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Muted Memories

Heritage-Making, Bagamoyo, and the East African Caravan Trade


My interest in heritage-making began when I grew up among the rock carvings on the west coast of Sweden, now a World Heritage, understanding that the figures could be interpreted in almost any conceivable way. I had the same experience in 2006 when I learnt that the East African caravan trade was launched by the Government of Tanzania for UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a representative for the nineteenth-century slave trade in the region.

Tanzania researchers and practitioners have worked for decades to have Bagamoyo, a small port town at the Indian Ocean, and the nineteenth-century caravan trade recognized as a cultural and world heritage. The focus has been on the caravan trade as a cultural and trade route between the interior of the continent, the coast and a globalizing world.

However, the culture and trade theme was muted and instead a theme focusing on slave trade was chosen in the 2006 nomination text. The importance of the trade, when tens of thousands of porters from the Great Lakes region, who initiated the caravan trade, carried ivory but also brought slaves from the interior to the markets on Zanzibar and millions of meters of cotton cloth in the opposite direction was thus silenced, as was the hectic multi-cultural life in Bagamoyo. I hope to have stimulated to similar studies on processes of heritagization when alternative stories are silenced and the processes behind these processes.

JAN LINDSTRÖM is a teacher and researcher in social anthropology at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg. From 1980–1990 he held the post of Senior Anthropologist at the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre, Ministry of Health, and from 1996–2002 he was Socio-Cultural Analyst at the Swedish Embassy in Tanzania.

Read more about MUTED MEMORIES: Heritage-Making, Bagamoyo, and the East African Caravan Trade here.