On our return to Arusha more explorations of the neighbourhood and attempted concentration on finalising a preview of our artwork filled the last week of our residency. Although the local area was fascinating and we met a lot of nice people we were tired of the general hostility we received as mzungu. It was almost time to move on.
As luck would have it George was running an Arusha poetry club night upstairs of a local restaurant and so we dragged Sara, Seppo and Mr Magic along with us. As we arrived the power was out in the entire block and it looked to be closed, but on further exploration we found a small room of people lit by candlelight, soon to be illuminated with the return of power. The poetry was an interesting mix of Swahili and English and there was a big range of styles, followed by a jam session. Mama C was in attendance and it was good to see George in action.
Playing around with the coloured earth from Amarula, Emmily decided to try a technique remembered from primary school. Using the sticky goo from a pod growing in the garden and a stick on the mulberry paper, Emm scratched out images appropriated from Tanzania’s rock art.
Mama C had worded us up on a big hiphop event to be held at a venue nearby to where we were living. Sara was happy to take us and it was great to see some local music. The gig was created by a local collective called SUA (Stand Up Arusha), the main shout out to the crowd being ‘Back to the Sua!’ There were a lot of MCs that came out of the wood work to line up and be heard, some great battles, reggae and a big crowd. All different styles of hiphop were represented with some interesting lyrical play between English and Swahili.
For our last night in Arusha we decided to cook dinner for Seppo, Sara and her family. We went shopping in the markets in town and spent the day in the kitchen cooking up a storm.
We managed to complete a preview of elements of our art piece in time to show Sara and Seppo for some feedback. We really appreciate Seppo’s support through the process. He consistently went out of his way to help us find sites, research materials and inspiration. We had a lot of fun creating the strange and arresting images and are interested to see how it will develop when we return to Melbourne. Drawing on our study of the rock art, the severed links to ancient stories and tribal culture as well as the rapid disappearance of local wildlife these images are dark and haunting ghosts of the past.
Before coming to Africa we had a naive view of tribal culture and were sad to hear of the decline in tribal traditions and the dilution of cultures brought about by the modern world and the major religions. However the situation is not that simple. As well as some beautiful tribal traditions and customs there are some horrible and dark practices, particularly towards women. For example, one tribes traditions dictate that a man’s wife stay with his parents while he works in another city. While he is away the wife is obligated to sleep with her husbands father. Another tribe has progressed domestic violence to the point that they must beat their wife every day or she will become unhappy and not believe she is truly loved. This has been ingrained in the culture to the point that women are taught to beg to be beaten. Female circumcision is still rampant despite efforts to change the practice and women in most tribes must do the majority of the work and be submissive to their husbands. This is not the case for every tribe and there are lovely tribal cultures such as the Sandawe, where man and wife are equal and partners for life. With our art piece we tried to address the loss of mythology, craft and artistry of the tribal cultures of Tanzania without delving too far into the darker side. It is sad to note however, that the artistry and stories seem to go and the troubling traditions and oppression of women seems to remain.
Another dark element of Tanzania is the superstitions surrounding witchcraft. One of the continuing superstitions means that Albino people are still slaughtered and their body-parts sold to high profile businessmen and politicians for their magical properties. There is a lot of work being done to try and stamp this out, but it still continues to happen. These killings worsen near election time and with an upcoming election in October people are concerned that another spate of killings will take place. Despite the dark history, tribal violence and some troubling cultural practices Tanzania is holding its head high and trying to move into the modern world with its own identity. There is a lot of activism, social movements and a lot of NGOs trying to help this process without letting the country be overly exploited for foreign interests. So maybe it is not so bad to let traditions die out, but to keep up the stories, folklore and artistic practices which make each tribe individual and unique is enough.
With the last week flashing past we said our slow goodbyes to the whole family. Dotahn had to come to terms with the end of his love affair with Mr. Coughy, the sickly dog with no voice, but a lot of love.