The Swahili coast of East Africa has a long history, stretching centuries further back than European histories, that tend to start with the arrival of Portuguse explorers in the late fifteenth century, usually relate.
Chole is strategically located within the Mafia archipelago, just north of the Rufiji river delta. Ruins at Kismani, Mafia are believed to date from the tenth and eleventh centuries, whilst further south lies the city-state of Kilwa, which grew to fame and wealth during the tenth century through its control of much of the trade in gold and slaves along the east African coast. At low tide one can walk from Chole to the nearby island of Juani, where there are Shirazi ruins once described by the great archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler as the potential "Pompeii" of East Africa.
Because Swahili did not develop as a written language until the late nineteenth century this history found expression in a rich oral tradition which continues to this day. In 1995 Christine Walley, an American anthropologist now teaching at MIT, and the English naturalist Dudley Iles, from Oxford, recorded oral histories, folk tales and traditions, together with details of the natural environment. Shortly afterwards Lowell Brower, now at Harvard, also visited Chole and recorded many more folk tales, morality tales, tales of cunning and tales of the natural world. They have many hours of video and audio.
Chole now has a small solar powered IT network, and Christine Walley, Dudley Iles and Lowell Brower have all generously agreed that this wealth of material can be used to create a digital cultural archive for the community, for which the Trust is currently seeking funds. Transcribed translations of four of the pieces are included on this website.