Thursday, November 30, 2006

Why Tanzanians don't like to have their photos taken

On the way back from the cultural tour last Saturday, a colleague tried to take a picture of a school yard full of children from the car. Chaos ensued. Children screamed, ran, ducked and covered, and the teacher clanged the school bell to try to restore calm.

We asked the driver why people don't like to have their picture taken. Here is his explanation:

"There are many Muslims in Tanzania, and sometimes they bomb the schools. The children are told to watch out for strangers because they are afraid of Al Qaeda since September 11."

Now, if you ask me, it is highly unlikely that Al Qaeda is going to think that some tiny primary school in the backwaters of Tanzania is a threat that must be eliminated. And people didn't like having their photos taken back when I was there in June 2001 either. But make of it what you will.

It reminded me a bit of when I was in Egypt earlier this year. Every time a tomb had been defaced in some way, the tour guides marked it down to Christian vandals. But just as likely it could have been Muslim fundamentalists many years ago, who believed people should not be represented in images. There are scapegoats and iconoclasts in all societies, I guess.


Dad said...

Thirty five years ago, when we were in Kenny I was filming the view, when a little boy picked up a stone and angrily threw it at me. I think that most of us don't like to be considered part of the scenery, or enhancements to other peoples vacation pictures.Mind you, things are a lot more tense now than they were then, unfortunately.

Aunt Alanna said...

I really like your sharing of passing observations, Gwyn. In my studies, an image of someone is like capturing their spirit, and thus the losing of some autonomy. So many "historical" pictures of Indians are framed to present them within a particular narrative, and thus images are distrusted as a power-over thing. If they had cameras, they might feel differently. Nice observation.