IN PRAISE OF TANZANIA – A BOOK REVIEW

“Journey through Tanzania” by Amin, Willetts and Marshall : Bodley Head,
Price £19-95, 192 pages, size 13″ x l0”.

This is a really fascinating book and long overdue, because I do not believe there has ever been a book of this large size on Tanzania. In a way it is all the more welcome because it does not dwell on Tanzania’s economic plight, or the difficulties faced by her people day by day. In the Britain-Tanzania Society we are constantly concerned about these problems and sometimes can lose sight of what sort of country lies underneath: the physical heritage, the historical background and the way of life in different parts of the country. Here the story is told in a highly informative and readable way. And, let me say now, please do not be put off by the price! If you would like to see more of Tanzania (or have not been able to get there at all) and are unable to travel for or reason or another, this is the book to buy. Count the £20 as being the cost of a trip around Tanzania and it’s a bargain!

It is altogether a beautiful book, in layout, appearance and narrative style. The photographs are by Mohamed Amin and Duncan Wiletts and the text by Peter Marshall. Mohamed Amin is now well known since making the BBC film on Ethiopia which moved us all so profoundly.*

* Since then Mohamed Amin has made a documentary film on half-a-dozen African countries called ‘African Calvary’. In it President Nyerere, President Kaunda, Mother Theresa and Willy Brandt speak. The proceeds are for the UN Water Fund.

On reading the book right through, I found that the photographs did not illustrate the text sufficiently, but I suppose that this would be inevitable even if smaller ones had left room for more. Personally I would like to have seen something of the ‘unforgettable scenic drive to the north along the Chunya escarpment’: and I looked in vain for the African Violet, which ‘grows profusely along the Olduvai Gorge (‘oldupai’ is Maasai for African violet). I also felt one did not get a proper idea of the Ngorongoro Crater from the double page photograph taken at dawn: one appreciates the aesthetic beauty of the dawn, but it disguises the reality .

As a background to this ‘Journey through Tanzania’, the book begins with a chapter called ‘The Making of Tanzania and within a few short paragraphs we grasp the extent of the scene and the period covered. ‘Tanzania is a country of stunning beauty, a kaleidoscope of landscape, wildlife and people.. . This country, where modern man may have originated, possesses a mosaic of peoples. In its long history, it has become a fruitful meeting point of African, Arab, Asian and European cultures.. Today, Tanzania is a land of great contrasts.

Somewhere in the great inland plains, a pride of lions intently watches nomads with their cattle… Life continues as it has for thousands of years. In the capital, Dar es Salaam, children in their neat blue and white school uniforms watch the traditional dances (ngomas) performed by a textile factory troupe to the beat of the coastal drums.. . A silver jet flies unheeded in the deep blue sky. Here life changes from year to year… Out of the bush and the fields, out of the villages and the towns, a new nation is being forged: a nation full of energy, beginning t o tap its wealth and map its path into the 21st. century. In so doing it draws profound lessons from a rich history and varied culture to share with materially richer but socially poorer countries. ‘

To me these phrases may sound rather romantic, but they do express a valid point of view when one stands back and looks at the total scene, and Peter Marshall obviously wants us to enjoy our journey. The whole tone of the book encourages us to enjoy everything, but there are passages describing the land, its geological formation, its climate, its vegetation and other aspects with sufficiently scientific detail. Even so, the author finds plenty to enthuse about: ‘Without doubt, Tanzania is a land of superlatives ‘. The Great Rift Valley, ‘one of the world’s most remarkable geographical features’. Lake Tanganyika: ‘Africa’s deepest and longest freshwater lake and the second deepest in the world’. ‘Tanzania in fact has 19,982 square miles of inland water more than any other African country’. ‘The remarkable Serengeti Plains which support over three million game’. The Ngorongoro Crater: ‘An unequalled caldera’. The Selous Game Reserve: ‘the largest in Africa and one of the last great wildernesses on earth’. ‘But above all there is mighty Mount Kilimanjaro’.

After this descriptive section follows the history, starting about 3.6 million years ago with the earliest ‘human’ footprints in the world, discovered by Mary Leakey in 1979 under several layers of ash, near the Sadiman volcano. Several pages of more up-to-date history follow, related in a narrative style, which proves the author a born story-teller and at the same time it is sufficiently informative to give the reader plenty of facts about the country he is exploring.

The chapter concludes: ‘A journey through Tanzania is not only one of phenomenal beauty and unflagging interest, but one that broadens horizons, deepens sensibilities and poses some fundamental questions of life’. Now we may sit back in our armchair and enjoy the journey! First, we visit the ‘Green Islands’. The old Arabic name for Pemba was ‘Green Island’, so here Zanzibar, Pemba, Mafia and all the smaller islands are meant. The atmosphere of Zanzibar is powerfully evoked and there is plenty of history to relate about all the islands.

Next we explore the ‘Silver Coast’: Bagamoyo, Dar es Salaam and the Kilwas with all their history. There is a pleasant interlude when we are introduced to Dhow sailing, with admirable photographs. At ‘Bustling and thriving’ Kilwa Masoko the present catches up with us: natural gas from Songo Songo Island has been piped to a new fertiliser plant and ‘will doubtless turn Kilwa Masoko into a boom town’.

Now we cross the Rufiji Delta (I was delighted with the aerial view, unforgettable to anyone who has ever flown south from Dar es salaam) and the Selous Game Reserve, with its own dramatic history, to pick up the Tanzam railway in its northern tip. We are reminded that the railway is ‘the greatest engineering effort of its kind since the Second World Wart and all the details of its building are given. 529 miles from Dar es Salaam and we arrive in Mbeya ‘to explore the great natural beauties of the Southern Highlands’. ‘South to Lake Nyasa the road passes some of the most beautiful scenery in Tanzania’. ‘But all is not well with the Lake. Water levels have risen alarmingly at a rate of 6-15 feet every 5 years, mainly because of the silt brought down by the 20 large rivers which feed it’.

From Mbeya we travel north-east to Iringa and the unique Isimila Stone Age site . The Hehe tribe live in the area and we hear the story of Chief Mkwawa’s stand against the Germans at the end of the last century. Then on to Dodoma, the new capital in the centre of the country. Dodoma wine is well known, though it may not be to everybody’s taste, and has not yet arrived in the United Kingdom. ‘Some 2,980 acres of vineyards are under cultivation… By 1985 the harvest is expected to exceed 5,080 tons, There are also 99 acres of experimental vineyards, where 168 varieties are under trial’.

From Dodoma we follow the old caravan route to Tabora and thence to Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika. The history of the 1,300 ton steamship “Graf von Goetzen”, renamed ss Liemba in 1924, is remarkable. Originally sent up the railway in bits and pieces, she was hardly assembled before she was hit by a bomb from a Belgian ‘plane in the First World War. Greased and scuttled by the retreating Germans, she was salvaged in 1924. ‘Beached once again in 1970, she was relaunched with diesel engines nine years later and continues to cruise along the lake, operating a cargo and passenger service from Kigoma to Mralungu in Zambia and to Bujumbura in Burundi’.

South of Kigoma lies Ujiji, where of course Stanley found Livingstone in 1871 and a monument commemorates the event. After considering fishing in Lake Tanganyika, which with 250 species of fish is the richest in the world, we continue to Lake Victoria, Mwanza and Musoma.

Finally we reach the Northern Parks. The Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, the Maasai ‘Mountain of God’ (the active volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai), other craters, lakes and highlands are all wonderfully described together with the way of life of the Maasai.

The last chapter called ‘Kilimanjaro – Hallelujah:’ tells us all about this snow-capped mountain within 3 degrees of the equator. And ‘Hallelujah!’ is the cry of the guides ‘paying respect to the mountain they have dared to climb once more against the admonitions of their people’.

Do buy this book!
Christine Lawrence

1 Comment »

  1. Tanzanian Affairs » TA ISSUE 21 said,

    December 6, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    […] threatened with Extinction The Tanzanian Engineer What happened in Zanzibar in 1984 as well as book reviews and […]

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