Mark Troger and Dr. Gary Daynes, History
Originally I intended to travel to Cameroon, West Africa to conduct an oral history of a village and decipher the results and study how westernization and modernization had taken its affect over the years. My initial intent came from a simple desire to first, study the history of a certain village, along with all the traditions that accompany oral recital and memory, and second, to discover how our western culture had impacted theirs. Soon after my initial proposal, however, Cameroon began facing potentially serious political conflicts and also had been rated as the most corrupt country in the world, according to Agence France-Press.1 This forced me to reconsider my destination and eventually reoriented my area of study slightly. I spoke briefly about this change with Melvin Carr, and he indicated that I need only indicate this in my final report, and otherwise, the change was acceptable.
As a result of the change, I sought other areas in Africa where I might be able to conduct oral research on a village level. There were several other students who were planning to do research in Zanzibar, and I had also had some contact with Dr. Gary Burgess who wrote his dissertation on the Revolution of Zanzibar and I became interested in following somewhat his lead in doing oral histories there. Most of his work had been done in the capital city of Zanzibar and in the outlying areas that saw the majority of the fighting and political movement. I became very interested, however in an aspect he covered in one of his chapters that dealt with memory and how it can vary considerably with relation to the political, ethnic or tribal differences assumed by players. Most of the conclusions he made were derived from these areas of high political disturbance during the Revolution and in the capital city. I desired, however to extend this research into some of the more obscure villages on the island, where perhaps no fighting took place and people played a more passive role in the Revolution. I found however, that passivity with regards to political issues is a rare thing to find in Zanzibar, and that Dr. Burgess=s conclusions with respect to memory extended consistently to the small village, but also carried its own conclusions about how memory is influenced and shaped.
The village in which I conducted the interviews was a small fishing village of about 7000 people stretched out across five kilometers of beach on the eastern shore of Unguja Island, Zanzibar. The language spoken is Kiswahili and I used a translator for all interviews. I decided to create a narrow field of potential informants, mainly males over the age of forty years. With this narrowing, I felt I could more easily concentrate and manipulate the information I gathered without making too many decisions on how perhaps a certain variable may have affected an answer. I conducted a total of 47 interviews.
In conducting the actual interviewing, I formulated two key systems of questions to gather the data that I deemed vital to the research I was intending to study. First, I created an open questionnaire that would stimulate informants to list the key important historical events between the period just prior to the Revolution in 1964 until the end of the Jumbe presidency in the late seventies. I took from these findings a set of questions that would probe more deeply into what happened according to the people I interviewed, and from there I could find results that may or may not correspond to the conclusions made by Dr. Burgess. According to him, memory is influenced by many factors, including political affiliation, subsequent education, and tribal affiliation among others.
The focus of my interviews dealt with the Revolution itself, the few years of transition after the Revolution, the food shortage of the early seventies and the problems of land distribution after the majority Africans took control of Arab controlled lands during the Revolution. What I discovered presented an interesting look into the validity of Dr. Burgess= findings, and a variety of new conclusions. How people remembered the past and what they emphasized or even omitted became the focus of my findings. Contradiction was abundant, but a surprisingly large number of people thought the same events to be important. For one example, when asked what they remembered from the first visit of the newly appointed president shortly after the Revolution, almost all remembered one key admonition he gave to the people of the village. However, about half remembered him saying that the land belonged to them, and to them only, and that they were never to sell it nor sell its resources, whereas the other half remembered him saying that it was theirs, but that they were to sell it for profit to those who come in search of its resources. Why the contradiction? In order to discover this, I explored peoples economic situation, their political affiliation (this was difficult because of sensitivities and current tensions), tribal heritage and social status. This was just one example, but there were certainly trends that were consistent, most especially with regard to political affiliation.
I am yet to compile all of these finding into a paper for review by a professor, but plan to do so during this coming semester. I also plan to present it to the annual Utah History Honor Society Seminar in April and perhaps submit it to the Honors department for consideration as an Honors thesis.