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Photo gallery
Historical Photo gallery

Historical photo gallery of Mafia Island, 1965-2010

  1. Kanga Village 1965-2010:
    Landscapes of Kanga, Seascapes, Cultivation, Food, Other activities, Parents and Children, Children and their Activities, Primary School, Koran Schools, Clinic, Weddings and Circumcisions, New Years Day, Special Events, Changes in Dress

  2. Bweni Village 1985-2010:
    Bweni Scenes, Beach, Secondary School

  3. Kilindoni District Capital 1965-2010
    Kilindoni Harbour, Kilindoni Scenes, Harbour View Guest House, District Hospital, Mafia Airport, NGOs in Kilindoni

While there are numerous photographs and video films of Mafia Island on the web, most of them focus on its beaches and marine life, especially in the south of the island within the Mafia Island Marine Park. This photo gallery here is different, since it is a record of my fieldwork on Mafia from 1965, when I went for 18 months as a postgraduate, to my last visit in 2010.

Over the years, I have spent most of my fieldwork time in the northern village of Kanga, but also visited other northern villages such as Bweni, Mrali, and Banja; in the 1960s I also lived for 3 months in the central village of Baleni. In fieldwork from the 1960s to the new millennium, I spent very little time in Kilindoni, the district capital, but in 2002, when I was engaged in an island-wide project, I began to take pictures there, continuing in 2004 and 2010, a period during which the town expanded considerably, with a larger market, more shops, and a rapid growth in the building of new houses.

In the 1960s, I knew little about photography, and my attempts to take pictures were handicapped by poor cameras as well as technique, and by the fact that one of my two cameras got dropped in a river! Nonetheless, there are some viewable pictures of that period, mostly black and white, but also a few in colour digitized from slides. During later visits in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s I had better cameras and took somewhat better photographs. In 2002 I took a digital camcorder with me and shot a film ‘Life on Mafia Island Tanzania’ which is available on Youtube in five parts http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Life+on+Mafia+Island&aq=f On my next two visits, I used a digital still camera.

Why a Historical Photo Gallery?

In organizing this website, I had a number of considerations in mind. One was to ‘give back’ to Mafian people a record of themselves and their island. The second was to make this material available to other scholars of the East Coast and its islands. The third was to provide some kind of historical record of changes which have taken place, thereby countering the view promulgated by some of the tourist websites of a ‘traditional’ and ‘unchanging’ society. For both of these reasons, I have included some photos which are by no means of good quality. However, there are considerable ethical issues involved in putting online pictures of living people or their recently deceased relatives. While I always asked permission before taking pictures in the field and returned copies to informants, at the time I did not think of setting up a website. Now it is impossible to ask everyone’s permission, so I have had to bear in mind some of the issues which would be of concern to them.

During the many years I have been visiting, close relations have been established. People are used to having me around and feel comfortable with my taking pictures of them in informal situations, especially domestic ones. However, I reluctantly decided not to include many such pictures, for fear of embarrassing the subjects. For example, women in the privacy of their homes and courtyards, do not cover themselves up as they would outside their houses, and they would not want to be seen publicly in this way. Indeed, as one of the pages on the gallery (Changing dress) reveals, dress codes have changed considerably over this period, and what was acceptable, especially for women, in the 1960s and 1970s, is not acceptable now. Furthermore, some of the customary rituals have also fallen into disuse, partly because of their expense, but also because of criticism of them by the ‘new’ and more puritanical version of Islam which has recently become current on many parts of the East Coast. For this reason, I have left out a series of pictures of the girls’ initiation ritual (unyago) which I shot in the 1960s, because women used to wear very little during this ritual, although I have left in pictures of boys’ circumcision rituals, since they do not involve people being under-dressed by today’s standards.

Changes on Mafia Island

So what kind of changes can be observed in these pictures? Many of them are small and subtle, but by no means insignificant. It will be noticed, for example, that there are many more pictures of fishing in photos from the later years, and this is largely because it has become a much more important activity for islanders. On later visits, I found that some events common in earlier years, such as spirit possession rituals (ngoma ya shaitani), and even celebratory dances (ngoma ya furaha) were less frequently practiced because of criticism from adherents to the ‘new Islam’.

Dress has clearly changed quite a lot – men tend to wear trousers rather than loincloths (shuka), and women to cover up more. But whereas in the past many went barefoot in the villages, particularly women and children, most people nowadays wear sandals on their feet, even shoes, which help prevent hookworm.

There have been considerable improvements in educational facilities, both secular and Koranic. In the 1960s, primary schools were few and sometimes shared by more than one village, as was the case with Kanga and Bweni. Children who continued beyond the first few years of primary school would have to leave their villages and go elsewhere, even to the mainland. It was not until 1994 that the first secondary school was opened on the island, but the new millennium has seen rapid expansion of numbers and by 2010 there were some half dozen secondary schools on the island, including one in Bweni village which Kanga children also attended. Koran schools (madrasa) have also expanded in numbers and size, and most children now study there part-time.

Health facilities are also now much better than they were in the 1960s, with improved rural medical centres many of which also have small maternity wards and staff who receive a longer training than did the rural medical aids of the 1960s. There is also greater availability of drugs at the village and district level. The Kilindoni hospital which serves the island has been refurbished and extended. Many more children survive to adulthood than was once the case, not least because of the vaccination programmes, and the population has grown dramatically over the last few decades. Even so, there remain diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria which continue to pose threats to people’s health.

Travel to and from as well as on the island remains difficult. Ordinary people have to travel by small dhow (mashua) to the mainland, a lengthy and risky journey. Although the airport, whose runway was finally upgraded recently, now receives several planes a day, the fares are out of reach of most islanders, so flights are mostly filled with government servants or tourists. Mafia has never had a satisfactory deep-water harbour, and off-loading large boats has been done utilizing either a lighter or smaller boats. Presently a new jetty is under construction which should improve this situation. There are only two main roads on the island – one running south-north from Kilindoni to Bweni and the other west-east, from Kilindoni to Utende. For many years they were effectively only tracks, and although they have been widened in the last few years, the surface is still not tarmacked so that many places become impassable in the rains.

Mafia’s main cash crop is coconuts, and many pictures have a background of palm trees. In the early years of this period, copra was extracted and dried before being exported, but gradually there was a move to export whole nuts to the markets in Dar es Salaam. The other cash crop, cashew-nuts, is grown more extensively in the south of the island, but has also had a chequered history, with big price fluctuations over the years. In the main, prices of cash crops have mostly gone down over the 45 year period covered by this gallery. At the same time, prices of bought food have risen.

Apart from fishing, new industries include the setting up of a prawn farm with a hatchery near to Kilindoni and ponds for the prawns close to the central village of Kirongwe. Tourism has grown over the years, concentrated mainly in the south-eastern corner of the island at Utende and on the small island of Chole. Yet much beach land has been sold in the northern villages to tourist developers, and it is possible that one day hotels will be built there.
So the recent history of the island has been one of very uneven development, in which some have benefitted but others have actually become poorer and food security is a major issue.

Acknowledgements

All of my photos from 1965-1994 have been digitized by my husband Professor Lionel Caplan, to whom I am very grateful. The painstaking and time-consuming work of setting up this web gallery has been done by Dan Watson. The funding for enabling this gallery to be set up has come from a Small Grant awarded by the British Academy, whose assistance I gratefully acknowledge.

  1. Kanga Village 1965-2010:
    Landscapes of Kanga, Seascapes, Cultivation, Food, Other activities, Parents and Children, Children and their Activities, Primary School, Koran Schools, Clinic, Weddings and Circumcisions, New Years Day, Special Events, Changes in Dress

  2. Bweni Village 1985-2010:
    Bweni Scenes, Beach, Secondary School

  3. Kilindoni District Capital 1965-2010
    Kilindoni Harbour, Kilindoni Scenes, Harbour View Guest House, District Hospital, Mafia Airport, NGOs in Kilindoni