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.