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Kilimanjaro Region: the Maasai and Chagga Tribes

There are two major tribes in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania: the Maasai and the Chagga. Although, the tribes were all united in the mid 1960s when Tanzania became one country, the history and tradition of these two once at war tribes are still discussed today.

The Maasai reside in the lower lands of the Kilimanjaro region and produce livestock: cows, goats, etc. The Chagga people reside in the highlands of the mountain and produce agricultural goods due to the constant moist climate. In the early 1800s the Kilimanjaro region underwent an intense drought, causing the Maasai to move into the highland region and try to overtake the resource rich lands of the Chagga, which due to the mountain climate was not impacted by the drought. The Maasai went into households of the Chagga, disfiguring the Chagga men by breaking their bones and castrating them, and leaving them in the homes to physiologically damage the families. Additionally, the Chagga women were brought to the lower lands and raped by very large men, ensuring a strong, large children (genetic engineering) which would be used as a slaves to work the Maasai lands. After being raped for 4 years and producing 3-4 children, the Chagga women would be murdered, ensuring that the young children did not have a mother to teach them about the Chagga people. By not being educated by a mother, the children, who were used as slaves, wouldn’t question the Maasai’s authority because they didn’t know better.
To stay safe from the Maasai, the Chagga people went underground. The Chagga people built entire homes underground and navigated them through tunnel systems, even the livestock were underground. Whenever the Maasai would enter the highlands, the Chunga people would sound horns and everyone would move underground. The livestock were fed volcanic ash which would make the livestock very thirsty; after filling up on water the livestock would fall asleep, ensuring that their sounds would not alert the Maasai of the Chagga’s whereabouts. During the approximate 200 year period in which the Chagga people lived underground due to threats from the Maasai, the 300 Chaggas who lived underground were able to kill about 3,000- 5,000 Maasai who tried to penetrate their underground home system.
How did they do this when they were clearly outnumbered?
The Chagga people had warriors/ guards to keep them safe from the Maasai, and for every Maasai that entered the caves, not one resurfaced. In order to be a tunnel guard for the Chagga, the guard has to be fluent in the Maasai language. When a group of Maasai warriors would travel down the tunnel with a lit torch (which gave them away because the Chagga did not use torches in the tunnels) three Chagga guards would be hiding in a corner (pictured) and knock the torch carrier on the head with a big stick, often killing him. The two other guards would then jump down from the ledge and tell the other Maasai (in their language) that they have to be careful and that the tunnels go very low; if they aren’t careful they will end up like the torch carrier and knock themselves out. The others would duck low, allowing the ‘basher’ to hit them all on the head with a club when passing by. Every time one was hit, there would be one loud cry, in which the Chagga guards who spoke the Maasai language, would confuse the Maasai and say that they must duck lower or they will end up the same as the guy that just hit his head on the top of the tunnel. After killing the Maasai warriors, the Chaggas would dispose of the Maasai warriors by cutting them up in little pieces and disposing of them in the river, always making it seem like the Maasai just vanished when entering the Chagga caves.
During one large attack the Maasai tried to use chemical warfare to kill the Chagga people in the cave. Using a combination of toxic chili and tobacco the Maasai lit the lethal combination at the entrance of the tunnels and smoked the caves out for a week. The Chagga people moved quickly, using cow hide to block the tunnel entrances and limiting the chemicals from entering the homes; the Chagga also had ventilation holes which removed any smoke that got through. Once the Maasai thought the Chagga people had died, the Maasai entered the tunnels, only to killed by the Chagga guards/warriors.
Nowadays the two tribes live in peace with one another; largely due to the unification of Tanzania in the 1960s. However, even with reunification, the caves (that still exist today) are a long standing reminder of the tribal background of history of Tanzania.
Pictured below is where the Chagga guards use to hide, waiting for the Maasai warriors.
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Entering the tunnels.
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Female Genital Mutilation An Ongoing Problem

Tanzania is made up of around 120 tribes, several of which still practice female genital mutilation (FGM). Where I am located, in the Kilimanjaro region, 16 tribes practice level 1 and 2 of FGM, which include cutting parts (level 1) or the whole (level 2) clitoris of a woman. May people ask why? It primarily comes down to culture and tradition, and a lack of proper education on the topic. Although, things are starting to change in Tanzania, there is still an emphasis of being a virgin when married, and parents go to great extents to ensure their daughters are virgins when married; this includes limiting or stopping the female sex drive or having sex for pleasure, which is why the clitoris is cut or removed. The older folk tails stem from more elaborate stories, for example that female clitoris is incredibly powerful and can kill a man during sex.

Currently the FGM rate in the Kilimanjaro region is 21.5 percent, only have decreased 14.5 percent over the past 22 years. With UNICEF making a huge push to end FGM, more non-profits are working to educate young girls on what FGM is. Currently, FGM is illegal in Tanzania and someone who cuts a young woman can face up to 10 years in prison. However, very few young girls are willing to step forward and say they have been mutilated since it could result in their parents going to jail. So one turns to educating young women or the ‘next generation’ on what FGM is.

When asked, several young girls under the age of 12 note that FGM is a great honor; it’s when a girl becomes a woman. When a girl is mutilated in a tribe, it is a day of great celebration and several young girls will note that when their time comes several cows and goats will be killed in their honor and the girls will be able to not work as hard since they will be a woman. Additionally, several tribes like the Maasai will have young girls change the color of their tribal clothes, adding a blue stripe to the traditional red clothing, to note they have gone through this honorary event.

Several non-profits have been working in the region to educate women on this old tradition and to inform them of the risks of being mutilated. However, a non-profit aide worker noted that several girls who have been mutilated will be angry when they show up at the schools to educate, because they are turning something they viewed to be positive into something negative. It is also something that is rarely spoken about, so the older girls who have been mutilated are angry that the younger girls are being taught about what FGM is because the mutilated girls are embarrassed that they were mutilated. After educating the young girls, and showing them an incredibly graphic video of a FGM procedure, non-profits offer the girls a safe haven if they are facing mutilation. Currently the safe haven in the Kilimanjaro region houses 30 girls who are at risk of being mutilated at home. When a girl goes to the safe haven, the non-profits goal is the work with the parents to educate them of the risks of FGM. Additionally, the non-profits work with local law enforcement explaining the procedure is illegal. After family counseling, most girls are safely returned to their homes.

So what are the risks of FGM? There are immediate risks during the procedure, like a 9 month year old girl who bled to death when being mutilated at home with a razor by her 16 year old mother, and there are long term risks. The long term risks include improper scaring which can cause a women to lose bladder control or bleed out while giving birth. Additionally, sex becomes very painful and is only done to reproduce, causing women to be depressed and fearful when their husbands want sex. Lastly, many women will be put on special diets during pregnancy to produce a very small baby, limiting the risks of tearing the scare tissue from FGM and bleeding to death while giving birth. Many pregnant mothers are assigned an older woman to monitor and limit her food intake, to ensure a small baby. This leads to premature and at high risk births, which adds to the continued high rate of infant mortality within Tanzania.

How can you help? Several non-profits view education to be the key to stopping this incredibly dangerous tradition. Non-profits also empower women by teaching them job skill sets and giving them jobs (ex. soap making); limiting a women’s need to rely on her husband. The goods that are produced by these women can be bought online or people can donate directly to non-profits who are working to eliminate FGM. Additionally, USAID plays a huge role in helping women who have been mutilated, paying (transport, accommodations, and the surgery) for women to undergo reconstructive surgery; allowing women to regain bladder control and limiting the risks of pregnancy and births.

Pictured is a traditional mutilation kit. With this practice now being illegal in Tanzania, people now use razor blades to mutilate young girls. With this ‘tradition’ also come the risk of spreading HIV/AIDS.

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