I've mentioned Alison Redmayne a number of times in my East African Notes and Records blog and will again, I hope. We first met at her house in north Oxford in February 1980 when I was planning doctoral research in Usangu, in south-west Tanzania. She became my ethnographic mentor and a lifelong friend. I last spoke to her in January, when she rang me from the Churchill Hospital in Oxford -- she'd been in and out with various complaints, but nothing that made me think that I wouldn't see or speak to her again. However, she didn't leave the hospital this time, but succumbed to a recurrence of lymphoma, a cancer that she'd beaten off once before. I had no idea until I wrote about her in my last post (Where The Doctor is Ignorant) and today's equivalent of the bush telegraph brought me the sad news.
Alison Hope Redmayne was born on 1 October 1936 and died on 20 February 2013, aged 76. She was buried in Wolvercote Cemetery on Wednesday afternoon (13 March), following an informal graveside ceremony attended by family and friends, who shared recollections of her before continuing to do the same in the more congenial surroundings of the Victoria Arms in Old Marston. It was unexpectedly, but appropriately, sunny when we were in the cemetery. The most poignant moment came when we all gathered around and strained to listen to the start of one of her recordings of Hehe mourning ceremonies, played back by her nephew's son Max over a mobile phone with a small tinny speaker attached.
I couldn't help but reflect that if she'd been buried in one of the villages in Iringa or Mufindi that she knew so well, we'd have found ourselves in the midst of a multitude, the air filled with heartfelt lamentations and rousing songs in praise of Mung'anzagala Gisakamutemi Msengidunda Semugongolwa (her full name as an adopted member of the Hehe royal family), this extraordinary woman who spoke their language like few other Europeans could, who gave the best years of her life to recording their history and ethnography, and who ignored her own physical suffering to devote herself instead to improving their welfare, saving the lives of who knows how many people as she did so. Here's just one testimony, posted on the Mjengwa blog on 15 March:
I met Semgongolwa while I was a student at Lugalo Secondary School back in 1970. Even though I am Hehe, my Kihehe was far worse than hers. I will always remember her anthropological studies she conducted among the Wahehe; she was one of the few people who entered into the field, and never left!
. . . Alex Mwakikoti
Although she also worked in northern Nigeria, Alison Redmayne's name will always be most closely associated with the Hehe and neighbouring peoples in Tanzania, and so it should be. I've spent most of my spare time in the past week sorting through our correspondence, records of her visit to Usangu in December 1981, and searching for photographs, tape recordings, and a short video I made of her at home in Oxford in August 2000. I'll write more anon, but wanted to begin to say goodbye to her with this (grave) post marking her departure from this life and passage into the world of the ancestors whom she talked and wrote so much about.
Originally posted by Martin Walsh on East African Notes and Records, at http://notesandrecords.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/goodbye-to-alison-red...