Revolution, Rural Zanzibar


On the northeast coast of the tiny island of Zanzibar lies a small village called Matemwe. About six thousand inhabitants are scattered among palm trees in dwellings that stretch across five miles of coastline. There is no electricity in the village and the road leading to town was paved just a few years ago. No one is sure about the origins of the local people, but there are accounts carried down by elders who remember the stories told by their ancestors. One story tells of Africans who came from the mainland and settled in Matemwe, originally calling it Mumni. They subsequently broke into four branches and spread throughout the entire island. This story is among many that are remembered by inhabitants on the island and represents an example of oral history kept by a people to recall their past. Not only are origin stories remembered, but more recent events are also stored in the minds of people to be retold at a later time. Like the stories of past centuries chat are filled with fabrications and abstractions, the memory of more recent events can also contain contradictions. Even for chose who witnessed a certain event, how it is remembered may be different from another person who was also present. This problem exists on the island of Zanzibar and in the village of Matemwe.