Kaguru People – History, Society, Geography & More

Kaguru People – History, Society, Geography and More

The Kaguru, also known as the Kagulu, are a Bantu ethnic and linguistic group from central Tanzania. The population of Kaguru was predicted to be 217,000 in 1987.


Ukagura [Kaguraland, approximately 3,600 sq. miles] is located around 200 miles west of the Saadani and Bagamoyo’s seaports. During the eighteen and 19th centuries, the principal caravan route between the Lake Tanganyika and the Indian Ocean travelled via Ukagura, following the Kinyasungwe and Mkondoa rivers. The main caravan route was later transformed into the Central railway line. The Ukaguru Mountains are part of the Eastern Arc Mountains, which run diagonally from northwest to southeast through Kenya and Tanzania’s Eastern Rift system. The central plateau, which covers two-thirds of Tanzania, lies to the north and west.

There are three distinct regions: the core, the lowlands, and the plateau. The Ukaguru Hills, a cluster of mountain peaks [6,000 to 7,000 feet.] that accounts for one-third of the region, form the core. Only a handful of its mountains were densely forested during the German Captain Bauer’s time and remain so now because the majority had already been deforested due to the iron smelting company’s urgent need for charcoal as well as the intense agricultural clearing. Following the arrival of the Germans, a large area was retained as conserved woodland and can now be termed lovely semitropical forestland with abundant rain and high density. The steep topography has a network of valleys excellent for refugees fleeing invasions, notably from the Maasai in the north and Hehe in the south, and it is known as the “heartland.” The term ‘Kaguru’ pertains to the highlands with considerable rain [100 inches on the summits] that were cool and capable of regularly producing millet, rice, vegetables, and plantains. There was no maize in it.

The plateau that follows is a land of more warmth and less rain, with vast areas of forest and scrubland, rocky outcrops and scattered peaks, and dry and rainy seasons. It is a land of drought and frequent hunger. Yet, it is healthier than the wet and chilly ‘heartland.’ Individuals started returning to the ‘Caravan Street’ and caravan resting sites once a more peaceful period had arrived. In general, the most extensive cattle holdings were held here.

The remaining 20% had the greatest disparity between rainy and dry seasons. It had the least reliable agricultural situations; being a smooth grassy landmass, it was fragile, prone to raiding, and tricky to defend against raiders. It was primarily vulnerable to cattle diseases and infections. It had the most significant number of non-Kagura citizens who were residing in the area either as immigrants or as a portion of the very outstanding caravan trade.

History of the Kaguru People

During Captain Bauer’s era, the Kaguru continued to reside in big, fortified settlements on the highland, where there were enough men to defend against raids for food, livestock, grains, slaves and metal goods. The plateau covered 50% of Ukagura surface area and had developed into the location where the majority of Kaguru lived.

The early European descriptions of the Kaguru assigned them numerous names and appeared to have just a hazy understanding of them [the Germans administration with Captain Bauer along with Charles Stokes didn’t mention them anywhere]. They were jumbled together with their nearest neighbours to the west, the Sandawe or the Gogo, or the plateau and mountain Kaguru, which were given separate identities. They were racially grouped with other highland inhabitants of maternal lineage and lived in a similar fashion.

There were no conventional chiefdoms or political structures in place. A small group of leaders would spring up and form a network of connections on the major caravan trading points. It was also where caravans were given the duties of law and justice in exchange for recognition, ammunition, cash and trade goods, and it was also where these leaders were accused of exaggerating their power and influence and attempting to claim special status and privileges. These leaders also promised to defend the Kagura from dangerous, armed foreigners who would kill for resources and labour. While the Germans, British and Arabs, were all too glad to conceive a unified ‘tribal’ area ruled by cooperating kings, some rulers actually carried out their promises. In truth, the Kagura were on the verge of becoming stateless. Ukagura was the last stop for caravans carrying supplies and C02 [water] before entering the drier western plains [The Caravan of Mr Stokes is a good example]. It was the very first good supply and relaxing place for caravans just after crossing the extremely wild plains with their slow-moving shipment of trading goods to and from the shoreline.

Christian churches did not only build a base among the Kagura to assist other missionaries\churches passing through, but they also denounced a variety of Kaguru practices like polygyny, ancestral appeasement, as well as the use of rain stones or other magical medicines.

Alcohol consumption, clothes, Kaguru songs and music, dancing, haircuts, ear-piercing, native jewelry, red ocher for beauty products, as well as numerous aspects of etiquette were all condemned. They were fiercely opposed to female circumcision, but it was hard to stop it because it wasn’t done publicly. The missionaries also made a concerted effort to separate Christian recruits from pagans. In most cases, the missionaries failed in their efforts to overcome the opposition. Ninety per cent of Kaguru identity and culture would have been destroyed if they had been successful. They also disrupted the unlawful slave traffic by informing European officials on the coastline through their connections.

Kaguru Society


The Kagura natives were and still are a female line people who speak Chikaguru and trace their lineage and inheritance through their female ancestors. Because their community was organized around family and household groupings containing individuals who could be depended upon for help and were a significant source of prosperity and security, they needed to create wide and diverse relationships. Humans, not lands, were the rarest and most desired resource since Ukagura was prone to raids and lacked the necessary workforce to cultivate the land, guard it, and protect against outsiders searching for goods and hostages.

Every 3rd or 4th year, a Kagura might face hard times, and things might get really bad every 7th or 8th year. The Kagura were always torn between trying to satisfy their personal needs and trying to meet the demands of others who might, at some point, come to their aid. Because harvests and protracted dryness differ by region, diverse social relationships are essential, and assistance can be critical, requiring more than just exchanging yields but also borrowing cattle or obtaining permission to resettle.

As part of clan membership determined by birth and marriage, the Kagura bargain rights to land, ceremonies, fines, bridewealth, and inheritance. Their civilization consisted of around a hundred maternal lineage clans, each with thousands of members, with names like Rain, Cat, Spoiled Beer, Ravines, Beads, Messengers, Goat, Criw, and so on. Each clan was affiliated with one or even more parcels of land that is considered as its own, and each year rituals to rejuvenate this land were organized. Precise control of a clan territory was negotiable in practice, which might cause problems. Most Kaguru in Captain Bauer’s time felt safe inside a small area and opposed leaving it.

Kaguru Gender Roles and Marriage

Among the Kaguru people, identity was based on flesh and blood, which came from the mom. The father was significant but not as important as the mother’s and her family’s relationships. A child belongs to their mother’s tribe but not to their father’s. Bonds to the mom were automatic and deep, but only when payments were paid then ties to the dad and his clan become effective. Most Kagura unions were not regarded as complete until children were born, which further complicated the shifting loyalties over time.

Kaguru Men dominated all ritual and formal public life, while women, whether married or not, were as important and had complete control over their offspring. The types of abuse directed at each sex demonstrate the distinction between the two. It is very feasible for a man to be told he is single or to act uncircumcised. This is something that can be modified. But on the other hand, a lady can be chastised for not having children, which is an unchangeable flaw in her personality.

Relationships between Kaguru brothers and sisters are crucial. A sister’s willingness to marry and not flee places her brother in obligation to her. However, brothers may push their sisters to divorce their spouses in later life. The bride price received by a sister frequently allows her brother to get married. A brother seeks to make claims against a sister’s males’ children and bridewealth from her female children. Men promote marriage instability among their nieces and sisters while promoting marital stability inside their own households. Even when the couple’s opinions are considered, marriage is viewed as a fight for an alliance, and a couple’s family dictates marriage. This fierce competition is what makes broad social, economic, and political security so necessary and important.

The most significant roles Kaguru men play are brother and husband. They hardly ever prefer divorce, even when their wife is problematic; in contrast, several women push for divorce or utilize it as a threatening tool. The more kids a couple has, the more benefit the wife’s family has in a separation. If she divorces, her family withholds a percentage of the bride price for each kid born, even if they die. If there are five or six children, no bride price is returned, and the bride service is not repaid. If she gets married again, her kin could reclaim another bride price and bride service.

Separation between a Kaguru couple is always a financial hazard to a husband, except his wife cannot bear children or is so unappealing that the population supports his repayment. No separated man wants to be alone for an extended period. Mature men can’t readily survive without a woman to cook for them, carry water and get wood, although grown women may do just fine if raiding is not an issue. Women are more firmly attached to their moms and children; therefore, getting a man to satisfy her own parents and brothers is the finest motivation for a woman to marry. The father believes that his wife’s support is critical in securing the devotion of his children.

Whatever importance a Kaguru lady places on her husband and brothers originates from her role as a mother. Her long-term allegiances are the same as that of her offspring. Because her personal needs are completely intertwined with those of her offspring, the Kaguru mom is the one most likely to provide genuine heartfelt support and guidance for her kids. When a woman gets older, her focus shifts to her children, which is amplified when she has co-wives. One hundred per cent of Kaguru ladies, whether married or not, want as many babies as possible. The worst calamity of a Kaguru lady is infertility, not unwanted children. As a lady age, she becomes less able to rely on others for assistance in times of illness or need. Her situation is not easy. A barren woman’s primary concern is finding a family to care for her when she is old, with brewery, midwifery, and prostitution, becoming her most probably means of supplementing her income. Infertility has become an embarrassment and a disaster.

Sexuality in the Kaguru Society

Traditional Kaguru natives were highly conservative when it came to public nudity. No adolescent Kaguru would’ve been able to inspect an adult from either sex who was completely naked. Even when showering, men wore a bathrobe covering and took absolute care not to seem naked. Women wore skirts all the time. All sexual references between parents and children, as well as between siblings, were strictly prohibited. Such remarks would be regarded as perverse and shameless. Grandparents, cross relations, or unrelated people of the same age are supposed to be free to discuss such topics.

Prior to initiation, Kaguru youth had little access to sexual information. The sexuality of parents was kept hidden from youngsters who were not even allowed to touch a parent’s bed. Only at initiation can sexual questions be raised freely, and they are a continual and needed topic of education.

Kaguru men conduct male circumcision [induction] at puberty at a bush camp [not in a village] where the youth stays until he heals. This process consists of slicing off the foreskin from the penis with a blade. His childhood has died, and he was reborn as a man says the forktail. It is supposed to please women since it further distinguishes males from females, and both sexes are attracted to each other.

When a Kaguru girl is around 14 years of age, she is initiated in the privacy of a house. The solitude may last weeks or months, and she was anticipated to blossom [pale and fat]afterwards. Women within the initiation home enjoyed singing vulgar songs, dancing, and laughing uncontrollably at jokes; it was a fantastic reason for travelling and visitation. After an evening of dancing and singing, the girl was led into the adjacent bush, placed on a hide, and chopped by an elderly lady. The labia cutting could be large, a little nip, or no cut at all. The Kagura didn’t eliminate any portion of the clit, and the lady initiated was now eligible for bachelors and marriage after getting gifts of new attire and heaps of jewels from her kinswomen.

Kaguru Death Rituals

According to tradition, the society was made up of deceased ancestors and future generations yet to be conceived and living members; they resided in an ‘era of faith,’ as did the majority of African peoples. Upon the death of a typical individual, the spirit travels to an alternate dimension known as ‘Ghostland.’ [Re-connecting with the ‘Life-Force’ while maintaining the spiritual identification], where the dead reside in villages much like the living do [they simply change their location]. The newcomer’s arrival is celebrated in precisely the same way that those alive are mourning the loss of a loved one. When a child is born to those alive, the dead who have lost one amongst their members lament the death of their member. Both sides relinquish one of their own to the opposing party with resignation and contempt.

Infants, who have just returned from a difficult journey, have a poor grasp on life and may be kidnapped by jealous spirits. At the same time, uninitiated teenagers who pass away are said to have never completely stopped being spirits and are not widely mourned. The two realms are expected to be distinct and not interfere with each other in an organized world, though the ghosts are upset by the living’s misdeeds and wish to be honoured with sacrifices and hearing their names pronounced aloud. Angry, upset, or confused spirits in the Kaguru society are blamed for severe and persistent issues, and rites are undertaken to appease, cool, or calm them. The tombs of the most famous ancestral ghosts are covered with wheat flour and sacrifice animal blood.

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