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Research projects

Bahari Yetu, Urithi Wetu: Our Sea, Our Heritage

Funded by Rising from the Depths/Global Challenges Research Fund/Arts & Humanities Research Council (Project: 1684750).

Principal Investigator: Dr John P Cooper

Co-Investigators: Dr Elgidius Ichumbaki (University of Dar Es Salaam), Dr Lucy Blue (University of Southampton).

Project summary

The waters around Bagamoyo, Tanzania, are alive with a sight rarely seen elsewhere in the world today: locally built wooden watercraft, powered by sail and engaged in economic activity. Their aesthetic has been readily incorporated into global representations of Tanzania’s coastal beauty and monetised for touristic and social-media profit. For the Bagamoyo communities who build and use these craft, however, economic development—urban expansion, planned port developments and tourism—is pressuring ‘traditional’ lifeways and  the practises that build these iconic craft. Maritime communities face displacement and loss of access to traditional fish landings, markets and construction areas, while coping with overfishing and disruption to traditional timber supplies. The project contends that the living heritage of Bagamoyo’s maritime communities is undervalued, under-recorded and under threat, while community perspectives are overlooked. This 12-month project explores, through collaborative community engagement, the value of maritime heritage as perceived by the communities of Bagamoyo region, and documents endangered material culture, craft and fishing practise and connectivity with maritime space. It has established CHAMABOMA-Bagamoyo, a boatbuilders’ association that promotes traditional boatbuilding as a tourist attraction and facilitates training, ideas exchange, and the articulation of concerns surrounding traditional maritime practice. The project has also trained early-career heritage workers in methodologies of maritime heritage appraisal, recording and protection. The project is a collaboration between maritime/heritage academics from the Universities of Exeter, Dar Es Salaam and Southampton, Tanzanian NGOs Urithi Wetu and WAUTO-Kaole the Tanzanian government’s Department of Antiquities.