Chagga Village life, food, tradition, religion and culture
Chagga food

The largest Chagga settlement in measure of villages and population, according to Hans Meyer’s book, was Machame, which had 8000 residents, when he visited in 1889. Both Marangu and “Moji” (Moshi) had 3000. He said that each family unit resided in a pair or three exceedingly basic thatched cottages that were shaped like beehives and had an associated granary and tiny courtyard.

Many of these so-called “beehive” homes still exist, scattered over Kilimanjaro’s slopes. Only the chief, who served as both the village’s legislator and social leader, resided in anything larger. Every village had a chief who was frequently worshipped by his people and seeing him required going through a lengthy procedure first.

Johannes Rebmann, the first white person to see Kilimanjaro, was reportedly required to be showered with goat blood and plant juice before being given a meeting with Masaki, the chief of Moshi. This is according to his report in the Church Missionary Intelligencer. The chief is still a highly revered figure in village life today, despite the fact that modern society has reduced his job to a primarily ceremonial one. Thankfully, there is now less formality involved when visiting him.

Other commonalities exist between the Chagga civilization of the past and the present. As it is now, agriculture dominated the economy, clearing land employing the destructive slash-and-burn method.

Although coffee plantations generally supplanted banana trees as the primary crop in the early 20th century, both are still farmed today. Bananas were originally the most widely grown crop.

In the past, people used red and blue glass beads or lengths of fabric known as doti in place of Tanzanian shillings when exchanging these bananas and coffee. One doti cost one hundred beads, which could be used to purchase items like twenty unripe bananas or a calf for twelve doti.

More about the Chagga people of Mount Kilimanjaro

Staple food of the Chagga people

Bananas are the primary diet of the Chagga people. Their preferred beverage, beer, is likewise made from bananas. Bananas, millet, maize (corn), beans, and cassava are just a few of the food crops that the Chagga grow. They also raise sheep, goats, and cattle. Most Chagga people today are compelled to buy meat from butcher shops due to the scarcity of farm holdings and grazing pastures.

Milk, sweet potatoes, fat, yams, and butter are foods that are traditionally consumed by pregnant women. Beer and bananas are forbidden to pregnant women because they are regarded as male foods.

Religion, Beliefs, witchcraft and rituals

Interestingly, the majority of Chagga today are Christians, given that they have endured some very arduous missionary effort for more than a century. Although the depth of the beliefs and the excesses of many of the ceremonies have mostly vanished, some people in rural regions still adhere to traditional beliefs. Witchcraft (wusari in Chagga) played a significant role in traditional Chagga religion, rainmakers and rain-preventers were valued members of society, and dreams were considered to be unfailing foretellings of the future; in fact, many Chagga were said to have dreamed of the arrival of the white man on Kilimanjaro.

The old religion was centered on a divinity named Ruwa. Although neither the cosmos nor man were created by the merciful deity Ruwa, the latter nevertheless freed the former from an unknown form of imprisonment. But after this experience, Ruwa had nothing to do with humans, and the Chagga instead worshipped their ancestors, who they thought could affect events on Earth.

Chagga mythology contained numerous connections with biblical myths, including one about the fall of man (though in the Chagga version, a sweet potato was the forbidden fruit, and it was a stranger rather than a snake that persuaded the first man to take a bite) unlike the Adam and Even scenario.

There are additional legends that resemble the Cain and Abel and the Great Flood accounts.

Additionally, the Chagga faith had its own interpretation of what sin was and its own variation on the Catholic process of confession. However, according to the Chagga faith, the person who has been wronged must be cleaned in order for the bad power to leave them and not the sinner.

The sufferer would supply the requisite substances for doing the “cleaning,” and the local medicine man would carry out this purification.

In addition to the usual amount of banana beer for the medicine man, these included the skin, excrement, and stomach contents of a hyrax; the shell and blood of a snail; rainfall from a hollow tree. The victim would then have to walk through a gate or an archway that had been erected over the pit, which had been lined with banana leaves. The medicine man would then use the concoction in the hole to paint the sufferer. Over the course of four days, this entire process would be done twice everyday.

Medicine Men were more concerned with their bodily well-being than only their spiritual well-being.

The traditional medicine man would be able to treat any ailment using a variety of techniques, including spitting, for the cost of one goat and, of course, more banana beer.

For example, if you had a fever, you may anticipate the medicine man to spit on you up to 80 times. He would then end his performance by expectorating up your nostrils and then blowing forcefully up each to ensure the saliva reached its objective. One pot of honey and perhaps some additional banana beer served as the customary payment for this specific approach.

Not merely in terms of health, traditional Chagga civilization also used preventative medicine.

The medicine man would instruct a prominent villager to lay with his favorite wife in a pit built in the earth if, for any reason, he was concerned for his own safety. The hole would subsequently be decorated with poles and covered with banana leaves while the husband and wife were still within. They would stay there until dusk while the man’s pals up top prepared dinner.

Additionally, medicine men had a crucial role in casting out curses. Curses came in a variety of forms. For instance, a betrayed woman may pray for her husband’s death while turning her back on him and kneeling four times.

The deathbed curse, which was spoken just before passing away, was the most dreaded curse.

These were considered to be the hardest to reverse since the victim would need to get a bit of the curser’s corpse in order for the medicine man to have any chance of success.
The old religion was centered on a divinity named Ruwa. Although neither the cosmos nor man were created by the merciful deity Ruwa, the latter nevertheless freed the former from an unknown form of imprisonment. But after this experience, Ruwa had nothing to do with humans, and the Chagga instead worshipped their ancestors, who they thought could affect events on Earth.

There were several similarities between Biblical tales and Chagga mythology, including one about 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). Banana beer in enormous quantities for the medicine man. The victim would then have to walk through a gate or an archway that had been erected over the pit, which had been lined with banana leaves. The medicine man would then use the concoction in the hole to paint the sufferer. Over the course of four days, this entire process would be done twice everyday.

In addition to looking after a person’s spiritual well-being, medicine men also took care of their physical health. The medical man would be able to treat any ailment using a variety of techniques, including spitting, for the cost of one goat and, of course, more banana beer.

More about the traditional beer, Mbege

For example, if you had a fever, you may anticipate the medicine man to spit on you up to 80 times. He would then end his performance by expectorating up your nostrils and then blowing forcefully up each to ensure the saliva reached its objective. One pot of honey and perhaps some additional banana beer served as the customary payment for this specific approach.

Not merely in terms of health, traditional Chagga civilization also used preventative medicine. The medicine man would instruct a prominent villager to lay with his favorite wife in a pit built in the earth if, for any reason, he was concerned for his own safety. The hole would subsequently be adorned with poles and covered with banana leaves with the husband and wife remaining within. They would stay there until dusk while the man’s pals up top prepared dinner.

Additionally, medicine men had a crucial role in casting out curses. Curses came in a variety of forms. For instance, a betrayed woman may pray for her husband’s death while turning her back on him and kneeling four times.

The deathbed curse, which was spoken just before passing away, was the most dreaded curse. These were considered to be the hardest to reverse since the victim would need to get a bit of the curser’s corpse in order for the medicine man to have any chance of success.

Chagga funerals

A funeral would likely occur if the medicine man’s attempts to lift the curse were unsuccessful. This ceremony, like most Chagga rites, varied a little from region to region and tribe to tribe. It also relied on the status of the deceased.

For instance, only married individuals with children would be buried; newborns were simply covered in cow dung and put out for jackals and hyaenas, while deceased youths and girls would be wrapped in banana leaves and left in a banana grove. This tradition allegedly came to an end when a jackal placed a little baby’s severed head at the feet of the village chief.

For married adults, the body would be stripped, bent in half, and bound at the head and legs. On the day of the burial, animals would be slaughtered, and the bull’s skin would be used to cover the tomb. It’s interesting to note that the deceased would face Kibo in the cemetery, as though the Chagga thought the top of Kilimanjaro had some significance for the afterlife. A lot of beer was consumed as well. The soul was said to have finally crossed the rough desert separating the physical world from the spirit realm after nine more days of sacrifices.

Intriguingly, it was claimed that the afterlife was very similar to the physical world, but that it was inferior because the food was blander and the scenery was less impressive.

Chagga Ng’asi

Children regularly perished during Ngasi ceremonies, which served as initiation rituals. This horrific rite of passage event was used to symbolize the transition of boys into manhood.

The so-called King of Ngasi, who had the power to flog any youngster participating in the event who offended him, presided over the ceremony.

The guys who would participate were called from their homes by the singing of gloomy songs at their front gates before the Ngasi proper began.

They were then driven to the ceremony site, which was located deep into the forest, where everything got started.

A significant portion of Ngasi culture was hunting; boys were judged on their capacity to locate and dispatch wildlife, with the animals captured being covered with the novices’ faeces.

They also had to climb a tree on the bank of a river and across it by clambering up its branches until they entwined with those of the trees on the other side. The boys would then be told to lick the blood from a sacrificed chicken.

But the most brutal part of the first phase was when the boys were secretly told to kill any youths who were crippled or malformed. The victim was typically murdered at night.

Since everyone in attendance at the Ngasi ritual was pledged to secrecy, the parents were never truly informed of what had happened to their son and they seldom learned the full tale.

The lads then relocated to a different camp. They had changed their name to Mbora and were free to pick up their belongings, with the exception of one boy’s pair of clothes, of course. After a feast at the chief’s household, they returned and left for home.
The boys were given a month off after the ceremony was over before going back to the chief’s house to take part in the bull sacrifice.

The impoverished women themselves had little recourse, so they were free to rape any young ladies they saw on the way back to their homes. The boys who had successfully finished the rite were now men, and the Ngasi had come to a conclusion.

Chagga Marriage Ceremonies

Boys were permitted to marry after the Ngasi. The boy and girl involved were permitted to express their thoughts, and unless the parents were exceptionally rigid, their opinions would count for something in the marriage that was planned by the parents. The kid also needed to win her over in order to have a shot with her as a future suitor. Like everywhere else in the world, the Chaggas courting process entailed a lot of gift-giving, however the presents adhered to a rigid set of norms; spontaneity played less of a part in this process.

For instance, the first present a guy gave a woman was always a necklace.

The Chagga guy would be richly rewarded for his kindness since historically, the girl would dance all day in her underwear while her mother tied bells to her legs. Other presents were given over the next few days, up to the girl’s three-month confinement, when she had seen all of her family. The girl would be confined in a cage and fed food that would make her fat rather than performing any labor throughout this period.

The marriage ceremony would be done at the conclusion of this time, and the bride would be transported to her new husband’s home on the back of the Mkara, the traditional Chagga term for the best man.

Traditional Clothing

Cowhide was traditionally used to make Chagga garments. As they came into touch with the outside world, the Chagga began to wear imported beaded jewelry and wraparound fabric outfits. These vibrant textiles are known as kangas and kitenges. They can be used to carry babies on the back or hip or worn over dresses.

Boys at school wear shorts, but adults and young women don’t often wear them in public unless they’re participating in sports. Low-income individuals are in tremendous demand for the mitumba (used clothes from abroad) that is offered at the market.

Folklore

Ruwa, his might, and his aid are at the heart of the chagga myths. Their divinity is referred to by the Chagga as Ruwa, which is also the word for “sun” in their language. In contrast to popular belief, Ruwa is seen as a liberator and a source of nutrition rather than the creator of humanity. When asked by his people, he is renowned for his kindness and tolerance. Biblical tales from the Old Testament are echoed in several Ruwa-related Chagga traditions.

Chiefdoms in the past had leaders who gained control via conflict and commerce. Famous former chiefs include Marealle of Marangu, Sina of Kibosho, and Orombo of Kishigonyi.

Rites of Passage

The Chagga believe that humans survive via their descendants, as seen by a phrase that literally translates as “He who leaves a child lives eternally.” As soon as they can walk, children are trained to perform simple household tasks. Girls’ chores include cleaning cow stables and grinding maize. Cattle herding is the lads’ primary obligation. When a kid reaches the age of roughly twelve, a ritual known as Kisusa is performed. This ritual is carried out to control a child’s unruliness. Young people who have previously been initiated and an elderly woman sing songs about morality and discuss good manners with the initiate. A month later, there is a cleansing ritual, which is followed by the sacrifice of a goat.

In the past, circumcision was performed on both young men and young women. Female circumcision is no longer recommended.

The Ngasi (male initiation) ceremony was traditionally held before young men could get married. A young man relocated to the woods to live. He went hunting, was taught the ways of manhood, and went through many trials. After the young girls had their circumcisions, the Shija (female initiation) ceremony was held. The Chagga rituals, sexuality, reproduction, and menstruation were all taught to all newly initiated young women. German rule over Tanzania from 1885 to 1946 resulted in the abolition of initiation rituals.

Major Holidays

Both secular (nonreligious) and religious holidays are observed by the Chagga people. New Year’s Day (January 1), Union Day (April 26), Workers’ Day (May 1), Peasants’ Day (August 8) and Independence Day are the important government holidays (December 9). On these holidays, businesses close. Throughout the nation, political gatherings feature speeches and military parades.

Both the main Christian and Islamic religious festivals are observed. Easter weekend and Christmas are the two main Christian festivals. Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are the two most important Muslim festivals. Eid al-Fitr is a three-day holiday that follows Ramadan, a month of fasting. Eid al-Adha honors Abraham’s readiness to carry out God’s directive and offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Families assemble for celebration and fun after religious ceremonies.

Here are 4 reasons why you should celebrate Christmas on Mount Kilimanjaro

Chagga people and the December holidays especially Christmas

It is a popular joke, that when it comes to the December holidays all roads lead to Moshi from all over Tanzania where all Chagga’s head back home to be counted. It is rightfully so such that Moshi town is always packed with cars from other parts of the country and you would joke with anyone in Tanzania, “hujaenda kuhesabiwa?. This loosely translates, have you gone upcountry to be counted?

Typical family life of the Chagga

The Chagga marriage ritual has a lengthy history, beginning with the beginning of the betrothal process and lasting even after the couple was wed. In the past, parents would propose to their children’s future spouses with their consent. By asking the bride and her friends to see him, the groom was able to confirm that the bride was in favor of the union. The mkara, who oversaw the marriage preparations and the union itself, was chosen to be a married male relative of the groom. This guy and his wife, known as a mkara, served as the couple’s best man and matron of honor. They served as the couple’s counsellors and mediators during times of marital difficulty. Over the course of the wife’s life, wedding payments were made.

Christian unions now take place in churches. In Christian weddings, the bride is escorted by her family and friends to the church, where she meets the husband. The groom’s family hosts a celebration after the wedding ceremony. If they live in a city, the couple could go on a brief honeymoon. The couple travels to the father-in-farm law’s in the countryside, where a second celebration would be a few days later. There is a lot of drinking and feasting throughout the marriage talks and festivities.

After marriage, the couple must reside in the home that the groom built himself. After the first child is born, the husband relocates into a tenge (hut), leaving the mother and her children to live together.

Christian influence has led to a rise in monogamous marriages. Chagga couples have six kids on average. Having a son is crucial for carrying on the family line. The first male child and female child are given the names of the father’s side since they are seen as belonging to him. As with the previous children, the second male child and the second female child are regarded as being on the mother’s side and are given the appropriate names.

Chagga families occasionally own dogs and cats but are less likely to own other sorts of animals.
The Chagga marriage ritual has a lengthy history, beginning with the beginning of the betrothal process and lasting even after the couple was wed.

In the past, parents would propose to their children’s future spouses with their consent. By asking the bride and her friends to see him, the groom was able to confirm that the bride was in favor of the union. The mkara, who oversaw the marriage preparations and the union itself, was chosen to be a married male relative of the groom. This guy and his wife, known as a mkara, served as the couple’s best man and matron of honor. They served as the couple’s counsellors and mediators during times of marital difficulty. Over the course of the wife’s life, wedding payments were made.

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