This film is held by the BFI (ID: 12620).


A typical day of a Msukuma (Sukuma) man and his family in Tanganyika (now Tanzania).

The film introduces Kinga's home - huts in a clearing - before showing Kinga and his family, who are at work making bread, collecting wood and tending goats. A goat has been killed by a leopard and Kinga sets about building a trap for it. Kinga's wife falls ill and he visits the medicine man to collect a remedy. After this, he leaves to buy a new hoe and selects one. A water pot is broken and Kinga's wife visits a potter to buy a replacement. A stranger visits Kinga's home and explains that his hut was destroyed by fire. The fire is depicted before Kinga gives him some goats as compensation. The film concludes with a series of tribal dances: the Nunguri or Porcupine Hunter's Dance, the Puwa dance and the Goyangi.



A Day in the Life of a Msukuma Called Kinga Mkono Bara was made by Ralph Cutler, Superintendent of Education, Tanganyika Territory and G.T. Wheeler, Field Officer, Tsetse Research, Tanganyika Territory. Major R.D. Furse explained in February 1937 that ‘he [Wheeler] and a friend have been taking films of native life, dances etc.’, such as this film – referred to in Sight and Sound as ‘A Day in the Life of an African Native’ – and At School in Tanganyika. The editing of these films was completed by April 1937, during Cutler’s return to England on leave (‘Educational Films’ (1937), CO323/1421/13).

Furse explained that Wheeler – whom he described as ‘rather an odd fish’ – wanted to show these films ‘in Cambridge, where he knows Mr Haddon [a noted anthropologist]’. The films were subsequently presented to an anthropological club, but Furse also discussed the possibility of showing them at ‘one of both of the C.A.S. clubs’ (‘Educational Films’ (1937), CO323/1421/13). Both pictures were presented at a private screening at the BFI in May 1937, after which they were available to hire from the National Film Library at the British Film Institute (Sight and Sound, Autumn 1937, 167).

Film historian Rachael Low later described A Day in the Life of a Msukuma Called Kinga Mkono Bara as a ‘charming, amateur, fuzzy, silent one-reel film with titles, and elementary camera technique’, which was ‘nevertheless a serious and fascinating look at life in an African village in the thirties’ (Low, 1979, 75). Anthony Bevir, of the Colonial Office, who viewed the film at the BFI, thought it had ‘some interesting and I should think unique pictures of native dancing’ and felt that while At School in Tanganyika was ‘technically better’, ‘both of them are quite good…and wholly suitable for showing to Administrative probationers’ (‘Educational Films’ (1937), CO323/1421/13).

However, this was not the only film to address this subject. In 1937, Notcutt and Latham, the filmmakers with the Bantu Educational Kinema Experiment (BEKE) produced Msukuma Farmer, which was made near Mwanza. They explained that while at Mwanza ‘we stayed in the spare house at the Central African School as the guests of the headmaster, Mr Cutler and his wife’ (Notcutt and Latham, 1937, 89).

The Sukuma – meaning ‘north’ – were traditionally based in the northern areas of Tanganyika, to the east and south of Lake Victoria. Marilyn Little has argued that the Sukuma were ‘easily incorporated’ into the system of indirect rule promoted by Sir Donald Cameron when he became governor of Tanganyika in 1925, yet she also acknowledged the widespread impact that the British had on the Sukuma, not only on their organisation and political structure, but in particular on their agriculture and labour. Indeed, Little ultimately concluded that ‘colonial economic policies had the impact of impoverishing rather than improving the Sukuma diet’ as labour was diverted from subsistence cultivation to export crop production and government work projects (Little, 1991, 376, 386). 


Rachael Low argued that the final title within A Day in the Life of a Msukuma Called Kinga Mkono Bara – ‘The moon is full and the dances will go on – au revoir, Kanga’ – is ‘straight from the cinema travelogue’ and this may appear a useful point of reference (Low, 1979, 75). Certainly the film introduces the audience to local life, beginning with the initial titles that read ‘Kinga’s Home’, ‘Kinga’, ‘His Family’, while any narrative developments within the film (for example the death of a goat or the burning of the strangers hut) are quickly rushed over, as the film prioritises the apparent customs and traditions of the local people. However, unlike many travelogues, the titles offer no information on the Sukuma people or on the geographical area, and the film is probably best viewed as a British ethnographic picture of African life.

The subject of this film is undoubtedly the local people and in particular their customs. Shots and motifs that are reminiscent of earlier professional ethnographic productions – for example The Empire series of the 1920s – proliferate, as Kinga visits a ‘medecine [sic] man’, buys traditional agricultural tools produced by barely clothed Africans, and finally visits the dances. Rachael Low argued that the film provided a ‘serious and fascinating look’ at local life, but while the sequences selected – in particular the lengthy dances – may reflect aspects of local life, this is a version of African life widely presented to British audiences. Furthermore, the film contains clearly staged sequences – for example the woman drops the pot that she carries on her head – designed to present the Africans to the camera. This is most apparent during the dance sequences, when an African dances directly to the camera, while another smiles in close-up. The emphasis on traditional customs also ensures that there is no evidence of British involvement or influence in or on local life, while the social structure – for example the organisation of chiefs – is also overlooked, as the film instead purports to offer a snapshot of a day in the life of a local man.

Tom Rice (June 2008)


Works Cited

‘Educational Films: Films of Native Life in East Africa taken by Messrs. Wheeler and Cutler’ (1937) accessed at The National Archives (CO323/1421/13).

Little, Marilyn, ‘Colonial Policy and Subsistence in Tanganyika, 1925-1945’, Geographical Review, Vol. 81, No. 4, October 1991, 375-388.

lliffe, John, A Modern History of Tanganyika (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

Low, Rachael, The History of British Film, 1929-1939: Films of Comment and Persuasion of the 1930s (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979).

Notcutt, L.A. and G.C. Latham, The African and the Cinema : An Account of the Work of the Bantu Educational Cinema Experiment during the Period March 1935 to May 1937 (London: Edinburgh House Press, 1937).

‘The National Library’, Sight and Sound (Autumn 1937), 167.

‘News in Brief’, The Times, 30 October 1936, 15. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
12 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
446 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
R-H-C Amateur Production