In December 1933 Diana Powell-Cotton travelled with her father Percy to East Africa. They first visited Sudan, before arriving in Jubaland, in what was then Italian Somaliland, in March 1934. They travelled together until the beginning of July when Percy Powell-Cotton returned home. Diana continued her trip, spending the next 10 months travelling from Mogadishu down the coast to the border with Kenya. Although she was ‘alone’ in the sense that she was now travelling without her father, she was accompanied by a group of Somali men who she employed along the way, included translator Hassan Scek Ali and boat captain Bara Haji.

Diana collected over 2000 objects and took hundreds of photographs on this journey. Of particular interest are the photographs which she took of the people she met, including those who worked for her and the people that made some of the objects she collected. In 2022 we are working on researching and sharing these images more widely.

Diana recorded information about the people she photographed. Some of her captions and field work notes include information that is inaccurate or offensive. Where Diana’s words are reproduced it is intended as a starting point to understanding the collection. We recognise that Diana’s captions do not tell the whole story of these photographs. Our aim is to make them more accessible and to record more information about the people and places depicted in a way that is respectful and responsive to feedback.

The digitisation, research and cataloguing of these photographs was completed by Kathleen Lawther, made possible through a Headley Fellowship with Art Fund.

We are grateful to Faiz Mohammad Shee, Said Omar Maalim, Yusuf Omar Maalim and Arabia Bakari, Abira Hussein, Safia Jama and Women’s Inclusive Team for their support with this project.

Unrecorded Names

Many of the portraits of Somali people are anonymous because Diana Powell-Cotton did not record their names in her diary or field notes. We are working to add more information to our records about these photographs.

An unnamed man, thought to be of the Rahanweyn clan, puts the finishing artistic touches to his large ceramic pot. He was photographed in Afgooye, a town in the southeastern Somalia Lower Shebelle (Shabellaha Hoose) region of Somalia, by Diana Powell-Cotton, during her visit to Somalia in late 1934. Museum Reference Number: PHOTO.
#somalihistory #vintagesomalia #unrecordednames
Photograph of an unnamed man at the tiller of a boat, sailing off the coast of the Bajuni Islands. Taken by Diana Powell-Cotton during her visit to Somalia in late 1934. Museum Reference Number: PHOTO.
#somalihistory #vintagesomalia #unrecordednames
Informal photograph of an unnamed man, crouched by a small fire, cooking in a pot. Taken in 1934, by Diana Powell-Cotton during her visit to the Afmadow district, Lower Jubba, of Somalia.

Museum reference number: PHOTO.

#VintageSomalia #UnrecordedNames #SomaliHistory #HornofAfrica

Recovered Names

The names of these individuals have been recovered through archival research and in collaboration with members of the Somali Bajuni diaspora.

N’dhee Avisa (right) and another elder, possibly a friend or family member, Koyama Island, 1934. 
N'dhee Avisa was from Koyama Island and would most likely have been the village elder who showed Diana around the old ruins. (Diana recorded in her diary for 18th October 1934: ‘Up at break of dawn and out to see village escorted by chief and other old men…People most friendly and respectful and one might think white women usually came prodding round the houses and buying things.’)

#LivingLineages #BajuniIslands #Koyama #VintageSomalia #RecoveredNames
Portrait of Issa Mahamud, one of the young men employed by Diana and Percy Powell-Cotton during their hunting trip around Afmadow, early 1934.

Museum reference number: PHOTO.
#HuntingandFishing #RecoveredNames #Somalia #VintageSomalia #Jubaland
This photograph shows Asha Bakari wearing a face mask known as ‘liwa’ made from Sandalwood. Asha Bakari, like others in this collection, has living relatives who were able to identify her due to her close resemblance to her daughter. 
Museum reference number: PHOTO.
#LivingLineages #bajuni #Somalia #recoverednames


A selection of images showing people working on crafts included pottery, weaving and woodcarving. Diana collected examples of Somali crafts which are on display in the Powell-Cotton Museum.

A man, probably Mohammad Bari, who carved many wooden objects while working for the Powell-Cottons, carving a wooden headrest while at camp. 


#SomaliCrafts #WoodCarving #Somalia #RecoveredNames #Crafts
WaGosha woman standing in the doorway of a hut. The wooden doorway is decorated with carvings. Probably taken near Jilib, 1935.

Museum reference number: PHOTO. 

#Somalia #VintageSomalia #SomaliCrafts #SomaliHomes #Woodcarving #UnrecordedNames #Crafts

Food and Drink

These photographs show food preparation and agricultural work, as well as people at wells and at markets.

Somali Darod Ogaden woman making butter, surrounded by children. Moti, Afmadow, April 1934. 
While Diana Powell-Cotton was camped near Afmadow to hunt big game with her father Percy, she visited neighbouring huts and took photographs. 
She wrote in her diary: 'Went to some huts nearby in evening. Saw for first time wooden butter rockers with hole in centre into which basket fits.' 
This photo shows one of the stages in the butter making process. 

Museum reference number: PHOTO. 

#Aqalsomali #butterchurning #SomaliHistory #VintageSomalia #SomaliHomes #FoodAndDrink

Homes and Families

As a female traveller, Diana took many candid photographs of the women and children who she met, as well as families posing in front of their homes.

Two women holding small children. One woman has her face painted lemon colour with milk from powderered ‘Liva’ wood. Photographed by Diana Powell-Cotton, during her visit to Chula, one of the Bajuni Islands of Somalia, in late 1934.
Museum Reference Number: PHOTO.
#somalihistory #vintagesomalia #homesandfamilies
Somali Ogaden Darod Mohamed Zuber man and his two children, photographed by Diana Powell-Cotton in Jubaland, 1935. 

Museum reference number: PHOTO.

#VintageSomalia #HornofAfrica #HomesandFamilies

Hunting and Fishing

Diana spent the first part of her travels hunting with her father Percy Powell-Cotton. She took pictures of the men who they hired to help them track and hunt animals, as well as photographing Bajuni Islands fishermen later in her trip.

Portrait of Issa Mahamud, one of the young men employed by Diana and Percy Powell-Cotton during their hunting trip around Afmadow, early 1934.

Museum reference number: PHOTO.
#HuntingandFishing #RecoveredNames #Somalia #VintageSomalia #Jubaland
This photograph is a portrait of Adio wa Aweso as a boy. It is a wonderful example of the power of knowing people's stories beyond what is captured by the camera, as explored in our Living Lineages display.

Diana captioned the photograph: ‘Fish trap, Bagiun. At Fuma, village on mainland, 0.40 S; 42.30 E’ 
We now know that Adio wa Aweso later grew up to become a fisherman. He was married to Mwanahalima and had two sons, Hussein wa Adio and Shenyalo wa Adio.
Museum reference number: PHOTO.

#LivingLineages #HuntingandFishing #Fuma #SomaliBajuni #Bajuni #VintageSomalia #HornofAfrica #IndianOcean

Music, Dance and Celebration

These images show people playing musical instruments, dancing or dressed for dance, and celebrating Eid al-Adha in Kismayo in March 1934.

Two young Bajuni boys with a musical instrument, October 1934. probably on Chovaye island. Museum reference number: PHOTO. #BajuniIslands #MusicDanceandCelebration
This photo is a portrait of Dhakiya wa Shali who was a poet and a singer very famous around Chovaye island for her provocative lyrics. In this photo she is holding a kayamba which is a percussion instrument used even today in many African cultures. Dhakiya held her instruments in high regard and had given her kayamba a nickname 'wa mbinguni' in Swahili meaning something from the skies or clouds or from the heavens. 

This information was recovered from the recollections of elders from the Bajuni community, thanks to Faiz Mohammad Shee. Prior to this work, the caption given to the photo by Diana Powell-Cotton was simply 'Baguin [the Italian spelling of Bajuni] woman with musical rattle'.
Museum reference number: PHOTO.

#Bajuni #BajuniIslands #SomaliBajuni #Chovaye #Kayamba #VintageSomalia #MusicDanceAndCelebration

Nomadic Life

Photographs of Somali aqal, the traditional portable hut, and images of people transporting their possessions and their animals.

People watering their camels at newly built wells in Afmadow, 1934. 

Museum reference number: PHOTO.

#NomadicLife #Afmadow #VintageSomalia #HornofAfrica