Chagga People


Chagga People

Chagga / Wachagga / Jagga / Dschagga


On the southern slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain, live the Chagga people, also called Chaga, Waschagga, Jagga, or Dschagga. Administratively, the area lies in the Kilimanjaro region in northern Tanzania, south of the border with Kenya. The region is further divided into three districts—Hai to the west, Rombo to the east, and Vunjo in the center.

Traditionally the Chagga people belonged to different clan groups ruled by mangis (chiefs). Examples of clan group names include Moshi, Swai, Marealle, Lvimo, and Mrema. The area was thus divided into independent chiefdoms. The chiefs were known to wage wars against each other and at times to form alliances between themselves in their struggle for power.

Chagga people map

Thus, the number of chiefdoms declined over the years. By 1968, there existed 17 chiefdoms, namely Machame, Kibosho, Mamba, Mwika, Kibongoto, Uru, Usseri, Kirua Vunjo, Mkuu, Marangu, Mashati, Arusha Chini, Masama, Kahe, Old Moshi, Kilema, and Keni-Mriti-Mwengwe. The chiefdoms were further divided into subunits called mitaa.After independence, through Nyerere's socialism and integration policies, the rule of Chiefs was diminished and later the system of chiefdoms was abolished in Tanzania. Tanzania obtained independence in December 1961 and Julius Kambarage Nyerere (1922–1999), a socialist leader who led Tanganyika from colonial rule, was elected president in 1962.

One of Africa's most respected figures, Julius Nyerere was a politician of principle and intelligence. Known as Mwalimu (teacher), he had a vision of education that was rich with possibility. Nyerere voluntarily relinquished power in 1985, but the legacy of his nation building efforts can be found throughout the country. Beginning in the mid-1980s, under the administration of President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Tanzania undertook a number of political and economic reforms.

Chagga people

In January and February 1992, the government decided to adopt multiparty democracy from single party rule. Legal and constitutional changes led to the registration of 11 political parties. Two parliamentary by-elections (won by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi [CCM] party) in early 1994 were the first-ever multiparty elections in Tanzanian history. In October 2000 Tanzania held its second multi-party general elections. The ruling CCM party's candidate, Benjamin W. Mkapa, defeated his three main rivals, winning the presidential election with 71% of the vote. In 2005 Benjamin Mkapa retired after 10 years in power. During the elections of December 2005 ruling party candidate Jakaya Kikwete was elected president by a decisive margin.



Mount Kilimanjaro has two peaks. Kibo is the main snow-capped peak. Mawenzi is the jagged second peak connected to Kibo by a saddle. Vegetation on the mountain is varied. The lowest plains form the bushland, and maize, thatch grass, and fodder are grown there. Next lies the coffee and banana belt, where the Chagga have their homesteads. The Chagga people do not live in villages in the rural areas. Instead, each family has its own homestead in the middle of a banana grove. This is known as a kihamba (plural vihamba). Household plots are next to those of the same clan. With increased population density and division of land holdings, there are hardly any unoccupied areas between the various lineage territories.

The Chagga population has risen steadily from 128,000 in 1921 to 832,420 in 1988 to 1.5 million people in 2003. Over-population has forced some Chagga people to move to the lowlands and migrate to urban areas such as Dar es Salaam and Arusha.

Chagga people


The main language spoken by the Chagga people is Kichagga, which differs in dialect between the different Chagga regions. Despite these differences in dialect, the Chagga people can understand one another. The dialectic differences help an individual detect which region another person is from.

Almost all Chagga people also speak Swahili, the national language in Tanzania. Swahili is the medium of instruction in primary schools and is used in the workplace. English is the medium of instruction in secondary schools and institutions of higher learning. Those persons fortunate enough to obtain advanced education have some understanding of English.


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.

Chagga people

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 downmountain, 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.



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 hu-mankind, but rather as a liberator and provider of sustenance. He is known for his mercy and tolerance when sought by his people. He has provided bananas, sweet potatoes, and yams. Some Chagga myths concerning Ruwa resemble biblical stories of the Old Testament.

The various chiefdoms have chiefs who have risen to power through war and trading. Some famous past chiefs include Orombo from Kishigonyi, Sina of Kibosho, and Marealle of Marangu.



In indigenous Chagga cosmology, all human activities have potential spirit-worldly significance. Thus, the seen and the unseen worlds are closely linked. Dead ancestors care how their descendants behave. Living persons are capable of invoking God or the spirits for benign or malign purposes. Incurable illness, infertility, or other misfortunes are considered likely to have been caused by human or spirit agencies. Spells, curses, amulets, and witchcraft were (and are today) commonplace, both to defend and to harm. Diviners could (and can) be consulted. Rituals mark all life-cycle events. Christian ideas and rituals are closely intertwined with indigenous conceptions and ceremonies.

Christianity was introduced to the Chagga people about the middle of the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century, both Protestants and Catholics had established missions in the region. Today those regions where the Catholics had established themselves, such as Kilema and Kibosho, are predominantly Catholic, and those regions where Protestants were established, such as Machame, are mainly Protestant. The Christian influence spread both through preaching and through the provision of education. With the adoption of Western religions, traditional Chagga beliefs and practices have been reduced and synchronized to the new Christian beliefs. Prayer books and hymnals have been translated into Kichagga.

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.



Major holidays celebrated by the Chagga people are both secular and religious. The main government holidays presently celebrated are New Year's Day (January 1), Union Day (April 26), Workers Day (May 1), Peasants Day (August 8), and Independence Day (December 9). On government holidays, the public rests and offices and shops are closed. Government rallies are held around the country, with military parades and speeches made by government officials.

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 Id-el-Fitre, Id-el-Hajji, and Maulid. Religious holidays are a time when family members make an effort to gather. People in urban areas try during these times to visit the rural areas for family gatherings. After the religious ceremonies are over, families gather for celebration and merrymaking. They feast on goat, chickens, and cattle, and drink both local and traditional brews.



For the Chagga, dying without children means the end of the lineage. A Chagga proverb—“He who leaves a child lives eternally”—illustrates the Chagga belief that people live through their descendents. It is used as a blessing or in congratulation on the birth of a child. After the birth of a child, a Chagga mother remains inactive and indoors for three months, during which time she is taken care of by her husband and in-laws. It is the duty of a woman's husband and family to supply her with milk, fat, blood, and other nourishing food. After three months, a mother may appear in public and resume normal life.

A child may be considered unlucky for several reasons. If a child cut its upper teeth first, it is considered unlucky. A child conceived too soon after the death of another child is also considered unlucky, as are twins. In the past, an unlucky male child was killed; an unlucky female child and her mother were returned to the woman's parents.

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 12 years old. This rite is performed to curb unruliness in a child. The youth's relatives attend the ceremony, which is conducted by a female elder and a young man who has already undergone the rite. A goat is slaughtered and divided into portions for consumption and sacrifice. The elder woman and initiated youth sing songs of good morals and talk to the initiate about good behavior. For a month, the youth's behavior is closely watched, and he is often corrected. When the elder woman is satisfied with the initiate's behavior, friends and relatives are invited for a purification ceremony of singing and offering prayers to the ancestors. The same ceremony is repeated a month later.

In the past, both young men and young women were circumcised. Maseka is the term used for uncircumcised boys. There was a general circumcision that would take place corresponding with the circumcision of the chief's son. There was no particular age for circumcision, but youth were generally circumcised during the cooler months from June to August. The circumcised youth are called Mangati, and they now form a rika (generation group) and are given a name referring to the specific circumcision age group. Examples of rikas include Kimakamaka (youth), Mbarinoti (elders), and Merisho (old men). The age classes ended with the German occupation of Tanzania. The circumcision of boys now usually takes place in a hospital, where the conditions are more sterile. Female circumcision is now discouraged.

Traditionally, before young males were allowed to marry, the Ngasi, or initiation ceremony, took place. The youth would reside in the forest to keep the initiation process a secret from young women and children. There the youth received instruction on manhood, went hunting and endured various ordeals, especially the cold weather. The female equivalent of the initiation ceremony was called Shija and was performed after the young women were circumcised. All initiated young women underwent two months of instruction together in a banana grove, returning to their homes at dusk each day. They were instructed in Chagga rituals, sexuality, procreation, and menstruation. Initiation ceremonies no longer take place, as they were abolished by the Germans.

At death, the old Chagga custom was to bury only those corpses of married persons in huts. Husbands were buried inside their senior wives' huts, under the milk store. After viewing in the cattle stall, the corpse is buried seated or lying facing Kibo (Mount Kilimanjaro). Relatives were chosen to keep watch over the grave until the ceremony of shaving took place. Family members usually shaved their heads on the third day after burial. This was followed by the distribution of the deceased's property. About two years after the burial, amid ceremony, the bones were removed from the hut and moved to a sacred spot in the banana grove. It was against Chagga law to bury childless persons, unmarried persons, and children. Childless adults were deposited in the bush with their belongings. Youth and children were placed in the banana grove. The banana grove is viewed by the Chagga people as the family graveyard. Currently all corpses are buried according to either Christian or Muslim rituals. Wealthier Chagga living in the urban areas may decide to transport a corpse back to the homestead for burial. Most families wear black or drab clothing as a sign of mourning.



Greetings are important in Chagga culture. There are different greetings depending upon the time of day. The Machame may greet each other in the morning with nesindisa, while the Kibosho use shimboni. Greetings are exchanged before any other exchange of words or actions. When joining a group of people, it is customary to greet each person in the group. Elders are usually greeted first by the younger generation; 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. Even when passing a person on the road, greetings are exchanged inquiring after one's journey, with the visitors usually initiating the greetings.

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 would cover her head and squat 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 friendship ritual is held after the birth of a first child to remove some conditionalities of behavior between the in-laws. A wife is required to always face her husband on approach lest she be accused of cursing him.

Relationships between men and women were based on social segregation. Publicly, male and female couples do not hold hands. Public show of affection through bodily contact is considered highly inappropriate between the sexes. It is considered acceptable, however, for male companions and female companions to hold hands out of affectionate camaraderie. Traditionally, men and women were socially segregated. Couples did not eat together at home; mothers usually ate with their children, while the father ate by himself. At social gatherings, men and women kept to themselves in separate clusters. Currently, men and women still sit separately at social functions and even in churches.

During celebrations, guests generally drink and dance in separate groups, according to generation. The older, married people make one group, while the younger people make up the other. This is because the older group may get quite rowdy. They prefer to be able to speak freely among themselves without having to worry whether the conversation is appropriate for the younger generation. Married couples, especially of the younger generation, may eat and socialize together at smaller gatherings.

When visiting, one is expected to arrive with a gift for the host family. A visitor staying for some time is expected to help with the family work. Visiting family and friends usually takes place during the late afternoon hours when most of the farm work is done. If a visitor arrives at mealtimes, he or she is invited to partake of the meal. It is considered an insult to refuse; one must at least pretend to eat a little. When departing, a visitor is escorted part of the way by the host and family. Even in urban areas, a visitor may drop in anytime and is always warmly welcomed.



The traditional Chagga house was conical and grass-thatched. Alternatively, a flatter, curved, banana-leaf-roofed house could be built. Because these houses tended to be large, up to 7.5 meters (25 feet) round and over 6 meters (20 feet) high, they were built with the assistance of other villagers. The doorway formed the only opening in the house's walls.

By the end of the 19th 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. Wealthier Chagga families have built elaborate houses on their property.

The infrastructure in the region is more developed than in most other regions in Tanzania. The major roads are either tarmacked or all-season dirt roads. Buses transport villagers daily to and from Moshi town and other regional locations. Wealthier individuals may even own small trucks and pickups. These provide rides to villagers who may agree to ride in the back in exchange for a small fare. Most villagers, though, prefer to walk when visiting neighboring areas and villages. Piped water is provided through village taps and water pumps. Electricity is provided throughout the Kilimanjaro region at low cost from the ‘Nyumba ya Mungu' dam. Phone lines may be seen crisscrossing the area, providing this service to those able to afford it. Many villagers have access to such facilities. Today, the landlines are being replaced by the ever proliferating cell phone.

The Chagga people are adapting to modern life within a rural setting. Their child mortality rate has fallen due to access to mother and child health services, health education, and immunization services. Small health facilities are available in rural areas, with larger hospital facilities in urban areas.



Traditionally, the Chagga marriage ceremony was a long process, starting with the initiation of betrothal proceedings and continuing long after the couple was married. In the past, parents initiated their children's betrothal, subject to the children's agreement. The groom assured himself that the bride consented to the marriage by inviting her and her friends to visit him. A married male relative of the groom was chosen to be the mkara, the person who oversaw the marriage transactions and the marriage itself. This man and his wife, also called a mkara, were like the best man and matron of honor to the couple. In times of marital conflict, they became mediators and advisors to the couple. Bridal payments were made over the wife's lifetime.

Today, Christian couples are married in churches. In Christian weddings, the young woman is brought to the church by her family and friends, and there she meets the groom. Following the ceremony is a reception given by the groom's family. Later, the couple may leave for a short honeymoon if they reside in an urban area. In rural areas, the couple leaves for the father-in-law's homestead, where a second celebration will take place a few days later. Throughout the marriage negotiations and celebrations, there is much drinking and feasting.

The groom is required to build his own house in which the couple lives together after marriage. After the birth of the first child, the husband moves into a tenge (hut), and the mother lives with her children.

Due to the Christian influence, marriages are now often monogamous. Chagga couples have an average of six children. Great importance is placed on having a son to continue the linage. The first male child and female child are considered to be of the father's side and are named accordingly. The second male child and female child are considered to be of the mother's side and are also named accordingly, and so on with the other children.

Chagga families sometimes keep dogs and cats, but they are not inclined to keep other kinds of animals.


Traditionally, Chagga clothing was made of cowhide. With contact with the outside world, the Chagga started to wear imported bead ornaments and imported cloth wraparound garments. These colorful pieces of cloth are used as wrappers around the body and are called kangas and kitenges. The cloths may be worn over a dress, or may be used to carry babies on the back or hip. Women may purchase cloth from the marketplace or shops and sew their dresses and skirts. Men may also purchase cloth and take it to a tailor to make trousers or a shirt. Elder women still prefer to wrap long cloths over their clothes.

Women and girls do not wear short clothes in public except during sports. Men generally do not wear shorts in public either. Shorts are considered for sports and schoolboys. Sec ondhand clothing from overseas (mitumba) is sold at the marketplace and is in great demand by the low-income people.

Chagga people


The staple food of the Chagga people is bananas. It is also their main source of drink; they produce beer with the addition of eleusive, a grain. The Chagga plant a variety of food crops, including a variety of bananas, millet, maize (corn), beans, and cassava. They also keep cattle for meat and milk, as well as 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 are fed on milk, sweet potatoes, fat, yams, and butter; these are considered female foods. Bananas and beer are considered male and not to be eaten by pregnant women. During the three months after delivery, a lactating mother is fed with a special dish made up of blood and butter, called mlaso. Kitawa, a special dish of bananas and beans is also prepared for her. Mtori, a soup dish prepared from bananas and meat, has spread in popularity in other parts of Tanzania.



The initial classroom education available to the Chagga was in the Christian missions. Many Chagga wished for their children to receive this education and paid for it through the sale of their coffee crop. Chagga who could obtain some training rose in status in their local areas. Boys often outnumbered girls in the education facilities, because education was not considered as important for girls as for boys. Many parents also believed that it was a waste of money to educate daughters who would move to other households at marriage.

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, and all children seven years of age and older were required to attend primary level education for at least seven years. This was followed by four years of secondary education for those who passed the national examination at the end of the first seven years. Today many private secondary schools are available in the Kilimanjaro region, providing an alternative for those not lucky enough to continue in government schools. There are also alternative trade and business schools for those students wishing to acquire skills.

Older people are involved in adult literacy programs. Many Chagga can read and write Swahili or Chagga.



Bantu peoples came to Kilimanjaro in a succession of migrations that started at least five or six hundred years ago. It is likely that there were other peoples on the mountain for hundreds of years before they arrived. 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.

As far back into local history as the accounts go, Chagga chiefdoms were chronically at war with one another and with nearby peoples. Various alliances and consolidations were achieved through conquest, others through diplomacy, but the resulting political units were not always durable. Alignments changed and were reorganized with the ebb and flow of the fortunes of war and trade. Presumably, the fighting between the chiefdoms was over control of trade routes, over monopolies on the provisioning of caravans, over ivory, slaves, cattle, iron, and other booty of war, and over the right to exact tribute. Outlines of the process are known from the eighteenth century onward. As large as some of the blocs of allies became, at no time in the precolonial period did any one chiefdom rule all the others. That unitary consolidation was not achieved until the German colonial government imposed it.

Initially (i.e., before the German conquest), various Chagga chiefdoms welcomed missionaries, travelers, and foreign representatives as they did traders; in the 1880s, however, when the Chagga gradually lost their autonomy, they became more hostile. In 1886 Germany and Britain divided their spheres of influence in East Africa; Kilimanjaro was allocated to the Germans. Some Chagga chiefs became German allies and helped the Germans to defeat old rivals in other Chagga chiefdoms. Sudanese and Zulu troops were also brought in when some strong chiefly resistance to German control manifested itself. By the 1890s, all the Chagga had been subjugated.

Chagga society experienced a radical change. Taxes in cash were imposed to force Africans to work for Europeans from whom they could receive wages. A native system of corvée was expanded for the benefit of the colonial government. A handful of armed Germans successfully ruled a hundred thousand Chagga by controlling them through their chiefs. The chiefs who cooperated were rewarded with more power than they had ever known. The resisting chiefs were deposed or hanged, and more malleable substitutes were appointed in their stead.

Warfare came to an end and, with it, Chagga military organization, which had been a system of male age grades. Christianity spread, and, eventually, most Chagga became, at least nominally, Christians. The churches, Catholic and Lutheran, were allocated religious control over different parts of Kilimanjaro. As part of their mission, they introduced schools and coffee-growing clinics. Thus, a Western religion was imposed on the Chagga, along with a Western medicine, Western education, and a cash crop. These developments parallel the major political reorganization effectuated by colonization and the fundamental change in the local economy. Long-distance trade became a European monopoly. Coffee growing spread rapidly over the mountain.

This general economic transformation was well under way when the colonial government passed from German hands into those of the British in 1916. Arabica coffee remains a major cash crop produced locally. Since 1961, Tanzania has been an independent nation and, among other products, relies on coffee exportation for foreign exchange.



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.



In pre-Christian days, polygynous marriage was legitimate. Over time, the churches have discouraged this practice, and monogamy (although sometimes in the form of a series of monogamous marriages) now prevails. Marriages used to be negotiated by the parents of the couple. Bride-wealth was paid and an elaborate series of ceremonies held. Some of these ceremonies persist, but indigenous cultural forms are mixed with Christian rituals. 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.



Woodenflutes, bells, and drums make up traditional Chagga instruments. Dancing and singing are part of almost every celebration. The Chagga have different types of dances depending on the occasion. Rosi, the war dance, is performed by males only. The irirui dance was danced by everyone at various occasions. With exposure to other ethnic groups and Western culture, the Chagga have shown a liking for various types of music. Swahili songs produced by various Tanzanian bands may be heard frequently over the airwaves in public places such as shops and buses. West and Central African music and dance forms are also gaining in popularity, and it is not uncommon to hear such songs at celebrations such as wedding feasts. Western music and dance such as reggae, pop, and rap are also 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, and proverbs are used to guide youth and convey wisdom. “A snail cannot destroy the grove,” for example, refers to the fact that a person should aid others in distress without fear of being harmed.



Traditionally, Chagga work has been centered on the farm and is divided into men's work and women's work. 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 of the homestead and stalls. Women are also in charge of trading in the marketplace.

In Kilimanjaro, coffee is still the principal cash crop. With ever diminishing land holdings, Chagga men are forced to seek employment in the urban areas. The wife is usually left to tend the homestead and children, and her husband visits only periodically. Eventually, his wife and family may join him in the urban area.

The more educated a person is, the better his or her chances of finding employment. Many Chagga young people work as clerks, teachers, and administrators, and many engage in small-scale business activities. Quite a few shop owners and street corner vendors all over the country are Chagga. The Chagga are known for their sense of enterprise and strong work ethic.

Women in rural areas are also forming income-generating groups involved in activities such as crafts and tailoring. These groups—promoted by churches, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, donor agencies, and political parties—help to increase their members' respectability and prestige in their communities. The groups offer an additional source of income for women outside their farming activities.



For many years there were no television stations in Tanzania, so 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 on hand.

In the past, only the wealthy Chagga could afford television sets. They would tune in programs broadcast by neighboring Kenyan stations. Now many Chagga people own televisions and VCRs. This has led to the opening of many video lending libraries in the town of Moshi. Action movies are the most popular. On weekends, some public meeting places offer video shows for a small fee.



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 made their own weapons and animal traps. Chagga musical instruments include wooden flutes, bells, and drums. Basket weaving was also common, although this art is now dying out as more items are bought at local stores.



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.



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.

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.

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.



Like other Tanzanians, the Chagga face the problem of declining standards of living. Tanzania has faced a period of economic hardship that has severely affected the government's ability to provide adequate social services. Schools and health facilities are run down, which affects the quality of service provided. It is not uncommon to find children sitting on a school floor, and hospitalized patients without medicine. The government has been forced to charge nominal fees for some services that were once free; it has also encouraged the establishment of private facilities to provide similar services. In response, many private schools and health facilities have opened in the Kilimanjaro region. The region now has the highest number of private secondary schools in Tanzania, attracting students from around the country.

Lack of adequate farm land is forcing Chagga youth to seek work away from the kihamba. Many are now involved in business and trading, which takes them out of the region to places such as Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, and even into Kenya. Sellers come to local markets such as Ndishi with goods such as cooking oil, soap, and sandals. Other traders transport goods such as bananas to outside markets. All this upheaval has led to a breakdown in social values and an increase in sexual promiscuity. This in turn has brought about an increase in the number of children born out of wedlock and an increase in sexually transmitted diseases, especially AIDS. The increase in AIDS cases is believed to be related to this migration to urban areas. AIDS awareness programs have been initiated to help deal with the problem.

Loss of Chagga culture is another consequence of outside contact. Some youth are dropping their Chagga names, and are using Christian or Muslim names that hide their cultural identity. Intermarriage with other tribal groups is causing the Chagga to bury their cultural identity and adopt a more generalized Tanzanian one that is easily influenced by Western cultures.

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 by forming and joining new political parties. There is an increasing cohesion of the Chagga people along party lines and a renewed sense of cultural identity. However, multi-party politics are still in their infancy, and it is hoped that the country can steer clear of the political confrontation that has plagued neighboring countries.



In Tanzania, as in many other African countries, women seeking more rights and gender equity face problems created by traditions and customary laws which often discriminate, oppress, and exploit women. Most often women are deprived of their rights to education, information, technology, the means of production such as land, as well as owning property even where the constitution and some laws provide room for gender equality. In Tanzania for example, inheritance laws marginalize women and girls where women are often seen as less equal in status and stature than men. Most institutions and organizations are structured hierarchically and dominated by males. Women's specific needs and interests are often taken less seriously with little regard for gender equality in spite of the constitution guaranteeing such rights for everyone irrespective of gender. It is in this context that we need to understand and place the rights of women in Chagga society.

In the present-day modernizing cultural context, Chagga women have slowly begun to change their roles in society. The increasing participation of Chagga females in modern secondary school and higher education has resulted in dramatic changes with regard to Chagga women's participation in cultural, social, and economic activities. A common saying among educated Chagga women is “education is my husband.” An educated Chagga woman empowered with her western style education might go on to have children without marrying. She can have a modern job as a secretary or a bank clerk to sustain her household without a man being present. Even in traditional Chagga society, married women maintain close ties with their natal families and have a reputation for being strong-willed and stubborn and having “excessive power.” There is no question that the growing power Chagga women enjoy in the modern world is a direct result of their schooling, which is used as cultural capital. Today more than half of the graduates of local secondary schools in Chaggaland are girls and a disproportionate number of Chagga women are found in national universities. Thus modern education has become a form of female inheritance, bestowing upon them independence from the male dominated culture. In short, Chagga women have shown that in modernizing society, it is possible for women to wield some power through education, a factor which opens the door to female empowerment.

With reference to homosexuality, sexual acts between males are illegal in Tanzania. Sections 154 to 157 of the Tanzanian penal code criminalize sexual relationships between men. The penalty for a person who is convicted with this offence is a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. Sexual acts between women are not mentioned in the penal code. This does not mean that female homosexuality was unknown when the laws were enacted. Rather, that it was not considered a threat to society and was thus largely accepted and tolerated. The penal code is applicable on the Tanzanian mainland but not on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar. In 2004 Zanzibar enacted a law criminalizing female homosexual acts. In Zanzibar, sexual acts between women are punishable by a maximum prison term of five years; the same prison term also applies to gay men. Gays or lesbians who celebrate their union in a manner that approximates a marriage ceremony or who live together as spouses in Zanzibar can be subjected to seven years imprisonment if convicted. However, with more activism it is hoped that in the near future restrictions on homosexuality will be eased.