Chaga people

Chaga people
A traditional Chagga Hut
Total population
Regions with significant populations

Kivunjo, Kimarangu, Kirombo, Kimachame and Kikibosho, Kiuru, Kioldimoshi


Christian cross.svg Christian • Allah-green.svg Islam • African indigenous religion

Related ethnic groups


 person  mchagga
 people  Wachagga
 language  Kichagga

The Chaga (also called Wachaga, Chagga, Jagga, Dschagga, Waschagga, or Wachagga) are Bantu-speaking indigenous Africans and the third largest ethnic group in Tanzania. They live on the southern and eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, as well as in the Moshi area. Their relative wealth comes from not only the favorable climate of the area, but also from successful agricultural methods which include extensive irrigation systems and continuous fertilization practiced for thousands of years. They were one of the first tribes in the area to convert to Christianity. This may have given them an economic advantage over other ethnic groups, as they had better access to education and health care as Christians.

The Chagga descend from various Bantu groups who migrated from the rest of Africa into the foothills of Kilimanjaro. While the Chagga are Bantu-speakers, they do not speak a single language but rather a number of related Chagga dialects. These dialects are related to Kamba, which is spoken in northeast Kenya, and to other languages spoken in the east such as Dabida and Pokomo. The Chagga area is traditionally divided into a number of chiefdoms. The Chagga are culturally related to the Pare, Taveta and Teita peoples. They follow a patrilineal system of descent and inheritance. The Chagga subsist primarily by agriculture, using irrigation on terraced fields and oxen manure. Although bananas are their staple food, they also cultivate various crops including yams, beans, and maize. In agricultural exports, the Chagga are best known for their Arabica coffee, which is exported to American and European markets, resulting in coffee being a primary cash crop.


Early history

Early migration patterns of the Niger–Congo Bantu's led the Chagga to settle in the North Pare Mountains. This is the Home of the ancestral chagga. The population growth by about eleventh or twelve century led a number of people to begin looking for a new land on which to live. They found it on the nearby and, in those days, still heavily forested southern and eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. The movement of the early chagga banana farmers to Kilimanjaro set off a period of rapid and extensive cultural amalgamation, in which large numbers of the Ongamo people and the Rift Southern Cushites were assimilated into the newly expanding chaga communities. Though apparently growing in numbers and territory, the chaga remained organised in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries into a great many very small and very local social and political units, whose histories are still largely unstudied by Western scholars. But if the Maasai settled in the open plains around much of the chaga country, they presently cannot be credited with great influence on chaga affairs during this period, another people, the Ongamo or Ngasa who were closely related in language to the Maasai, did have much influence in chaga history.

Ngata for protecting the head when carrying bananas


Interactions with the Ongamo

A striking blending of features of ancient Afsan and Niger–Congo civilizations, with some features of Sudanic civilization contributed by the Ongamo, emerged out of this period of cross-cultural encounter. The dominance of the new highland planting agriculture ensured that the new communities came to speak the Chagga language of the makers of that agriculture. Initially these communities took the form of villages built along highland ridges. This custom apparently preserved an old practice coming from the Kaskazi and Upland Bantu side of their ancestry. The Chagga also circumcised boys and initiated them into age-sets of the typical old Bantu type, but at the same time they adopted from the Southern Cushitic side of their ancestry the practice of female clitoridectomy which they stopped after Christianity/Islam came. In a variety of other aspects, Cushitic or Nilotic ideas prevailed in Chagga culture, notable case being music, in which drumming anciently typical of Niger–Congo civilization was entirely lost. The drawing of blood from cattle was a specifically Southern Cushitic addition to the sources of food. And like the Ongamo and Southern Cushites, the emerging Chagga society was entirely patrilineal. The beginnings of Chagga interactions with the Ongamo date well before 1600, and at some point in time the Ongamo had even been the dominant people through much of the Kilimanjaro area. By seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Ongamo were probably becoming increasingly restricted, by Chagga expansion, to eastern Kilimanjaro. Yet within that region they must have remained an important and still independent society, even as late as the second half of the nineteenth century and in the face of massive acculturation to the Chagga about them, Ongamo society retained sufficient cohesion to keep its age-set system functioning to some extent. The Chagga people have their own unique life style compared with other tribes found in Tanzania. For many years when it reached the ceremonial month of December, the Chagga people will gather themselves from where they have been working and earning, and travel back to their mother land to celebrate. They remember their ancestors by performing sacrifices. They have a local brew called mbege, their traditional foods include kiumbo which they cook using banana and beans, ngande, shiro, and kishumba.

Interactions with the Pare and the outside world

A Chaggan cave (modified) to hide during tribal wars

The Pare had been the chief suppliers of iron to the inhabitants of the mountain regions of north-eastern Tanzania. The demand for Pare iron, increased from the beginning of the nineteenth century. The cause of the increase was the military rivalry among the rulers of the Chagga. It is likely that there was a connection between this rivalry and the development of long distance trade from the coast to the interior of the Pangani River basin, suggesting that the Chagga made contacts with the coast may have dated to about the end of the eighteenth century. The rivalry among Chagga rulers was probably the result of competition among them for the control of the trade with people from the coast. Raids and counter raids characterised the Chagga rivalry, as observed and understood by European colonisers. Subsequently there was an increase in demand for Pare iron to forge military weapons to equip the armies of the Chagga rulers.

Early religion

In religion a thoroughgoing syncretism took place. The importance of ancestors, a Niger–Congo feature, was strongly maintained by the chagga to this day, they had an idea of Divinity, identified with the majestic sun as life giving, a faith also seen in the Rift Southern Cushitic version of the Sudanic religion, with the creator god concept of the Niger–Congo belief. Later on they became victims of forced Christianity and Islam that destroyed their religious system. The name of the chief Chaga deity is Ruwa and it highly likely that this name was taken from earlier Cushitic settlers on Kilimanjaro since Loa (pronounced almost the same as Ruwa) is the deity of the Cushitic Mbulu. Loa is a female noun. Chaga, a Bantu language, does not have male and female nouns (The Wangassa Chagga of Usseri Rombo do however speak a Nilotic dialect of Maa, related to Maasai).


Chagga suprime council during Colonial Era

Chieftain in chaga appears to be very specific with no influence from early ancestors according to western observations done in the 19th century. In the nearby south Pare Mountains, the old clan chiefship of the Mashariki Bantu world, continued to be the ritual center of life among the early Asu and remained so, in fact, down through the nineteenth century. But among the ancentral chaga of North Pare and among their descendants who settled around Mount Kilimanajro, a new kind of chiefship, Mangi, probably originally meaning "the arranger, planner" came into being not much before 1000 AD.

Politics and Mangi rule

The Mangi are great chiefs that govern largely clan-based states. The great Mangis controlled chaga affairs even during the oppressive and depressing colonial times, even though some ethnic groups did not have such control. It was also during this time that the Chagga held an election in 1952 to elect Mangi Mkuu, (Chief of all Chieftains)' to look after their affairs and speak on behalf of the chagga people. Thomas Marealle of Marangu, and divisional chiefs M.H. Abdiel Shangali of Hai and John Ndaskoi Maruma of Rombo contested in the election, which saw Thomas Marealle being elected to the post. Another divisional chief Petro Itosi Marealle of Vunjo withdrew from the election. Mangi Mkuu Consolidated power from the other three Chagga divisional Chieftains thus making the Chagga more powerful and in control of their affairs during harsh Colonial times. His capital was in the great town of Marangu. The Practice of Mangi Mkuu led to their sad downfall during the struggle for independence. One might have expected that the most progressive local governments in the country at that time, would have continued to support the national movement now that its aims were becoming realities, and that Mangi Mkuu would have played a leading part. The opposite was the case. Local rivalries determined the issue, thanks largely to colonial mentality. And it was the chagga critics of Mangi Mkuu who ranged themselves behind the Tanganyika African National Union TANU. Significantly enough, Kilimanjaro was the last place in Tanganyika to be won by TANU, and the price of victory was the downfall of the great Mangi Mkuu.

Mangi Sina of Kibosho

In the same area, [Kilimanjaro region] and in permanent competition with Mangi Rindi, Mangi Sina had by 1870 developed a great large army and was active in agriculture and cattle raids. He was still in control of his empire at the unfortunate arrival of the Germans in 1891, which broke down most of Chagga lifestyle through "colonisation".

When Wissmann's column [A German General's Army Expedition] reached Kilimanjaro it entered an even more complicated web of intrigue. Rindi of Moshi had welcome his first German visitors and even sent emissaries to Berlin in 1889 to present a huge elephant tusk to the Kaiser. Appropriate presents [i.e. arms] were returned ... Rindi needed the cannon. Sina of Kibosho had defeated him a few months earlier. Both were fighting to install their candidates in the Machame chiefdom. The first German embassy reached Sina in August 1890: 'I hear that Sin is troubling Ngameni [In Machame] and sending his warriors against him ... What business have Kibosho's warriors in Machame?' 'Ngameni has attacked me. I am defending myself.' 'But Ngameni is now my friend.' 'If Ngameni is your friend', Sina replied, 'Shangali is mine' ... A month later Sina attacked Ngameni again. Inflamed by Rindi, German relations with Sina deteriorated until his destruction was the main object of Wissmann's expedition. With some 300 soldiers and 400 auxiliaries provided by Rindi, Wissmann entered Kibosho on 12 February 1891 ... He shelled and stormed it [i.e. Sina's stone fort], losing control of his troops, who slaughtered every living thing inside. Sina escaped and harried the German withdrawal ... Threatened with deposition, Sina submitted. He saved his throne, other Chagga chiefs hurriedly declared loyalty, Rindi gained several thousand cattle, and Sina killed every man in Kibosho who had hesitated to support him. 'In my twelve years' experience in Africa', Wissmann concluded, 'never have I met negroes [sic] so brave as Sina's men ... Rindi's death in November 1891 opened the way for a new German ally, Marealle ('the Indefatigable') of Marangu, the most brilliant of all the chiefs who manipulated the Germans, Marealle was Sina's nominee for the Marangu chieftainship and a pawn in the struggle between Kibosho and Moshi until, appreciating European power, he befriended European travellers and joined Wissmann's expedition against Sina ... Early in 1892 an askari was killed in a private quarrel in a chiefdom subordinate to Meli of Moshi, Rindi's young son. Probably incited by Marealle, the German commander panicked and marched into Moshi, brushing aside Meli's peace overtures ... While Marealle tried to deceive the other chiefs that German troops still held Marangu, Meli demanded their submission. But the chiefs had no love for Rindi's son [i.e. Meli] and welcomed the Germans who re-occupied Marangu three months later. Sina offered to 'lead Meli to [the Germans] by the hand like a child' if supplied with ammunitition ... Meli negotiated half-heartedly, fearing German revenge and knowing that his people opposed capitulation. In August 1893 the governor led 366 Askaris into Moshi and captured Meli's fortress. He kept his throne but lost the overlordship of Uru to Sina and of Kirua and Kilema to Marealle ... Sina died in 1897, allegedly poisoned on Marealle's orders


Mangi Rindi of the a subgroup of the Chagga was another major chief ruling in the Kilimanjaro region in 1860, making the now, city of Moshi an important base for ivory and game trading with Zanzibar. He manipulated and signed a Treaty with the Germans in 1885 and the city Moshi became their headquarters and most important economic and political centre.

Mangi Mkuu's downfall

Goat barn / kiriwa kya mburu

Mangi Mkuu's downfall was due to two main reasons:

  • First, He lost support among western educated people. When chaga students at Makerere University criticized him in their college magazine, he publicly humbled them when they came home, in an "old" tribal way.[clarification needed] He placed his faith in Petro Njau, the elderly astute party organizer who had put him in. From 1958 Njau set himself the task of enlisting the support of the old conservatives and the clan elders. This was a spurious return to the great tribal past. But Mangi mkuu believed and trusted implicitly in him, and in the exaggerated accounts of popularity which Njau reported.
  • Second, Mangi Mkuu crossed swords with T.A.N.U on his home ground of Kilimanjaro. He still supported the national aims of T.A.N.U for Tanganyika. He continued to support Julius Nyerere personally, as the national leader long after he had begun to deal summarily with local T.A.N.U critics at home, perhaps because these critics did not need to be taken seriously, since they were insignificantly unrepresentative of the people. In 1957-58 the British Administration were belatedly trying to organize a council of Chiefs in Tanganyika as a delaying action against T.A.N.U, Mangi Mkuu wrote the governor asking that Nyerere himself should be invited to address the Chiefs. The request was refused. It was not until 1959, when he was fighting for his political life, that Mangi Mkuu cut across Nyerere personally and cut across the national movement as such. In January 1959, by which time he was sharply on the defensive at home, Mangi Mkuu criticized Nyerere's visit to Moshi to hold an open-air TANU meeting in the town. A few months later he circularized the chiefs on the mountain, threatening to sack them if they supported TANU.


In the local field of Chaga politics, however the break came earlier. It did not come from TANU branches as such which, though they had started in 1955 on the mountain, had made little headway among the people. It came from Machame, from the chiefly rival whom Mangi Mkuu had supplanted in 1951. Chief Abdieli Shangali threw the weight of his authority behind his son-in-law, Solomon Eliufoo, and this was the decisive factor. Eliufoo, a commoner from one of the oldest clans in Machame, and a Lutheran-trained teacher, was abroad in the United States and Great Britain from 1953 to 1956. In 1957 he returned as a teacher and joined the TANU branch in Machame. In 1958 he entered politics; he became a nominated member of the Chagga Council, being nominated by Hai divisional council of which his father-in-law, Chief Abdieli Shangali was chairman. The same year he was elected member of the legislative council in Dar-Es-Salaam on the TANU ticket. From 1958 onwards he was engaged in central politics becoming Minister of Health from 1959 to 1960, and in 1962 Minister of Education, a post which he held up to 1967. At the local level, he organised and led opposition to the Mangi Mkuu and by 1959 he called for the resignation or abdication of the Mangi Mkuu and the democratization for the local governments, forming a new party called Chaga Democratic Party

Chagga Democratic Party

Towards the end of 1959 the opposition of the Chaga Democratic party forced a deadlock in the Chaga Council. A vote was taken in the council as to whether a referendum should be held on Kilimanjaro to decide whether the Chaga wanted a Paramount Chief for life or a periodically elected president. The Vote was carried by a narrow majority, and the Mangi mkuu was abolished. After independence, through Nyerere's socialism and integration policies, the rule of Chiefs, was diminished.

Daily life and culture

Mbege a traditional chagga brew

Since fish are absent from most of the streams of their areas, like the Taita, fish were seen as unfit to eat, and of them were seen having same nature as serpents, who are considered bad in Chagga culture. The Chagga people bred fowls in large number, to sell to the passing caravans of traders from the East coast, for they themselves abjured poultry as food, it was as seen as unwholesome and unmanly for obvious reasons, like the tenderness of its flesh. Their most prized domestic animals are the oxen, the goat and the sheep the dog however, is used to help guard compounds from intruders at night. The oxen are still highly valued. They belong to the humped Zebu breed prevalent throughout East Africa since the days of Ancient Egyptians. The goats are small and handsome with small horns. Milk is an essential part of Chagga diet. The chagga diet is predominantly meat, but the main diet is vegetables. Among the plants grown for food are maize, sweet potatoes, yams, arums, beans, peas, red millet and bananas. The chagga brew a delicious drink called Mbege, which is made of millet and bananas and left to ferment for 10 days prior to festivities.

Cultural heritage

Traditional Chagga instruments include wooden flutes, bells, and drums. Dancing and singing are part of almost every celebration. With exposure to other ethnic groups and Western culture, the Chagga have shown a liking for various types of music. These include Swahili songs produced by various Tanzanian bands, and West and Central African music and dance forms. Reggae, pop, and rap are popular with the youth.

The Chagga have rich oral traditions and have managed to record most of their history.[quantify] They have many legends and songs. Proverbs are used to guide youth and convey wisdom.


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 humankind, but rather as a liberator and provider of sustenance. He is known for his mercy and tolerance when sought by his people. Some Chagga myths concerning Ruwa resemble biblical stories of the Old Testament.

In the past, chiefdoms had chiefs who rose to power through war and trading. Some famous past chiefs include Orombo from Kishigonyi, Sina of Kibosho, and Marealle of Marangu.


Traditionally, Chagga work has been centered on the farm and is divided by gender. 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 the homestead and stalls. Women are also in charge of trading in the marketplace.

Many Chagga young people work as clerks, teachers, and administrators, and many engage in small-scale business activities. Women in rural areas are also generating income through activities such as crafts and tailoring. The Chagga are known for their sense of enterprise and strong work ethic.


The staple food of the Chagga people is bananas. Bananas are also used to make beer, their main beverage. The Chagga plant a variety of food crops, including bananas, millet, maize (corn), beans, and cassava. They also keep cattle, 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 eat a diet of milk, sweet potatoes, fat, yams, and butter; these are considered female foods. Bananas and beer are considered male and are not to be eaten by pregnant women.

Chagga Cuisine has an immense range of dishes, among them are as following:

Various Chagga Dishes
  • Mtori
  • Kitawa
  • Macharali
  • Ng'ande
  • Kiumbo
  • Ngararimo
  • Shiro
  • Ndafu

Modern history

The current Chagga population is estimated at about 2 million. They once used to live under the rule of the Mangi Mkuu, even though they are not as organised as they used to be, and the Mangi is not involved in the day to day activities and life of the modern chagga. The Mangi's are still respected by the chagga. The Paramount chief (chief of all chiefs) is Mangi Marealle. The chagga are now modern wage earners in large modernised cities or abroad and entrepreneurs in the tourism industry around Kilimanjaro and Arusha areas. The Chagga still try to hold on to some of their traditions like the allocation a kihamba, a plot of land for each family. A kihamba is a Chagga family plot of land, usually passed down from generation to generation. Coffee is the primary cash crop for many Chagga people after its introduction to the area in the late nineteenth century, although bananas and maize are also staples. The Chagga are also famous for a traditional brew known as mbege. It is made from a special variety of bananas and millet.

Notable Chaggans

Business people

  • Reginald Mengi ~ Entrepreneur (IPP)
  • Davies Mosha ~ Entrepreneur (Yanga Vice Chairman)
  • David Mosha ~ Founder and Chairman - Interconsult.
  • Ernest Magavila ~ CFFB
  • Arnold Kilewo ~ TBL
  • Michael Shirima ~ Precision Air (Founder and Owner)
  • Ernest Massawe~ Managing Partner Ernst and Young-Tanzania also Mining Entrepreneur
  • Zadock Koola~ ZEK Group (Advertising, PR and Real Estate company)
  • Wilbard Mtei ~ Mtei Web Factory (Web and Graphics Design company based in South Africa) - CTO and Owner


Academics and writers

  • Prof. Leonard Shayo ~ Mathematician and former presidential candidate.
  • Prof. Ernest Njau - Physicist and weather expert
  • Edwin Mtei ~ Former BOT governor and founder of political party CHADEMA.
  • Eliesh Lema
  • Sandra Mushi
  • Stella Evelyn Tesha


Public services

  • Ludovick Utouh~ Controller and Auditor General
  • Dr. Charles Kimeyi~ Managing Director CRDB
  • Harry Kitillya~ Commissional General TRA


  • Ananilea Nkya ~ Activist TAMWA
  • Anna Mkapa ~ First Lady of Tanzania, 1995–2005; Chairperson EOTF.

See also


  • Ehret, Christopher (2002). The Civilizations of Africa. University of Virginia Press. ISBN 0-8139-2085-X. 
  • Gray, R (1975). The Cambridge History of Africa. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-20413-5. 
  • Fasi, M El (1992). Africa from the Seventh to the Eleventh Century. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-06698-7. 
  • Johnson, H.H (1886). "Copyright: Tubner & Co". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland XV: 12–14. 
  • Yakan, Mohamad A (1999). Almanac of African Peoples & Nations. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000-433-9. 
  • P. H. Gulliver (1969). Tradition and Transition in East Africa: Studies of the Tribal Element in the Modern Era. University of California Berkeley. 

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Chaga languages — Chaga Ethnicity: Chaga people Geographic distribution: West Africa Linguistic classification: Niger–Congo Atlantic–Congo Benue–Congo …   Wikipedia

  • Chaga language — Kichagga (kichaga) is one of the Bantu languages spoken by the Chaga people of Tanzania, South of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is one of a group of closely related languages spoken in that area. Kichaga has various dialects including Vunjo, Rombo,… …   Wikipedia

  • Chaga — ethnic group group=Chagga poptime=2,000,000 popplace=Tanzania rels=Christian, Islam, indigenous beliefs langs=Chagga related=OngamoThe Chaga (also called Wachaga, Chagga, Jagga, Dschagga, Waschagga, or Wachagga) are Bantu speaking indigenous… …   Wikipedia

  • Chaga — /chah geuh/, n., pl. Chagas, (esp. collectively) Chaga for 1. 1. a member of a Bantu people of northern Tanzania. 2. the Bantu language spoken by the Chaga. Also, chagga. * * * ▪ people also spelled  Chagga        Bantu speaking people living on… …   Universalium

  • Chaga (peuple) — Chagas (peuple) Chagas Populations significatives par régions  Tanzanie …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Chaga — noun a Bantu language spoken by the Chaga in northern Tanzania • Syn: ↑Kichaga, ↑Chagga • Hypernyms: ↑Bantu, ↑Bantoid language * * * /chah geuh/, n., pl. Chagas, (esp. collectively) Chaga for 1. 1. a member of a Bantu people of northern Tan …   Useful english dictionary

  • Nyakyusa people — The Nyakyusa (also called the Sokile, Ngonde or Nkonde) are an African ethnic and linguistic group who live in the fertile mountains of southern Tanzania and northern Malawi former German East Africa. They speak the Nyakyusa language, a member of …   Wikipedia

  • Inonotus obliquus — Scientific classification Kingdom: Fungi Division …   Wikipedia

  • Moshi language — Moshi Old Moshi Spoken in Tanzania Region Moshi Ethnicity Chaga people Native speakers …   Wikipedia

  • Mazomba — is a giant fish in the mythology of the Chaga people of Tanzania.[1] It is also the name of a crater on Triton, a moon of Neptune.[2] References ^ The Mythology of All Races (13 vols.), edited by John Arnott MacCulloch and George Foot Moore;… …   Wikipedia