Saturday, August 15, 2009

Zinj Conference

In honour of the golden anniversaries of the discovery of Zinanthropus and the establishment of Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism (home to the Department of Antiquites) decided to host a conference. We (my supervisor and her graduate students) were lucky enough to be invited as participants. To be honest, there was some confusion surrounding this conference and our plans to present in Arusha. We first found out about the Zinjanthropus (affectionately known as "Zinj") conference last summer at a stop into the Department of Antiquities in Dar es Salaam. At that time it was mentioned that it was likely that the Zinj celebration would take the form of a conference held in conjunction with the 2nd East African Association for Palaeoanthropology and Palaeontology (EAAPP) meeting planned for August 2009 in Arusha. To make a long story short, it turned out this was not the case and so we find ourselves attending both the Zinj conference (13th to 17th) and the EAAPP conference (17th to 20th).

The conference was held in the Arusha International Conference Center (AICC) which interestingly is also home to the the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, judging those responsible for the genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (note: trials are still in progress and when in session you can sit in on them).

The first day of the conference was all about dignitaries and Olduvai (Oldupai) Gorge. It was an interesting mix of welcoming speeches, votes of thanks, and scientific papers. There was also a performance of a song written about Olduvai Gorge and Tanzania's cultural heritage. It was very heartfelt and very Tanzanian. The participants were mostly Tanzanian - government officials, tourism agents, secondary school and university students, researchers, and Masai. We were part of around a dozen foreign researchers present which is quite humbling, and we were very honoured to be included.

Gotta love free conference loot!

The rest of the conference was filled with papers and endless hours of discussion. It is hard to summarize just how important cultural heritage is here but also how much Tanzanian's love to argue/discuss. It is also a reflection of Tanzania's socialist past as everyone is allowed, and given time, to present their opinion. This meant that more often than not we were running behind.

Although the official language of the conference was English, many chose to give papers (the text in their presentations were English so I usually could still follow along) and the discussion was primarily in Kiswahili. Topics focused mostly on either the archaeology of Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli or Cultural Heritage Management - everything from new interpretations of the faunal assemblage at BK site to the ecology of Serengeti National Park to conservation and preservation of rock art sites in Kondoa. My supervisor presented an overview of our research project and it was extremely well received. In particular everyone seemed really impressed with our work with local peoples and loved the posters I created to help in the dissemination of our results in local villages, schools, offices, and museums.

All in all it was a great conference. I heard a lot of interesting talks and met some fantastic people. I left feeling very optimistic about ongoing and future work in Tanzania.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating that, so far from home, the conference language was still English. (Mostly.) Lingua franca, anyone?

    I know that more people are going to comment over on Facebook than here on the actual blog, but I'm totally old skool that way, and refuse to bow down to technological peer pressure that way. In the infamous words of Sean Connery: "Suck it, Trebek!"