William Cronon suggests, “the instability of human relations with the environment can be used to explain both cultural and ecological transformations.” Building on this theme, today we began a week and 1/2 exploration of the history of Tanzania, paying particular attention to connections between history and human/nature relationships. We’ll explore these themes through three lectures this week at the University of Dar es Salaam given by professors in the history and archaeology department.
Today we received a lecture on pre-colonial history in Tanzania by archaeologist Dr. Bertram Mapunda, who took us on a whirlwind tour beginning with human evolution more than 2 million years ago and ending with the last 1000 years. We explored the origin of Tanzania’s indigenous tribes and the influx of Arabic, Nilotic, and Cushitic peoples around 5000 years ago. Each group was responding and adapting to new and changing environments, their culture, language, and traditions reflecting the ecological reality around them.
We were fascinated with Tanzania’s long and rich history of global integration through long-distance maritime trade that has continued for several thousand years. The search for valuable natural resources led many nations to sail to Tanzania. In fact, the birth of Swahili culture is indicative of the subsequent integration of Arabic and indigenous African communities. We finished the morning with a much deeper appreciation for the connections between history and ecology, between culture and land.