big trips where several families would all get into a truck and drive off into the countryside, stopping to pick mangoes from trees
The leaders of the Asian Elders Group had invited the Heritage100 team to hold the Roadshow in the midst of their usual Wednesday afternoon session, which made for a lively and bustling affair. Many enjoyed looking at the website using the iPads provided, and the Days Out theme in particular stimulated sharing of happy childhood memories.
It seemed that the taking of a picnic was common across all cultures in the room; some who had spent their childhoods in Kenya reminisced about big trips where several families would all get into a truck and drive off into the countryside, stopping to pick mangoes from trees and sometimes getting servants to pick baskets full of damsons.
Two members of the Asian Elders Group had brought items along with them to show to everyone. Dr Shah had first come to England from what was then called Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in 1960 and had brought with him the shirt that he had been wearing when he first arrived. The shirt was remarkable for both its colour and design. A vivid yellow fabric with an intricate multi-coloured printed pattern known as Kitenge, the shirt had two pockets on the back. Dr Shah’s request for suggestions as to the reason for this caused much hilarity in the group as different people called out their theories. However, no-one guessed Dr Shah’s explanation that in those days people rarely had any money to carry around with them and so the pockets were only needed to carry a handkerchief – mostly to mop the brow because of the intense heat. Dr Shah explained that when Tanganyika was about to become independent the pattern on the shirt had been developed as part of a national costume as a way of retaining some national identity.
One of the women had brought along a large bulbous shaped copper pot with a narrow neck and a small but sturdy beaded headrest. These items (a Gader and an Indhoni) were familiar to most of the women in the group as these were objects that had been used by their mothers and grandmothers to transport water from the well to the village where they lived. The women explained how in India it had been traditional for the women in a village to go to the well together, carrying their pots of varying sizes and then once all vessels were filled, the women would make the return journey (usually of three or four miles) walking in a line one behind the other and singing as they went. Often the pots had been made out of clay because then if the water was heated it retained the heat for longer.
Several women had a go carrying the pot on their heads, which prompted a spontaneous performance of one of the traditional chants (see film in Gallery).
One lady explained that similar pots had been used to store grain because the narrow neck made it easier to protect food from vermin and their pantry would have a row of many pots of various sizes containing different types of dry food. She explained that now it was quite common for Asian people to keep such heritage items in their homes as ornaments.
The Heritage100 Roadshow has a wonderful afternoon at the Asian Elders Group and witnessed first-hand how simple everyday objects can conjure up vivid memories of days gone by.
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