Table of contents
Poem / Wayfinding

Nameless Woman

Archives often render marginalized people’s histories invisible. In response to such erasure, a poet writes a letter to explore the experience of historically enslaved African and Creole women in Tanzania and Mauritius—and the ways in which they may have navigated their lives.
A blurred, black-and-white image features a person from the shoulders up looking to their left against a pitch-black background.

Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images

Nameless Woman - Listen

this letter is not addressed to anyone
but receiver, whoever you are,
i am dying

my body has folded into itself
sprouted brown mold, like rotting fruit
dropped almond, fermented sugarcane

mother, the cells on my tongue
have pulled away from spit
my palms burnt skin, cracked earth

father, i have buried myself in cloth
no flesh shown, my
face a different color,
coffee still, but at a distance

sisters, i have loved you and i
beg you not to cry for me
the healer says the only hope
is the mwaurubaini, or the moringa, so i have [1] Mwaurubaini and moringa are medicinal trees in Tanzania and Mauritius, among other countries, with numerous healing properties.

boiled water, steeped
the leaves until the steam turns
a sickly green, as i descend

to count the forty ways
that i have died
then count again the forty ways
that i will live

and after the death
after being climbed upon, i [2] “Climbed upon” refers to the initiatory spiritual processes of becoming a healer in Tanzania. See anthropologist Stacey Langwick’s book, Bodies, Politics, and African Healing: The Matter of Maladies in Tanzania.
call on them, it is the
branches that respond

only they know how to undo
the spell: where rot and pus
have crept too close to tissue.

where a man, a woman
can sink into
a void of black ash and resurface
with saplings entangled in hair.

Alma Simba is a writer, historian, and experimental sound artist interested in both the potentials and failures of words in capturing the human experience. Her subject matter is ancestral heritage and how Indigenous Black Africans can communicate and explore this history through oral traditions, memory, and imagination. Simba was awarded a B.A. in international history from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and she completed her M.A. in history at the University of Dar es Salaam with a focus on Tanzanian heritage housed in Germany. She was a “Sensitive Provenances” Research Fellow at the University of Göttingen in 2022 and is part of the Ajabu Ajabu audio-visual collection in Dar es Salaam. Follow her on Instagram @aa_noun.


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