Co-production Networks for Community Heritage in Tanzania (CONCH)

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Archaeology

Abstract

CONCH is a research network that will bring together stakeholders in the built heritage of the East African, or Swahili, coast. It will create sustainable network for skills sharing and the co-production of knowledge between researchers, heritage professionals, and community groups.
This is a region with a rich tradition of vernacular architecture, centred on the 'stonetowns' that were founded along the Indian Ocean coast from the 11th century onwards. Many still thrive today, and the inhabitants are rightly proud of their heritage, which includes UNESCO World Heritage sites at Kilwa Kisiwani, Songo Mnara, Zanzibar, and Lamu. All are still home to Swahili groups, and the coast retains a distinctive culture based on urban living, Islam, coastal economies, and the Swahili language. Yet the Swahili coast is also economically underdeveloped, marginalised within the nation states of Kenya and Tanzania, themselves some of the poorest countries in the world. Tanzania is listed as one of the world's 'Least Developed Countries' by the ODA. Tourism features prominently in the economy, based on natural landscapes and wildlife, rather than on cultural heritage. Tourists are often unaware of the region's illustrious past, and a lack of education among residents makes it difficult for cultural heritage sites to be presented to their full potential.
This network will strive to counter some of these problems, raising awareness of Tanzania's cultural heritage and bringing local communities into that discussion. It will take advantage of existing heritage expertise in Tanzanian and Kenyan universities, to build a dialogue between scholars, heritage organisations, and communities. This will be achieved through developing a model of best practice at Pangani, a town on the northern Tanzanian coast with a rich built heritage of the later Swahili period, and an existing infrastructure of tourist facilities and community groups. A workshop that brings together scholars and non-academic stakeholders will discuss priorities and challenges for Tanzanian coastal heritage. This will be followed by a 'field school' at Pangani, training local scholars in techniques of mapping and documenting built spaces. Community groups, including schools, will be incorporated into this training, and encouraged to participate in finding out about the region's past. This approach is designed to foster co-production of knowledge, building on existing understandings and uses of the town's history. The field school will also offer training in the heritage of the region for local business owners such as hoteliers and small crafts producers, allowing them to build cultural heritage tourism through informed activities in the future. Community focus groups will tell their stories of the town's heritage, and these will be incorporated into a display at the existing cultural centre run by Uzikwasa, a local NGO. All activities, academic and community-led, will become part of a website and smartphone resources, to present Pangani's past to a wider audience of scholars and potential tourists.
Another key feature of the network will be the creation of channels of communication between different stakeholders in the region. All activities in Pangani will also be participated in by representatives from Kilwa, on the southern Tanzanian coast. Despite a phenomenal cultural resource at Kilwa, the infrastructure of heritage participation and tourist information is much less well developed there. A second field school will then bring the network to Kilwa, establishing modes of best practice and building a display for the Antiquities Office.
The network will therefore build a new participatory mode of engagement for cultural heritage in the region, bring together scholars and stakeholders in new and mutually beneficial ways, and create a model of democratic heritage practice that will be of interest to scholars worldwide

Planned Impact

The project's chief objective is to engage local communities in Pangani and Kilwa, Tanzania, in collectively identifying and protecting their shared cultural heritage, putting it to use for economic development and improved social wellbeing. This will also make a specific impact on heritage organisations who seek to work locally. We have therefore identified the following general and specific impact communities outside the academic community.

- Heritage professionals in Tanzanian and international organisations. The network will directly facilitate interaction between heritage practitioners from different sectors, knowledge sharing networks, researchers and local groups. The network involves participants from international (UNESCO, Sustainable Heritage Foundation), national (Antiquities Division Tanzania), and regional bodies (Uzikwasa, Kilwa Culture Centre, Songo Mnara village ruins committee), who will at the workshops agree a common set of priorities and framework for action. Aspects of direct training in informed conservation, community involvement, and particularly the translocation of practitioners between locations on the coast, will provide measurable benefits in developing sustainable practice across the region. They will help participants develop concrete ideas on how to balance the requirements of conservation and of research and understanding of the built heritage, how to involve local communities in its preservation, and how to develop the heritage resources of the eastern African coast for tourism and economic advantage. Crucially, this impact will not come only from direct training, but from cross-fertilisation between practitioners, local community groups, and researchers from both Europe and from within Tanzania.

- Residents and leadership of Pangani District (population 49,104) and Kilwa District (Masoko ward, population 13,601). The project is designed to empower and excite local communities with a sense of the value of their diverse yet shared heritage and its potential for socio-economic development. Uzikwasa's communications strategy will enable widespread, dynamic engagement across all sectors of society. Members of the community will also be part of the training, allowing them to understand the possibilities and challenges of their built heritage.

- Local business owners in Pangani and Kilwa. Network activities will include local business owners with an investment in tourist industries (hoteliers, local craftspeople, tour guides) as a strategy for maximising the economic benefits of regional heritage; this will have a direct effect on the ways that heritage is valued and sustained locally.

- School teachers and children in Pangani and Kilwa. The network will produce resources for schools, allowing the teaching of genuinely local histories in classrooms. This is a sustainable way of creating interest and value in local heritage, as well as involving children and schools actively in understanding the sites. Children will also be encouraged to contribute to visitor centres and ongoing digital resources.

Publications

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