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.
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.
The names of these individuals have been recovered through archival research and in collaboration with members of the Somali Bajuni diaspora.
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.
Food and Drink
These photographs show food preparation and agricultural work, as well as people at wells and at markets.
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.
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.
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.
Photographs of Somali aqal, the traditional portable hut, and images of people transporting their possessions and their animals.