Tasha Sandoval received a Global Citizens Grant from Bowdoin last summer to spend 10 weeks in South Africa. While she was there, she volunteered at the District Six Museum in Cape Town. The mission of the museum is to preserve the memory of the lost District Six, a former mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artists, immigrants and laborers. Between 1966 and 1980, the district’s residents were forcibly evicted by the government to make way for white people.
Through the museum, Sandoval became involved with a group of older women who were kicked out of District Six when they were in their early 20s. The group is called “Huis Kombuis,” or Home Kitchen. When they get together the women share recipes from their past, and so stir up memories and stories. They then make individual recipe- or memory-cloths for a museum exhibition. “The group uses food and recipes of District Six as a window to look at themes of loss and trauma,” Sandoval said.
Besides transcribing the conversations of the Huis Kombuis women, Sandoval, a history major, transcribed other oral histories from District Six Museum’s archives. She also explored the oral history collection of another Cape Town institution, the Centre for Popular Memory. There, she transcribed many of the Centre’s audio files, which were recorded a generation earlier than the District Six files.
Sandoval’s honors project compares the collection of oral histories from the two institutions, to see “how they represent different values and oral history strategies,” she said.
In the earlier oral histories, people were more interested in talking about loss and trauma, Sandoval said. On the other hand, District Six Museum’s histories, collected more recently, focus less on loss and more on what life was like in the district before the forced removal. Sandoval said this technique appeals more to people who are not South Africans, such as potential American and Dutch donors. “There is a natural tendency to romanticize history, but it’s the museum’s choice to represent it that way,” she said.
Sandoval said the experience of living in South Africa, conducting interviews and digging into archives has given her motivation to work hard on her yearlong honors project. “I was there and I have these relationships with these people. It’s worth more to me,” she said, adding, “I think there is something to be gained by me adding to the body of knowledge out there on this subject.”
Read more about other Bowdoin students’ community-based honors projects and independent studies.