Wednesday 24 August 2022

#072 The Great Bantu Migration - Part 3 (The Chagga of Kilimanjaro)

As Bantu communities became adapted to specific environments, so interactions with more distant communities grew less and their languages and material cultures diverged.

Photo: Stu Westfield

By the middle of the first millennium BC, Bantu & Iron culture had infiltrated into the Kilimanjaro and North Pare region in north east Tanzania and southern Kenya. Probably assimilating the pre-existing coastal fisher-pastoralist population. As the eastern Bantu became acquainted with coastal and open water navigation they continued south and then into the hinterland of Dar es Salaam. 

Later chief Meli as a boy standing next to Dr. Hans Meyer visiting
the Meli family before his Kilimanjaro ascent - wiki commons

The East African coastal areas were avoided by Cushtic and Nilotic cattle herders due to tsetse fly and the mangrove swamps. As with elsewhere, the Bantu in this region found geographic niches which were unattractive to others or there was little resistance to intrusion. As we learned in Part 2, the indigenous hunter gatherers were at a distinct disadvantage in competition for resources with the incoming food producers.

North Pare mountains
Credit: C rocca854 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

By the 11th Century, the Bantu language had differentiated into distinctive dialects, including proto Taita-Chagga spoken by the creators of Maore ware in North Pare, Kilimanjaro and Taita. The inhabitants of North Pare subsequently developed into the proto-Chagga. The descendants of whom would become the focal point of social and economic reorganisation of the Kilimanjaro region in later centuries. 

Chagga Expansion 

The typical Bantu social organisation was a clan headed by a hereditary clan chief. The proto-Chagga evolved a new kind of position where the chief was not tied to a single clan but ruled over a territory inhabited by different clan affiliations. This development coincided with a the introduction of the Indonesian banana to highland agriculture, yielding a production advantage. Which set off the Chagga expansion into the heavily forested eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and beyond.

The surplus crops led to the creation of formal markets. Pastoralists brought hides and the few remaining hunter-gatherers contributed to the trade with honey and wild animal skins. The Wageno tribe of the north Pare became tied to this trade in their role as specialist smelters of iron and tool makers.

16th to 18th Century

From 1500 the emergence of chieftaincies and structured political organisations led to a trend towards a tributary mode of production. The distinct ethnic groups which we know today evolved, linguistically and culturally, in the interior of Kenya and Tanzania.  

Salt from Lake Eyasi and iron were important trade items in central Tanzania. In the late 1700's the Mamba chiefdom became the iron working centre for the Kilimanjaro region. From the road that wound its way around the slopes of Kilimanjaro, the Ngaseni traded huge beer pots.   

The Chagga were still relatively isolated from the coast. Meanwhile the Swahili City States had risen under the rule of Arabian, Egyptian and Perisan traders with a network that extended as far as India and China. There is no record of Arab or Swahili penetration of the interior before 1700 and there is no significant collection of imported objects yet found at any interior site. 

It was the Miji-Kenda and then the Akamba caravans which supplied many of the coastal settlements with products from the interior such as ivory, gum, honey, beeswax, grain, foodstuffs and wood for building dhows. In return for exchanging goods from the interior, the Miji-Kenda (who themselves were largely cultivators of millet, rice and fruits) obtained salt, beads, cloth and importantly, iron.

Tanzania, modern composition.

19th Century and Kilimanjaro

The German missionaries Johannes Rebmann of Mombasa and Johann Krapf were the first Europeans known to have attempted to reach the Kilimanjaro. Although initially, reports of a glaciated peak on the Equator were dismissed as preposterous.

This morning, at 10 o'clock, we obtained a clearer view of the mountains of Jagga, the summit of one of which was covered by what looked like a beautiful white cloud. When I inquired as to the dazzling whiteness, the guide merely called it 'cold' and at once I knew it could be neither more nor less than snow.... Immediately I understood how to interpret the marvelous tales Dr. Krapf and I had heard at the coast, of a vast mountain of gold and silver in the far interior, the approach to which was guarded by evil spirits. - Johannes Rebmann's diary entry of 11 May 1848

Photo: Stu Westfield

Interestingly, by this time, Rebmann found the people in the Kilimanjaro region to be 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 and with the Kamba, Maasai and Pare in the immediate surrounding area as well as with coastal caravans. Many chiefdoms had several produce markets largely run by women, just as they are today.

The Wachagga Today

Today's Chagga are the third largest ethnic group in Tanzania. Their relative economic wealth still derives from the fertile volcanic soils of Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru along with successful traditional methods of agricultural terracing and irrigation. Banana, yams, beans and maize are grown for domestic consumption and local trade. But also, the area is internationally famed for its high quality Kilimanjaro single origin Arabica bean coffee. 

The famous Kilimanjaro Native Co-Operative Union Cafe in Moshi

Despite oppression during colonial rule, Chagga men and women have rebounded within an independent Tanzania as prominent contenders in modern politics and local government. Many young Chagga work as clerks, teachers, administrators, and run businesses. Women in rural areas are also generating income through activities such as crafts and tailoring. The Chagga are renowned for their sense of enterprise and strong work ethic. Which is no doubt why many also find employment as professional guides and porters on Kilimanjaro.

Assistant Guide, Richard, sporting
a bold line in Kili mountain fashion

Climbing Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro was first summited on 6th October1889 by Hans Meyer, and Austrian climber Ludwig Purtscheller with a local guide, Yohani Kinyala Lauwo. Although, we cannot be certain that an African was not there first, as local folklore warned people from ascending too high. On the mountain lived malevolent spirits that would kill those who came too close, twisting and blackening their limbs. Stories which sound like they were describing frostbite.

Head Guide, Sabas

For my second time on Kilimanjaro, our local Chagga guide was Sabas. Named after the Swahili word saba, as he was the seventh child in his family. Our route was one which allowed for the best acclimatisation, ascending through the Lemosho Glades, then onto the Shira Plateau. Working our way around the west flanks, over the Barranco Wall then establishing at Barafu Camp before the summit bid up the screes to Stella Point and then a short hike around the crater rim to Uhuru Peak

It was on this trip that I met Simon Mtuy, in a vignette that plays back in my mind like the opening sequence of David Lean's 1962 film Lawrence Of Arabia.

I awoke as the thin rays of dawn illuminated the canvas of my tent. It was early and the air was still cold, but there was no hurry, breakfast was not for another half hour. My breath condensed to vapour as I pulled on my boots, unfolding myself as I emerged, in search of coffee. In the clear skies above, the sun was just starting to warm the air, slowly encroaching on the remaining frost laying in the shadows on the ground. Looking across the Shira Plateau, emerging through the shimmering heat haze, a figure, running towards camp. A local guy, had to be, top off, tracksuit bottoms and trainers. I stood in awe at his athleticism, at 3500 metres above sea level. He closes the distance, smiles, we greet. A brief "habari za asubuhi," and "nzuri sana." He stopped at the collection of tents behind ours, where his group had camped. It was later in the day, while taking a rest near Cathedral Point that we met again. Sabas seemed to know him quite well and understandably, he was a bit more talkative. Sabas introduced us to Simon Mtuy, who at the time, held the record for the fastest ascent of Kilimanjaro....

Tanzania, the people, mountains, wildlife and experiences has given me so many cherished and happy memories. There seems no better way than to conclude this story than with the following words:

Stu Westfield
Ranger Expeditions


UNSECO General History Of Africa Vol III
Ch 22: The East African Interior. C. Ehret, University of California, Los Angeles

UNSECO General History Of Africa Vol IV
Ch 19: Between the Coast and The Great Lakes. C. Ehret, University of California, Los Angeles

UNESCO General History Of Africa Vol V
Ch 27: The interior of East Africa: The peoples of Kenya and Tanzania 1500-1800 W.R. Ochieng, senior lecturer, Moi University, Eldoret, Kenya.

Kilimanjaro To The Roof Of Africa. Audrey Salkeld pub National Geographic 2002

Friday 19 August 2022

#071 The Great Bantu Migration - Part 2 (The Hadzabe Hunter Gatherers)

The Bantu migration

In part 1 we saw how the discovery of iron facilitated more efficient agriculture production in Bantu tribes, driving population growth and cultural expansion across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa between circa 2500BC to 1000AD. Next we'll look at the how the story developed in East Africa, when the Bantu arrived around 500BC. 

Credit: Woodlouse, CC BY-SA 2.0
<>, via Wikimedia Commons

Before the Bautu, northern Uganda, Kenya and north central Tanzania had long been occupied by a range of distinct populations with Kushtic and Nilotic origins in their language. These were typically nomadic pastoralists from the north and Horn of Africa. They continued to establish themselves in areas unsuited to agriculture during the African iron age.

Bantu and Nilotic migrations into Uganda

Hadza hunter gatherers

But before the pastoralists, groups of hunter gatherers had lived in the region since ancient times. Among these were the Hadza, who still live on the shores of Lake Eyasi in northern Tanzania. As descendants of Tanzania's aboriginal, pre-Bantu expansion hunter-gatherer population, the Hadza have probably occupied their current territory for many thousands of years, with relatively little modification to their basic way of life until the past hundred years.

The Hazda people are the last full-time hunter-gatherers in Africa, they number around 1000 tribe members. Their language is one of only three East African languages with clicks. On first impression, the language sounds like the southern African Khosian click languages, spoken by the San for example. But links are tenuous at best and any commonalities in solitary consonant-vowel syllables are probably coincidental. The Hadza have has acquired some regional vocabularies in their language, particularly Bantu loan words. 

Credit: The Dorobo Fund

There are physical similarities to the San and Khoi Khoi inhabiting the Kalahari. But genetic studies show that the Hadza are not closely related to any other people. Archaeological evidence suggests the Lake Eyasi region has been continuously occupied by hunter gatherers much like the Hadza since at least the beginning of the Later Stone Age, 50,000 years ago. This is supported by their oral history in which there is no suggestion they moved to Hadzaland from elsewhere. 

Perhaps the environmental factors that select for successful plains-savanna hunter-gatherers gave rise to a common physical appearance that can now only be seen in remote groups like the Hazda and San. Now separated by the successful expansion of other peoples.

The Hadza's own oral history gives us a clue as to early interactions with the incoming Bantu tribes.

The third epoch was inhabited by the people of hamakwanebee "recent days", who were smaller than their predecessors. They invented bows and arrows, and containers for cooking, and mastered the use of fire. They also built huts like those of Hadza today. The people of hamakwanebee were the first of the Hadza ancestors to have contact with non-foraging people, with whom they traded for iron to make knives and arrowheads.

The expansions of farming and herding peoples displaced earlier populations of hunter-gatherers, who would have generally been at a demographic and technological disadvantage, and vulnerable to the loss of environment resources (i.e., foraging areas and habitats for game) as a result of the spread of farmland and pastures.

Credit: BrixL, CC BY-SA 4.0
<>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Hadza under pressure

So how did the Hadza survive, while many other indigenous tribes did not? Essentially their territory was among the least desirable to either the agriculturalists or the pastoralists, especially due to the presence of tsetse fly. However, Africa's population had grown enormously in the past fifty years, putting renewed pressure on the remaining wild and unexploited lands.

The following map of Northern Tanzania illustrates the marginal nature of the remaining Hadza lands.

Remaining Hadza territory (detail, shown in yellow, area number 3)
Credit: Communal CCRO's in Northern Tanzania - Ujamaa Community Resource Team

'Within the last fifty years the Hadza have lost as much as 90 percent of their ancestral lands due to encroachment by neighboring peoples who themselves are caught in a cycle of population growth, poverty, and land pressure.' - June 2018

The western Hadza lands are now a private hunting reserve and the Hadza are officially restricted to a reservation within the reserve and prohibited from hunting there. The Yaeda Valley, long uninhabited due to the tsetse fly, is now occupied by Datooga herders, who are clearing the Hadza lands on either side of the now fully settled valley for pasture for their goats and cattle. The Datooga hunt out the game. Their land clearing destroys the berries, tubers and honey that the Hadza rely on. Along with watering holes for their cattle causing the shallow watering holes the Hadza use to dry up. Most Hadzabe are no longer able to sustain themselves in the bush without supplementary food such as ugali.

In common with other with indigenous peoples, the Hadza have not fared well in political representation of their rights and territory. Misconceptions and prejudice that the Hadza were backwards and without a real language, started by agro-pastoralists, was passed onto the colonialists and perpetuate to this day.

The British colonial government tried to make the Hadza settle down and adopt farming in 1927, the first of many government attempts to do so. The British tried again in 1939, as did the independent Tanzanian government in 1965 and 1990, and various foreign missionary groups since the 1960s. Despite numerous attempts, some forceful, all have largely failed.

Where attempts have been made to incentivise the Hadza with money, this has contributed to alcoholism and deaths from alcohol poisoning have recently become a severe problem, further contributing to the loss of cultural knowledge.

Members of the Hadza Tribe. Credit: Jeff Leach. Pub: BBC

Why are the Hadza still important in a increasingly globalised world? 

For thousands of years savannah hunter gatherers have maintained economic stability and cultural sophistication. Their way of life is in fact perfectly adapted and sustainable for their environment. Not a claim that can be made by the vast majority of the world's population. No amount of recycling, bamboo toothbrushes or green-wash tinkering will come close to us achieving the minimal environmental impact of the Hadza.

Am I saying that we should all go back to living a hunter-gatherers? No, of course not. Even if there was the desire to, there simply is not enough land to sustain the global population in that way. While the idea of living more connectedly with nature is a good thing and should be encouraged, I doubt many of us would go as far as eschewing the benefits of modern medicine, centrally heated homes, or other daily conveniences. Nor would many people have the will to gather plants, or the stomach to go out and kill and gut their dinner.

Baobob fruit. Photo: Stu Westfield

What is remarkable, is that the Hadza do not suffer any of the chronic diseases associated with developed countries. They don't get fat, develop heart disease or diabetes. Cancer is rare. 

In 2019, Professor of Epidemiology, Tim Spector and Research Fellow, Jeff Leach spent three days living with the Hadza to measure how their environment and more directly their diet, influenced diversity within the human digestive biome. The theory was that a healthy biome has far reaching benefits to physical and mental well being. The results are astonishing!

Tim Spector & Jeff Leach: Three days with the Hadza

"High gut biome diversity is associated with a low risk of obesity and many diseases. The Hadza have a diversity that is one of the richest on the planet." - Tim Spector (Professor of Genetic Epidemiology, King's College London)

If after reading this, you're interested in the potential to avoid obesity and other chronic diseases, the  following Royal Institution lecture could well be a most useful 35 minutes.

A future for the Hadza?

In the times we now live, we could easily see the last of the few remaining hunter gatherer populations fade away within the next two or three generations. The factors driving the current sixth great extinction event (the Anthropocene) in the animal and plant kingdoms are also affecting the most vulnerable human tribes and cultures. To lose these people would be a unmitigated tragedy. Not only for the hunter gatherers themselves, but it reflects upon the wider global community in a deeply troubling way. 

But there is hope with organisations such as the Dorobo Fund representing the Hadza and campaigning for protection of their remaining land in today's Tanzania.

We are not trying to keep the Hadza as they are, but rather give them options and dignity as they interact with and confront a changing world. And the foundation for that is and always has been land – if they have land, those who wish have the option to continue traditional foraging and all of them have land as a fallback option for survival no matter what pursuit they have followed. - 2019

If commodification is all that wealthy and powerful people are capable of understanding in order to do the right thing. Then Tim Spector & Jeff Leach's study fully justifies the Hadzas' place, in the potential to save pretty much the rest of the world's people from chronic disease caused by modern foodstuffs. 

What most decent people will also realise is that in 50,000 years the Hadza have done no lasting harm to their homeland. So why should anyone else have the right to dictate how they should live?

Stu Westfield
Ranger Expeditions
August 2022


UNSECO General History Of Africa Vol 2
Ch 21: M. Posansky, historian and archaeologist
Ch 22: A.M.H. Sheriff, Lecturer, University Dar-es-Salaam

UNSECO General History Of Africa Vol 3
Ch 22: C.Ehret, linguist, University of California, Los Angeles

The Dorobo Fund:

Cultural Survival: Securing Hadza Land Titles, Securing Futures in Tanzania. Katrin Redfern. June 2018

The Conversation: I spent three days as a hunter-gatherer to see if it would improve my gut health. Jeff Leach. June 2017 

The Hadza Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania. F W Marlowe. 2010