Community and cultural learning – Part II

I mentioned in my last post that we visited a local tribe for a day. It was such a cool experience. Because of the distance and the full agenda we didn’t volunteer that day. We packed ourselves in our 2 big vans and headed off into the mountain to a town called Marangu.

The Chagga tribe are one of the largest ethnic groups in Tanzania and they’re predominantly located in the mountains of Kili. The have a long history of war with other chieftans and neighboring tribes like the Maasai. They live in the slopes of the mountains thus being in a favorable area for agriculture because the climate is typically rainforest and dense. The Chaggas mainly produce maize, beans, bananas, and coffee beans. Apparently, Arabica coffee is a huge trade export from this region.

Our first stop was to go see a blacksmith. The men had also made these cool spears below. They actually used spears like these back in the day.

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Our next stop was the Chagga market. Lots of dried fish and bananas. Also a lot of materials for kangas (traditional women’s pieces of cotton fabric with a pattern and a saying that is tied into skirts or dresses).

Fellow volunteer Kadir bargaining

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During the times of war with the Maasai in the 1800s the Chagga tribe developed a brilliant system of defense.

The Maasai tribe live in the lower plains of the country where the climate is dry. They invest in their livestock and cows are their prized possessions. (I will get more into the Maasai tribe in a later post). There was a time when there was a drought in the region causing the  Maasai to raid the mountains for resources. They resorted to brutality and force. Aside from taking their resources they would kidnap boys/men to turn them into slaves. They would take young girls/women and rape them to reproduce the Maasai blood. After the women had 3/4 kids within a short timespan of a few years they would then kill them because they had no further use for them.

After continuously being pillaged for resources and people the Chaggas started building caves underground in the mountains to stay safe from the Maasai. Ironically enough, this idea originated from Turkey and was passed to the Maasai people but it was the Chaggas and not the Maasai that put it into place. These caves had long tunnels and not only housed the people but also their livestock. To ensure the cows wouldn’t make noise to give way on location they would be fed volcanic ash to keep them thirsty and by drinking so much they would not produce any sound and eventually pass out.

It took 2 generations to build this ingenious system of caves and tunnels. Many Chaggas continued to die during that time but they were very smart and found ways to defeat the Maasai. They trained guards in the different dialects so they could speak the Maasai language. (This was all before Tanzania was nationalized into one language. The Maasai and the Chagga spoke bantu languages)

Within the beginning of the tunnels they had security posts where 3 men would be waiting. As the first Maasai would come down they would be clubbed by one then dragged off by another. The Maassai would then be told by the Chaggas in their own language to go down slowly and low because the tunnels were just getting more narrow. The Maasai would continue to come down one by one and continue to get clubbed. If they cried out the others above would think it was because they must have hit their heads. Each one would be clubbed and dragged off eventually to be chopped into pieces and thrown down another tunnel that lead to the river. Because the Maasai never found any remnants of bodies they would just assume the others that went down just vanished.

The Maasai also thought to smoke out the Chagga people by poison. They would find the opening of the hidden entrances that led underground and hold the toxic powders and fan them into the ground. Quickly the Chagga men would grab cow hides to prevent the fumes for going into the tunnels. They had also built holes for ventilation within the caves so that the everyone else deep in the tunnels didn’t have any issues breathing. During this time most of the Chagga people below didn’t even know this was going on. The Maasai would do this for a week. Once they stopped they assumed the Chaggas were dead and went down below only to be killed by the guards and cut up and sent down the river.

There were thousands of Maasai killed during this time. Even though there is a war history between the 2 tribes they coexist and continue to trade today.

It’s amazing how brilliant the Chagga were in defending themselves and their people. They built a spectacular system that allowed them to preserve their tribe and their culture.

We were able to tour one of the caves that still exist today. None of the caves are inhabited by people. They are just there as a reminder of what was the past. A lot of the caves have been closed off due to natural progression of the mountain. You can see in one of my pictures below that there are roots growing below the cave.

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The entrance below would be covered by tree branches, leaves, etc

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These stairs were added for tourist use

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Below is where the 3 guards would stay and wait to club the intruders

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The below huts are where the Chagga resided above ground. It was typical for the animals to be in the hut with them.

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After the tour of the caves we got down and brewed some delicious Arabica coffee directly from the coffee bean plants on the grounds.

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Once we finished our coffee we drove to the waterfall. I didn’t anticipate that it was going to be quite a hike down to the waterfall. In my naive little mind I thought we were going to make a stop get out of the van and take pretty pictures. That’s not what happened. We had to earn the pretty pictures. I won’t lie and say the hike was fun for me. I’m very fearful of heights; moreso falling from such great heights. I did have a panic attack on my way down. I had to talk myself off the literal and figurative cliff as we descended. There was even a very steep area that a guide was stationed to help people down.

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Sisters Mary Grace and Nicole. Nicole was one of my roommates

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Much happier going up and with actual steps.

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One of my other roomies Beth

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It was such a wonderful day rich with culture, beauty and fun.

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Our drive home was serene and just as beautiful. What a day, indeed.IMG_0223_3

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