Digitizing Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Preservation and Development in Tanzania
Repurposing has recently been necessary to the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (SEES) Global Challenges project in Tanzania to continue to support the local community despite the on-going COVID-19 crisis.
When lock-down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic started to impact business and travel worldwide, work on year 2 of our project, ‘Safeguarding Heritage for Sustainable Development in Coastal Tanzanian Sites’ stalled. We had arranged several in-country training sessions to build in-country capacity to address heritage site loss and damage through natural and anthropogenic change. The training was to engage with the University of Dar es Salaam, government official from the Department of Antiquities and Tourism and with people living in and around the heritage that is the focus of our work on the Swahili Coast. Due to the pandemic, our visit was immediately put on hold and a rapid revision of the project plans had to be made. A strategy swiftly developed to enable the progress of the project while, most importantly, enabling the community at Kilwa Kisawani World Heritage Site (the focus for this stage) to be supported at a time when their livelihoods were being devastated.
It had always been our intention, in year 3, to construct a focal point for the project at Kilwa in the form of a small museum that would be staffed by members of WAUMAKI, a woman-run heritage enterprise group .
The museum would house:
- results from the research,
- artefacts that had been found at the site over the years,
- items of heritage that originated in Kilwa but are currently housed elsewhere
- and importantly, provide an outlet for the woman to sell products based on their intangible heritage knowledge, such as basketry and weaving.
We also intended this museum to be a point where tourists to the region could engage with knowledgeable guides for the site, at once providing income to the local community and preservation for the site.
Switching the focus of these two years’, construction is now well underway for a small museum, and it is proving a greater early success than had been envisioned. Members of the community have come together to help build the museum and to provide its cultural heritage content by offering their stories to be recorded at the museum.
For example, Msee (translates to mean ‘respectable old man’) Hassan Raman has been talking to WAUMAKI about his time working on the site with the late Prof. Chittick in the 1970s when Chittick was director of the British Institute in East Africa. When completed and the team can return to Tanzania, we will continue the training and community outreach we had planned for this year. We hope to all benefit from the new insights the current world circumstances have given us.