Friction or Closure: Heritage as Loss


  • Mikela Lundahl Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark



Identity, Zanzibar, cosmopolitanism, friction, history, heritage, memory


Heritage is a discourse that aims at closure. It fixates the narrative of the past through the celebration of specific material (or sometimes immaterial non-) objects. It organizes temporality and construct events and freezes time. How does this unfold in the case of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Stone Town, Zanzibar? It is a place of beauty and violence, of trade, slavery and tourism, and the World Heritage narrative does not accommodate all its significant historical facts and lived memories. In this article I will discuss some of these conflicting or competing historical facts.

The anthropologist Anna Tsing has developed the concept-metaphor friction as a way to discuss the energy created when various actors narrate “the same” event(s) in different ways, and see the other participants’ accounts as fantasies or even fabrications. I will use my position as researcher and my relations to different sources: informants, authorities and texts, and discuss how different accounts relate to and partly construct each other; and how I, in my own process as an analyst and listener, negotiate these conflicting stories, what I identify as valid and non valid accounts. The case in this article is Stone Town in Zanzibar and the development and dissolution going on under the shadow of the UNESCO World Heritage flag; a growing tourism; a global and local increase in islamisation; and the political tension within the Tanzanian union. My main focus is narratives of the identity of Zanzibar since heritagization constructs identity.


Amselle, Jean-Loup (1998): Mestizo Logics: Anthropology of Identity in Africa and Elsewhere, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Anderson, Benedict (1991): Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso.

Baldacchino, Godfrey (2006): “Islands, Island Studies, Island Studies Journal”, Island Studies Journal, 1, 3–18.

Bhabha, Homi (2013): “Living Side by Side: On Culture and Security”, Saskia Sassen, C. U. (ed.) Inaugural Global Thought Lecture: (accessed 02 December 2014).

Bhabha, Homi K (1994): The Location of Culture,London & New York: Routledge.

Bissell, William Cunningham (2005): “Engaging Colonial Nostalgia”, Cultural Anthropology, 20, 215–248. DOI: 10.1525/can.2005.20.2.215

Bissell, William Cunningham (2011): Urban Design, Chaos, and Colonial Power in Zanzibar, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Boswell, Rosabelle (2011a): “Multiple Heritages, Multiple Identies: The Southwest Indian Ocean”, Isar, Y. R. & Anheier, H. K. (eds) Cultures and Globalization: Heritage, Memory and Identity, Los Angeles; London; New Dehli; Singapore; Washington DC: Sage Publications Ltd.

Boswell, Rosabelle (2011b): Re-Presenting Heritage in Zanzibar and Madagascar, Addis Abeba: OSSREA.

Burgess, G. Thomas, Ali Sultan Issa & Seif Sharif Hamad (2009): Race, Revolution, and the Struggle for Human Rights in Zanzibar: The Memoirs of Ali Sultan Issa and Seif Sharif Hamad, Athens: Ohio University Press.

Burgess, Thomas (1999): “Remembering Youth: Generation in Revolutionary Zanzibar”, Africa Today, 46, 29–50. DOI: 10.1353/at.1999.0003

Campbell, Peter (2001): “Slipper Protocol. Review of Harems of the Mind: Passages of Western Art and Literature by Yeazell, R. B. ”, London Review of Books, 23, 37–38.

Cheah, Pheng (2006): Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Deckard, Sharae (2010): Paradise Discourse, Imperialism, and Globalization. Exploiting Eden, New York & London: Routledge.

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland (1995): Kulturelle veikryss: Essays om kreolisering, Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland (2007): “Creolization in Anthropological Theory and in Mauritius”, Stewart, C. (ed.) Creolization: History, Ethnography, Theory, Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Eriksson Baaz, Maria (2005): The Paternalism of Partnership: A Postcolonial Reading of Identity in Development Aid, New York; London: Zed Books.

Ewald, Jonas (2011): Challenges for the democratisation process in Tanzania: Moving towards consolidation 50 years after independence?, Gothenburg: School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg.

Frey, Bruno S. & Lasse Steiner (2011): “World Heritage List: Does it Make Sense?”, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 17, 555–573. DOI: 10.1080/10286632.2010.541906

Gilbert, Erik (2004): Dhows & the Colonial Economy in Zanzibar, 1860–1970, Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Hall, Stuart (1994): “Cultural Identity and Diaspora”, Williams, P. & Chrisman, L. (eds) Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader, New York: Columbia University Press.

Hansen, Peo & Stefan Jonsson (2014): Eurafrica: The Untold History of European Integration and Colonialism, London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Holmqvist, Stig & Aud Talle (2005): På Barheidas tid: familjekrönika från savannen, Stockholm: Carlsson.

Li, Tania (2007): The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics, Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. DOI: 10.1215/9780822389781

Lowenthal, David (2013): “Nostalgic Dreams and Nightmares”, Change Over Time, 3, 28–54. DOI: 10.1353/cot.2013.0003

Macdonald, Sharon (2013): Memorylands: Heritage and Identity in Europe Today, Abingdon: Routledge.

Myers, Garth Andrew (2011): African Cities: Alternative Visions of Urban Theory and Practice, London; New York: Zed Books Ltd.

Nyerere, Julius (1968): Freedom and Socialism = Uhuru na ujamaa: A Selection from Writings and Speeches 1965–1967, Dar es Salaam: Oxford University Press.

Rao, Kishore (2010): “A New Paradigm for the Identification, Nomination and Inscription of Properties on the World Heritage List”, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 16, 161–172. DOI: 10.1080/13527251003620594

Reclaim (2009): Reclaim Journal. (Re)claim Women’s Space in World Heritage 2004–2009. Genderinstitut Gotland, Reclaim Women’s Space in World Heritage Association.

Ronström, Owe (2008): Kulturarvspolitik: Visby: från sliten småstad till medeltidsikon, Stockholm: Carlsson.

Said, Edward W. (1978): Orientalism,New York: Pantheon Books.

Shilliam, Robbie (2011): International Relations and Non-western Thought: Imperialism, Colonialism and Investigations of Global Modernity, London: Routledge.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt (2005): Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Urry, John (2002): The Tourist Gaze, London; Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.

White, Hayden V. (1979): Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-century Europe, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Oress.






Theme: Concurrences: Culture Bound and Unbound