Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Chagga....



ALTERNATE NAMES: Chaga, Waschagga, Jagga, or Dschagga

LOCATION: Kilimanjaro region in northern Tanzania


LANGUAGE: Kichagga; Swahili

RELIGION: Christianity; Islam


On the southern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, live the Chagga people. They are also called Chaga, Waschagga, Jagga, or Dschagga.

Traditionally, the Chagga belonged to different clans (groups of people of common descent) ruled by mangis (chiefs). The area was divided into independent chiefdoms. The chiefs sometimes warred with each other. Other times, they formed alliances to try to increase their power. After Tanzania won its independence in 1961, the system of chiefdoms was abolished throughout the country.


Mount Kilimanjaro 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 ).

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.


The main language spoken by the Chagga people is Kichagga. It has various dialects spoken by Chagga in different regions. Despite these differences in dialect, the Chagga people can understand each another.

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.


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.


Christianity was introduced to the Chagga people in the middle of the nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century, both Protestants and Catholics had established missions in the region. With the adoption of Western religions, traditional Chagga beliefs and practices have been reduced or adapted to the new Christian beliefs.

Islam was introduced to the Chagga people by early Swahili caravan traders. Islam brought a sense of fellowship not only with the Chagga of different regions, but also with Muslims of other ethnic groups.


The Chagga people celebrate both secular (nonreligious) and religious holidays. The main government holidays are New Year's Day (January 1), Union Day (April 26), Workers' Day (May 1), Peasants' Day (August 8), and Independence Day (December 9). Offices and shops close on these holidays. Government rallies, held around the country, include military parades and speeches.

The major religious holidays of both Christianity and Islam are celebrated. The major Christian holidays are Easter weekend and Christmas. The major Muslim holidays are Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr is a three-day celebration that comes after a month of fasting called Ramadan. Eid al-Adha commemorates the willingness of Abraham to obey God's command and sacrifice his son Isaac. After religious ceremonies are over, families gather for celebration and merrymaking.  


A Chagga proverb that translates directly as "He who leaves a child lives eternally" illustrates the Chagga belief that people live through their descendents. Children are taught to do small chores around the homestead as soon as they can walk. Girls' duties include grinding corn and cleaning out cattle stalls. The boys' main duty is to herd cattle. A rite called Kisusa is carried out when a child is about twelve years old. This rite is performed to curb unruliness in a child. An elder woman and already initiated youths sing songs about good morals and talk to the initiate about good behavior. This is followed by sacrifice of a goat and, one month later, by a purification ceremony.

In the past, both young men and young women were circumcised. Female circumcision is now discouraged.

Traditionally, before male youth were allowed to marry, the Ngasi (male initiation) ceremony, took place. A young man went to live in the forest. He received instruction in manhood, went hunting, and endured various ordeals. The Shija (female initiation) ceremony was performed after the young women were circumcised. All initiated young women were instructed in Chagga rituals, sexuality, procreation, and menstruation. Initiation ceremonies were abolished by the Germans, who controlled Tanzania from 1885 to 1946.


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.


The traditional Chagga house was cone-shaped, with a roof thatched with dried grass. Another type of dwelling, also commonly built, was a house with a roof thatched with banana leaves. Because these houses tended to be large, they were built with the assistance of other villagers.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Swahili houses were introduced, initially constructed by chiefs. These houses were rectangular, with walls made of wattle (interwoven sticks) and mud, and thatched roofs. Today, these houses are more commonly built with cement walls and corrugated metal roofs.


Traditionally, the Chagga marriage ceremony was a long process, starting with betrothal proceedings and continuing long after the couple was married. Bridal payments were made over the wife's lifetime. Today, Christian couples are married in churches. There is much drinking and feasting throughout the marriage negotiations and celebrations.

The groom builds the house where he will live with his wife after marriage. After the birth of the first child, the husband moves into a tenge (hut), and the mother lives with her children. Chagga couples have an average of six children. Great importance is placed on having a son to continue the lineage.


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.


The initial classroom education available to the Chagga was in the Christian missions. Boys often outnumbered girls in the education facilities because education was not considered as important for girls. After Tanzania's independence, all Chagga people were encouraged to attend at least primary level education. By 1971 primary education was provided free by the government. All children seven years of age and older were required to attend primary level education for at least seven years. Those who passed a qualifying examination went on to secondary education. Private secondary schools, trade schools, and business schools are also available.


Traditional Chagga instruments include wooden flutes, bells, and drums. Dancing and singing are part of almost every celebration. With exposure to other ethnic groups and Western culture, the Chagga have shown a liking for various types of music. These include Swahili songs produced by various Tanzanian bands, and West and Central African music and dance forms. Reggae, pop, and rap are popular with the youth.

The Chagga have rich oral traditions and have managed to record most of their history. They have many legends and songs. Proverbs are used to guide youth and convey wisdom.


Traditionally, Chagga work has been centered on the farm and is divided by gender. Men's work includes feeding goats, building and maintaining canals, preparing fields, slaughtering animals, and building houses. Women's work includes firewood and water collection, fodder cutting, cooking, and cleaning the homestead and stalls. Women are also in charge of trading in the marketplace.

Many Chagga young people work as clerks, teachers, and administrators, and many engage in small-scale business activities. Women in rural areas are also generating income through activities such as crafts and tailoring. The Chagga are known for their sense of enterprise and strong work ethic.


Chagga children first encounter sporting events at school. Primary school children are encouraged to participate in interschool competitions that often lead to interregional and national championships. Favorite sports at school are soccer, netball (similar to basketball), and athletics (track and field). At secondary schools, Chagga youth may be exposed to sports such as basketball, table tennis, and volleyball.

Following the national soccer league is a pastime greatly enjoyed by the Chagga. On the weekends, proper and makeshift soccer fields alike are crowded with both spectators and players.


For many years there were no television stations in Tanzania. Radio broadcasts were a major source of entertainment. Many households have transistor radios, and a favorite pastime is listening to radio plays and sports programs. On occasions of major broadcasts and matches, the Chagga often gather around a radio in a public meeting place, usually with a local brew in hand.

In the past, only the wealthy Chagga could afford television sets. Now many Chagga people own televisions and VCRs. This has led to the opening of many video lending libraries in the town of Moshi.


Traditionally, the Chagga made their own utensils, mainly from wood. These items included small bowls, huge beer tubs, spoons, and ladles. Iron items included bells, ornaments, hoes, and spears. The Chagga also made their own weapons and animal traps. Chagga musical instruments include wooden flutes, bells, and drums. Basket weaving was also common. This art is now dying out as more items are bought at local stores.


Tanzania has undergone a period of economic hardship, limiting the government's ability to provide adequate social services. Public schools and health facilities are run down. As a result, many private schools and health facilities have opened in the Kilimanjaro region.

Lack of adequate farm land is forcing Chagga youth to seek work away from the kihamba (family homestead). This has led to a breakdown in social values and an increase in sexual promiscuity. An increasing number of children are born out of wedlock. The occurrence of sexually transmitted diseases, especially AIDS, has risen. AIDS awareness programs have been initiated to help deal with the problem. Loss of Chagga culture is another consequence of outside contact.

The political scene has changed in Tanzania from a single party in 1965 to multi-party politics in 1992. This has encouraged more Chagga to be politically active. There is an increasing cohesion of the Chagga people along party lines and a renewed sense of cultural identity.

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