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.


  1. I met Alison on arrival in Tanzania to start my Ph.D. fieldwork in 1965. I asked her for her advice on fieldwork: 'You'd better get some more suitable clothes' she said, looking disapprovingly at my (fairly short) dress. 'Get a full long skirt, that way you can sit on the ground decently'. I did so. Although I subsequently bumped into her a few times at the University in Dar, I never really had a long conversation with her after that until a few years ago, when I was writing an expert witness report on an asylum application by a Hehe Tanzanian woman. She was of course very helpful.
    I always thought of Alison as 'old school' anthropology, not in a disparaging way, but as someone who totally immersed herself in her field and who a generation or so ago, would have received more recognition for her depth of knowledge than she did.

  2. Thanks Pat, for that recollection, and very characteristic anecdote (I'm sure I've heard her make similar remarks about suitable attire in the field!).

    Meanwhile I've drafted an academic obituary for Alison and others based on this have begun to appear:

    *Oxford Mail* (Thursday 18 April 2013):

    *Tanzanian Affairs* 105 (1 May 2013):

  3. I met Alison Redmayne when I taught at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria (1972-3). She told me a very funny story about the philosopher Margaret Anscombe's cat having kittens on the dining-room table, but I can't remember the details. She was wearing white ankle-socks. She was a formidable lady with a good sense of humour.

  4. Nice to hear from you John. I had a quick look around Ahamdu Bello in 2005, presumably not quite what it was in the early '70s. If Alison ever told me the same anecdote about Margaret aka Elizabeth Anscombe, I've forgotten it too. The ankle-socks were a constant: she was wearing dark-coloured ones in the photos I took in 1981...

    My academic obituary has now been published in *Anthropology Today* and can be viewed here: