Re-Centring AfroAsia Conference 2017

Re-Centering AfroAsia: Musical and Human Migrations in the Pre-Colonial Period 700-1500AD is a multi-pronged research, mapping, and archiving project supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The project aims to revolutionise Humanities research in South Africa.

6 – 7 September 2017 / Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town

Words: Dineo Skosana, Witness Mudzamatira

Images: Noëleen Murray and Jonathan Cane

Dineo Skosana: ‘Typically, the associates of this research project comprise of scholars from different universities based as far as India, Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Moreover, unlike conventional academic gatherings, which tend to unite academics from the same academic disciplines and with clearly defined interests, the AfroAsia conference is a space that amalgamates scholars from different disciplines such as Anthropology, Political Science, Architecture, as well as Musicology. It is perhaps this diversity which helps one think beyond the boundaries and the traditions of one’s academic field. I presented a paper titled: Refiguring Traditional Leadership. My interest about traditional leadership began in 2009, when I undertook research for an Honour’s qualification. I was interested in exploring the relationship between traditional leaders and the local government in Mokopane (formerly Potgietersrus), in the Limpopo province that is situated in the north of South Africa. The family was at the time mired in a succession dispute, which slightly altered my focus. My work adds to the existing literature of historical succession disputes, and takes a step further to understand contemporary disputes in the new political dispensation. The AfroAsia research project has allowed me to further explore the question of traditional leadership in South Africa. It provides me with an opportunity to dig into an understudied period, pre-colonial Africa, and to map South Africa’s historical links to Asia. Here, I am trying to think about the role of traditional leaders in the pre-colonial era, as well as kinship, and polities during the time. I look forward to uncovering the understudied, the unsaid, about traditional leadership – which has come to shape the institution as well as the politics to date.’

Witness Mudzamatira: ‘As the theme of the event said it, “Musical and Human Migrations in the Pre-Colonial Period 700-1500 AD”, the conference was an experience that motivated me as an young African man to rethink and reshape the indigenous knowledge that has been lost over the years. My highlight at the conference came from the beginning of the conference when Professor Shadreck Chirikure [from the University of Cape Town], presented on the Archaeology and its contribution in showing us the historical movements of people and relations between Africa and Asia. What was of interest to me was the connection he made to the current issues that are dominant in modern Africa and Asia. Professor Chirikure discussed the ‘look east’ policy that most African governments have taken in order to trade and exchange goods and services. His presentation highlighted that from ancient times, Africa and Asia had strong relations that built trade and the exchange of goods and services without slavery and colonisation. Another interesting presentation was that of music, migration and sound by Rufus Maculuve and Miguel Marrengula. They talked about the impact of music or sound in relating a story of slavery, and showed sound and music travelled. What was of great influence to me was the way in which people used music to relive their stories, and how this influenced rethinking and reshaping history. An example of such historical sounds was that called ‘tofu’, which is a sound common in Mozambique. It reminded of a dance group called Tofu Tofu from Mozambique, which I had seen in a music video by Beyonce, in which she demonstrated how sound influenced the movement of the body and the body acting as the communication language.

‘Music and rhythm in traditional healing practices was also a major highlight in my experience at the conference. This came to me as a realisation that most traditional healing experiences in my growing up came with sounds and rhythms that reminded me of African traditional ways to heal. I also found interesting the presentation that talked about Archaeology, and how this discipline had been misrepresented in interpretations to foster colonial ideas. The musical performances after the dinner contributed to my enjoyment of the idea of the Re-Centring AfroAsia project. The authentic African sounds made me rethink the way I view and appreciate music.

‘The second day of the conference was the most informative experience of the whole conference. My presentation of my project gave me an insight of the possibilities and how curriculum change in Africa is one of the biggest topics that need urgent attention. Also hearing others talking about their projects and how their fields would add to the Re-Centring AfroAsia initiative motivated me and informed me of what we can do and research to distribute our opinions out to the world. It also encouraged me to see how my project would influence and contribute to the greater understanding of the need to add new knowledge to the period 700-1500 AD. I could pick up ideas on how to improve my project, and how I might use my project to publicise the Afro-Asia project through publication and awareness programmes.

‘I believe this is the perfect platform to shape ideas that truly change our tomorrows. I would wish that in future we had more time than just two days to interact and share with everyone more experiences and ideas relevant to this project. I hope to learn and share more in our next conference.’

Skosana and Mudzamatira are Re-Centering AfroAsia Doctoral Fellows.