Disease and Social Trauma in NW Tanzania: Implications for Historical Knowledge and Archaeology.

  • Author: Peter R. Schmidt
  • Topic: Heritage studies,Historical archaeology
  • Country: Tanzania
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

Disenchantment interpenetrated by fatalism runs deep in communities of NW Tanzania today. Whole families have perished from the scourge of HIV/AIDS, leaving behind remnant groups clinging to shreds of a highly venerated past that once guided and gave meaning to daily lives. The historical archaeology of the Haya people once unveiled a reverence for deep time histories, deeply important to the identity of communities and sometimes running over millennia. A recent archaeology of historical knowledge in the same region today shows severe erosion of oral traditions and thus a significant diminishment to the potential practice of an historical archaeology enriched by local knowledge of the past. Ill-fated by disease and the social trauma that has followed, people struggle with plummeting fertility of their farms, loss of respect for elders by the young, the rejection by youth of traditional values and modes of production, and the insidious erosion of kinship and neighborhood cooperation.

Damned by disenchantment with the present and recent past, the once rich distant past is quickly becoming a shadow, an imaginary that rarely surfaces in the consciousness of elders or youth today. With that diminishment, an historical archaeology using oral testimonies is also doomed, destined to construct the past from only material culture and a Western written record with its distinct biases and agendas. Juxtaposed against this scenario is a local initiative to develop heritage sites as cultural tourism destinations. Determined to reverse the downward economic and cultural slide, elders and other in several villages are determined to provide employment and hope to disenchanted youth through heritage tourism as well to reclaim a diminishing past through a comprehensive local effort to document extant oral traditions and histories today. This poverty alleviation and enhancement of cultural well-being has revitalized valuations of history, with restored heritage sites acting as daily reminders that the past holds hope for the fututre.

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