I wish to register my concern about the cursory coverage in the Britain Tanzania Society publications of ‘Africa: Art of a Continent’ (Royal Academy of Arts; hereafter RA) and the larger ‘Africa 95’ season held in the autumn to celebrate the contemporary arts of Africa. I appreciate that the review in Tanzanian Affairs No. 53 and the announcement in Newsletter No 102 for the RA’s ‘Africa: Art of a Continent’ exhibition were intended to be brief. However, even brief reports have a responsibility to convey some sense of the occasion and its content, which, in this instance, would include a choice of words informing readers of current approaches to the arts of Africa because this was the rationale of the season. Specifically, I am referring to the misuse of ‘artefact’ and ‘primitive’ with reference to the exhibition ‘Africa: Art of a Continent’. The Academy position is that ‘if an object is displayed in the RA galleries it is art’. This was restated as an aim of the show – to collapse the 19th century Western distinction between art and artefact (first advocated with regard to African objects in 1927 by British Museum curator Emil Torday, known for his study of the Kuba). In art historical studies ‘primitive’ (often with a capital P as in Primitivism’) refers specifically to European early 20th century works which were inspired by the art of Oceania and Africa (the most cited example is Picasso’s ‘Demoiselles’). To describe a 1.6 m tool made by a proto-human as ‘primitive1 or ‘simple1 was redundant/unnecessary. What I am suggesting, however, is that even using the word ‘primitive1 in the context of African art casts a negative shadow of prejudgement because the term is always pejorative when used in reference to African art and usually is inaccurate – very few works are naive or unintentional.

The Africa195 season featured modern art from Africa in nearly 50 events. Tanzanian artists had work in three key London shows: George Lilanga di Nyama at the Crafts Council, Sam Ntiro at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and Fatma Abdullah at the Barbican Art Gallery though Tanzania did not feature in any of the titles. Indeed, comparisons afforded by the season, may offer insight into why the contemporary arts, especially, the visual arts have been and are so underdeveloped there. Africaf95 was conceived, in the first instance, as a counterweight to the historical blockbuster show ‘Africa: Art of a Continent’, largely because the curator, Tom Phillips’ notion of ‘historical’ was ‘pre colonial’, ostensibly ending in 1900. This was long before the modern Makonde movement started, so it could not by definition be included in the RA show. However, the diversity of ethnic Makonde works on display there were fascinating and one wonders to what extent they are precursors for the modern styles (previously displayed in Oxford in 1989).

‘Africa: Art of a Continent’ was arranged by regions in part to decrease reliance on categories like ethnicity and nation that are, if you think about it, European colonial inventions. East Africa included works by ethnic groups living in Tanzania and by groups who live across boundaries with Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, Zaire and Zambia e.g. most Makonde works are cited as Mozambique/Tanzania. In these circumstances it is not easy to take a numerical reading for a single country, though I counted 29 for Tanzania. These included two examples of Swahili carving: a bao game board and a door frame (omitted in the TA review); both kinds of carving are on the increase today. A major problem with the RA labelling is that no indication was given as to the continuity of traditions. There are many quibbles with ‘Africa: Art of Continent’ (aired in many reviews) but none takes away the fact that the RA created a watershed event for world art that was very well attended by the British public (crowds for four months, with the most wonderful responses from school children, simply inspiring). I hope members saw it despite the BTS blurbs! In general, the season’s approach focused on the artist or maker rather than the nation, or another unit of organisation which, in some cases, was a region, institution or movement; I mention this because it has implications for the Britain- Tanzania Society and how it views itself and whether this is too narrow for today’s world. Elsbeth Court

In TA No 53 Christine Lawrence writes about ‘Africa: The Art of a Continent1: ‘Makonde ebony carvings are totally absent….’ I always understood that Makonde carvings are in African Blackwood or Dalbergia – this is the wood that is used for clarinet making. Ebony is from another tree (Diospyros) which belongs to another family. Maybe you can consult an expert on Makonde carving. Brian Harris

Having enjoyed reading Tanzanian Affairs for over 14 years, particularly its historical articles, I would like to ask if any readers would be willing to volunteer to participate in research on: ‘Decolonisation and Multi-racialism in Tanganyika; Witnesses Recollections’.

The 1950’s was a decade of radical attitudinal change. This study will rely on primary and secondary material dealing with the period as well as solicit an array of open-ended testimonies from people resident in the country at that time. I would be grateful to anyone who lived in Tanganyika for any length of time during the years 1945 to 1961 to send me their recollections, both their observations and their own opinions and attitudes towards one or another of the changes that occurred then.

While I look forward to receiving the views of people who worked in government or were politically active, this survey is by no means targeted at them. The only specification is that an informant lived through decolonisation in Tanganyika. I am hoping that both men and women will respond so I can compare responses to determine if gender was a demarcator of attitudinal differences.

There is no set format for your response. You are merely invited to submit your memories about the social and political changes that took place in the run-up to independence. Anecdotes are welcome. The length of your reply is up to you, ranging from a paragraph to a full essay. Anyone who wishes to be anonymous, is welcome to do so but in that case it would be helpful if you identified your gender, and your occupation and location of residence in Tanganyika. In the event of publication, if I were to quote from your correspondence, I would seek your permission in writing before hand. The following is a list of some of the public issues arising during that period which may jog your memory: race relations, African education and meritocracy, Local Government vs Native Authorities, TANU, peasant politics, rural land alienation, settlers1 interests, public disorder, the role of civil servants in political change, Africanisation of the civil service, criteria for citizenship, economic development.
Dr. Deborah Fahy Bryceson African Studies Centre, P 0 Box 9555 RB Leiden, The Netherlands.

I would like to comment on the short article in the last issue entitled ‘Three Ton Vermin1, being an extract from the Tanganyika Standard’ in 1946. This concerns a fisherman chest high in water (I assume he was in the River Rufiji) who was savaged to death by a hippo which was shot three days later by a Mr. A E Barker of Muhoro. I feel sure that this must have been De La Bere Barker, who, when I lived in Dar es Salaam, (1956-62), he lived in Muhoro and I often saw him in Dar – a tall, rather eccentric type of person, dressed in bush-type clothing with a double terai bush hat followed by an African lady carrying a couple of ‘kikapus’ with the shopping.
He was a fairly well known figure in the Dar area and was known by his adopted name of ‘Rufiji’ . He was the author of a number of books of short stories about the bush area where he lived, and gave regular weekly broadcasts on similar subjects, in Swahili over the Tanganyika Broadcasting system – certainly one of the characters of the Colonial area. Ronald W Nunns Adelaide Australia

My wife and I have just made a short trip to Tanzania. It was our first visit since we moved to Rwanda in 1993 and were subsequently engulfed in that country’s civil war and its tragic consequences.
The purpose of this letter is to express our appreciation of the reception we received both from Tanzanians and expatriates. After the horrors of Rwanda it was a delight to be with people who were gentle and peace-loving. We had only one significant disappointment – the videos on the buses! We were travelling on public transport and had hoped to divide our time on the bus between admiring the scenery and talking to fellow passengers. In fact, neither proved practicable because of the videos, most of them noisy and extremely violent and some containing obscene language. It seems sad and insulting that Tanzanians should be exposed to this. The videos seem to be fairly popular with passengers. In a country like Tanzania, where education is much prized, is it not possible for the British Council, USAID or some other organisation to provide better quality informative material? Might there be a role for the Britain-Tanzania Society? I should be interested in comments, particularly from Tanzanians.
John E Cooper, National Avian Research Centre P 0 Box 45553, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Your diary of the 1995 Tanzanian elections prompted recollection of Tanganyika’s first general election in 1960. Very few parliamentary seats were contested and TANU nominees were generally returned unopposed. Ukerewe, where I was the District Commissioner and Returning Officer (my wife typed the electoral role) was one of the few exceptions. The TANU candidate was Nicas Buhatwa and Joseph Mafuru boldly stood as an independent. Then the Local TANU branch officials claimed that several of the signatures on Joseph Mafuru’s nomination papers had been forged. The matter was followed up by Daudi Amri, our local Assistant Superintendent of Police, and a Resident Magistrate, Geoffrey Hill, hastened across from Mwanza, found Joseph Mafuru guilty and sentenced him to a short term of imprisonment, to be postponed until after the election.

Logic suggests that, at this point, Joseph Mafuru , having no intention of appealing, the election process might nave been halted and, in due course, Nicas Buhatwa returned unopposed. But legislation made no provision for this and the election had to go ahead. Had Joseph Mafuru been elected he would then have been disqualified and Nicas Buhatwa declared the winner. Nicas Buhatwa did win but the independent candidate took between a quarter and a third of the votes cast. After the count I was accused by TANU of rigging the election because Joseph Mafuru had got so many votes and by the opposition candidate because he hadn’t won! Don Barton

Thank you all those who have written from around the world to congratulate me on the election results issue of Tanzanian Affairs. Sorry it will not be possible to thank individually the writers of these letters but it was nice to receive them – best wishes from your swollen-headed editor!

2 thoughts on “LETTERS

    Brian Harris in TA No. 54 throws doubt on the correctness of using the word ‘ebony’ in connection with Makonde carvings. I am sure this word has been traditionally used for many years but no doubt a botanist might be more particular. J Anthony Stout in ‘Modern Makonde Sculpture’ (1966) consistently writes of ebony carvings. The Makonde carvings exhibition held in Oxford in 1989 refers to ‘African blackwood (a type of ebony)’. The Standard Swahili Dictionary translates ‘Mpingo’ as ‘the ebony tree – Diospyros ebenum and Dalbergia melanoxylon’ .

    However, it does seem that the Mpingo tree has not been properly studied and this may account for some ambiguity in using the term ‘ebony’. Now steps are being taken to investigate the tree, particularly because the makers of clarinets and such musical instruments have become alarmed at the dwindling supply of Mpingo wood. In November 1995 Flora and Fauna International organised a workshop in Maputo to discuss the plight of the tree and as a result, a Cambridge University expedition is now under way in Lindi Region. They are researching all aspects of the tree with a view to producing a management plan for its sustainable commercial development. They have formed a charity called ‘Tanzanian Mpingo ’96’ and still need financial help. If readers are interested they should please contact Huw Nicholas, Cambridge,
    Christine Lawrence

  2. Pingback: Tanzanian Affairs » 36 YEARS OF TANZANIAN AFFAIRS – PART 2

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