Chagga People – History, Religion, Life, Culture & More

Chagga People – History, Religion, Life, Culture & More

Chagga, also known as “WaChaggas” in Swahili, are a Bantu ethnic group from Africa. They are Tanzania’s 3rd most common ethnic group. They originally lived on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru within the region of Kilimanjaro and Eastern region of Arusha. They are pretty prosperous thanks to Mt Kilimanjaro’s fertile soil and efficient agricultural technologies such as terracing, irrigation systems, and organic fertilization techniques that have been employed for countless generations.

Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro

According to legend, the Chagga people were derived from several Bantu groups that arrived through migration to the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro around the turn of the 11th century from various parts of Africa. Despite being Bantu speakers, the Chaggas have a few dialects similar to the Kamba dialect spoken in the southeast corner of Kenya. They are linked to the Shambaa, Taveta, Pare, and Taita ethnic groups. Because history shows that migrants moved back and forth between the different groups, the Chagga people should be considered part of the larger population occupying the whole Kilimanjaro region.

Chaggaland was traditionally divided by several minor kingdoms known as Umangi. These kingdoms have a male-line descent and succession system. Irrigation on hilly terrain and oxen feces were among the traditional agriculture methods. Even though bananas constitute their primary source of nutrition, they also cultivate other crops such as beans, maize, and yams. When exported to international markets, arabica coffee is their most important agricultural export and is also the country’s principal cash crop.

Early History of the Chagga

Identification and Location

Kilimanjaro’s Chagga-speaking people were calved out into 37 sovereign kingdoms known as “Umangi” in Chagga tongue a century ago. Historically, each kingdom’s residents were divided into distinct tribes. Despite their primary residence in northern Tanzania on Mt Kilimanjaro, the Chagga and other tribes have migrated to different regions over the last 20th century. Because of extensive reorganization and the formation of the newly occupied areas on the gentle slopes of Kilimanjaro’s eastern and western slopes, the British authorities drastically reduced the number of settlements in 1946.

Over the turn of the twentieth century, the German imperial authority estimated that Kilimanjaro had around 28,000 houses. And by 1988, The Chagga population was projected to be above 800,000 people.

Chagga Cultural Relations

Johannes Rebmann, a missionary and first European to see Kilimanjaro
Johannes Rebmann, a missionary and first European to see Kilimanjaro

Bantu peoples arrived on Kilimanjaro in a series of migrations that began at least 5-6 centuries ago. Other peoples may have lived on the mountain for thousands of years before the Batu people showed up. European historical reports of the Chagga stem from the nineteenth century. Johannes Rebmann, a missionary who came in 1848, was the first European to reach the summit. Rebmann discovered that Kilimanjaro was vigorously participating in far-reaching commercial links at the time. There was also a chief whose palace he visited, who had one coastal Swahili citizen as part of his private entourage. Chagga chiefdoms exchanged goods and services with one another and with the Maasai, Pare, and the Kamba people that lived in the nearby vicinity of the mountain and with coastal caravans. Some of these transactions took place in person, while others took place at the markets, a common occurrence around the area. Many kingdoms had several product markets run mainly by women, much like nowadays.

Chagga chiefdoms have been at war with each other and adjacent communities for as long as memories recall. Conquest and diplomacy were used to form various coalitions and consolidations, but the political outcomes and results were not necessarily long-lasting. The rise and fall of war and trade fortunes caused alignments to shift and reform. The chiefdoms fought over trade routes, monopolies on caravan supply, ivory, iron, slaves, cattle, war bounty, and the authority to implement payment are some of the things they fought over. The procedure outlines have been recognized since the 18th century. Despite the size of some of the alliance blocs, no single chiefdom ruled over the other during the pre-colonial period. It was not until the German colonial authority implemented unitary consolidation that leadership under one rule was realized.

Initially, prior to the German occupation, numerous Chagga chiefdoms opened their borders to missionaries, tourists, and foreign representatives as they did commercial traders; however, after the Chagga started losing their autonomy in the 1880s, they grew more protective. Germany and Britain split their authority domains in East Africa in 1886, with the Germans receiving Kilimanjaro. Many Chagga chiefs allied with the Germans, assisting them in defeating old enemies in other Chagga regions. When considerable opposition to German control developed, Sudanese and Zulu soldiers were deployed to help curb the resistance. By the beginning of the 1890s, the Chaggas were conquered entirely.

Chagga society witnessed a dramatic transformation. Cash taxes were established to compel Negroes to work for Whites in exchange for a payday. The colonial government benefited from expanding a native vicious circle system [harsh labor conditions]. By managing them through tribal chiefs, a handful of armed Germans administrators effortlessly governed hundreds of thousands of Chaggas. Managers who collaborated were given more power than they’ve ever had before. The leaders who refused to submit were removed or hanged, and more accommodating successors were chosen in their place.

Resistance and war ended, and with it, the Chagga military unit, which had been based on male age classes, came to an end. Christianity flourished, and most Chaggas eventually became Christians, at least superficially. The colonial government gave the Catholic and Lutheran churches religious authority over various parts of the Mt Kilimanjaro area.

They established schools and coffee-growing facilities as part of their goals in the region. These developments coincide with colonization’s substantial governmental rearrangement and the fundamental shift in the domestic economy.

The Europeans monopolized long-distance trading. Coffee plantations developed rapidly all over the mountainside. When the colonial authority was transferred from German to British hands in 1916, this overall economic shift was already well underway. Arabica coffee is still a significant revenue crop in the area. Tanzania has become an independent country since 1961, and its international trade is based, among other things, on coffee production and exportation.

Chagga Settlements

Chagga traditional house
Chagga traditional house

There are no joint villages on Kilimanjaro or households. Each family is entitled to their personal banana-coffee farm, which sequentially lines up on the mountain’s lower slopes. Flowering fences frequently mark the boundaries of all these gardens or farms. Male kins usually decide to own and dwell in neighboring household gardens in older villages, which are culturally grouped following the patrilineal system. There are no enormous stretches of terrain in the banana belt that are not being used for agriculture or building construction due to the massive expansion and growth of the population and the accompanying scarcity of land. Previously, things were different. According to photographs and testimonies from the early 20th century, open fields were visible between the concentrated clusters. These were not permanent living situations. A family, or groups of families members, could break off from the patrilineage they had been a part of for generations. Because there was no shortage of land, they could establish themselves somewhere else and even form a new patrilineal group with the permission of the district head or the local chief at the newly selected area. As land grew increasingly scarce, many families moved down the mountain, while others went up, pushing the forest’s edge back. As a result, newer towns are being formed on the hill, giving space to older and newer patriarchal family groupings and more prominent areas in which most individuals are from unrelated families. As more space became filled up, the household movement was significantly limited. The Chagga settled on the North Pare Mountains due to the Niger-Congo Bantus’ early migrating habits, which became the ancestral Chagga’s homeland. By the 11th or 12th centuries, their population had grown to the point where several individuals sought new territories to put down roots. They discovered their paradise on Mt Kilimanjaro’s neighboring eastern and southern slopes, which were still densely forested at the time.

The arrival of the first Chagga banana producers on Kilimanjaro ushered in an era of heightened and widespread cultural fusion, with significant amounts of the Rift Southern Cushites ethnic group and the Ongamo people where being assimilated into the rapidly growing Chagga communities. Despite their presence in the vast plains surroundings much of Chagga land, the Maasai cannot be acknowledged with considerable impact on Chagga activities during this time. The Ongamo or Ngasa, who spoke a language similar to the Maasai, significantly impacted Chagga culture and politics.

Despite increasing numbers and surface area in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Chagga remained organized into several locally-based political and social units.

Chagga Interactions with Other Ethnic Groups

Compared to other Tanzanian tribes, the Chaggas have their unique traditional values.

Influences of Other People

The Chagga’s prowess in cultivating the highlands guaranteed that the Chagga dialect spread rapidly to other groups in the region. Initially, these settlements took the shape of villages erected along mountain ridges. This ritual appears to have been passed down through their Upland Bantu and Kaskazi ancestors.

The Chaggas carried out the tradition of circumcising males and introducing them into traditional Bantu age-sets. Also, the practice of female circumcision was handed down by their Southern Cushitic ancestors, which they subsequently abandoned after converting to the Islamic or Christian faith.

Interactions With The Ongamo

Chagga connections with the Nilotic Ongamo stretch back long before 1600, and the Ongamo had once dominated most of the Mount Kilimanjaro region.

The Ongamo profoundly influenced the Chagga culture. Female Genital mutilation, age sets, and the drinking of cattle blood were also habits they adopted from them. The Ongamo became increasingly assimilated into the Chagga by the late nineteenth century. The Chagga god “Ruwa” was created by combining the Ongamo belief of the “life-giving sun” with the Chagga concept of a “creator god.”

Chagga Interactions With The Next Door Pare and Foreigners

Iron was mainly supplied to the Chagga by the Taita, Taveta, and Pare peoples. Because of military rivalry among the Chagga kings, demand for iron surged from the turn of the 19th century. The growth of long-distance commercial activities from the coastline to the inland of the Pangani Basin is likely linked to this rivalry, implying that the Chagga’s relationships with the coastline territories began towards the end of the 18th century. As seen and comprehended by European colonizers, the Chagga rivalry was characterized by raids and counter-raids.

Early Religion of the Chagga

Prior to the coming of the Christian faith, the Chaggas were polytheistic people who practiced a broad spectrum of religions. To this day, they keep a strong belief in the significance of ancestral worship. Ruwa is the name of the major Chagga god who lives atop the sacred Mt Kilimanjaro. Old temples with the sacred Chagga plant [masale trees] can be seen in the upper forest in Kilimanjaro.

Chagga Kingdoms

According to 19th-century western observations, Chagga Chiefdoms appeared to be already quite distinct, with no interference from early forebearers. The Chiefdom structures look similar to the surrounding North Pare Mountain region of Ugweno. The original Mashariki clan kingdoms, on the other hand, stood as the custom center of life amongst some of the early Asu in the Southern Pare Mountains and stayed so right up to the 19th century. But, among the ancient Chaggas of North Pare with their successors who resided around Mt Kilimanjaro, a new sort of kingship, Mangi, emerged not long before 1000 AD, perhaps originally it meant “arrangeralso known as planner.”

Economics, Politics and Mangi rule

The Chaggas has been considered one of East Africa’s most prosperous tribes. From economic matters to education, the Chagga women, like many other African tribes, are at the forefront of the Chagga society. Women from Chagga are responsible for a big part of northern Tanzania’s economic success. Even during colonial periods, the Mangi were powerful rulers who ruled over tribal states and had control over Chagga affairs. Even though the Mangi people are no longer as standard, the nickname ‘Mangi’ still reigns supreme among young and old Chagga men.

Mangi Shangali [From Mushi Clan]

Kilimanjaro’s southern-western slopes are home to the Tanzanian town of Machame. The city is the biggest and most densely populated of all of the Chagga localities in Kilimanjaro, which Hans Meyer referred to in 1889 as a great African giant. The ruler of the Mushi Bloodline and subsequently Shangali was considered a giant African ruler in 1849, and his influence extended to the rest of the Chagga localities except Rombo. According to Von der Decken, known to the Chaggas as Baroni, Machame was formerly a union of western Chagga territories that included Kombo, Narumu, Kindi, and the Western position of Kibongoto, all ruled by the monarch of Machame. The kings have traditionally been chosen from the Mushi bloodline (including the legendary Shangali, who is kin of Mushi). Some Mushi clans are still considered as WaMangi [chiefs] to this day.

Mangi Sina and Mangi Rindi

By the late 19th century, the Mangi Rindi and the Mangi Sina had amassed substantial military forces. In the 1880s, once the Germans arrived to impose colonial control, they joined with Rindi to combat Sina. In 1885, Rindi had signed and ratified a pact with the Germans, making Moshi their colonial headquarters.

Mangi Mkuu

Around 1952, the Chagga held a referendum to elect Mangi Mkuu to the position of a “Paramount Chief” to oversee their affairs and represent them before colonial rulers. Thomas Marealle, a native from Marangu, was elected, defeating Hai divisional leader M. H. Abdiel Shangali and Rombo divisional chief John Ndaskoi Maruma. Petro Itosi Marealle, a native from Vunjo, another divisional head, withdrew his candidacy days before the election.

Marealle gathered control and dominance from three neighboring divisional tribal chiefs, allowing the Chagga to become more solid and independent. Marangu was his capital at the time. But Marealle’s demise came during Tanganyika’s war for independence because of these two primary reasons:

  1. For starters, he lost popularity among people with western education. When Makerere University students chastised him during a report published in their university journal, Marealle humiliated them publicly when they returned home from studies in an “old” traditional manner. He trusted Petro Njau, the intelligent political rally organizer who helped get him into office the first time. Since 1958, Njau has tasked himself with obtaining the help of the old leaders who were adverse to change and other tribal leaders with the same ideologies. This act was viewed as a phony return to the ancient tribal past. Mangi Mkuu, on the other hand, believed and trusted him wholeheartedly, as well as the made-up stories of his popularity that Njau recorded.
  2. Secondly, Mangi Mkuu fought TANU on Kilimanjaro, where he was born and raised. He remained a staunch supporter of T.A.N.U.’s national objectives for Tanganyika. For whatever reason, even after he’d begun dealing decisively with localized T.A.N.U.’s media critics at home, he decided to maintain support for Julius Nyerere as the country’s leader, even though these opponents were atypical of the people and hence not worth taking seriously. From 1957 to 1958, Mangi Mkuu wrote to the governor, requesting that Nyerere address the cabinet of chiefs as part of the British Administration’s delaying tactics against T.A.N.U. His letters, however, were rejected. Mangi Mkuu didn’t significantly impact Nyerere or the nationalist movement until 1959, when he was battling to save his political career. Mangi Mkuu, who had been on the hot seat at home for some time, slammed Nyerere for hosting a fully accessible T.A.N.U.—gathering in Moshi in January 1959. He threatened to sack the chiefs on the mountain if they continued to support T.A.N.U any further.

However, the rupture happened sooner in the local area of politics in Chagga. It didn’t even come from T.A.N.U. Strands, which had made very little progress among the locals despite having started on the mountain in 1955. It originated from Machame, Mangi Mkuu’s primary competitor, which Mangi Mkuu had deposed in 1951. The most decisive factor was Chief Abdieli Shangali’s backing of his son-in-law, Solomon Eliufoo. A Lutheran-trained instructor from Machame’s oldest clans, Eliufoo spent more than a decade abroad in the United States and Britain. Upon returning to Machame in 1957 as a teacher, he joined the T.A.N.U. Branch. After entering politics in 1958, his father-in-law, Chief Abdieli Shangali, who headed the divisional council of Hai, nominated him to become a member of the Chagga Council. Under the T.A.N.U Party’s ticket, he was appointed to the Dar es Salaam legislative council the same year. In 1958, he served as Health and Education minister following his entry into politics from 1959 to 1960 and 1962 to 1967. Following his fight against the Mangi Mkuu and his appeal for the resignation or retirement of the Mangi Mkuu, he created a new party, called the Chagga Dem Party[C.D.M.], in 1959.

The resistance towards the C.D.M. created a stalemate in the Chagga Cabinet in the final months of 1959. Voting in the council was held on whether an election should be conducted on Kilimanjaro to determine if the Chaggas preferred a Chiefdom or a presidential Electoral system of governance. After a narrow majority passed the vote, a slim margin disbanded the Mangi Mkuu system. Nyerere’s socialist ideas and integration policies significantly reduced the power of the chiefs after independence.

Daily Life and Culture of the Chagga

Fish were not historically ingested because 95 percent of the streams around the Kilimanjaro slopes were devoid of fish. Fishes were thought to have the same essence as snakes, which the people regarded as antagonistic in Chagga tradition. The Chagga population raised many chickens to sell to those from the East coast for commercial purposes. Like many other East African communities, the Chagga values goats, sheep, and oxen. At night, dogs are deployed to defend compounds against intruders. The domestic cattles are humped Zebu cattle, bred in east Africa throughout Ancient Egyptian times.

Goats have little horns and are petite and attractive. Milk is a necessary component of the Chagga diet. Bananas, maize, yams, red millet alliums, peas, beans, and sweet potatoes are some of the food plants farmed by the Chagga.

Chagga Traditional Foods

Chagga Traditional Foods
Chagga Traditional Foods

The traditional meal of the Chagga people is based on the food crops that grow in their location. Bananas are used to make the majority of the food consumed by the Chagga people, e.g., “machalari,” which is the significant main dish among the Chaggas. Other traditionally prepared foods are ngararimo, mlaso, kisusio (soup mixed with blood), kiburu (Beans and Banana), mtori (banana with meat, made in the porridge-like form, mainly consumed after childbirth), Kitawa (porridge-like, sour milk, and banana), and kimamtine. All of which are prepared or cultivated according to the crop’s natural way of cultivation and the health and nature of the animals on Chagga.

Chagga Cultural Heritage

Bells, drums, and wooden flutes are among the traditional Chagga Musical instruments in almost every celebration used in singing and dancing. Chaggan youth have adopted Kiswahili songs created by various Tanzanian musicians, central African and western music and dance traditions, and traditional Chaggan music too. Kids prefer pop, rap, and reggae music. Many musicians from Chagga are well-known in Africa.

Nathaniel Mtui, the 1st Chagga historian, saw the light of day in 1892, and between 1913-1916, he produced nine books exclusively based on Chagga’s History.

Chagga Folklore

Ruwa’s assistance and might are central to Chagga mythology. Ruwa represents the Chagga god and how they refer to the sun. Ruwa is seen as a liberator and a supplier of sustenance rather than the creator of humanity. He is renowned for his compassion and tolerance when his people seek him out. Some of the Chagga myths about Ruwa are based on Old Testament biblical stories.

Chiefdoms used to have chiefs who seized power and control through won battles and trade treaties. Marealle of Marangu, Sina of Kibosho, and Orombo of Kishigonyi are just a few previous renowned leaders.

Employment

Most Chagga work is done on farms, and each gender has its specific tasks. Building houses, preparing fields, slaughtering animals, feeding goats, and building and maintaining canals are examples of men’s labor. When it comes to household activities like cooking, cutting fodder, or gathering firewood or water, women have much to do with that. Women traders are just as important and are in charge of the marketplace.

There are a large number of young Chaggans who work as administrators, instructors, clerks, and managers of small-owned businesses. Tailoring and other crafts are also popular income raisers for women in rural areas. It is said that Chagga has an entrepreneurial spirit and a solid commitment to professionalism.

Chagga Cuisine

Among the Chaggas, bananas are a primary source of nutrition. They also use bananas to manufacture beer, which is their primary beverage. Maize (corn), millet, bananas, cassava, and beans are among the food crops grown by the Chaggas. They also maintain sheep, goats, and cattle as their own. Chagga people these days buy meat from meat shops since they have limited land and grazing grounds.

Chagga Modern History

They used to be ruled by the Mangi Mkuu, albeit they are no longer as well-organized as they once were, as well as the Mangi is no longer active in the modern Chagga’s day-by-day routines and lives. The Chagga still holds the Mangis in high regard. Some tribal groups, like the Mushi group in Machame, continue to practice their “right to rule,” calling themselves Chieftainship Oriented People[Watu wa Kwa Mangi]. The Chagga now earn better payday, and some live in large metropolitan cities or overseas and tourism entrepreneurs in the regions of Arusha and Kilimanjaro.

Some Chagga practices, like the “kihamba,” a family piece of land handed down through generations, are still practiced.

As of the late 1800s, coffee has become the principal income crop for thousands of Chagga people, while bananas and corn are still essential necessities. The Chaggas is also known for “mbege,” a native brew. It is prepared with a particular banana variety and millet seed.

Notable People of the Chagga Heritage

Politicians

Political Party
Augustine Mrema TLP & CCM
Abubakar Asenga CCM
Cyril Chami CCM
Lucy Lameck Tanganyika African National Union
Aggrey Mwanri CCM
Godbless Lema CHADEMA
Hassan Mtenga CCM
Asanterabi Zephaniah Nsilo Swai Tanganyika African National Union
James Mbatia NCCR-MAGEUZI
Silvestry Koka CCM
Basil Mramba CCM
Freeman Mbowe CHADEMA
Priscus Tarimo CCM
Adolf Mkenda CCM
Edwin Mtei CHADEMA

Academics or Writers

            Involvements
Leonard Shayo Former presidential contender and mathematician in Tanzania
Fausta Shakiwa Mosha Tanzanian’s Scientist
Adolf Mkenda Tanzanina’s academic professor\ politician CCM’s MP
Doreen Kessy Tanzanian author\ educator
Irene Tarimo Tanzanian biologist, environmental scientist, and academic researcher.
Khalila Mbowe Tanzanian’s choreographer
Frannie Leautier Tanzania civil engineer\ academic
Elizabeth Mrema Tanzanian’s Biodiversity leader\ attorney
Nathaniel Mtui 1st Chagga scholar and 1st Tanzanian historian to be published.

States-Person

 Involvement
Helen Kijo-Bisimba Tanzanian’s human rights activist

Business People

             Involvements
Reginald Mengi Tanzanian business tycoon and multi millionaire.
Patrick E. Ngowi Tanzanian business owner
Michael Shirima Tanzanian business owner

Sports People

                 Involvements
Amani Kyata Tanzanian footballer
Hassan Kessy Tanzanian footballer
Magdalena Moshi Tanzanian Olympic swimmer
Haruna Moshi Tanzanian footballer
Leodgar Tenga Tanzanian boxer
Wilfred Moshi First Tanzanian to summit Mount Everest
Bruno Tarimo Tanzanian boxer

Entertainers\ Artists

                  Involvements
Maua Sama Tanzanian musician
Elizabeth Michael Tanzanian actress
Hoyce Temu Tanzanian beauty pageant winner
Rosa Ree (rapper Tanzanian female rapper
Bill Nass Tanzanian Muscian
Jacqueline Wolper Tanzanian Actress
Sheria Ngowi Tanzanian fashion designer
Barnaba Classic Tanzanian singer\songwriter

For more articles on the Tanzania Tribes click here!