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HISTORICAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN EAST AFRICA: PAST PRACTICE AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS*

  • PETER R. SCHMIDT (a1)
Abstract

This forum article explores the major intellectual trajectories in the historical archaeology of Eastern Africa over the last sixty years. Two primary perspectives are identified in historical archaeology: one that emphasizes precolonial history and oral traditions with associated archaeology, and another that focuses mostly on the era of European contact with Africa. The latter is followed by most North American practice, to the point of excluding approaches that privilege the internal dynamics of African societies. African practice today has many hybrids using both approaches. Increasingly, precolonial historical archaeology is waning in the face of a dominant focus on the modern era, much like the trend in African history. New approaches that incorporate community participation are gaining favor, with positive examples of collaboration between historical archaeologists and communities members desiring to preserve and revitalize local histories.

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Author's email: schmidtp@ufl.edu

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1 See, for example, Kirkman, J., ‘Historical archaeology in Kenya 1948–56’, The Antiquaries Journal, 37:1–2 (1957), 1628; J. Kirkman, Men and Monuments on the East African Coast (London, 1964).

2 Chittick, H. N., ‘The Shirazi colonization of East Africa’, The Journal of African History, 6:3 (1964), 275–94; H. N. Chittick, Kilwa: An Islamic Trading City on the East African Coast (Nairobi, 1974); and H. N. Chittick, ‘The East coast, Madagascar and the Indian Ocean’, in R. Oliver (ed.), The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume III (Cambridge, 1977), 183–231.

3 For a perspective on his days in Uganda, see M. Posnansky, Africa and Archaeology: Empowering an Expatriate Life (London, 2009). For a recent history of Ugandan archaeology that explores Posnansky's contributions to public, democratic archaeology in Uganda see A. Mehari, ‘Practicing and teaching archaeology in East Africa: Tanzania and Uganda’ (PhD thesis, University of Florida, 2015).

4 Posnansky, M., ‘The excavation of an Ankole capital site at Bweyorere’, Uganda Journal, 32:2 (1968), 165–82.

5 Posnansky, M., ‘Kingship, archaeology, and historical myth’, Uganda Journal, 30 (1966), 112; Posnansky, M., ‘Bigo bya Mugenyi’, Uganda Journal, 33 (1969), 125–50. Peter Shinnie's excavations at Bigo several years earlier proved inconclusive for linking the Bacwezi to Bigo, Shinnie, P., ‘Excavations at Bigo, 1957’, Uganda Journal, 24 (1960), 1629.

6 Posnansky, ‘Bigo’, 28–9.

7 Baines, D. L., ‘Ancient forts’, Official Uganda Gazette, 15 (1909), 137–38. The absence of definitive oral traditions attached to Bigo has been discussed in several exegeses that unveil the fabrication of a pastiche of oral traditions, some Ganda, in the early twentieth century. The Baines construct was passed down through several generations of scholars including, among others, J. Gorju, Entre le Victoria, l'Albert, et L'Edouard: Ethnographie de la partie anglaise du Vicariat de L’Ouganda: origines, histoire, religion, costumes (Rennes, 1920); Wayland, E. J., ‘Notes on the Bigo bya Mugenyi’, Uganda Journal, 1 (1934), 2132; Grey, J., ‘The riddle of Bigo’, Uganda Journal, 2 (1935), 226–33; Lanning, E. C., ‘Excavations at Mubende Hill’, Uganda Journal, 30 (1966), 153–63; and, notably, Roland Oliver, who accepted the earlier representations without critical reflection. See Oliver, R., ‘A question about the Bacwezi’, Uganda Journal, 17 (1953), 135–37; R. Oliver, ‘Discernible developments in the interior, 1500–1840’, in R. Oliver and G. Matthews (eds.), History of East Africa (Oxford, 1959), 169–211. These reifications have become so entrenched in the literature and popular political discourse in Uganda they are now considered beyond question. For critical historical analyses of the myth of the Bacwezi at Bigo, see P. R. Schmidt, ‘Oral traditions, archaeology and history: a short reflective history’, in P. Robertshaw (ed.), A History of African Archaeology (London, 1990), 252–70; P. R. Schmidt, Historical Archaeology in Africa: Representation, Social Memory, and Oral Traditions (Walnut Creek, CA, 2006); and P. R. Schmidt, ‘Deconstructing archaeologies of African colonialism: making and unmaking the subaltern’, in N. Ferris, R. Harrison, and M. Wilcox (eds.), Rethinking Colonial Pasts Through Archaeology (Oxford, 2014), 445–65.

8 J. Vansina, Oral Tradition: A Study in Historical Methodology (Chicago, 1965).

9 For example, Sutton, J. E. G., ‘The archaeology and early peoples of the highlands of Kenya and northern Tanzania’, AZANIA: Journal of the British Institute in Eastern Africa, 1 (1966), 3757; J. E. G. Sutton, The Archaeology of the Western Highlands of Kenya, Volume III (Nairobi, 1973).

10 For instance, P. R. Schmidt, Historical Archaeology: A Structural Approach in an African Culture (Westport, CT, 1978); P. R. Schmidt, Iron Technology in East Africa: Science, Symbolism, and Archaeology (Bloomington, IN, 1997); and P. R. Schmidt, Historical Archaeological in Africa.

11 One of the initial claims that historical archaeology is an archaeology of the modern world is found in B. M. Fagan and C. E. Orser, Jr, Historical Archaeology (New York, 1995). Subsequently, this perspective has been reified in C. E. Orser, Jr, A Historical Archaeology of the Modern World (New York, 1996); and, among others, Hardesty, D. L., ‘Historical archaeology in the next millennium: a forum’, Historical Archaeology, 33:2 (1999), 51–8. Africanists have been caught between a legacy of African-based precolonial history and the broader disciplinary stress on modernity, resulting in compromises such as that proposed by Peter Robertshaw – that we extend colonialism in Africa back in time to include Eastern colonialism, P. Robertshaw, ‘African historical archaeolog(ies): past, present, and a possible future’, in A. Reid and P. Lane (eds.), African Historical Archaeologies (New York, 2004), 375–91. For critiques of the Eurocentric view of historical archaeology in Africa, see Schmidt, P. R. and Walz, J. R., ‘Re-representing African pasts through historical archaeology’, American Antiquity, 72:1 (2007), 5370.

12 See a discussion of these early ‘verification’ experiments with oral traditions in P. R. Schmidt, ‘Remaking African history with archaeology’, in P. R. Schmidt and T. Patterson (eds.), Making Alternative Histories: The Practice of Archaeology and History in Non-Western Settings (Santa Fe, NM, 1995), 118–47; this includes a history of the ‘verification approach’ as part of East African archaeological practice, but does not advocate a ‘verification’ approach’, contrary to the representation by Stump, D., ‘On applied archaeology, indigenous knowledge, and the usable past’, Current Anthropology, 54:3 (2013), 268–98.

13 S. K. McIntosh and R. J. McIntosh, Prehistoric Investigations in the Region of Jenne, Mali., Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology, 2, British Archaeological Reports (Oxford, 1980).

14 See several notable exceptions, for example, C. Ehret and M. Posnansky, The Archaeological and Linguistic Reconstruction of African History (Berkeley, 1982); D. L. Schoenbrun, A Green Place, a Good Place: Agrarian Change, Gender and Social Identity in the Great Lakes Region to the 15th Century (Oxford, 1998).

15 For example, J. Miller (ed.), The African Past Speaks: Essays on Oral Tradition and History (Hamden, CT, 1980); and, L. White, S. E. Miescher, and D. W. Cohen (eds.), African Words, African Voices: Critical Practices in Oral History (Bloomington, IN, 2001). On the widening gulf between African history and African archaeology, see Stahl, A. B. and LaViolette, A., ‘Introduction: current trends in the archaeology of African history’, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 42:3 (2009), 374.

16 For instance, Orser, C. E. Jr, ‘An archaeology of ethnocentrism’, American Antiquity, 77:4 (2012), 737–55, is a polemical defense of a Eurocentric perspective of historical archaeology at the global level, including misrepresentations of how historical archaeology is practised in Africa. For an alternative view, see P. R. Schmidt and I. Pikirayi, ‘Will historical archaeology escape its Western Prejudices to become relevant to Africa?’, Historical Archaeology (forthcoming).

17 Orser, Jr, ‘An archaeology’, 742.

18 Reid, R., ‘Past and presentism: the “precolonial” and the foreshortening of African history’, The Journal of African History, 52:2 (2011), 135–55; A. Holl, ‘Worldviews, mind-sets, and trajectories in West African archaeology’, in P. R. Schmidt (ed.), Postcolonial Archaeologies in Africa (Santa Fe, NM, 2009), 129–48.

19 J. R. Walz, ‘Healing space time to medical performance and object itineraries on a Tanzania landscape’, in R. A. Joyce and S. D. Gillespie (eds.), Things in Motion: Object Itineraries in Anthropological Practice (Santa Fe, NM, 2015), 161–77.

20 J. L. Giblin, The Politics of Environmental Control in Northeastern Tanzania, 1840–1940 (Philadelphia, 1992); J. Glassman, Feasts and Riot: Revelry, Rebellion & Popular Consciousness on the Swahili Coast, 1856–1888 (Portsmouth, NH, 1995); S. Feierman, The Shambaa Kingdom: A History (Madison, 1974); and, I. N. Kimambo, ‘Environmental control and hunger: in the mountains & plains of nineteenth-century Northeastern Tanzania’, in G. Maddox, J. L. Giblin, and I. N. Kimambo (eds.), Custodians of the Land: Ecology & Culture in the History of Tanzania (London, 1996), 71–95.

21 See J. R. Walz, ‘Archaeologies of disenchantment’, in P. R. Schmidt (ed.), Postcolonial Archaeologies in Africa (Santa Fe, NM, 2009), 21–38; and J. R. Walz, ‘Mombo and the Mkomazi Corridor’, in B. Mapunda and P. Msemwa (eds.), Salvaging Tanzania's Cultural Heritage (Dar es Salaam, 2005), 198–213.

22 Feierman, ‘The Shambaa’, 40–69.

23 Also see J. R. Walz, ‘Routes to history: archaeology and being articulate in Eastern Africa’, in P. R. Schmidt and S. Mrozowski (eds.), The Death of Prehistory (Oxford, 2013), 69–91.

24 Lane, P., ‘New directions for historical archaeology in Eastern Africa?’, The Journal of African History, 57:2 (2016); T. J. Biginagwa, ‘Historical archaeology of the nineteenth-century caravan trade in North-Eastern Tanzania: a zooarchaeological perspective’ (PhD thesis, University of York, 2012).

25 See Hunt, N., ‘Whether African history’, History Workshop Journal, 36:1 (2008), 259–65; Hunt argues that ‘African history has never been more at risk to disappearing into disapora studies of North America as diversity agendas there prescribe histories that view Africa only through the lens of Atlantic mobility and slavery’, 259. This view applies equally as well to African historical archaeology, for example, A. Holl, ‘Worldview’, 148.

26 For example, L. Marshall, ‘Fugitive slaves and community creation in nineteenth-century Kenya: an archaeological and historical investigation of Watoro villages’ (PhD thesis, University of Virginia, 2011); and Marshall, L., ‘Spatiality and the interpretation of identity formation: fugitive slave community creation in nineteenth-century Kenya’, African Archaeological Review, 29 (2012), 355–81.

27 Lane, ‘New directions’.

28 Kusimba, C., ‘Archaeology of slavery in East Africa’, African Archaeological Review, 21:2 (2004), 5988; C. Kusimba, ‘Practicing postcolonial archaeology in Africa from the United States’, in P. R. Schmidt (ed.), Postcolonial Archaeologies in Africa (Santa Fe, NM, 2009), 57–76.

29 M. Pawlowizc and A. LaViolette, ‘Swahili historical chronicles from an archaeological perspective: bridging history, archaeology, coast, and hinterland in Southern Tanzania’, in P. R. Schmidt and S. Mrozowski (eds.), The Death of Prehistory (Oxford, 2013), 117–40.

30 P. Abungu, ‘Heritage, memories, and community development: the case of Shimoni Slave Caves Heritage Site, Kenya’, in P. R. Schmidt and I. Pikirayi (eds.), Community Archaeology and Heritage in Africa: Decolonizing Practice (London and New York, 2016, in press).

31 D. Stump, ‘On applied archeology’. Stump is wary of applied approaches to history and their conflation with integrative archaeologies (what he calls hybrid archaeologies). He objects strongly to the loss of power by historians over historical analyses, yet he also says that he ‘would cling like a drowning sailor to any approach that offered the faintest possibility of demonstrating a direct benefit of archaeological research to any community at any scale’, 293. Far from any drowning events, community archaeologies have been accruing local benefits for some years.

32 Schmidt, P. R., ‘Social memory and trauma in northwestern Tanzania: organic, spontaneous community collaboration’, Journal of Social Archaeology, 10:2 (2010), 255–79.

33 For instance, Schmidt, P. R., ‘Hardcore ethnography: interrogating the intersection of disease, human rights and heritage’, Heritage and Society, 7:2 (2014), 152–70; Schmidt, P. R., ‘Rediscovering community archaeology in Africa and reframing its practice’, Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage, 1:1 (2014), 3856; and, P. R. Schmidt, E. Bambanza, and Z. Mohamed, ‘Emerging female subaltern histories in Tanzania: unforeseen consequences of the HIV/AIDS pandemic’, in S. Kus and K. Kasper (eds.), Materiality of Gendered Practices: Archaeological Perspectives Across Historical Landscapes (Boulder, CO, 2016, in press).

34 Within historical archaeology these are recent developments, but they fit within a larger genre of historical writing best illustrated by I. Berger, ‘Rebels or status seekers? Women as spirit mediums in East Africa’, in A. Cornwall (ed.), Readings in Gender in Africa (Bloomington, IN, 2005), 148–56; C. Robertson and I. Berger (eds.), Women and Class in Africa (New York, 1986); and L. White, The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi (Chicago, 1990), which also focuses on Haya women.

35 H. Cory, History of the Bukoba District (Mwanza, 1959); K. Curtis, ‘Capitalism, fettered: state, merchant, and peasant in northwestern Tanzania, 1917–1968’ (PhD thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1989); and P. R. Schmidt, Kanazi Palace Restoration: A Foundation for Sustainable Heritage Tourism in Kagera Region (Dar es Salaam, 2011).

36 Schmidt, ‘Kanazi palace’, 16–39.

37 Cory, ‘History’, 161.

38 For more details see P. R. Schmidt, ‘Collaborative archaeology and heritage in Africa: views from the Trench and beyond’, in P. R. Schmidt and I. Pikirayi (eds.), Community Archaeology and Heritage in Africa: Decolonizing Practice (London and New York, 2016, in press). The excavated items are on display at the Kanazi Palace museum.

39 E. K. Lumley, Forgotten Mandate: British District Officer in Tanganyika (London, 1976).

40 Schmidt, ‘Collaborative archaeology’.

41 Schmidt, ‘Hardcore ethnography’, 182.

42 Schmidt, ‘Rediscovering’, 50.

43 Schmidt, ‘Historical archaeology’, 152–161, 200, 208–12; ‘Historical archaeology in Africa’, 74–7; and ‘Hardcore ethnography’, 182–83.

44 F. X. Lwamgira, a Haya historian of some note, mentions this ritual office in his history of Kiziba, but gives no further information in Amakuru ga Kiziba na Abakama Bamu (Bukoba, 1949). These ritual female officials were seen by early Catholic nuns as neglected and some were given refuge and converted during rapid religious changes of the early twentieth century, an observation arising out of the Kanazi mission records as reported by B. Larrson, Haya Christians Conversion to Greater Freedom? Women, Church and Social Change in Northwestern Tanzania Under Colonial Rule (Uppsala, 1987).

45 Schmidt et al., ‘Emerging female’.

46 Contrary to Stump, ‘On applied archaeology’, who warns that ‘to call for the incorporation of local conceptions within western historical interpretations is to risk undermining one's authority as a historian, because the historical method requires the rejection of any conception of reality that conflicts with one's own’, 276. To present alternative ontologies is not incorporation. It is our responsibility as historians and archaeologists to present local narratives as part of the evidentiary corpus, whatever their ontological profiles.

47 Robertshaw, ‘African historical archaeolog(ies)’, 385.

48 Reid, ‘Past and presentism’, 155.

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