Accepted paper:

Nafasi: the space as conceptualized by mapapasi (Zanzibar Town)

Author:

Irene Brunotti (University of Leipzig)

Paper short abstract:

Thinking of nafasi, a Swahili word meaning place, and time, pointing at the future (opportunity) and stretching back to the past (the place we occupy), this study looks at the urban space created by the group of mapapasi (loosely translated 'go-between'), and its working practices in Zanzibar Town.

Paper long abstract:

Let us imagine that instead of the configuration of modern and traditional spaces, there were an urban space, porous, horizontal, mobile in its fixity, and fix in its mobility, determined by the very practice of the youth inhabiting it. Let us think of this space as a "becoming", an in-between movement, where moment of "non-activity" do not exist, a space of the "unknown modern" discovered and learned through known ancient and persisting practices. Let us think of it as nafasi, a Swahili word meaning place, and time, pointing at the future (opportunity) and stretching back to the past (the place we occupy), and let us think of it in the context of Zanzibar Town. This study looks at the nafasi of a sociocultural group, mapapasi (sing. papasi - loosely translated 'go-between'), and its working practices. Neither tourist guides, nor street-vendors, 1990s Zanzibari youth, initially from Stone Town, then also from Ng'ambo (the other side [of the city]) were soon to become reference points, albeit informal, both for the government and for the guests. Mapapasi were in fact sort of mobile landmarks because of being reference points, yet mobile because of their very activity of focused wandering in Zanzibar Town, "redirecting" the guests' ways. As mobile landmarks, they embodied the variability within the apparently defined boundaries (spatial, social, religious and linguistic) that characterize urban Zanzibar; at the threshold of (in)formality, (im)purity and (il)legitimacy, these young urbanites searched for, perhaps (re)inventing, the nafasi where to belong to in the modern town.

panel Env04
Spatial theory and African urban studies