Hidden Histories – Historia Zilizofichwa


Members of oral history project Hidden Histories share their experience of showing images of makaramo clay figures in the museum since 1958 to residents in Tanga. A coastal region of Tanzania, this is 15 miles away from where these figures were acquired by colonial official Ralph Tanner. This display focuses on the interviews and conversations sparked by these objects and includes a mix of responses from residents living in the Pangani region, where these figures originally came from. A selection of this collection of figures feature in the display. 


These makaramo figures are used for cursing people. They’re like drones that the witches live inside. The witches (mafingo) are airborne travelling everywhere. If you wish to do this kind of cursing, it’s a very huge job. This is definitely not healing or medicine, this is witchcraft, this is not traditional medicine.


Clay ball with protruding wooden sticks

Makaramo figure described as a drone. Museum number 1958.11.2.47. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum.

At the moment youth are choosing boda boda (motorcycle taxis, and mganga, which are short term options as jobs. They will make us rich and they’re popular. Boda boda business employs the majority of youth in Tanzania…We need to protect ourselves…and the motorbike against uchawi from other drivers. 


Clay figure with open mouth with teeth

Makaramo figure one person called Saliti. Museum number 1958.11.2.3. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum.

This one, someone would say I am seeing something with a big nose and big teeth, and it’s frightening, ugly, horrible. It can literally scare you to death. It’s called Saliti, it doesn’t have arms or legs, and it’s a form. When it enters your body, it can suck the blood out of you.



What is Mganga and Uchawi?   


 There’s a big difference between mganga (healer, or waganga – plural, healers) and uchawi (sorcery) in Tanzania, although they often tend to be muddled when they are discussed in the Global North. This is entirely down to the propaganda spread during colonial rule: Tanzania was occupied by German colonists from 1885 until 1919 when it became a British mandate until independence in 1961.   


Mganga are kind, using their power and training for positive ends to heal and cure. Uchawi is sorcery and does not require training. It is used for harm and destruction, sometimes even killing people. Margareth Esther John and her aunts believe makaramo are cursed, and are objects used by witches to cause harm.  







Hidden Histories Project Film made in Tanga, Tanzania, available on the Pitt Rivers Museum Vimeo page. 



 Hidden Histories Team:  

 Project Team Co-ordinator: Dr. Thembi Mutch   

 Researchers: Neema Mtenga, Silvester Julius Mkwaya,   

 Senior Researcher: Aida Mulokozi   

 Consultants: Kala Payne Dr Sam Ntapanta   

 Photographer and facilitator: Jenny Matthews   

 Display text written collaboratively between Neema Mtenga, Sam Ntapanta, Thembi Mutch, Kala Payne   

Teacher Notes:

Hidden Histories Teacher Notes - Geography and Climate Focus

Hidden Histories Teacher Notes - History Focus