CONSERVATION, DEVELOPMENT AND TOURISM AT SWAHILI RUINS
Alex Vine’s article on the above subject in Bulletin No 37 reads very interestingly in conjunction with Mark Horton’s ‘Digging Up Zanzibar’ in No 35. Dr Horton says correctly that during the British period in Zanzibar there was a very ambivalent attitude towards the past. The same applies to the Mainland, except, as Mr Vines says, for the occasional professional like Neville Chittick – and, I would add, the occasional amateur enthusiast among the colonial rulers; one only has to glance at the District Books maintained by the District Commissioners (where are they now?) Mr Vine’s excellent report leaves one greatly depressed. It is difficult to picture what is going to happen, except that there is likely to be more robbery, more neglect and more riding roughshod over the archaeological past, as has been the case on Songo Songo. ‘There is no reason why development and conservation could not go hand in hand. ‘ True. But one only needs to remember that it did not in wealthy Britain until very recently. Surely legislation on the Botswana pattern is the first essential; is there no one in Tanzania prepared to take the first steps? If these first steps were set in train I don’t imagine financial assistance would be difficult to find, especially as Mr Vines says ‘both the Archaeology Unit at the University and the Antiquities Department have the expertise to carry out the necessary assessments.’ The article deals only with the Swahili ruins but if one takes the country as a whole there are many other important prehistoric sites, starting with Olduvai. As World Heritage monuments they could well attract not only specialist tours but also funds. And the European Community itself, three quarters of whose member states are former colonial powers, seems an obvious starting point in a search for resources. I look forward to hearing what happens next. And also to a report on Dr Horton’s 1990 excavations.
FACT AND FICTION IN RECENT HISTORY
Much has been achieved in the last thirty years to address the previous imbalance of Eurocentric perceptions of African history – and a good thing too. During the same period – perhaps inevitably – myths about the colonial period have come to be accepted as fact. Has any work been done on identifying the scale and nature of this new mythology, and its significance – if any? I can quote two examples relating to just Ukerewe district in which I served as District Commissioner from 1958 to 1961. A year or two before my arrival the Rubya Forest Reserve was earmarked as one of the country’s first ‘production’ reserves – as distinct from ‘protective’. It fell to me and the Assistant Conservator of Forests to establish it. It was an uphill task and there was a good deal of resistance to the idea from the local branch of the TANU Party. Eventually, after much discussion it was agreed that the local people would be paid to clear the land for a nursery and trial plots and would then be permitted to grow their own crops interplanted with the tree seedlings. The project was showing every sign of success when I left in 1961.
Four years later, whilst working with the British Council in Nigeria, I read in a local newspaper an article about the Rubya Forest by a Nigerian reporter who was doing a series on another former colony. It was an excellent article in many respects but I was astonished to read that the Reserve had been established as a result of local initiative in the teeth of opposition from the colonial government. When I visited Rubya again in 1971 I related this to the Tanzanian Conservator of Forests and his staff and they fell about laughing.
Recent correspondence with an inhabitant of Ukerewe island reveals the existence of the local perception that there was diamond mining at Rugezl during the period of my incumbency. This is a complete fiction. The rea1ity is that in 1959 when the channel at Rugezi , which separated the island (in Lake Victoria) from the mainland, was only about 200 yards wide, it was decided to build a causeway across the channel, retaining the ferry pontoon in a central gap – to be moved aside to allow fishing boats through as need arose. When we came to build the causeway the main item of equipment used was a large mechanical excavator with drag line of the kind used in diamond mining. For several months this was to be seen excavating soil and dredging mud as it pushed a causeway across the channel. This operation is evidently the source of the diamond mining myth.
About 1962 unprecedentedly heavy rains combined with Egyptian decisions about Nile irrigation caused the Lake level to rise by several feet, and a channel over a mile wide was opened up at Rugezi; the causeway was submerged and all evidence of its existence obliterated. One can understand pre-independence anti-colonial propaganda acquiring post-independence respectability. But how much of this has been permanently adopted?
KINDWITI LEPROSY VILLAGE
I am writing this letter with a great sense of urgency. The Tanzanian department of Social Welfare (because the Treasury simply have not got the money) has cut our subvention by 50%. This means we are unable to feed our leprosy patients, many of them people who cannot feed themselves. We have done all we can to economise; we have cut the payroll, we have revised the ration list. We have been doing a lot of calculations; we need £75 a week to cover the short-fall. (This is the gist of a letter sent out by The Rev. Canon Robin Lamburn of the Kidwiti Leprosy Village at Utete. Contributions can be sent to the Rufiji Leprosy Trust, Horton House, Horton, Ilminster, Somerset TA19 9RL – Editor).