Archiving material from nearly half a century of anthropological research on Mafia Island, Tanzania – Pat Caplan, Goldsmiths College London
I first went to Mafia Island as a Ph.D. student of social anthropology in 1965, and continued to visit it regularly for the next 45 years. During this time, I kept my own diaries and asked local people to keep diaries for me, filled many notebooks, made recordings, took photos, shot a film using a camcorder, and of course collected a great deal of secondary material, especially when in the country. In between visits I wrote and received many letters (later emails) and set up a website about Mafia in both Swahili and English (www.mafia-island-tanzania.gold.ac.uk).
My research covered kinship and descent, gender relations, health, food, relations between village and state, development and globalisation, spirit possession and personal narratives/historical biography.
I used a wide variety of methods, including participant observation, interviewing, population surveys, and photography, recording and film. Although the focus of my work was the northern village of Kanga, I also lived and/or visited other parts of the island, including the villages of Bweni, Banja, Baleni, Chole Mjini and the district capital Kilindoni. Time was also spent in Dar es Salaam, including at the University, and in Zanzibar, as many Mafia migrants lived in these places.
Last year I decided to archive all of this material, and SOAS Library said they would be happy to take it. This meant a lot of sorting, labelling, weeding and finally listing everything in a way which would make sense for other users, including the archivists. This took quite a long time, but was an opportunity to-revisit, indeed re-live, some memorable times. In addition to the listings of folders and files, I also prepared a background document detailing the work done on each of my visits, and the publications which resulted.
The bulk of the collection was delivered just before Christmas 2017 and the last remnants of photos just after. The archivist with whom I had been working told me that it might be 2019 before the archive could be open to interested readers, as cataloguing takes a long time and there are of course never enough resources.
Archiving also raises ethical issues, as an archived document is placed in the public domain. For this reason, some files are embargoed for periods of time to protect informants. Nonetheless, archives not only enable the viewing of historical documents but also of the attempts to make sense of information gathered and the creation of knowledge.
What is in the archive?
a. Field notes from research trips to Mafia Island and elsewhere in the coastal region: 1962, 1965-7, 1976, 1985, 1994, 2002, 2004, 2010.
b. Genealogies for 1965-7 Kanga village, Mafia Island
c. Notebooks for 1965-7, 1976, 2002, 2010
d. Sea charts of Mafia and Kilwa channels, showing Mafia Island
f. Copies of film (2003) Life on Mafia Island (English), Maisha ya Watu Kisiwani Mafia (Swahili)
g. Secondary and grey material about Mafia Island
h. Listing of field notes