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Posts tagged "tanzania"

Pharrell’s GQ Masai-inspired Cover Sparks Outrage From Masai Community.

The British have a terrible history when it comes to cultural sensitivity. Looking at this world map, one can see that the vastness of the once-British Empire is not a display of greatness, but rather the markings of a former global system of oppression of brutality that has left its mark on our world today. Whilst far from the level of British imperialism, Pharrell Williams’ happy-go-lucky self doesn’t have an outstanding track record when it comes to cultural appropriation either. Perhaps that’s why this pairing featuring British GQ and Pharrell Williams isn’t altogether shocking.

Earlier this year, the singer, rapper, producer and ‘New Black’ spokesperson swapped his Vivienne Westwood mountie hat for a Native American war bonnet as he posed on the cover of Elle UK. How he and the entire Elle UK Magazine crew have managed to miss the countless articles and posts that have been published and circulated widely online against this form of cultural appropriation, I have no clue. But it seems like neither camp was aware, cared or showed any concern about their offensive actions until they were lambasted on social media.

Prior to the shoot, the Elle UK Magazine’s website posted a description of the editorial saying, “We persuaded Elle Style Award winner Pharrell to trade his Vivienne Westwood mountie hat for a Native American feather headdress in his best ever shoot.” Post-criticism, the message was later changed to read, “We persuaded [Pharrell] … to collaborate with us on his best ever shoot.” This weak attempts at a “cover-up”, if you can call it that, shows that Elle didn’t quite got the message. Not only were they fully aware of what Pharrell Williams was wearing from the get-go (they referred to the item by name), they neglected to concern themselves with the significance behind the item. Rather odd as fashion magazines are notorious for publishing well-researched in-depth articles about the designers behind the clothing featured in their magazines - especially on their covers.

Posing in yet another Western fashion-related magazine, this time British GQ, Pharrell’s multi-page spread sees him wearing arbitrary face paint and items of clothing associated with Masai people. Shot by lens duo Hunter & Gatti, the two said about the shoot, “all the inspiration concept of the shoot is related to the Masai tribe paintings. We brought a real Masai tribe just to make the ambient music around the shoot and inspire Pharrell.” If you’re wondering what this ‘tribe’ looked like or what the so-called ‘ambient music’ sounded like, GQ posted a video of the behind-the-scenes action on YouTube. But what’s really frightening in this case isn’t their overuse of the word ‘tribe’, it’s how they refer to the Masai people and culture as nothing more than items and props to be used at their disposal exposing the ways cultural appropriation rids a people of agency. That and how this cover makes Pharrell a repeat offender and serial cultural appropriator.

Whilst there has been outrage from members of both the Masai community and people leaving comments on Kenyan blogs concerning the commercial use of their culture, it is yet to receive the attention it deserves in mainstream media making a formal apology less likely in this case. What’s more, the specific use of Masai culture as a source of ‘inspiration’ speaks to the greater problem of companies that have been profiting from the image of the Masai, an already marginalized group in their home country, for decades.

In a BBC interview, Lemayian Ole kereto, an elder from the Masai community, expresses some key concerns with regards to the case against appropriation. Not only is cultural appropriation an act of suppression done primarily for commercial gain and usually enacted on already oppressed and marginalized groups, the use of “culture without consent” is never complimentary as it disregards the history, traditions and identities of those it depicts and affects the most. Ole kereto further adds that without prior consent from those representing the communities or culture in question, use of any facet of their culture falls directly into the real of cultural appropriation. If no body or agency exists that represents the majority or totality of the people in question, then companies should then refrain from this form of cultural ‘borrowing”. Ownership must be respected at all times.

Often, when discussing the issue of cultural appropriation, the question of whether or not it can be complimentary or not is sure to arise. The answer, quite simply, is no. Cultural appropriation has no benefits to those it affects. Cultural sensitivity and awareness are at the crux of addressing issues pertaining to cultural appropriation. When buying or making use of an item that is said to represent or belongs to a certain community, it is important to inform oneself of who is benefiting from this transaction. There is a possibility that cultural “borrowing” can benefit all parties involved. As Ole kereto says, “partnership attracts responsibility” which in turn creates effective awareness beyond commercial gain and profitability.

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Davido, Tiwa Savage and Diamond Platnumz Headline AfricaUnplugged Concerts in England.

Headlined by three of Africa’s hitmakers over the past year - Davido, Tiwa Savage and Diamond Platnumz, AfricaUnplugged Music Festival is back for another year boasting dates in both London and Manchester.

AfricaUnplugged hits the English capital on September 14th at the O2 Academy Brixton before heading to Manchester on September 21st at the RITZ Manchester.

This year’s line up includes performances from HNK Gangs, CEO Dancers, Mazi Chucks and a range of various African DJs like DJ Abass and DJ Abrantee.

Early bird tickets are £25 otherwise £35 gets you in.

Get your tickets before they sell out!

Writer Amira Ali Reviews Noaz Deshe’s ‘White Shadow’ and looks at the Representation of Africans in this Film.

Stories work with people, for people, and always stories work on people, affecting what people are able to see as real, as possible, and as worth doing or best avoided –Arthur Frank.

At the 57th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival, a group of us more inclined about the albino story attended the screening of White Shadow. A film by a Berlin-based Israeli director, Noaz Deshe; his debut, said to have been inspired by the ostracizing and albino killings prized by superstition in rural Tanzania.

The director was in Dar es Salaam on a film teaching assignment when he learned about Albino Witchcraft Murders, a Storyville documentary aired on BBC. The feature on “deep-rooted superstition, that leads to the belief that procuring the arm, legs, fingers, skin or hair of an albino person and brewing it into a potion will make them rich,” instantly appealed to the director leading to the production of a documentary-like with a fictional feature improvisation. It prompted the galvanization of a group of people who assisted in the production and quick research conducted in Berlin, with an urgency that resulted in an instant screenplay co-written with James Masson.

White Shadow is a story about Alias. The protagonist is an adolescent albino boy acted movingly and remarkably by an amateur, Hamisi Bazili. Alias, after witnessing the murder of his albino father by a group of men gets sent off by his mother from his rural home to find refuge in the city with her brother, Kosmos. Under his uncle’s care, a truck driver struggling to make ends meet, Alias quickly adapts to life in the city. Upon arrival, thrown into a culture of selling products on the streets of a big city, he discovers ways of earning a living in the urban milieu. In the city, wrestling with identity, hardship of a city life and the need for childhood comfort he often leaves the city to find ease with his albino community. Eventually realizing that the same rules of survival apply wherever he may be. 

A fiction film with a personal and impressionistic view of albinos in Tanzania, the story is premised around what the creator has gathered to be [his] objective verity. Dancing between fiction and non-fiction, the film is entrenched with graphic scenes of blood and gore presenting the African men as godless beasts; men in the lowest position humanely. Wrenched out by an aching and broken world, the scenes force an uncomfortable shifting in seat and shielding eyes from men mercilessly hacking a man’s body with a machete. A storyline that depicts forlorn humanity in rural Tanzania and extends the construct to implicate the city and a whole culture; bringing to the fore all the complexities with little nuances that give way to its understanding.

Most of the scenes are entrenched with adventures through a sinful city accompanied with images of a young generation inheriting the troubles and burdens of old tradition. Witchcraft and sorcery in the rural areas are put up against church priests. Much like when colonialism presented local beliefs as evil and uncouth, while religion emergent from the West is projected to save Africa from its sinful indigenous ways. Alongside is an episode of men and women in the city quarreling over the dead on whether to have a Muslim or Christian burial, the family obviously split between two religious practices. Thrown into the disarrayed event, to ensure a noisy and passionate farewell, is the hiring of a traditional mourner straight off the street.

A city projected to be at odds with itself, broken by perplexities, economics, sex and violence. And rural Tanzania framed as divided and shadowy while sorcery and the occult maintains a strong foothold. Underneath all the implications, while all scenarios lead to systemic injustice and economics – taking into account the witchdoctors, middlemen and the clients who pay for albino body parts– the story irresponsibly and insensitively places emphasis upon cultural and traditional aspects, with little to no historical and political context.

Fiction and Responsibility

It is said that the difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. That fiction and non-fiction are only different techniques of storytelling. Further, I believe, fiction has the same social responsibility, duty of integrity and sensitivity that is expected from non-fiction.Thus, in narrating whole culture as disoriented and iniquitous, the enormity of the albino condition and witchcraft killing feels minimized in White Shadow. It is minimized by a shortfall of a feel for the place –lived cultural experience– and an absence of comprehension of historical and political consequence of a culture.

Subsequent to the viewing, during the Q&A, the director made it clear that he was more concerned about the artistic formation with an emphasis on creating strong lead characters. When asked how he feels about portraying such an account with no historical or political context, and what that may do to the foreign audience’s psyche who may already have a poor image of Africa. He made it clear again that he was more concerned with portraying strong lead characters.

If it is indeed merely a feature film, purely for entertainment purposes, even then it falls short of moral dereliction as it goes back and forth between reality and heavily de-saturated themes –flirting between fiction and non-fiction. In constructing and narrating such human tragedy, I believe a teller should be held answerable for the story it tells. Responsible for the character(s) it creates. Especially as it insensitively puts them up against each other’s culture while representing an entire culture as brutal and immoral, and under inspection for gruesome crimes. Typical of most African films and stories told by the West, while “even the most liberal filmmakers can’t resist. They’ve got a God-complex,” as stated, by Biyi Bandele.

In White Shadow, the hero is not a western man or woman but a fictionalized character emerging from a western idea. An idea that stresses on division as it puts an African in opposition to a fellow African, inimical to our interests. An idea that portrays us as merciless and leaves us in a quandary, as it places African indigenous belief systems as barbaric and immoral while belief systems emergent from the West are depicted as exemplar of civilization and ideal piety in a world of persistent savagery.

By no means am I attempting to avoid or turn a blind eye to the harrowing accounts and killings of the African albinos. That is not the point of this piece. But rather, I wonder whom this film is written for? Who it aspires to serve? How it aims to shift or bring an end to the atrocity? Who has the right to challenge and narrate particularities of a culture? How does the unverified and under-researched narrative change the world for better? A world that ought to educate and facilitate knowledge to the young and coming generation, I can’t help but wonder how our children will make sense of such a film and make the appropriate correlation between those things that have been used to define our existence and the actual.

In the end, White Shadow, while attempting to speak of an enormity is regrettably stymied by its western representation and gaze. Leaving brutal images implanted in the psyche and too many questions left unanswered. A world, yet again, left to grapple with compositions fixated on dark and savage images coming out of Africa, with no historical context to critically examine the circumstance further. An audience left shocked and hopelessly unsure with what to do next.

NEW MUSIC: Victoria Kimani - Prokoto ft Diamond Platnumz & Ommy Dimpoz.

American-born Kenyan artist Victoria Kimani releases a brand new video for her single ‘Prokoto’. If you’re wondering why the song has a heavy West African sound to it, it’s because Victoria, who briefly lived in Nigeria during her teenage years, is signed to Nigerian record label Chocolate City.

The track features to other East African artists, MTV MAMA and BET Awards-nominated Diamond Platnumz and fellow Tanzanian Ommy Dimpoz.

"Iron Maiden" - Herieth Paul for Du Jour Magazine.

Tanzanian model Herieth Paul makes lame and sequins look badass in this shoot for Du Jour.

Photographed by Bjarne Jonasson, the Tina Chai-styled editorial has Paul looking like a chic tomboy femme with a sporty and slightly androgynous edge.

Herieth wears the likes of Lanvin, Dior, DKNY and Armani.


It’s not often that I feel myself drawn towards bold patterns and multi-colored garments but these CHiCHiA London items aren’t the kind of silhouettes you come across everyday. Handmade in Tanzania from cotton kanga fabric, these pieces are sure to make you the center of attention in any room you occupy.

Shop them here.

Worn mostly by women in the East Africa - mostly Tanzania (including Zanzibar) and Kenya, these large rectangular colourfully-designed cloths, called kangas, are a staple garment for many, mostly in the rural parts of these areas, but are also worn usually by older women in more urban areas.

Having their origins in the 19th century when Swahili-speaking women living along the cost, intrigued by the cotton shawls worn by the Portuguese who controlled the Zanzibar coastline, started buying them in bundles of six and stitched them together in two lengths of three and made them into dresses, kangas have developed into a highly important social aspect of life for many in this part of East Africa.

In the early 20th century, the most noted features of kangas were added when a trader in Mombasa named Kaderdina ‘Abdulla’ Hajee Essak started accenting his kanga cloths with proverbs. Nowadays, most kangas are embedded with a message - often in Swahili - of some sort ranging from political to personal.

Most recently, labels like the London-based British-Tanzanian fashion line Chichia London have begun incorporating kangas in their designs, creating western-inspired garments with a heavy East African touch.


October: Highlighting African Art & African Artists

Tanzanian model Herieth Paul for 10 Crosby Derek Lam, Spring 2014

Mwalimu Julius K.Nyerere, President of Tanzania, at Taj Mahal, Agra 1971

Ms Salama Adam Hassan, 24, said that fishing has saved many women in Kikungwi from abject poverty, “I completed my secondary school last year and since then I have been fishing and now building my own house. I do not want to wait until I get married. As I wait to get married, soon I will have my house.” Salama says she and her colleagues in the village are fulfilling their dream of managing their own affairs without necessarily relying on men including husbands, brothers and dads who in most cases have to care for multiple homes.

Women in Zanzibar are taking up the profession of fishing, usually reserved for men in the society, and using it as a means to gain financial independence and economic security, with one woman quoted in this article as saying, “It is no longer men’s work.”

About this change in social attitudes and progression of women’s empowerment in the region, Ms Bahati Issa Suleiman, is the secretary of the Kikungwi Village women group says that this initiative has helped women decrease their dependency on men - particularly their husbands, and that women now see this type of work as something they are capable of doing.

AUGUST: Celebrating African Women


Artist Lounge: A Self-Taught Artist – Sher Nasser

A while back I came across the works of Sher Nasser, a Tanzanian artist born in Zanzibar. I fell in love with her creativity and style of drawing and painting, and the way that she portrayed of the African environments as wells as African people(s). Having been impressed with her work, I thought I would share her story with our readers. Sher is a busy artist and was unavailable for questioning but I was able to get her to give me a summary of who she is, how she started her art journey and her general thoughts on African art.

“I am an ordinary person, a senior, and a grandmother who enjoys painting and creating art. I did not study art in college, I am far from technically trained. Art just happened to come by some years ago when I was looking for something different to engage myself in aside from my usual full time employment, home care, and family life.

Drawing and painting started as something fun and fulfilling for me to do and with the development of technology along with internet access I have been able to gain exposure and exhibit my talent. I am a self-taught artist, so as to speak, who draws and paints whatever captures my attention. I am passionate about painting African people(s) and that may be because I was born here and have love for my continent and its people(s). I also feel that, as an African, our art is finally getting the exposure and gaining the popularity it truly deserves.”

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Combs from Tanzania

Top: Wood comb, 20th century

2nd row: Swahili comb, 20th century

3rd row: Shambaa comb, 20th century

Bottom: Bone comb, 19th century

More on combs and hair in Africa.

Part of present-day Tanzania, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kilwa Kisiwani is historical area that is home to the great ruins of the Kilwa Sultanate and Songo Mnara.

The Great Mosque of Kilwa Kisiwani is the oldest standing mosque on the East African coast and, with its sixteen domed and vaulted bays, has a unique plan. Its true great dome dating from the 13th was the largest dome in East Africa until the 19th century.

Kilwa Kisiwani, was occupied from the 9th to the 19th century and reached its peak of prosperity in the13th and 14th centuries. In 1331-1332, the great traveler, Ibn Battouta made a stop here and described Kilwa as one of the most beautiful cities of the world.

Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara were Swahili trading cities and their prosperity was based on control of Indian Ocean trade with Arabia, India and China, particularly between the 13th and 16th centuries, when gold and ivory from the hinterland was traded for silver, carnelians, perfumes, Persian faience and Chinese porcelain. Kilwa Kisiwani minted its own currency in the 11th to 14th centuries. In the 16th century, the Portuguese established a fort on Kilwa Kisiwani and the decline of the two islands began.

The remains of Kilwa Kisiwani cover much of the island with many parts of the city still unexcavated. The substantial standing ruins, built of coral and lime mortar, include the Great Mosque constructed in the 11th century and considerably enlarged in the 13th century, and roofed entirely with domes and vaults, some decorated with embedded Chinese porcelain; the palace Husuni Kubwa built between c1310 and 1333 with its large octagonal bathing pool; Husuni Ndogo, numerous mosques, the Gereza (prison) constructed on the ruins of the Portuguese fort and an entire urban complex with houses, public squares, burial grounds, etc.

The ruins of Songo Mnara, at the northern end of the island, consist of the remains of five mosques, a palace complex, and some thirty-three domestic dwellings constructed of coral stones and wood within enclosing walls.

The islands of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara bear exceptional testimony to the expansion of Swahili coastal culture, the lslamisation of East Africa and the extraordinarily extensive and prosperous Indian Ocean trade from the medieval period up to the modern era.


According to historians, oral tradition, not sure which community exactly, states that the island of Kilwa Kisiwani was sold to Ali ibn al-Hassan Shirazi, son of the  Emir Al-Hassan of Shiraz, Persia, whose mother is also said to have been an Abyssinian enslaved woman, in the 10th century. 

Read more about the Kilwa Sultanate.

"African chiefs sentenced to death by the Germans for their role in the Maji Maji rebellion"

The Maji Maji Rebellion, lasting from 1905 to 1907, was an organized uprising initiated by several groups of African communities in the colonized territory of German East Africa against German colonial rule and German policy that forced them to grow cotton for export, profiting the German colonists.

German colonial efforts in east Africa were initiated by the German Colonization Society (yes, they actually had an organization dedicated to colonialist missions) led by an extremely violent and racist man named Karl Peters. In the book “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, it is said that, "[The] African colonial possessions became the most fertile soil for the flowering of what was later to become the Nazi elite". Testimony to the extremely violent nature of German colonialism in parts of Africa.

Peters, who believed Germans to be a superior race and a believer of Social Darwinism, used ideologies relating to völkisch to fuel his ruthless ambitions in German East Africa which included him murdering large segments of local populations who opposed German occupation. This led to him being labelled “Mkono wa Damu,” meaning “Man with Blood on His Hands”, by the local Tanganyika population, where he was governor.

The series of events that led to the Maji Maji uprising stemmed from a system where the Germans began levying head taxes and charging each village with a quota of cotton production through the use of slave labor.

Following a drought in 1905 that threatened the region and the quota imposed against various villages set by the Germans, several communities banded together under the command of a medium named Kinjikitile Ngwale to oppose and resist German colonial policies. Ngwale claimed to be possessed by a snake spirit called Hongo and had communicated with the deity Bokera (no substantial information found on Bokera). Through this encouner, Ngwale had put together a concoction - the maji - consisting of castor oil and millet seed, that was said to be able to turn German bullets into water.

Armed with this liquid and their traditional war tools, the united local communities, empowered by Ngwale, went about destroying German-run cotton plants. These communities included various ethnic groups such as the Ngoni, Matumbi, and Ngindo people.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of artillery and firepower in the form of machine guns and canons, the Maji Maji rebels were terribly defeated. Furthermore, German reinforcements were sent from Germany to assist the colonists in their attacks on the anti-colonial fighters.

The German governor of East Africa at the time, Gustav Adolf von Götzen, used famine as a weapon of war, destroying entire villages, burning crops and killing livestock. One of the leaders of the German troops, Captain Wangenheim, wrote to von Götzen saying, “Only hunger and want can bring about a final submission. Military actions alone will remain more or less a drop in the ocean.”

It is estimated that at least 10, 000 casualties and losses were suffered by the Maji Maji rebels, and 15 Europeans and almost 400 Askari’s (local guards employed by the Germans) were the estimated casualties on the colonist’s side.

AFRICA’S oil reserves has hit 132.4 trillion barrels of oil and represents eight per cent of world supply, PriceWaterHouseCoopers, said in its latest survey on the continent’s oil and gas sector.

The survey, which was released recently and titled: “Africa Oil and Gas Review”, puts the continent’s gas reserves at seven per cent.

It disclosed that Africa currently supplies about 12 per cent of the world’s oil, boasting significant untapped reserves estimated at eight per cent of the world’s proven reserves.

The report said the continent has natural gas reserves of 513 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) with 91 per cent of the yearly gas production of 7.1Tcf coming from Nigeria, Libya, Algeria and Egypt.

According to the  review, the oil and gas industry is grappling with the severe stresses of a challenging economic and political environment on the African continent fuelled by poor physical infrastructure, corruption, an uncertain regulatory framework, and a lack of skills.

The survey draws upon the valuable experience and views of industry players in Africa‚ including international oil companies operating on the continent‚ national oil companies‚ service companies‚ independent oil organisations and industry commentators‚ to provide insight into the latest developments affecting the industry.

It stated: “Africa supplies about 12 per cent of the world’s oil‚ boasting significant untapped reserves estimated at eight per cent of the world’s proven reserves. The continent has natural gas reserves of 513-trillion cubic feet with 91 per cent of the annual gas production of 7.1-trillion cubic feet coming from Nigeria‚ Libya‚ Algeria and Egypt”.

Poor infrastructure and an uncertain regulatory framework were the two top challenges identified by the new emerging players/markets‚ particularly in Uganda‚ Ghana‚ Tanzania‚ Nigeria and Kenya.

PwC Africa Oil & Gas Industry Leader and Deputy Country Senior Partner, Nigeria, Uyi Akpata, said: “The challenges facing oil and gas companies operating in Africa are diverse and numerous. Political interference, uncertainty and delays in passing laws, energy policies and regulations are stifling growth, development and investment in a number of countries around Africa.”

“PwC’s ‘Africa oil and gas review’ analyses what has happened in the last 12 months in the oil and gas industry and in the major African markets”.

Chris Bredenhann‚ PwC Africa oil & gas advisory leader‚ said: “The challenges facing oil and gas companies operating in Africa are diverse and numerous. Political interference‚ uncertainty and delays in passing laws‚ energy policies and regulations are stifling growth‚ development and investment in a number of countries around Africa.”