“This needs to go beyond research.”

Alma Simba


I am a writer, historian and experimental sound artist interested in both the potentials and failures of words in capturing the human experience. I am based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. My subject matter is ancestral heritage and how indigenous black Africans can communicate and explore this history through oral traditions, memory, and imagination. I was awarded a BA in International History from The London School of Economics and Political Science. I have recently completed my MA in History at The University of Dar es Salaam with a focus on Tanzanian heritage housed in Germany. I was a ‚Sensitive Provenances‘ Research Fellow at The University of Göttingen in 2022 and am part of the Ajabu-Ajabu audio-visual collective in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Doing Research

Finding new approaches

“The Human remains represent this German fascination
with collecting and knowledge and science.”


Maybe all there is to write about
are the stars. 

Lone witnesses, 
Silent observers. 

Maybe all there is to look at
is a single spoon in the sink.

Water dripping,
Metal on metal.

Maybe time won’t always heal, 

Some wounds go straight to the bone.  


I have not been here before,
but they have.

no vision, no way
to look up at the sky,
the twitching stars,
the dark mouth of the night.

and yet, i can feel their faces
maybe not complete,
maybe just glimpses:
a cheek, a curved nose.

Forgive me
for writing in this language.
For the inadequacies of form,
the hopelessness of words.

Allow me silence.

blood on my nails,
coconut oil in my bag
and the smell of the ocean,
the lake, the dirt
of the mountain
and whatever else
you might have seen

and known you are home.
and know you are home.
and now you are home.

forget space,
forget time.
the sun here, is the sun there.
and we still dance, still cry,
still laugh, still grieve
with open-mouthed wails
with outstretched arms.
always hold on to this,
the soil never forgets.


It is only now that I realise how violent
Numbers can be
I did not know it before
What does a thousand mean, really
In hours, or days, people, or even something as little as
Oranges, avocados, ants, or miles
Try that in thousands
Then try again in hundreds of thousands
The taking and the taking again
Numbers that could never be counted
And if they are will not be in this lifetime
I am tired of seeing commas
I am tired of seeing zeros
Numbers on a page, nameless.
There is no more language
The sun here, is the sun there

I recorded sounds, conversations and recitals of my writing over the course of the ‘Sensitive Provenances Research Project’ fellowship to reflect on the ancestral human remains from Tanzania. I used poetry and writing as a means of navigating the grief, history, and violent contexts of acquisition. Despite being a historian, I chose to approach the ancestral human remains from a non-academic perspective to counter cycles of scientific research that perpetuate violent ways of viewing black bodies. I am passionate about weaving together my academic expertise as a historian with experimental sound practice and creative writing. The sound work is ultimately a work of mourning but within the mourning is also the pledge to restore dignity and to remember the ancestors despite the shame and disrespect the ancestral human remains have been subject to.

Alma Simba

‘The sun here, is the sun there’ is an attempt to acknowledge the grief and violence that the ancestral human remains have experienced – and continue to experience – while held in Germany. The work dwells in the uncomfortable space of dislocation and dispossession, refusing to offer straight-forwards suggestions or solutions. As much as questions of restitution, colonialism and repatriation are important, the sound work that I conducted focuses on the irretrievable loss that has been inflicted on the communities of origin. The practice of recording sounds was one of experiencing the city, an attempt to capture everyday sounds from bus trips to cafés as well as read my original writing and observation. This was to capture the environment in which the ancestral human remains have been living in for over 100 years, separated from home and the development of history over time. I countered this with recorded sounds from homes, city buses, roads, and the ocean to create a soundscape where an interaction between the two different environments could take place.

Alma Simba

Giving Context


“These human remains come from context that are now past.”

In 1961, Tanganyika achieved independence after almost 80 years of colonial rule by Germany (1890-1918) and England (1920-1961). Then in 1964, Zanzibar and Tanganyika united and formed the new state of Tanzania. Tanzania prides itself in being very diverse and having more than 150 ethnic groups. Ancestral human remains of the Maisai, Isanzu, Burungi, Sandawe, Hadza, Irangi and Turu ethnic groups are held in Göttingen’s collections. A conference organised in cooperation with the National Museum of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam in May 2023 presented the information on the existence of the human remains and discussed possibilities for their return with government and museum officials as well as representatives of specific ethnic groups. It became clear how different the interests and perspectives of the Tanzanian parties are on this issue. An internal process of taking decisions and establishing procedures is currently taking place in Tanzania, which will lead to a potential return of the human remains in the future.