People of Kilimanjaro: The Chagga

The Chagga

Mount Kilimanjaro is the homeland of the Chagga people, one of Tanzania’s largest ethnic groups. It is fair to say that when you are in Moshi, Marangu or Machame, there is little indication that you are in a ‘Chagga town’.

Yet in the smaller villages, though waning year by year, traditional Chagga culture remains fairly strong and occasionally a reminder of the past is uncovered by today’s tourist, particularly when passing through the smaller villages on the little-visited eastern and western sides of Kilimanjaro. Such finds make visits to these villages truly fascinating.

Do not, however, come to Kilimanjaro expecting to witness some of the more extreme practices described on these pages. This point needs emphasizing: the Chaggas’ traditional way of life has been eroded by the depredations of Western culture.

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Indeed, as far as we know, much is now extinct. Much of the material on which the following account is based is provided by the reports of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europeans who visited the area; in particular,Charles Dundas’ comprehensive tome, Kilimanjaro and its People, which was first published way back in 1924.

Moshi town with Kilimanjaro's snowy Kibo and Mawenzi summits as a backdrop

The main Chagga town of Moshi, with the twin peaks of Kilimanjaro, Kibo and Mawenzi, forming a dramatic backdrop

This, of course, begs the question: why have we included in a modern guide to Kilimanjaro descriptions of obsolete Chagga practices and beliefs that were largely wiped out almost 100 years ago? Well, research revealed the relevance of this inclusion since there are still faint echoes of their traditional way of life that have survived into the present day. Reading this admittedly detailed account of the Chagga and how they lived and thought could provide you with a better understanding — and thereby some insight — into the mind, beliefs and behaviour of the people who live in Kilimanjaro’s shadow today. In addition to these two reasons for including this section, it was a fascinating subject to research and we hope that at least some readers will find it as interesting to read.

Origins of the Chagga >>

Social Structure & Village Life >>

Chagga Beliefs & Ceremonies >>