictionalised account that conjures up the so-called 'deprivation theory' of spiritual affliction (Lewis 1971: 72-89), and invites further analysis with reference to current understandings of gender-based violence and its genesis in the imbalances of power and gendered patterns of inequality in the domestic and public spheres. It's a pity that The Wrath of Koma isn't more widely known. Maurice Mumba was the Town Clerk of Mombasa when it was published, and didn't follow it up with another novel. I don't know what has become of him since. When I lived in Mombasa I actually bought three copies of his book, one to give to another anthropologist. Although I only used it for many years as a work of reference, I'm glad that I finally got round to reading it.


Lewis, Ioan M. 1971. Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of Spirit Possession and Shamanism. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Mumba, Maurice Kambishera 1987. The Wrath of Koma. Nairobi: Heinemann Kenya.

Walsh, Martin 1992. Birds of omen and little flying animals with wings. East Africa Natural History Society Bulletin 22 (1): 2-9.

Saturday, 10 August 2013


by Martin Walsh

I'm not a great fan of cockroaches, at least not the urban varieties, and it's hard to forget some encounters. I wasn't too thrilled by the evil antennae that emerged from a dry plughole to welcome me to the house that I'd borrowed on the University of Dar es Salaam campus in July 1980. I didn't jump for joy when I switched on the kitchen light one night (circa 1986) in Guraya, Mombasa, and was greeted by the sight of a chaotic mass of cockroaches of every shape and size swarming over the floor. And I didn't smack my lips when the body parts of a drowned roach surfaced in my soup one lunchtime in the Bella Vista off Moi Avenue (this was well before the seedy Italian restaurant became the bar / nightclub that was recently subject to a deadly grenade attack).

After living for a few years in the sweaty centre of Mombasa (Guraya, then Kibokoni), where I became an expert in spotting cooked cockroach legs, we moved out to the suburban calm of Nyali, with its Bougainvillea blooms and sea breezes. But the roaches still came. That is, until I copied down the following recipe:

Cockroach Killer recipe and chemist's label for the key ingredient
I was given this by a friend and colleague in Nairobi, who told me that she'd been given it by an older couple in the highlands out west (I've forgotten where exactly; Kericho perhaps). It worked so well, especially when placed in the kitchen cupboards, that if I saw an adult cockroach in the house -- the younger generations disappeared completely -- I was able to accuse our Belgian neighbours of being its source (we were living in interconnected maisonettes). I even wondered how much money might be made out of the recipe if production could be scaled up and Cockroach Killer balls marketed commercially. But thanks to the internet, I can now see that boric acid was registered as an insecticide many years ago, and that there are similar home recipes all over the web. So here's the one that worked for me.

Monday, 1 April 2013


by Susanna Nordlund

Survival International article
The Tanzanian Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Khamis Kagasheki, announced on 26 March 2013 that 1,500 km2 of land will be taken from the people of Loliondo. The grabbing of this corridor of dry season grazing land bordering Serengeti National Park will destroy the lives and livelihoods of the Maasai pastoralist landowners.

They government claims that this decision has been taken to protect wildlife and water catchments. The minister has warned that “There will be no compromise with regard to any attempt to infringe the newly established boundaries.” At the same time the public is being misled into believing that the state is doing the Maasai of Ngorongoro District and Loliondo and Sale Divisions a favour by giving them the 2,500 km2 of Loliondo Game Controlled Area (GCA) that it hasn’t taken.

The reality is that the GCA was previously an area in which only hunting rights had been given away, while other land uses were allowed to continue. It has been managed as customary Maasai land for as long as anyone can remember, and belongs to eight villages under the provisions of the Village Land Act No 5 of 1999. However, the Wildlife Conservation Act of 2009 restricted livestock keeping and other agricultural activities on GCAs, and deemed that they could not overlap with village land. This protected area “upgrading” was concealed by retaining the old designation, but its very real consequences can be seen in what is now happening in Loliondo.

The location of Loliondo (source: Tanzania Natural Resource Forum)
In typical fashion the government is blaming resistance to this blatant land grab on mythical “NGOs” and “Kenyans” that are stirring up conflict.

Pastoral production is not incompatible with the conservation of wildlife; ironically it was the richness of wildlife on traditional rangelands that led to their loss to the Maasai when Serengeti National Park was created in 1959. Pastoralists in the neighbouring Ngorongoro Conservation Area are living under strict restrictions and have, against promises given when being moved from Serengeti, lost further grazing lands. The government, hunting companies, and so-called “non-consumptive” tourism continually seek ways to grab more Maasai land – like the Boston-based Thomson Safaris that is treating 12,617 acres of grazing land as a private nature refuge, calling this “community-based conservation”. The Maasai can just not afford to lose another square inch of land.

It’s probably no accident that the 1,500km2 corridor of land that is being taken is also the core hunting area of the Otterlo Business Corporation (OBC) – an outfit that organises hunting safaris for royalty from the United Arab Emirates. In a corruption scandal in 1992 that is still remembered as “Loliondogate”, OBC was given Loliondo GCA as a hunting block. Although this deal didn’t transfer land ownership, OBC have often behaved like lords of the land and have been backed by the government in resulting conflicts with the Maasai.

The Avaaz petition
The worst incident occurred in 2009 during a severe drought when people and livestock were evicted by force from the corridor of land by the Tanzanian authorities assisted by OBC. Houses were burned down and many cattle were lost, while one young girl disappeared in the chaos and has never been found. The evicted Maasai eventually moved back and many leaders “reconciled” with OBC, creating a generational rift when young people questioned their reasons for doing so.

On 25 March this year, when it was evident that the land grab was about to be announced, thousands of people attended a public meeting in Oloipiri at which it was declared that the local MP and other political leaders would resign in protest, that all contracts with OBC would be terminated, and legal proceedings initiated with an injunction against the grab and an attempt to reclaim the lost lands of the Serengeti. On Tuesday 2 April another big meeting is planned in Wasso, at which people will respond to the announcement that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism has since made.

Anyone who in any way can help the people of Loliondo in this struggle is kindly asked to do so as soon as possible.


Survival International are standing up for the Maasai –

Avaaz are helping in their own way –

Jason Patinkin of the Guardian has written the following report –

Article in The Guardian (London)
For further reading and viewing:

Author’s blog post from 23 March with subsequent updates:

Press release from Onesmo Olengurumwa of JUWASAWINGO

A blog post from 2011 with the history of the corridor and OBC:

Also from 2011, voices from Loliondo about land use in the "wildlife corridor":

News item on ITV Tanzania about protests against the beacons of TANAPA on village land:

And a call for help on the official blog of Ololosokwan:

Monday, 18 March 2013


by Martin Walsh

Alison Redmayne, Utengule, Usangu, December 1981
I've mentioned Alison Redmayne a number of times in this blog and will again, I hope. We first met at her house in north Oxford in February 1980 when I was planning doctoral research in Usangu, in south-west Tanzania. She became my ethnographic mentor and a lifelong friend. I last spoke to her in January, when she rang me from the Churchill Hospital in Oxford -- she'd been in and out with various complaints, but nothing that made me think that I wouldn't see or speak to her again. However, she didn't leave the hospital this time, but succumbed to a recurrence of lymphoma, a cancer that she'd beaten off once before. I had no idea until I wrote about her in my last post (Where The Doctor is Ignorant) and today's equivalent of the bush telegraph brought me the sad news.

Alison Hope Redmayne was born on 1 October 1936 and died on 20 February 2013, aged 76. She was buried in Wolvercote Cemetery on Wednesday afternoon (13 March), following an informal graveside ceremony attended by family and friends, who shared recollections of her before continuing to do the same in the more congenial surroundings of the Victoria Arms in Old Marston. It was unexpectedly, but appropriately, sunny when we were in the cemetery. The most poignant moment came when we all gathered around and strained to listen to the start of one of her recordings of Hehe mourning ceremonies, played back by her nephew's son Max over a mobile phone with a small tinny speaker attached.

Alison Redmayne, Oxford, August 2000
I couldn't help but reflect that if she'd been buried in one of the villages in Iringa or Mufindi that she knew so well, we'd have found ourselves in the midst of a multitude, the air filled with heartfelt lamentations and rousing songs in praise of Mung'anzagala Gisakamutemi Msengidunda Semugongolwa (her full name as an adopted member of the Hehe royal family), this extraordinary woman who spoke their language like few other Europeans could, who gave the best years of her life to recording their history and ethnography, and who ignored her own physical suffering to devote herself instead to improving their welfare, saving the lives of who knows how many people as she did so. Here's just one testimony, posted on the Mjengwa blog on 15 March:
I met Semgongolwa while I was a student at Lugalo Secondary School back in 1970. Even though I am Hehe, my Kihehe was far worse than hers. I will always remember her anthropological studies she conducted among the Wahehe; she was one of the few people who entered into the field, and never left!
. . . Alex Mwakikoti 
Alison Redmayne, Luhanga, Usangu, December 1981
Although she also worked in northern Nigeria, Alison Redmayne's name will always be most closely associated with the Hehe and neighbouring peoples in Tanzania, and so it should be. I've spent most of my spare time in the past week sorting through our correspondence, records of her visit to Usangu in December 1981, and searching for photographs, tape recordings, and a short video I made of her at home in Oxford in August 2000 (I've posted stills from this in the sidebar to the right -- scroll down to find them). I'll write more anon, but wanted to begin to say goodbye to her with this (grave) post marking her departure from this life and passage into the world of the ancestors whom she talked and wrote so much about.

Bibiliography of selected works by Alison Redmayne

Sound recordings

Alison Redmayne Collection, British Library, London.
For an introduction, link to the collection catalogue, and sample recordings see:
Topp, Janet 2012. Rare Tanzanian music recordings preserved. Music in the British Library Blog, 13 July 2012.

Photographing the Sangu chief Alfeo Merere, Luhanga, December 1981
Unpublished dissertations

Redmayne, Alison 1961. The Concept of Feudalism in African Ethnology. Unpublished B.Litt. dissertation, University of Oxford.

Redmayne, Alison 1964. The Wahehe People of Tanganyika. Unpublished D.Phil. dissertation, University of Oxford.

Published papers, articles, book chapters

Lee, Annabelle [= Alison Redmayne] 1968. African nuns: an anthropologist’s impressions. New Blackfriars 49 (576, May): 401-409. Also in 1968. Exchange. New Blackfriars 49 (579, August): 614-616.

Redmayne, Alison 1968. Mkwawa and the Hehe wars. Journal of African History 9 (3): 409-436.

Redmayne, Alison 1968. The Hehe. In Andrew Roberts (ed.) Tanzania Before 1900: Seven Area Histories. Nairobi: East African Publishing House. 37-58.

Redmayne, Alison 1969. Blasius Undole’s History of the Ndamba. Anthropos 64 (5/6): 957-959.

Redmayne, Alison 1969. Hehe medicine. By Dr. Weck, Senior Doctor of the Imperial Colonial Troops in Gerrnan East Africa. Introduced, translated and annotated by Alison Redmayne. Tanzania Notes and Records 70: 29-40.

Redmayne, Alison 1970. The war trumpets and other mistakes in the history of the Hehe. Anthropos 65 (1/2): 98-109.

Redmayne, Alison 1970. Chikanga: an African diviner with an international reputation. In Mary Douglas (ed.) Witchcraft Confessions and Accusations (ASA Monograph No. 9). London: Tavistock Publications. 103-128.

Redmayne, Alison, with Clement MwaNdulute 1970. Riddles and riddling among the Hehe of Tanzania. Anthropos 65 (5/6): 794-813.

Roberts, D. F., J. Chavez, and Alison Redmayne 1974. Dermatoglyphics of the Hehe (Tanzania). Man (N.S.) 9 (1): 31-43.

Following in the footsteps of Chief Alfeo Merere
Redmayne, Alison 1975. The Hehe. In Family of Man: People of the World and Where They Live (Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, Part 41). London. 1138-1140.

Redmayne, Alison 1980. Note on health services and the indigenous population under the German administration (German East Africa). In E. E. Sabben-Clare, D. J. Bradley and K. Kirkwood (eds.) Health in Tropical Africa During the Colonial Period: Based on the Proceedings of a Symposium Held at New College, Oxford, 20-23 March 1971. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 115-117.

Redmayne, Alison, assisted by Christine Rogers 1983. Research on customary law in German East Africa. Journal of African Law 27 (1): 22-41.

Published report

Booth, David, Flora Lugangira, Patrick Masanja, Abu Mvungi, Rosemarie Mwaipopo, Joaquim Mwami and Alison Redmayne 1993. Social, Economic and Cultural Change in Contemporary Tanzania: A People-oriented Focus. Report to SIDA, commissioned through Development Studies Unit, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.

Her final publication and book review

Redmayne, Alison 2011. Review of Helga Voigt, Letters from Helga 1934-1937: A Teen Bride Writes Home from East Africa (trans. Evelyn Voigt, Renfrew, Ontario: General Store Publishing House, 2008), and Werner Voight, 60 Years in East Africa; Life of a Settler 1926 to 1986 (Renfrew, Ontario: General Store Publishing House, 1995). In Tanzanian Affairs 100 (September-December 2011): 70-71.

Saturday, 9 March 2013


by Martin Walsh
A page from the Cambridge Expeditions Medical Handbook

Flat on my back, beneath the Galaxy, I fear
This burning in my groin is gonorrhoea.
-- Tony Harrison, Manica

When I first went to Tanzania in 1980 my portable medical library comprised the Ross Institute's Preservation of Personal Health in Warm Climates and the Cambridge Expeditions Medical Handbook. The former, aka the Little Red Book, betrayed its origin in a milieu in which the nervous disposition of one's wife and the behaviour of one's servants were common concerns -- more, certainly, than they were to a 22 year-old explorer of the nether regions of Ujamaa (later in life, though, I could have done with an update). The Cambridge Handbook was much more useful, though its diagnostic tables tended to induce hypochondria. Instead of reading possible diagnoses from the combination of symptoms, it was much easier to pick on the worst disease and imagine the symptoms that were listed under it. And so every crick in the neck mirrored meningitis and every instance of colic conjured up appendicitis. Although this is a hazard associated with all self-help health guides, the Handbook's crude diagrams and simple matrices seemed designed to maximise the inflation of illness and a category of anxiety that the Little Red Book didn't cover.

The cover of the 1979 edition
I first heard about the virtues of Where There Is No Doctor, the English version of David Werner's Donde no hay doctor, from my ethnographic guide Alison Redmayne. I didn't buy a copy until sometime later when I was living in Mombasa. I was persuaded of its efficacy when a sister-in-law living with us in Kibokoni fell ill with shingles, and her head ballooned in an alarming way, and began to resemble a cross between a football and a scaly pufferfish. None of us knew what the cause of this was, and she resorted to a variety of local remedies, including smearing her head with a concoction of herbs. However, after a quick read of Where There Is No Doctor, I was able to confidently declare that she had no need to waste any more money on waganga ("traditional" doctors), because the swelling would go down of its own accord, and the scaliness disappear. As you might expect, no one took any notice of me, but she did indeed get better as I had smugly predicted she would. I've lost count of the number of times I've made use of the book, and for some years I've kept a second copy in Zanzibar so that I don't have to carry it back and forth. One day in Dar es Salaam I found a dog-eared copy of the Swahili translation, Mahali Pasipo Na Daktari, and mama watoto (the missus) has been using it ever since.

The Swahili version, c.1984
Never mind where there really is no doctor, the state of medical training in East Africa is such that you need all the help you can get even in places where there is someone with that distinguished title. I'll save the story of my imaginary blood clot -- imagined by some of the finest doctors in Kenya -- for another occasion. I'll also refrain from detailing all the horrors suffered by loved ones, far too many of whom haven't survived to tell the tale themselves. But you get the drift. Over the years Alison Redmayne has performed heroics in ministering to the sick in and around Iringa and Mufindi, and has been an indefatigable campaigner against bad practice in the hospitals and clinics of this particular corner of Tanzania. Talking about this with her one day around the turn of the millennium, I quipped that Where The Doctor Is Ignorant would be a more accurate title for our favourite medical guidebook, at least in the local context. This is not to denigrate the good work that many doctors and medical agencies do in East Africa, or to downplay the difficult conditions in which they strive, often with rudimentary facilities and inadequate medical supplies. But lack of adequate medical knowledge is a serious and widespread problem, and can't be denied.

The full text of Where There Is No Doctor can now be downloaded for free from the website of Hesperian Health Guides, together with other community health guides, including Where Women Have No Doctor and Helping Health Workers Learn. These and other resources are also available in a variety of languages, which can be seen at a glance on Hesperian's Resources by Language page. Unfortunately Mahali Pasipo na Daktari, the Swahili version of Where There Is No Doctor, is no longer in print: indeed there are no Swahili resources on the Hesperian site. That's a pity. An updated translation of this and other books, especially if well distributed and accompanied by relevant training, would go at least some way towards filling the medical knowledge gap in Tanzania and other parts of the region where Swahili is widely spoken.


Davies, T. W. Undated [c.1979]. Cambridge Expeditions Medical Handbook. Cambridge: Cambridge Expeditions Medical Scheme.

Harrison, Tony 1987. Manica. In Selected Poems (2nd edition). London and Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 31-34.

Ross Institute 1978. Preservation of Personal Health in Warm Climates. London: Ross Institute of Tropical Hygiene. [first published in 1951]

Werner, David Undated [c.1984, 2nd printing]. Mahali Pasipo Na Daktari... Kitabu cha Mafunzo ya Afya Vijijini. Dar es Salaam: Rotary Club of Dar es Salaam.

Saturday, 2 March 2013


by Martin Walsh

When I get round to writing a book on the urban (and rural) legends of East Africa -- yes, I can see you all pointing to the pigs in the sky -- it will definitely include a section on crash-landing flying wizards. Last night I was sifting through a pile of press cuttings made in Tanzania a decade and more ago, and came across the three items that are the subject of this post. Witchcraft and sorcery can be a serious and deadly business, and many of the cuttings that I made at the time were about the ongoing witchcraft killings in Sukumaland (cf. Mesaki 1994) and the moral panic surrounding rumours of a transnational trade in human skins (cf. Sanders 2001). Recent attention has rightly focused on the killing and mutilation of albinos for their body parts, a very real horror that has forced many Tanzanian albinos to seek refuge or go into hiding. By contrast the reports and exchange reproduced below are a reminder that not only is there widespread scepticism about some beliefs in the occult, but that witchcraft narratives can also be the butt of good humour.

The first two items, shown here side-by-side, are the original reports published on Monday 6th January 2003 in The Guardian and Nipashe newspapers. Both articles were evidently written by the same correspondent, Mary Edward, working in Dodoma for Press Services Tanzania (PST), a news agency owned, like the two newspapers, by Reginald Mengi's IPP Media. They are about the same incident involving a flying "wizard" or witch who was alleged to have fallen to the ground, landing near-naked amidst a group of Christian worshippers in Kongwa in Dodoma Region. The reporter herself claims to have been in the congregation and witnessed the incident, though whether she actually saw him fall to earth before hearing his subsequent confession is left unsaid. The Swahili article includes some details not given in the English version. Its title makes it clear that the wizard's "flying saucer" was a circular winnowing basket (ungo), the favoured mode of witches' transport in mainland Tanzania. And the scene of the incident is identified as the yard of an Evangelistic Assemblies of God Tanzania (EAGT) church. This is an important detail, because the fallen wizard's confession is just the kind of testimony that can be heard during conversion to pentecostalism.

Readers can judge for themselves whether or not these articles were written and published tongue-in-cheek. The response on the "Opinion" page of The Guardian two days later (on Wednesday 8th January 2003) certainly was. It comprised a letter to the editor from an "Earthbound regular Guardian reader" in Mikocheni, Dar es Salaam, and was accompanied by a cartoon drawn for the page by David Chikoko:

At the beginning of this well-crafted lampoon, the writer alludes to the fact that belief in "flying wizards" is widespread in Tanzania, and cites a case of alleged naked night-flying in Muleba District in Kagera Region. This is clearly a hazardous pursuit, and I remember seeing other articles in the Tanzanian popular press announcing winnowing basket accidents. Some reports are from further afield and predate the 2003 story, like the 2001 Pan African News Agency article 'Zambians traumatised by crash-landing flying wizards', which related that "More than 30 stark naked people suspected to be wizards "crash-landed" on rooftops of houses owned by families, institutions and filling stations in Zambia last year, leaving the population puzzled." (Landing on the roofs of petrol stations has a certain logic, if not in terms of the need to refuel, at least in view of the large flat area they might offer to wizards descending in an emergency.)

It is quite likely that published narratives such as these have influenced reporting, both by people claiming to know of incidents and by journalists reporting on or inventing these reports in turn. A quick search on the internet suggests that stories of occult flying and its failure are now circulating more readily than ever via Tanzania's rapidly growing blogosphere. One favourite from last year was the tale of an old hag from Mwanza who was said to have crashed, quite literally, into the funeral of the actor Steven Kanumba. Given that the funeral was attended by tens of thousands of mourners, it is perhaps not surprising that narratives of this kind should emerge. What is more disturbing, though, is the fact that these beliefs can also generate violence, and result in the death of people suspected to be witches who have crashed to earth. There's a distressing video on YouTube of a naked man killed by a mob in Kimara, Dar es Salaam, for just this reason. It was uploaded in May 2010 (I won't link to it), and the attached description notes that the alleged witch was rumoured to be en route to the Seychelles for a witches' convention. It's easy to find humour in fictions like this, but not in such tragic consequences.


Anon. 2003a. 'Wizard' drops from heaven. The Guardian (Dar es Salaam), Monday 6 January 2003: 3.

Anon. 2003b. Teach widely wizard's flying skills. Letter to the editor, The Guardian (Dar es Salaam), Wednesday 8 January 2001: 6.

Edward, Mary. 2003. Adaiwa 'kusafiri kwa ungo'. Nipashe (Dar es Salaam), Monday 6 January 2003: 3.

Mesaki, Simeon 1994. Witch-killing in Sukumaland. In Ray Abrahams (ed.) Witchcraft in Contemporary Tanzania. Cambridge: African Studies Centre. 47-60.

Mulenga, Mildred 2001. Zambians traumatised by crash-landing flying wizards. Pan African News Agency (Dakar). Online at [no, I can't see the full text either...]

Sanders, Todd 2001. Save our skins: structural adjustment, morality and the occult in Tanzania. In Henrietta L. Moore and Todd Sanders (eds.) Magical Interpretations, Material Realities: Modernity, Witchcraft and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa. London and New York: Routledge. 160-183.

Sunday, 24 February 2013


by Martin Walsh

Nyerere as leader of the Legislative Council of Tanganyika
The dead can't slap super-injunctions on the living, but being the much-revered first President and 'Father of the Nation' provides fairly good insurance against scurrilous gossip, especially when your party is still in power, the Roman Catholic church is proposing your beatification, the national airport is named after you, and hip-hop artists continue to sing your praises. Julius Kambarage Nyerere continues to enjoy a very positive image, and hagiographies have proliferated in this era of the 50th anniversaries of the transition to Tanganyika's Independence and the political Union with Zanzibar. None of this is surprising, though I've always been dismayed by the extent to which older academics and Tanzaphiles have bought into the Nyerere Narrative. The good news is that a younger generation of scholars has been less willing to accept the received image (e.g. Fouéré 2009).

In Tanzania itself, multi-party politics, a freer press, and the new medium of the internet, have introduced alternative views and started to lead to the recovery of old histories as well as the invention of some new ones. This is especially so in Zanzibar, where there are even more political secrets to hide about the circumstances of the Revolution and the Tanganyika Mutiny, the hurried Union agreement, and the way in which political enemies were dealt with (cf. Fouéré 2010). During the Popobawa panic on Pemba island in 1995 it was said that trapped spirits, manifestations of the shape-shifting evil genie, had declared that they had come from Butiama, Nyerere's home village (Walsh 2009: 28). This provided cause for pointing the finger of blame at Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the ruling party, and was just one part of a counter-narrative that demonised Nyerere and his political heirs as the enemies of democracy and Pemban self-determination under the banner of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF).

My favourite popular pricking of the Nyerere balloon is a book I picked up in Iringa town in February 2000, a few month's after Mwalimu's death the previous October. Munga Tehenan's Siri za Nyerere, 'Nyerere's Secrets', is undated; the author himself died in 2008. His chapter headings give the flavour:

Nyerere's Secrets
1. Nyerere alikuwa ni Mrundi? [Was Nyerere a Rundi?]
2. Roho yake ilikoswa mara tano [His heart stopped five times]
3. Nyerere hakuwajali wanaye [Nyerere didn't care for his children]
4. Watoto wake ni walalahoi [His children are homeless]
5. Kifimbo chake na nguvu za kichawi [His stick and the power of witchcraft]
6. Kwa nini Mwalimu aliitwa 'Haambiliki' [Why is Mwalimu called 'He-can't-be-told']
7. Maisha yake Butiama yalishangaza zaidi [His life at Butiama was even more astonishing]
8. Butiama: mkulima halisi [Butiama: the dedicated farmer]
9. Nyerere na Waislamu wa Butiama [Nyerere and the Muslims of Butiama]
10. Mama wa Nyerere alikuwa mchawi [Nyerere's mother was a witch]
11. Mwalimu kama rafiki wa wote [Mwalimu as everyone's friend]
12. Mali zake Butiama [His wealth in Butiama]
13. Mwalimu: maradhi na utani [Mwalimu: illnesses and joking]
14. Nyerere alikuwa mdini [Nyerere was a religious person]

A lot of this is tittle-tattle about Nyerere's home life in Butiama. I've no doubt that more could be dredged up about his life abroad. I once knew a woman who claimed to have had a one-night stand with Nyerere. Her story was quite plausible. She was young, attractive, and worked for a state-owned enterprise. Nyerere was on a state visit to another African country, and she was invited to a party at which he was the guest of honour. They danced together, and when the evening drew to a close he took her to bed. I was tempted to ask for more intimate details, but she'd told me this in an unguarded moment, and I didn't want to pry -- any more than I'd want people to take a prurient interest in my own affairs. Bedding large numbers of women was one of the prerogatives of power in many newly-independent African nations, and in many countries it still is. Nyerere may have indulged, but he doesn't have the lurid reputation of some of his peers.

Nyerere's worst kept secrets were his Machiavellian political machinations and the economic ruin of the country in the name of Ujamaa, his personal version of state socialism. I first lived in Tanzania in 1980-82 when the ill effects of Nyerere's hubris and pernicious policies were all too evident. I can forgive him for dabbling in  witchcraft and enjoying extramarital sex -- if indeed he did -- but I can't forget the corruption and the queues, and especially the shortage of essential medical supplies and the consequent lack of basic healthcare, with all the deleterious consequences that this had and continues to have. Although I touched on some aspects of this in publications that arose from my doctoral research in Usangu (e.g. Walsh 1983; 1985), I haven't really written much about it. Perhaps I should.

Tom Molony is to blame for setting me thinking about the public and private images of Nyerere, but bears no responsibility for the rest. See also my earlier post about 'Okello, Babu, Mo, and photographic propaganda' (14 March 2011).


Fouéré, Marie-Aude 2009. J. K. Nyerere entre mythe et histoire: analyse de la production d’une mémoire publique officielle en Tanzanie post-socialiste. Les commémorations de la disparition du père de la nation. Les Cahiers d’Afrique de l’Est 41: 197-224.

Fouéré, Marie-Aude 2010. Sortie de clandestinité des années sombres à Zanzibar (1964-1975). Cahiers d'Études africaines 50 (1): 95-121.

Tehenan, Munga Undated. Siri za Nyerere. Dar es Salaam: M & N Publishers.

Walsh, Martin 1983. Fanta, Coca Cola and tea (three sugars) in the political economy of rural Tanzania: notes from Utengule-UsanguCambridge Anthropology 8 (3): 69-75.

Walsh, Martin 1985. Village, state and traditional authority in Usangu. In R. G. Abrahams (ed.) Villagers, Villages and the State in Modern Tanzania. Cambridge: African Studies Centre. 135-167.

Walsh, Martin 2009. The politicisation of Popobawa: changing explanations of a collective panic in Zanzibar. Journal of Humanities 1 (1): 23-33.