The Chaga (also called Wachaga, Chagga, Jagga, Dschagga, Waschagga, or Wachagga) are the wealthiest and most highly organized agriculturalist Bantu-speaking people living on the fertile southern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa`s highest mountain) in northern Tanzania. The Wachaga who constitute the third largest ethnic group in Tanzania traditionally live on the southern and eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru and near Moshi.
Chagga man of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
They are one of few African ethnic groups that lives on the high mountains and experiences the fall of snow. Their relative wealth comes from the favorable climate of the area and successful agricultural methods, which include extensive irrigation systems, terracing, and continuous organic fertilization methods practiced for thousands of years. They were one of the first tribes in the area to convert to Christianity. This may have given them an economic advantage over other ethnic groups, as they had better access to education and health care as Christians.
Chagga woman from Tanzania
The Chagga descended from various Bantu groups who migrated from elsewhere in Africa to the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, a migration that began around the start of the eleventh century. While the Chagga are Bantu-speakers, their language has a number of dialects related to Kamba, which is spoken in northeast Kenya, and to other languages spoken in the east, such as Dabida and Pokomo.
Chagga man, Michael Ngaleku Shirima, founder and owner of Precision Air
The Chagga area is traditionally divided into a number of chiefdoms. The Chagga are culturally related to the Pare, Taveta, and Taita peoples. The Chagga follow a patrilineal system of descent and inheritance. The Chagga way of life is based primarily on agriculture, using irrigation on terraced fields and oxen manure. Although bananas are their staple food, they also cultivate various crops, including yams, beans, and maize. In agricultural exports, the Chagga are best known for their Arabica coffee, which is exported to American and European markets, resulting in coffee being a primary cash crop.
Chagga Grandmother in Kibosho Village, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Greetings are important in Chagga culture. There are different greetings depending upon the time of day. Younger people are required to show respect to the older generations. It is believed that the more senior a person is, the closer his or her contact with ancestors.
Specific behavioral norms are maintained between various persons in Chagga society. These are based on a show of respect, non-hostility, or distance. A newlywed woman covers her head and squats in the presence of her father-in-law, thereby showing respect to and distance from him. The father-in-law is similarly required to avoid the daughter-in-law. A wife is required to always face her husband on approach lest she be accused of cursing him.
Public show of affection through bodily contact between the sexes is considered highly inappropriate. Traditionally, men and women were socially segregated.
Chaga lives on the southern slope of Africa`s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro which has two peaks, Kibo and Mawenzi. Vegetation on the mountain is varied. The lowest plains form the bushland, where maize (corn), thatch grass, and fodder (miscellaneous plants to feed farm animals) are grown. Next lies the coffee and banana belt. Each Chagga family has its own homestead in the middle of a banana grove. This is known as a kihamba (the plural of this word is vihamba ).
Panoramic view of Moshi Town on Kilimanjaro
The Chagga population rose steadily from 128,000 in the 1920s to over 800,000 in the 1990s. Overpopulation has forced some Chagga people to move to the lowlands and to urban areas.
Waterfalls at the slopes of Kilimanjaro, a refreshing place for a nice lunch! HIKING IN USAMBARA MOUNTAINS
The Name Kilmanjaro
Though the name Kilmanjaro does nt have immediate Chagga resemblance, however, if one divide it into two parts then a few possibilities present themselves. One is that Kilima is derived from the Chagga term kilelema, meaning ‘difficult or impossible’, while jaro could come from the Chagga terms njaare (‘bird’) or jyaro (‘caravan’). In other words, the name Kilimanjaro means something like ‘That which is impossible for the bird’, or ‘That which defeats the caravan’ – names which, if this interpretation is correct, are clear references to the sheer enormity of the mountain.
Whilst this is perhaps the most likely translation, it is not, in itself, particularly convincing, especially when one considers that while the Chagga language would seem the most logical source for the name, the Chagga people themselves do not actually have one single name for the mountain! Instead, they don’t see Kilimanjaro as a single entity but as two distinct, separate peaks, namely Mawenzi and Kibo. (These two names, incidentally, are definitely Chagga in origin, coming from the Chagga terms kimawenzi – ‘having a broken top or summit’ – and kipoo – ‘snow’ – respectively.)
Assuming Kilimanjaro isn’t Chagga in origin, therefore, the most likely source for the name Kilimanjaro would seem to be Swahili, the majority language of the Tanzanians. Johannes Rebmann’s good friend and fellow missionary, Johann Ludwig Krapf, wrote that Kilimanjaro could either be a Swahili word meaning ‘Mountain of Greatness’ – though he is noticeably silent when it comes to explaining how he arrived at such a translation – or a composite Swahili/Chagga name meaning ‘Mountain of Caravans’; jaro, as we have previously explained, being the Chagga term for ‘caravans’. Thus the name could be a reference to the many trading caravans that would stop at the mountain for water. The major flaw with both these theories, however, is that the Swahili term for mountain is not kilima but mlima – kilima is actually the Swahili word for ‘hill’!
The third and least likely dialect from which Kilimanjaro could have been derived is Masai, the major tribe across the border in Kenya. But while the Masai word for spring or water is njore, which could conceivably have been corrupted down the centuries to njaro, there is no relevant Masai word similar to kilima. Furthermore, the Masai call the mountain Oldoinyo Oibor, which means ‘White Mountain’, with Kibo known as the ‘House of God’, as Hemingway has already told us at the beginning of his – and our – book. Few experts, therefore, believe the name is Masai in origin.
Other theories include the possibility that njaro means ‘whiteness’, referring to the snow cap that Kilimanjaro permanently wears, or that Njaro is the name of the evil spirit who lives on the mountain, causing discomfort and even death to all those who climb it. Certainly the folklore of the Chagga people is rich in tales of evil spirits who dwell on the higher reaches of the mountain, and Rebmann himself refers to ‘Njaro, the guardian spirit of the mountain’; however, it must also be noted that the Chagga’s legends make no mention of any spirit going by that name.
Glacier on Mount Kilimanjaro
Myths about Kilmanjaro
Mountain Kilimanjaro is sometimes called Everyman's Everest because it is possible for a novice climber to reach the summit. And every year, more than 30,000 adventure tourists try. But for each person who goes to the mountain, there are thousands more who chat about it at cocktail parties, making plans to go...someday.
Covered in mist, full of legends and mystery, Mount Kilimanjaro (otherwise known as the roof of Africa) stands to attract tourists from all corners of the world, the reasons behind its nomination to contest for listing in New Seven Wonders of Nature. Kilimanjaro is one of the leading single and freestanding mountains in the world
Tourists ready to climb Africa`s Highest Mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro
Shrouded in gray, dark clouds and covered in mist most of the day, Mount Kilimanjaro with a height of 5,895 meters is located some 330 kilometers south of Equator, giving an awesome and magnificent inspiration hundreds of miles away.
It composed of three independent peaks of Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira. The entire mountain area is 4,000 kilometers of the earth surface.
Kibo Summit of Kilimanjaro
Formed some 750,000 years through volcanic eruptions, Mount Kilimanjaro took several geological changes for 250,000 years, and the present features were formed during the past 500,000 years after a number of upheavals and tremors took place to cause formation of 250 volcanic hills and crater lakes including the magnificent Lake Chala down its slopes.
Australian tourist enjoying the Waterfall on Mount Kilimanjaro town of Moshi
The last volcanic activity occurred about 200 years ago and created a symmetrical cone of ash around Kibo peak, and since then, Mt. Kilimanjaro was at peace until today, but people who were living on the slopes and observed volcanic eruptions connected this natural phenomenon to punishment from God.
Kilimanjaro National Park - the largest freestanding volcanic mass in the world
When Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa's jewel today, earlier occupants of its slopes took this glorious and glamorous mountain to a place on not going in fear of reprisal from God because it was his almighty seat. And locals today see the dwindling snow as a punishment from God because too many humans attempt to climb it everyday. Tourist deaths on the mountain are as well, connected to wrath from God.
flora life on Mount Kilimanjaro
A local Chagga legend explains how Kilimanjaro’s 3 great peaks softened from treacherous lava formations to the more hospitable mountain we know today. Long ago, there were two neighboring giant volcanoes in East Africa: Kibo was the taller and grander, while Mawenzi was smaller and constantly jealous of his more impressive neighbor (Shira was no longer a separate peak by this time). Kibo was also the more industrious of the two, and Mawenzi was forever taking advantage of him. Mawenzi would frequently let the fire go out of his hearth and come begging Kibo for help and food. The generous Kibo would always stop his work of pounding dried bananas with a pestle and mortar to gather coals for Mawenzi and send him off with some sustenance. Mawenzi was a terrible cook and always loved what Kibo would prepare. Sometimes he would let his hearth go out two or three times in a row to test Kibo’s patience.
Snow cap on Mountain Kilimanjaro
One day, after letting his coals burn out, Mawenzi sought out Kibo. But Kibo was not at home, so Mawenzi decided to help himself to what was there. Dragging the hot embers back to his hearth, Mawenzi grumbled and complained about having to do his own cooking. As Kibo returned, he saw from a distance the red glow of his coals being taken. He found his hearth barren and all his hot coals missing. He was so angry he grabbed his pestle, ran to Mawenzi, and struck a crashing blow on the head, rendering Mawenzi with the jagged formation we see today and himself dormant.
Majestic Mount Kilimanjaro
Chagga mythology (Creation story)
Chagga legends center on Ruwa and his power and assistance. Ruwa is the Chagga name for their god, as well as the Chagga word for "sun." Ruwa is not looked upon as the creator of humankind, but rather as a liberator and provider of sustenance. He is known for his mercy and tolerance when sought by his people. Some Chagga myths concerning Ruwa resemble biblical stories of the Old Testament.
In the past, chiefdoms had chiefs who rose to power through war and trading. Some famous past chiefs include Orombo from Kishigonyi, Sina of Kibosho, and Marealle of Marangu.
Chagga Tourist guide on Mount Kilimanjaro
The main language spoken by the Chagga people is Kichagga, which is a Bantu language belonging to the larger Niger-Congo language family. It has various dialects spoken by Chagga in different regions. Despite these differences in dialect, the Chagga people can understand each another. The inhabitants of Ugweno, which was once the northernmost chiefdom of the Pare Mountains, speak a language related to Kichagga.
Almost all Chagga people also speak KiSwahili, the national language in Tanzania. KiSwahili is the language of instruction in primary schools and is used in the work-place. English is the language of instruction in secondary schools and institutions of higher learning.
The chagga people are part of Bantu (Niger-Congo groups) peoples came to Kilimanjaro in a succession of migrations that started at least five or six hundred years ago. These Bantu people entered Kilimanjaro from the north-east, following local upheaval in that area. They met an aboriginal people known as the Wakonyingo, who were possibly pygmies, already living inhabiting the eastern side of the mountain. There was also Wangassa, a tribe similar to the Masai, and the Umbo of the Usambara mountains. The Wachagga Bantu people who came with their iron-age technology to defeat the these aboriginal tribes, drive them away and the rest were absorbed into the various chagga tribal groups.
Initially, these new immigrants (Chagga) were a disparate bunch, with different beliefs, customs and even languages. With no feelings of kinship or loyalty to their neighbour, they instead settled into family groups known as clans.
The Chagga also had an interactions with some nilotic and aboriginal groups. The beginnings of Chagga interactions with the Nilotic Ongamo date well before 1600, and at some point the Ongamo had been the dominant people through much of the Mount Kilimanjaro area.
The Ongamo had a large effect on Chagga culture. The Chagga borrowed several practices from them, including female circumcision, the drinking of cattle blood, and age sets. By the second half of the nineteenth century, the Ongamo were increasingly acculturated into the Chagga. The Chagga god "Ruwa" resulted from the combination of the Chagga's concept of a creator god with the Ongamo's concept of the life giving sun.
The Pare, Tateva, and Teita peoples had been the chief suppliers of iron to the Chagga. The demand for iron increased from the beginning of the nineteenth century because of military rivalries among the Chagga rulers. It is likely that there was a connection between this rivalry and the development of long distance trade from the coast to the interior of the Pangani River basin, suggesting that the Chagga's contacts with the coast may have dated to about the end of the eighteenth century. Raids and counter raids characterised the Chagga rivalry, as observed and understood by European colonisers.
According to anthropologist Dundas, in his day some 732 clans existed on Kilimanjaro; by 1924, however, when his book was published, some of these clans were already down to just a single member.
These family ties were gradually cut and lost over time as people moved away to settle on other parts of the mountain. Thus, in place of these blood ties, people developed new loyalties to the region in which they were living and the neighbours with whom they shared the land. Out of this emerged twenty or so states or chiefdoms, most of them on a permanent war footing with the other nineteen. Wars between the tribes, and indeed between villages in the same tribe, were commonplace, though they usually took the form of organized raids by one village on another rather than actual pitched battles. Slaves would be taken during these raids, cattle rustled and huts burned down, though there was often little bloodshed — the weaker party would merely withdraw at the first sign of approaching hostilities and might even try to negotiate a price for peace.
Chagga Supreme Council during the colonial times.
Eventually the number of different groups was whittled down to just six tribes, or states, with each named after one of the mountain’s rivers. So, for example, there are the Wamoshi Chaggas (after the Moshi River) and the Wamachame Chaggas who settled near the Machame River. With all this intermingling going on, a few words inevitably became used by all the people living on the mountain — and from this unlikely start grew a common language, of which each tribe had its own dialect. Similar customs developed between the tribes, though as with the language they differed in the detail. However, it was only when the Germans took control of the region during the latter part of the nineteenth century and the local people put aside their differences to present a united front in disputes with their colonial overlords that a single ethnic group was identified and named the Chagga. From this evolved a single, collective Chagga consciousness
Reliable written historical accounts of the Chagga date from the nineteenth century. The first European to reach the mountain was a missionary, Johannes Rebmann, who arrived there in 1848. At that time, Rebmann found that Kilimanjaro was so actively involved in far-reaching trading connections that a chief whose court he visited had a coastal Swahili resident in his entourage. Chagga chiefdoms traded with each other, with the peoples of the regions immediately surrounding the mountain (such as the Kamba, the Maasai, and the Pare), and also with coastal caravans. Some of this trading was hand to hand, some of it at markets, which were a general feature of the area. Many chiefdoms had several produce markets largely run by women, just as they are today.
Today the Chaggas, despite their diverse origins, are renowned for having a strong sense of identity and pride. They are also amongst the richest and most powerful people in Tanzania, thanks in part to the fertile soils of Kilimanjaro, and in part to the Western education that they have been receiving for longer than almost any other tribe in Africa, Kilimanjaro being one of the first places to accept missionaries from Europe.
There are no nucleated villages on Kilimanjaro. Each household lives in the midst of its own banana-coffee garden, and the gardens, one next to another, stretch all over the mountain. The gardens are, for the most part, ringed with living fences that mark their boundaries. In the older areas of settlement, male kin tend to own and reside in contiguous homestead gardens, forming localized patrilineal clusters. Because of the enormous expansion of the population and the consequent land shortage, there are no large expanses of uncultivated or unoccupied land in the banana belt. It was otherwise in earlier times. Photographs and accounts from earlier in the twentieth century show that there were open fields between the localized clusters.
Such residential arrangements were not static. A household, or several together, could break away from the localized patrilineage of which they had been members. There being no land shortage, they could, with the consent of the local chief or district head in the new location, establish themselves elsewhere and even found a new patrilineal cluster. As available land became more scarce, many households moved down mountain, and some moved up, pushing back the boundary of the forest. Thus, there are older and newer settlements on the mountain, older and newer patrilineal clusters, and substantial areas where the majority of residents are from unrelated households. Gradually, as the open land has filled up, the mobility of households has been increasingly restricted.
In the nineteenth century the Chagga were cultivators and cattle keepers. They grew many types of bananas, which were their staple food. Bananas are generally male property but are (with permission) traded by women in the markets. The Chagga also grew millet, maize, beans, finger millet (Eleusine corocana ), cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, sugarcane, paw paws (Carica papaya ), pumpkins, squashes, and tobacco.
Many of the annual vegetable crops were grown by women and were women's property. The Chagga made (and continue to make) beer out of bananas and eleusine. In most of the populous parts of the mountain, a few stall-fed cows were kept by each household. In areas where there was more pasture, large herds of cattle were grazed. Some men owned considerable numbers of animals, but others had none. Milk was a highly valued food, as was meat. Local lineages held slaughtering feasts several times a year. There was a system of cattle lending whereby many households tended animals that were not their own. In return for caring for an animal, the borrower received the milk and the manure and, eventually, when the animal was slaughtered, was entitled to a portion of the meat. Lineage slaughtering feasts are still held today, both to coincide with major life-cycle rituals and on more ordinary occasions.
In precolonial times, in addition to production for domestic consumption, the Chagga produced food, animals, and other items for trade and tribute. Having no domestic source of iron or salt, nor an adequate supply of clay, the chiefdoms of Kilimanjaro were dependent on trade with neighboring peoples for these essential materials. They needed iron for weapons and agricultural tools, salt and clay pots for cooking. Allusion has been made to the local regional and long-distance trades in which the Chagga were actively involved in precolonial times. Warfare also played an important role in the precolonial economy. War yielded booty for the winners and often was the basis for the exaction of tribute from the losers. Moreover, the protection of traders and trade routes had military aspects.
Hardworking Chagga people of Mount Kilimanjaro
In the colonial and postcolonial periods, the economy has changed drastically. The cropping of coffee, the advent of land shortage, the development of many small businesses, and the inflow of the wages and salaries of the many Chagga employed on and off the mountain have altered the local economic picture considerably. A subsistence dimension of the banana-vegetable-animal domestic economy persists in the household gardens, but it operates in an entirely different context from that of former times. Like banana plants, coffee bushes are male property. Access to cash is thus much more restricted for women than it is for men, even though women do more of the agricultural and domestic labor and bear the fundamental responsibility for feeding the household.
Chagga market on Kilimanjaro
In precolonial times land was regarded as male property, inherited patrilineally by males from males or transferred inter vivos by males to males. Widows and women in other relationships to men could occupy, hold, and use land but could not obtain a transferable interest. That pattern of landholding continues, although, formally speaking, the law has changed.
Chagga woman cooking Pilau rice for group of guests
Exogamous patrilineages are the basic building blocks of the kinship system. These are sometimes called "clans" in the colonial literature. They vary in size from a few households to many dozens. Marriage is virilocal, and many lineages are localized because of the link between kinship and land tenure.
Marriage and Family
After the Ngasi, boys were free to marry. Marriage was arranged by the parents, though the boy and girl involved were allowed to voice their opinions – and unless the parents were particularly inflexible, these opinions would count for something. Furthermore, in order for the boy to stand a chance with his potential suitor, he had to woo her. The Chaggas’ courtship process involved, as elsewhere in the world, a lot of gift-giving, though the gifts followed a strict set of rules: spontaneity played little part in this process. The first gift, for example, from the man to the woman, was always a necklace. The Chagga male would be well rewarded for his generosity, for traditionally in return the girl would dance naked all day with bells attached to her legs by her mother.
Over the following days other gifts were exchanged until the time came when the girl, having visited all her relatives, would be shut away for three months. No work would be done by the girl during this time but instead she would be given fattening food and would be kept in a cage. At the end of this period a dowry would be paid, the marriage ceremony performed and the bride would be carried on the back of the Mkara (the traditional Chagga equivalent of the best man) to her new husband’s house.
Formerly, both males and females were ritually circumcised before they were considered fit for marriage. Modified versions of these practices persist, less commonly for females than for males. Traditionally, a widow was inherited by her husband's heir. Today the husband's heir becomes the "guardian" of the widow and often takes control of whatever property rights she might have, ostensibly in her interest. Although intestate inheritance of land and most other economically significant property is from male to male, succession to such property is not just from father to son or elder to younger brother. It is complicated by the life interest of widows, by various preferred forms of primogeniture and ultimogeniture, and by the discretionary power held by the lineage over the distribution of the property of the dead.
Domestic Unit. The composition of the precolonial household changed over its life cycle and differed in polygynous households from monogamous ones. After marriage, the initial domestic unit was that of a husband, wife, and, eventually, young children. The husband later built a hut of his own, which he shared with his older sons, the wife keeping her own hut with unmarried daughters and very young sons. Households often had other single relatives (e.g., widows and widowers) attached to them. Today households are of variable composition. Many young men leave wives and children on their plots of land on Kilimanjaro while they search for salaried jobs elsewhere.
Precolonial organized groups were founded on kinship, locality, age, and gender. Localized patrilineages formed the subunits within a district, and chiefdoms were composed of several districts. Chiefs were chosen within the chiefly lineage. Chiefs appointed the district heads. Lineages were led by the senior male, who was the ritual head, and also by a "spokesman," or political representative for external relations. A system of male age grades crosscuts lineages and districts. Women were also grouped in age grades. From the start of the colonial period, other organizational entities became prominent. The churches were first; later, a coffee cooperative emerged. Since independence, party (the Tanganyika African National Union, later renamed the Revolutionary party [Chama cha Mapinduzi]) and government administrative units have replaced earlier chiefs and chiefly councils. Tanzania has now introduced multiparty politics, and doubtless this will bring further changes in the future.
As coffee production gradually expanded, coffee sales became a major source of local tax revenue, enhancing local administrative resources and becoming the economic basis for secondary local institutional development. Over time, increasing numbers of Chagga received formal education. In the 1920s, with British administrative encouragement, the Chagga organized their own sales cooperative to market their coffee and regulate production. The cooperative was owned by the Chagga but managed by a European who was their employee. Despite some political ups and downs, the cooperative was, in general, very successful. An economically sophisticated and educated Chagga elite began to form. By the mid-twentieth century, political parties had taken hold that challenged local chiefs for internal political control of the mountain. The British administration periodically reorganized local administrative bodies in response to this development. In 1951, in a development that further diminished the power of the local chiefs, who by then were fairly unpopular, a paramount chief of all the Chagga was elected, backed by the Kilimanjaro Citizen's Union. The paramount, in his turn, became unpopular when he tried to make his office permanent and hereditary and sought excessive personal power. By 1961, when the British left Tanganyika (renamed Tanzania in 1964, following its union with Zanzibar), the paramount had been displaced. In any case, the new independent government abolished chieftainship; hence all the local chiefs also lost their powers. Needless to say, this move was not unwelcome in many quarters on Kilimanjaro. Local political reorganization ensued as the socialist government designed new structures. Despite considerable innovative efforts from above, however, many preexisting relationships, such as powerful kinship groupings, continued to be locally effective on Kilimanjaro.
Before 1900, conflict between chiefdoms was resolved either through chiefly diplomacy or warfare. Subsequently, colonial officials dealt with such matters administratively. Conflicts between individuals were resolved either within the lineage, between lineages, within an age grade or an irrigation consortium, or by the district heads or the chiefs. Hearings took place at every level. Fines were imposed, and persons could be expelled from whatever group was trying the case. Individuals were sometimes killed. Elements of social control were thus manifest in every group milieu. This localized control persists, with some major modifications, in the modern setting. Since the beginning of colonial times, there has been a government-designated system of officials and courts formally charged with dispute settlement and law enforcement.
The traditional Chagga faith is based around belief in a god called Ruwa. Ruwa was a tolerant deity who, though neither the creator of the universe nor of man, nevertheless set the latter free from some sort of unspecified incarceration. Ruwa had little to do with mankind following this episode, however, so the Chagga instead worshipped their ancestors, whom they believed could influence events on Earth.
Chagga mythology had many parallels with stories from the Bible, including one concerning the fall of man (though in the Chagga version, a sweet potato was the forbidden fruit, and it was a stranger rather than a serpent that persuaded the first man to take a bite); there are also stories that bear a resemblance to the tales of Cain and Abel, and the great flood.
The Chagga faith also had its own concept of sin and their own version of the Catholic practice of confession. In the Chagga religion, however, it is not the sinner but the person who is sinned against who must be purified, in order that the negative force does not remain with him or her. This purification would be performed by the local medicine man, with the victim bringing along the necessary ingredients for performing the ‘cleansing’. These included the skin, dung and stomach contents of a hyrax; the shell and blood of a snail; the rainwater from a hollow tree and, as with all Chagga ceremonies, a large quantity of banana beer for the medicine man. All of this would then be put into a hole in the ground lined with banana leaves and with a gate or archway built above, which the victim would then have to pass through. This done, the victim would be painted by the medicine man using the mixture in the hole. This entire ceremony would be performed twice daily over four days.
Superstition played a central role in traditional Chagga religion: witchcraft (wusari in Chagga) played a major part, rainmakers and rain-preventers were important members of society, and dreams were infallible oracles of the future; indeed, many Chagga were said to have dreamt of the coming of the white man to Kilimanjaro.
Medicine men did more than care for one’s spiritual health; they also looked after one’s physical well-being. For the price of one goat and, of course, more banana beer, the medicine man would be able to cure any affliction using a whole host of methods – including spitting. If you were suffering from a fever, for instance, you could expect to be spat upon up to 80 times by the medicine man, who would finish off his performance by expectorating up your nostrils and then blowing hard up each to ensure the saliva reached its target. For this particular method, the traditional payment was one pot of honey – and probably some more banana beer.
Passage of rite (The Chagga ‘Ngasi’)
The Ngasi is a rite-of-passage ceremony to mark the passing of boys into adulthood. The ceremony was presided over by the chief of Ngasi, a man who had the authority to viciously flog any boy taking part in the ceremony who displeased him.Before the Ngasi proper started, the boys who were to take part were summoned from their houses by the singing of lugubrious songs at the gate of their homes. From there they were taken to the place of ceremony deep in the forest and the proceedings began. Hunting formed a large part of the Ngasi; boys were tested on their ability to track down and kill game, the animals caught being smeared with the novices’ excrement. Another test they had to undergo was to climb a tree on the riverbank and cross the river by clambering along its branches to where they intertwined with the branches of the trees on the other side. After this, a chicken would be sacrificed and the boys ordered to lick the blood.
The final part of the initial stage was the most brutal, however: orders were secretly given to the boys to slay a crippled or deformed youth amongst their number. Traditionally, the victim was killed in the night. The parents were never actually told what had happened to their son and, as all present at the Ngasi ceremony were sworn to silence, they rarely found out the whole story. The boys then moved to a new camp. They were now called Mbora, and were free to collect their clothes (one set of boy’s clothes, of course, was left unclaimed). They then repaired to the chief’s house for a feast, from where they headed home.
After the tribulations of the ceremony, the boys were allowed a month’s holiday, before they returned to the chief’s house to participate in the sacrificing of a bull. They were then free to head back to their homes, raping any young women they chanced to meet on the way; the poor women themselves had no redress. The Ngasi was now at an end, and the boys who had successfully completed the ceremony were now men.
Chagga traditional dance
Traditional Chagga society also practised preventative medicine, and not just in matters of health. If, for example, a prominent man in the village was for some reason worried about his own safety, the medicine man would order him to lie with his favourite wife in a pit dug in the ground. With the man and wife still inside, the hole would then be decked with poles and covered with banana leaves. They would remain there until evening, while the man’s friends above would cook food.
Medicine men also performed the vital role of removing curses. Curses took many forms: a cheated wife, for example, might curse her husband by turning her back on him, bowing four times and praying for his death. The most feared curse, however, was that of the deathbed curse, issued by somebody shortly before they expired. These were widely held to be the most difficult to reverse, for to have any hope of removing it the medicine man would require the victim to get hold of a piece of the cursor’s corpse
Traditionally, Chagga clothing was made of cowhide. With contact with the outside world, the Chagga started to wear imported bead ornaments and cloth wraparound garments. These colorful pieces of cloth are called kangas and kitenges . They may be worn over a dress, or may be used to carry babies on the back or hip.
School-aged boys wear shorts, but adults (both male and female) and young women generally do not wear shorts in public except during sports. Mitumba (secondhand clothing from overseas) is sold at the marketplace and is in great demand by low-income people.
The staple food of the Chagga people is bananas. Bananas are also used to make beer, their main beverage. The Chagga plant a variety of food crops, including bananas, millet, maize (corn), beans, and cassava. They also keep cattle, goats, and sheep. Due to limited land holdings and grazing areas, most Chagga people today are forced to purchase meat from butcher shops.
Pregnant women eat a diet of milk, sweet potatoes, fat, yams, and butter; these are considered female foods. Bananas and beer are considered male and are not to be eaten by pregnant women.
Various food dishes
Traditional Chagga instruments include wooden flutes, bells, and drums. Dancing and singing are part of almost every celebration. Classical Chaggan music is still heard in festivities; however, Chaggan youth have also embraced Kiswahili songs produced by various Tanzanian bands and west and central African music and dance forms. Reggae, pop, and rap are popular with the youth. Many musicians of Chagga origin are known around Africa.
The first Chagga historian was Nathaniel Mtui, who was born in 1892 and wrote nine books about the history of the Chagga from 1913-1916.
If the medicine man’s efforts at lifting the curse proved to be in vain, a funeral would be the most likely outcome. As with most Chagga ceremonies, this would vary slightly from place to place and from tribe to tribe, and also depended on the status of the deceased. Only married people with children, for example, would be buried: dead youths and girls would be wrapped in banana leaves and left in a banana grove, while babies were merely covered in cow dung and left out for jackals and hyaenas. (It is said that this practice was stopped after a jackal dropped the severed head of a small baby at the feet of a local chief.) For married adults, the corpse would be stripped and bent double, with the head and legs tied together.
Animal sacrifices would take place on the day of the burial, with the hide of a sacrificed bull used to cover the grave. Interestingly, the corpse would face Kibo in the grave – as if the Chagga believed that the summit of Kilimanjaro was in some way connected with the afterlife. A lot of beer-drinking was also involved. Sacrifices would continue for the next nine days until, it was believed, the soul had finally crossed the harsh desert separating the earthly world from the spirit world. The afterlife, incidentally, was said to be very like our temporal world, only not as good, with food less tasty and the scenery less majestic.