The Washambaa Tribe

The Washambaa Tribe

Going from Arusha to the city of Tanga, it’s impossible not to notice the Usambara mountains. They line the road and are impressive. This is a very fertile region, with lush vegetation and interesting little corners, like the small town of Lushoto, an enchanting place immersed in the mountains and with a very fresh climate.

The Washambaa Tribe

Material for making bags and other house items

Almost all the population of this place belongs to the Washambaa tribe, whose name comes from the name Usambara.

The meaning of this word is ‘disseminated’, so I guess it’s related both to the environment and the people living in it. The Kishambaa is the spoken language, a bantu language.

This is a very old tribe: the climax of its extension can be placed between the 17th and the 18th Centuries, under the rule of the Kilindi dynasty.

Mbegha, a mythical character, seems to be the founder of this dynasty.

But then, as often occurs, things started to go wrong. During the second half of the 19th Century, a series of events led to the end of this kingdom, among which slave trading. This weakness helped the Germans to take control and to establish a colonial government. The dynasty continuted to exist, even if powerless. The last descendant, he last ‘king’, died in 2000 and definitively closed this page of history.

During the German period, Tanzania was called Tanganyika and this name comes two Kishambaa words: Tanga (farming) and Nyika (wilderness). They refer to the kind of land and to the use Tanzanians make of it.

The Washambaa’s social life is centered on marriage.

It represents respect of the tribe’s traditions which the bride and groom are required to follow. One of the rules for proceeding to the marriage is that the young man asks his parents in order to obtain a sort of permission. The two worst and very discouraged flaws are laziness and selfishness.

The typical Shambaa house is round shaped and it has three rooms: the sitting room, the bedroom and the kitchen. It’s not rare that the Washambaa keep cattle inside.

When a new house is built, the whole community participates.

While women fetch water and food, men do the construction work.

The education of young people, including the initiation ceremonies, is entrusted to the elderly.

The place in which they are settled, Lushoto District, will be the topic of the next article.