Memories of a Burning Tree


Smith comes to Dar es Salaam to tie up some loose ends. He meets Link, a tourist guide, who agrees to help him. Along the way they are offered help by Abdul, a grave digger, and Toatoa, a metal scavenger, who themselves are searching for answers to their own journeys. Their search eventually leads them to realise that this is a never-ending journey of dreams and disappointments. With an ensemble cast of non-professional actors and an improvised script, this film is an homage to the road movie genre, where ultimately the road ends when you want it to end.


Smith  (Man looking
for a grave) 

Smith K. Kimaro

Link (Tourist guide) 

Link Reuben

Abdul (Grave digger) 

Abdul Khalfan Malaika

Toatoa (Metal Scavenger) 

Khalid Saleh Bilal

Mariam (Food Seller)

Mariam Rashid

Grace (Toatoa’s sister)

Grace Mathayo

Miriam (Toatoa’s girlfriend) 

Miriam Emanuel

Link’s Aunt 



Rase Ndunguru,
Stephen Josephat,
Silvan N Mkude,
Abdullah Saidi,
Halima Hassan,
Gladness Charles,
Christina Jumas,
Zaina Saidi,
Gwamaka Mwakalinga,
Khadija Borna,
Khadya Mohamedi,
Joruh Jackson,
Amina Irajabu,
Secemani Husseni,
Sikoca Zoni, Shomaki Zumk,
Zuena Lawi,
Ramadhani Shabani,
Mohamed Abdalah,
Earohiney Njoki,
Goodlucky Simon,
Adamy Hamizi,
John Kachile,
Mosses Samseni


Written, Shot and Directed by

Sherman Ong


Peter Mbwago,
Nkumi Hamis Mtingwa

Produced by

Gertjan Zuilhof,
Sherman Ong

Co-produced by

Tan Bee Thiam

Assistant Director

Peter Mbwago

Fixer/ Location

Link Reuben

Camera Assistant

Malto Tambi

Costume Designer

Meredith Lee

Script Supervisor

Edgar Chatanda

Sound Recordists

Nkumi Hamis Mtingwa,
Malto Tambi


Ming An,
Kent Chan

Sound Designer

Takuya Katsu


The ‘Tribute to Mardana’ Gang

Publicity Designer

Catherine Chia


Original title

Kumbukumbu Za Mti Uunguao

International Title

Memories of a Burning Tree


86 min / Colour

Aspect Ratio


Screening Format

HDCAM PAL or Digibeta PAL



Year of Release






Countries of Production

Singapore, Malaysia, Tanzania, The Netherlands

Production Company

Paddy Pictures,

13 Little Pictures

Commissioned by

International Film Festival Rotterdam 2009 for FORGET AFRICA

“With understated performances from non-professional actors speaking Swahili, the film gives a striking impression of urban African life without pushing violence, poverty or disease.”
Senses of Cinema

“One can hope this work receives wide exposure because such a fresh outsider’s look at an African region is not common in world cinema. Together with Korean American Lee Isaac Chung’s MUNYURANGABO, this is the most important quiet examination of lives outside our usual cinema experience.”
Michael Campi

“A Singaporean director has made a movie in Tanzania. In Swahili. With a cast of non-actors. And it’s amazing. Kumbukumbu Za Mti Uunguao (Memories of a Burning Tree) is a multi-layered ensemble drama that cuts to matters of the heart and soul.”
Thai Film Journal

The story was conceived after I had an audition with amateur theatre actors who live in the same suburb of Dar es Salaam as Link Reuben, my guide in Dar. Link works as a tourist guide and a painter. It all started when I asked him to take me to his neighbourhood and meet his neighbours. Link brought me to a cemetery near his home and as we were walking, he told me that some of the crosses on the graves are missing because they were taken by people who sell them as scrap that planted the seed of the story. We were just taking a walk in the cemetery and talking about general things. And the Christian and Muslim cemetaries are just next to each other. So I decided to have a character looking for a grave and then everything fell into place at the audition. So it was the 'dead' that actually gave me the story and I was just the medium who channelled the stories onto the screen.


Göteborg International Film Festival 2010
International Film Festival Rotterdam 2010


Singapore International Film Festival, 2010


Tokyo International Film Festival 2010


Mumbai International Film Festival 2010


Cinemanila International Film Festival 2010

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© 13 Little Pictures