Saturday 23 February 2013


by Martin Walsh

Part of the former English Club Library in the Africa House Hotel
Jonathan Walz's post about the conservation of the Zanzibar Museum (aka Beit el Amani, the Peace Memorial Museum) has reminded me of the library that used to be in the Museum Annexe, the unassuming building that still houses its natural history collections. My memories of the Museum Library were originally stirred in January, when I read an article in Tanzanian Affairs (Jackson 2013) about the English Club Library, in the building that is now Africa House Hotel. As Jono Jackson documents in his Oxford dissertation (2012), the remnants of the library survive in a locked and increasingly neglected room, no longer the bright and busy conference-cum-reading area that the hotel website depicts. Over the years books from the English Club Library have been pilfered and sold; many presumably through the curio shops and stalls in Zanzibar's Stone Town. It's not a unusual fate for the contents of old (and sometimes new) libraries in Tanzania, as anyone who has bought second-hand books on the streets of Dar es Salaam will know.

The (photocopied) cover of Woodward's 1911 typescript
The early history of the Museum Library is outlined in another recent dissertation, Sarah Longair's (2012) study of the Zanzibar Museum and colonial culture in Zanzibar. In 1912 the Zanzibar Protectorate's Economic Zoologist, Dr. William Mansfield Aders, established a small Public Health Museum and library attached to the Health Office (2012: 96-98). The book collection was developed by Aders and his colleague Dr. Alfred Henry Spurrier, who became the first curator of the Peace Memorial Museum when it opened in 1925. The permanent Museum Annexe was built in 1930, and in 1939 the second curator, Ailsa Nicol Smith, converted the book collection into a public reference library, housed in one of its rooms (2012: 276-277). Thereafter the library continued to grow, and in 1952 the official guidebook to Zanzibar described it as "an excellent small library, containing many books on Zanzibar and East Africa" (Zanzibar Protectorate 1952: 94). Unlike the members-only English Club Library, the Museum Library was open to ordinary townspeople.

The Zanzibar Museum and its collections survived the Revolution in 1964, though by the time of my first visit three decades later they were looking distinctly seedy. The Museum Library was housed in a small room to the left of the Annexe entrance: I remember it as dark, dank, and dusty -- though my memory may be exaggerating for alliterative effect. Its public functions had long been overtaken by the Zanzibar Town Library, just down the road from the museum. It was still possible, however, to become a member of the Museum Library, and in May 1995 I duly joined, not least because it had copies of a number of historical and linguistic works about Zanzibar and East Africa that I couldn't otherwise get hold of on the islands. (I was living on Pemba at the time, where such books were even more scarce than on the main island -- indeed I found myself donating photocopies of papers about local history, culture and natural history to the British Council library in Chake-Chake, which was otherwise subject to the vagaries of book aid.)

The title page of my copy of Woodward 1882
There weren't many other readers in the Museum Library -- there was hardly space for them -- and I only encountered a few diligent students, who weren't really using the collection. When I could I whisked away items of interest and surreptitiously copied them (for the greater good of scholarship, of course). I can't remember what they were now, at least not without rummaging through the file boxes in which I keep offprints and photocopies (adopting the system I first encountered in the library of the British Institute in Eastern Africa in Nairobi -- or was it the Fort Jesus Museum Library in Mombasa?*). The gem that I do remember was an annotated and corrected typescript by H. W. Woodward with the title "Collections for a Handbook of the TAITA LANGUAGE as spoken on the Shambala hills near Kigongoi", dated "MCMXI", 1911. This was evidently a draft of Woodward's published paper (1913/14) on the speech of this colony of Kasigau dialect speakers in the Usambaras.

Herbert Willoughby Woodward was a long-serving missionary with the Universities' Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) who wrote a number of grammatical sketches of local languages (for an overview of his linguistic work see Doke 1961). One of these was his Collections for a Handbook of the Boondéi Language (1882), which was also in the Museum Library, if my notes are right. In 2005 I bought my own somewhat worn and termite-eaten copy of this via the internet, a treasure nonetheless. A stamp on the flyleaf declares this to have once been in the possession of the "ZANZIBAR DIOCESAN LIBRARY". According to Edward Polome (1980: 14-15), this library was also once home to a 254-page typescript Zigua-English Dictionary and related materials. I hope they're still there -- or in safe hands somewhere. I also hope that the Zanzibar Museum Library collection has survived. A few years ago I was told that it had been moved to the House of Wonders Museum, in the iconic (but crumbling) Beit el Ajaib. Maybe I should check. Or look on the internet first.          

* Another, earlier, beneficiary of my photocopy collection, though the then Coast Archaeologist saw fit to mark all of the copies that he'd copied from mine with a stamp declaring them to have come from his own personal library...

Many thanks to both Sarah Longair and Jono Jackson for sending me copies of their unpublished dissertations.

Books from the English Club Library

Anon. Undated. Zigua-English Dictionary. Unpublished typescript, Zanzibar Diocesan Library.

Doke, C. 1961. The linguistic work of H. W. Woodward. African Studies 20 (4): 197-202.

Jackson, Jono 2012. Meaning in Miscellanea: The Social Value of Books in Stone Town, Zanzibar. Unpublished M.Sc. dissertation (African Studies), University of Oxford.

Jackson, Jono 2013. Meaning in miscellanea. Tanzanian Affairs 104: 17-18.

Longair, Sarah Charlotte 2012. ‘A Gracious Temple of Learning’: The Museum and Colonial Culture in Zanzibar, 1900-1945. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Birkbeck College, University of London.

Polome, Edward C. 1980. The languages of Tanzania. In E. C. Polome and C. P. Hill (eds.) Language in Tanzania. Oxford: Oxford University Press for the International African Institute. 3-25.

Woodward, H. W. 1882. Collections for a Handbook of the BoondéLanguage. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Woodward, H. W. 1913/14. Kitaita or Kisighau as spoken on the Shambala Hills above Bwiti. Zeitschrift für Kolonialsprachen 4 (2): 91-117.

Zanzibar Protectorate 1952. A Guide to Zanzibar. Zanzibar: Government Printer.

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