The current Chinese community in Tanzania numbers around 70,000 individuals, consisting primarily of those who have arrived only in the last decade to invest and to work. Hidden in the city of Dar es Salaam, however, are the traces of earlier Chinese settlers.
While the well-known and well-maintained Chinese Experts Cemetery on the edge of town contains the remains of those who came to work on the Tanzania-Zambia railway in the 1970s, in the centre of town, hidden in the middle of an old Muslim cemetery and surrounded by a simple white wall erected in 1950 is a largely forgotten Chinese Cemetery. Enclosed within are the graves of twenty-five individuals buried between 1919 and 1978. They reveal the existence of a small community of Chinese from Kaiping who came to East Africa in the early twentieth century to engage in work which included farming around Dar es Salaam, working in the local cement plant and producing noodles for sale to local people (much as the case still in Zanzibar). Several older residents of Dar have memories of certain older Chinese individuals who once lived in the city, including a woman who ran a farm in an area called Mchikichini with her two sons from the late 1930s to the 1970s. Whatever existed of the second generation has since migrated to the UK.
The cemetery, abandoned for decades, was recently rediscovered by a Chinese employee working for an investment firm. Raising funds from among the new generation of Chinese now working and living in Dar es Salaam, she has sought to restore and look after the cemetery. To assist in this effort, she has also tried to collect the history of this small community.
Derek Sheridan Ph.D, an anthropologist studying Chinese migration in Dar es Salaam, and two scholars from Chinese Nationalities University in Beijing, have tried to assist her by attempting to locate individuals familiar with the experiences of these early families.
They have been told the second generation migrated to the UK in the 1970s, and have asked Nee Hao Magazine to help locate the descendants here. In interviewing them, they hope to increase the understanding of the full range of Chinese experiences in Tanzania, but also to assist the efforts of contemporary Chinese in Dar es Salaam to ensure that the resting places of these earlier settlers are well-looked after.
If you are a relative of the first generation of Chinese in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, please contact Nee Hao so we can pass the details on.