Capital: Dar Es Salaam
Population: 43 million
Poverty index: 0.367%
Life expectancy: 52.85 years
Access to clean water: 54%
Adult literacy: 69.4%
GDP per head: $1,400 (2010 est.)
HIV/AIDS rates: 5.6% (2009 est.)
Infant mortality: 66.93/1,000 live births
Religions: Mainland - Christian 30%, Muslim 35%, indigenous beliefs 35%; Zanzibar - more than 99% Muslim
Fr Aylward Shorter M.Afr
My experiences in Tanzania.
Twelve years after leaving the British Army in Kenya, I returned to East Africa as an ordained missionary priest in 1964. However, it was to Tanzania that I came, not Kenya. The Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) had agreed to my plan of studies in Social Anthropology, culminating in a doctoral dissertation that required 2 – 3 years of fieldwork. It had been decided that I should do this among the Kimbu people of south-central Tanzania who held the key to the ethno-history of the Nyamwezi peoples, the pioneers of long-distance porterage to the coast. I duly flew to Dar es Salaam, backed by the grant of a sociological scholarship and with leave of absence from the university. I found in Tanzania a marvellous convergence of all my loyalties, as a lover of Africa, a White Father and an anthropologist.
I flew up to Tabora in order to brush up my Swahili at the Kipalapala Language School. By the end of three months I was more fluent than I had ever been either before or after. I then had to prepare my safari to Ukimbu, buying a second-hand Land Rover, camp furniture and provisions. I was fortunate in having Bernard van Amelsvoort, the regional superior, as my mentor and spiritual director, since he had an intimate knowledge of the area for which I was bound.
At length I was ready to start the 560 mile journey to Mbeya in the southern highlands of Tanzania. I carried petrol with me, since there was no chance of filling the tank for most of the journey. It was a “baptism of fire” for me, the first of innumerable journeys on the all-weather roads of rural Tanzania. On the way, I stopped at the abandoned mission station of Kipembawe, which I decided to make my base. On the evening of the second day I entered the mission compound of Chunya, with the fuel gauge registering “empty”. Chunya parish covered about two thirds of my fieldwork area and I was warmly welcomed by three confreres and especially by Fr. Adolfo Ndezi, an African priest who was especially helpful in finding me informants. Two days later, I continued my journey to Mbeya, the headquarters of the diocese. From there, I retraced the 125 miles back to Kipembawe, where I started recording the Kimbu language with the children of Kipembawe Primary School and hired a cook-factotum.
The Kimbu language had never been recorded before and no European missionaries could speak it. After a month I moved to Mazimbo Village, eleven miles away, which was a better place for my language work. There I moved into the small priest’s house opposite the village Catholic church. The catechist and his family also lived nearby and some thirty people came to morning and evening prayer in the church. They were my daily congregation at Mass. In Church we used Swahili, but I needed a working knowledge of the local language in order to transcribe and translate the oral texts that I was collecting on my tape-recorder. By the end of my second year in the village I was fairly fluent in Kimbu and could do most of the donkey work on the texts myself.
Mazimbo remained my base for the forays I made in Ukimbu itself and for long distance journeys to Dar es Salaam and Makerere Universities, as well as to the so-called “Kimbu chiefdoms of Unyamwezi, north of Tabora. It was during my annual retreat in Kipalapala in June 1965 that I fell ill with Hepatitis A. I had to take three months bed-rest in Sumve Hospital, Mwanza. The hospital was staffed by White Sisters (MSOLA) and fortunately had an excellent library. While in bed, I was able to organize my language notes, compose a Kimbu grammar, and start on a Kimbu dictionary. Then, after being discharged, I drove alone on the dry season “shortcut” road to Kipembawe and did not see another human being for 100 miles. It was a foolhardy thing to have done, but my Guardian Angel looked after me and I arrived safely. Early in 1967, I flew back to London via Entebbe and Rome.
In 1968 I was appointed to Gaba Pastoral Institute in Uganda. In 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 I was able to visit Tanzania for further spells of fieldwork, and also to give lectures at the Maryknoll Language School, Makoko, near Musoma. These visits totalled nearly one year. After 1971 and the coup d’état in Uganda, it became impossible to drive to Tanzania from there, but I managed to fly in 1973, in order to be present in Chunya at the ordination of the first Kimbu priest, Fr. Atanazi Majajo. My fieldwork in Ukimbu became the foundation of my whole future life, academic, spiritual emotional, and Tanzania always remained my first love. It was there that I felt at home. My encounter with the Kimbu was a deeply human experience and I owed this, above all, to the friendship and hospitality of the Kimbu themselves.
When I left Gaba Pastoral Institute in August 1977, I returned to Tanzania to teach at a major seminary. The plane that took me to Dar es Salaam developed a problem with its landing gear, but God was good and the pilot brought us safely down. I spent four months in the uncongenial heat and humidity of Dar es Salaam waiting for my appointment to be confirmed and taking delivery of a brand new Land Rover. The new seminary in Dar es Salaam was still unfinished, and so I ended up at Kipalapala again. My contract there was to run concurrently with a visiting lectureship at Bristol University in England. I drove to Kipalapala at the end of November.
Kipalapala Senior seminary counted more than two hundred students at that time. In addition to teaching my own subject of Social Anthropology to a group of 27 first year students, I was asked to give Special Moral Theology to the combined second and third years, a huge class numbering 107. I formed the class into ten discussion groups which met each week on one of the lecture days, and which I visited in turn. In addition to my formal lectures, I managed to have a personal tutorial with every student each semester, and to conclude the semester either with short oral exams or with a multiple choice questionnaire.
I was also asked to teach homiletics to the forty or so Deacons in their final year. For this, I was given three lecture days, on two of which the seven groups into which the class was divided, either helped a group member to prepare a homily for the following Sunday, or made a group assessment of a homily that had been given the previous one. Each Sunday, seven homilies were given in various places, including two outstations of Kipalapala Parish where I celebrated Mass.
In addition to my class work, I was spiritual director to more than twenty students. In many ways, this was my most fulfilling activity, praying with them and helping them take their final steps to the priesthood. In 1979, I made a lengthy journey, visiting my directees in their homes and meeting their families.
I managed to make several nostalgic visits to Ukimbu, not so much for further fieldwork, as to find local colour for the book I was writing, entitled Priest in the Village. At length I left Tanzania in December 1980 in order to take a sabbatical and prepare for a new appointment in Kenya. Before this happened, I was asked at the end of 1982 to make a survey of the White Fathers’ urban apostolates in Tanzania (and Kenya). I combined this with attending the priestly ordinations of several of my former students. The survey took me to many places I had not visited before, and besides conducting interviews I was able to participate in parish ministry wherever I went.
Finally, once settled in Kenya, I was asked in 1986 and 1987 to give lectures in Social Anthropology to White Father students at our philosophy seminary in Kahangala, Mwanza., and to preside at the liturgies of Holy Week there. My nephew, Hugo Shorter who was visiting me in Nairobi, came with me in 1987. One of the staff members at Kahangala had a boat and took us fishing for Nile Perch in Lake Victoria. We caught five of the huge fish. One was nearly 5 feet long and weighed more than 40 kilos! I reckon that my visits and periods of stay in Tanzania amounted to about seven and a half years in all. They were a great blessing in my life as a Missionary of Africa.
Aylward Shorter M.Afr.