Practicing History in Central Tanzania: Writing, Memory and Performance.
Practicing History in Central Tanzania is the outcome of interviews and writings of Ernest Musa Kongola and some members of his family who live in Dodoma in Tanzania, Africa. It is transcribed and interpreted by a United States-based academic, Gregory Maddox, who arranged the book thematically in eight chapters. The author analyzes Kongola's construction of his sense of belonging in the local community, Tanzania, and the world. Practicing History in Central Tanzania is an interpretive study which argues that formulation of the ethnic identity, Gogo, was influenced by Christian missions and leaders in the colonial and postcolonial eras. Kongola's testimony and Maddox's work complements the efforts of other African researchers who seek to document the region's oral history.
One of the strengths of the study is the publication of the recorded life review of Kongola in Chapter Three. Kongola, the interviewee, positively portrays himself as a man of integrity, industrious and religious, whose life is primarily interconnected with the school and church. He describes his role during the 1960s and 1970s as Educational Assistant, Head Teacher, and Cultural Officer. Despite his striving to fulfill ambitions, Kongola also admits to failures in agriculture and animal husbandry and discusses frankly his addiction to alcohol and his efforts to overcome it. His candid account of these shortcomings adds an element of objectivity to the autobiography.
Maddox should have been more skeptical of the accounts of the interviewee. There needed to be a comparative framework in which the authenticity of events could be verified by citing other oral historians' findings and other historical accounts. Often it seemed that Maddox was presenting Kongola's ideas and experiences as being common in Tanzania, but evidence for this assumption is needed. In Chapter Four, Maddox analyzes Kongola's account of his life, accurately pointing out the ways Kongola's version crosses the boundary separating the religious and secular. There is some bragging in Kongola's account. Maddox writes, "His emphasis on writing a progressive narrative, on putting himself forward as an exemplar, leads him to focus on his own accomplishments, made possible, in his view, by his own efforts and God's blessing" (69). Furthermore, Maddox notes the sense of discipline which Kongola felt contributed to his being a successful, modern person.
Chapter Five presents information on gender in Tanzanian society: Kongola provides biographical summaries of his mother and wife (Talita Ngwila Kafume Kongola and Margareth Ndala Mwajuma Kongola). This is crucial information for an appreciation of the role of African women in a patriarchal society. Not surprisingly, Kongola portrayed both women as exemplary, loyal, family-oriented and devout Christians. Two issues which were not discussed but would have been relevant in this chapter are the women's views on genital mutilation and AIDS. Chapter Five is problematic for another reason: the methodology employed by Maddox seemingly does not fit into the framework of traditional oral history. This is particularly true in the utilization of two secondhand accounts: Kongola's biographies of his wife and mother. For some historians, it would be difficult to accept this chapter as oral history because the accounts do not emanate directly from the women. Yet, the testimony is important as one man's reflections on women's status in Tanzanian society.
Chapter Six examines the pivotal role of religion and salvation in Ugogo. Maddox draws on primary sources including the autobiography of Kongola's father and records of the Church Missionary Society. The author contends that Kongola's writings reflect a duality of being Gogo and Christian. Not surprisingly, Kongola tended to view Christianity as more important than colonialism or independence in the shaping of Tanzanian culture.
In discussing power relations in colonial Ugogo, Maddox argues that "colonialism was first and foremost based on violence, and that its first justification was racism" (117). While this is true, the author needed to consider complex influences such as a distorted Eurocentric belief in cultural superiority, capitalistic desire to exploit resources of a weaker country, the imperial urge to conquer new land, and the urge to Christianize the heathens.
In the final chapter Maddox appropriately mentions other institutions as the national museum and Historical Association of Tanzania which seeks to generate and preserve the country's past. One of the illustrations is the Village Museum of Tanzania that began a cultural festival in 1994: Siku ya Utamaduni. The author demonstrates that the debates about the past indicate the contested nature of 'popular memory'.
Practicing History in Central Tanzania makes a noteworthy contribution to understanding the reconfiguration of power. In Chapter 7, "Narrating Power in Ugogo," the author highlights the changes that occurred under German and British regimes and independent rule. Kongola's writings reveal power relations in postcolonial Tanzania and the emergence of a new power structure. For example, he mentions Mazengo, one of the senior native chiefs under German rule, who became a government chief in 1916, when the British were in power. There were conflicting stories surrounding Mazengo's power, especially his ability to control the rain which he used to convert to "a type of legitimacy" in a modern state (118).
Despite the interpretive complexities of dialects, it was a remarkable feat by Maddox to translate accurately (as much as it is possible to do), the writings and firsthand accounts of Kongola. The minimal annotations accurately depict the ethnic and gender relations of Tanzania. Additionally, Practicing History in Central Tanzania will certainly prove to be an invaluable asset for oral historians who seek to understand the socio-political, cultural and religious changes within a new paradigm. The book enlightens the reader on aspects of both the colonial and modern eras of an East African country.
University of the West Indies
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|Publication:||The Oral History Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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