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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2013

Matthew V. Bender*
The College of New Jersey
Author's email:


This article argues that the emergence of Chagga political identity on Mount Kilimanjaro in the 1940s and 1950s can best be understood as a product of intensive debates over the control of natural resources and the nature of chiefly authority. As a result of perceived threats to the land and water resources of the mountain and resentment of the role of the chiefs in these issues, grassroots activists adopted a language of unity using the ethnic term ‘Chagga’ – a moniker long used by the colonial state but eschewed by the general population. With the rise of a paramount chieftaincy in 1951, the term shifted from being a symbol of colonial rule to one of common identity and resistance against the encroachment of the colonial state in local affairs.

Negotiating Colonial Boundaries and Ethnic Identities
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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I would like to thank Sara Berry, Claire Breedlove, Laura Fair, Pier Larson, and my colleagues and students at The College of New Jersey for their helpful readings of earlier drafts of this article. I also thank staff at the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), the Tanzania National Archives, the National Archives of the UK (formerly Public Record Office), and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library at the United Nations for their assistance with my research. I am also grateful to the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Program, the David Boren Fellowship Program, and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at The College of New Jersey for their generous financial support of this research.


1 A schedule of the events of the day, as well as copies of the speeches, can be found in Whitlamsmith, G. K., Recent Trends in Chagga Political Development (Moshi, Tanganyika, 1955)Google Scholar. Memories of the first Chagga Day celebration come from this work as well as the author's field notes (2004, 2005, and 2008) and an interview with Thomas Marealle by Heckton Chuwa that appeared in a Dar es Salaam newspaper, The Express, in 2004. Chuwa, H., ‘Interview with Thomas Marealle, OBE’, The Express (Dar es Salaam), issue 365 (25 Nov.–1 Dec. 2004)Google Scholar.

2 Sadleir, R., Tanzania: Journey to Republic (London, 1999)Google Scholar.

3 ‘Chagga Day speech at the sundowner, 10 Nov. 1952, by Mangi Mkuu of the Wachagga Marealle II’, in Whitlamsmith, Recent Trends, 11.

4 For examples, see Dundas, C., Kilimanjaro and its People: A History of the Wachagga, Their Laws, Customs and Legends, Together with some Account of the Highest Mountain in Africa (London, 1924)Google Scholar; Gutmann, B., Das Recht der Dschagga (München, 1926)Google Scholar; S. G. Rogers, ‘The search for political focus on Kilimanjaro: a history of Chagga politics, 1916–1952, with special reference to the cooperative movement and indirect rule’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Dar es Salaam, 1972); and Stahl, K. M., History of the Chagga People of Kilimanjaro (London, 1964)Google Scholar.

5 A few examples include Lonsdale, J., ‘The moral economy of Mau Mau: wealth, poverty, and civic virtue in Kikuyu political thought’, in Berman, B. and Lonsdale, J. (eds.), Unhappy Valley: Conflict in Kenya and Africa, Book Two: Violence and Ethnicity (London, 1992), 315504Google Scholar; Ranger, T. O., ‘The invention of tradition revisited: the case of colonial Africa’, in Ranger, T. O. and Vaughan, O. (eds.), Legitimacy and the State in Twentieth-Century Africa: Essays in Honour of A. H. M. Kirk-Greene (London, 1993), 62111CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Spear, T., ‘Neo-traditionalism and the limits of invention in British Colonial Africa’, Journal of African History, 44:1 (2003), 327CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Vail, L. (ed.), The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa (Berkeley, CA, 1991)Google Scholar.

6 Mkenda, F., ‘Becoming Chagga: population and politics around Kilimanjaro before 1886’, in Clack, T. (ed.), Culture, History and Identity: Landscapes of Inhabitation in the Mount Kilimanjaro Area, Tanzania (Oxford, 2009)Google Scholar.

7 Devenne, F. and Bart, F., ‘Landscape and Chagga identity’, in Bart, F., Mbonile, M. J., and Devenne, F. (eds.), Kilimanjaro: Mountain, Memory, Modernity (Dar es Salaam, 2006), 97111Google Scholar.

8 Hunter, E., ‘In pursuit of the “higher medievalism”: local history and politics in Kilimanjaro’, in Peterson, D. R. and Macola, G. (eds.), Recasting the Past: History Writing and Political Work in Modern Africa (Athens, OH, 2009), 150Google Scholar.

9 Significant disagreement exists as to when the ancestors of the current population first began to settle the mountain. Some studies such as Kathleen Stahl's have looked to genealogical evidence, while others have looked to linguistic data. Major historical-linguistic studies of this region include Nurse, D., Classification of the Chaga Dialects: Language and History on Kilimanjaro, the Taita Hills, and the Pare Mountains (Hamburg, 1979)Google Scholar; Philippson, G. and Bahuchet, S., ‘Cultivated crops and Bantu migrations in Central and Eastern Africa: a linguistic approach’, Azania 29–30 (1994–5), 103–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Philippson, G., ‘Gens des bananeraies’: Contribution linguistique à l'histoire culturelle des Chaga du Kilimanjaro (Paris, 1984)Google Scholar.

10 For more, see Moore, S. F. and Puritt, P., The Chagga and Meru of Tanzania (London, 1977), 6Google Scholar.

11 For more on economic and political issues on Kilimanjaro before the colonial period, refer to Wimmelbücker, L., Kilimanjaro – A Regional History, Volume One: Production and Living Conditions, c. 1800–1920 (Münster, 2002)Google Scholar; and Moore and Puritt, Chagga and Meru.

12 A fourth related group, Gweno, is spoken by people living in the north Pare Mountains. See Nurse, Classification, 74. For more on Kilimanjaro linguistics, see Philippson, G. and Montlahuc, M.-L., ‘Kilimanjaro Bantu (E60 and E74)’, in Nurse, D. and Philippson, G. (eds.), The Bantu Languages (London, 2003), 475500Google Scholar.

13 Wimmelbücker, Kilimanjaro, 70–2.

14 Rebmann, J., ‘Narrative of a journey to Madjame, in Jagga’, The Church Missionary Intelligencer, 1:12 (1850), 272–6Google Scholar. See also, Rebmann, J., ‘Narrative of a Journey to Madjam, in Kirima, during April, May, and June 1849’, The Church Missionary Intelligencer, 1:14 (1850), 327–30Google Scholar.

15 Merker, M., ‘Rechtsverhältnisse und Sitten der Wadschagga’, Petermanns geographische Mitteilungen, supplement 138, vol. 30 (Gotha, 1902), 34Google Scholar. Also see, Wimmelbücker, Kilimanjaro, 51.

16 Widenmann, A., ‘Die Kilimandscharo Bevolkerung’, Petermanns geographische Mitteilungen, supplement 129, vol. 27:5 (Gotha, 1899)Google Scholar, cited in Moore and Puritt, Chagga and Meru, 16.

17 The importance of access to uphill and downhill goods is cited by Wimmelbücker, Kilimanjaro, as well as Devenne and Bart, ‘Landscape and Chagga Identity’.

18 The irrigation furrows of Kilimanjaro have been the subject of several studies: M. V. Bender, ‘Water brings no harm: knowledge, power, and practice on Kilimanjaro, Tanzania 1880–1980’ (unpublished PhD thesis, The Johns Hopkins University, 2006); Bender, M. V., ‘“For more and better water, choose pipes!” building water and the nation on Kilimanjaro, 1961–1985’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 34:4 (2008), 841–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Masao, F. T., ‘The irrigation system in Uchagga: an ethno-historical approach’, Tanzania Notes and Records, 75 (1974), 18Google Scholar; D. L. Mosgrove, ‘Watering African moons: culture and history of irrigation design on Kilimanjaro and beyond’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Cornell University, 1998); and Pike, A. G., ‘Kilimanjaro and the furrow system’, Tanzania Notes and Records, 64 (1965), 95–6Google Scholar.

19 This rise of caravan trading from the East African coast has been the subject of a number of studies. See, for example: Alpers, E. A., ‘The coast and the development of the caravan trade’, in Kimambo, I. N. and Temu, A. J. (eds.), A History of Tanzania (Nairobi, 1969), 3556Google Scholar; Alpers, E. A., Ivory & Slaves in East Central Africa: Changing Pattern of International Trade in East Central Africa to the Later Nineteenth Century (Berkeley, CA, 1975)Google Scholar; and Low, D. A., ‘The northern interior, 1840–1884’, in Oliver, R. and Mathew, G. (eds.), History of East Africa, Volume 1 (Oxford, 1963), 297351Google Scholar.

20 Moore and Puritt, Chagga and Meru, 12.

21 Zone G Bantu refers to one of the categories in the classification system of Bantu languages devised by Malcolm Guthrie in 1948. Guthrie, M., The Classification of the Bantu Languages (London, 1948)Google Scholar. Also see, Philippson and Montlahuc, ‘Kilimanjaro Bantu’, 476.

22 See entries in Krapf, J. L., Travels, Researches, and Missionary Labours during an Eighteen Years’ Residence in Eastern Africa... (London, 1860), 191Google Scholar. Also, J. Rebmann, ‘Narrative of a journey to Madjame, in Jagga’, 272–6.

23 For examples, see Abbott, W., ‘Ethnological collections in the U. S. National Museum from Kiliman-Njaro’, Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 46 (1891), 381429Google Scholar; von der Decken, C. C., Reisen in Ost Afrika in den Jahren 1859 bis 1865, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1869–71)Google Scholar; Meyer, H., Across East African Glaciers: An Account of the First Ascent of Kilimanjaro, Calder, E. H. S. (trans.), (London, 1891)Google Scholar; and New, C., Life, Wanderings and Labours in Eastern Africa with an Account of the 1st Successful Ascent of the Equatorial Snow Mountain, Kilima Njaro and Remarks upon East African Slavery (London, 1873)Google Scholar.

24 Johnston, H. H., The Kilma-Njaro Expedition. A Record of Scientific Exploration in Eastern Equatorial Africa, (London, 1886), 7–8Google Scholar.

25 See Moore and Puritt, Chagga and Meru, 16; also Dundas, Kilimanjaro and its People; and Widenmann, ‘Die Kilimandscharo Bevolkerung’.

26 Widenmann, ‘Die Kilimandscharo Bevolkerung’, 27–8.

27 Two of his most prominent pieces are Guttman, B., Das Recht der Dschagga (München, 1926)Google Scholar; and Guttman, B., Die Stammeslehren der Dschagga, 3 vols. (München, 1932–8)Google Scholar.

28 Emma Hunter points out in her chapter that this is a common problem of much of the work on Kilimanjaro. Hunter, ‘In pursuit’, 163.

29 Moore and Puritt, Chagga and Meru, 17.

30 Tanzania National Archives, Dar es Salaam (TNA) 11681, Northern Province Annual Report, 1928.

31 This ordinance was passed in hopes of reducing soil erosion on the mountain. TNA 11681, Native Authority Orders, 1931, Government of Tanganyika, Annual Reports, Northern Province, 1931.

32 Moore and Puritt, Chagga and Meru, 17.

33 The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Public Record Office (PRO) Colonial Office (CO) 691/70/379, Charles Dundas, ‘Native Coffee Cultivation on Kilimanjaro’, 1923.

34 TNA 13060, letter from Pennington to the Provincial Commissioner, Northern Province, Arusha, 23 Sept. 1930, as cited in Iliffe, J., A Modern History of Tanganyika (Cambridge, 1979), 274CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also von Clemm, M., ‘Agricultural productivity and sentiment on Kilimanjaro’, Economic Botany, 18:2 (1964), 112CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35 Moore and Puritt, Chagga and Meru, 18.

36 TNA 19475, Moshi District Office, ‘The Political Tendencies of the Wachagga, 1931’, 1.

37 Ibid. 1.


38 Even Charles Dundas, Moshi district officer in the 1920s and a person with strong friendships with many mountain farmers, firmly asserted that the mountain was the home of a singular people. Dundas, Kilimanjaro and Its People.

39 European settlers arrived on Kilimanjaro in successive waves, mostly between 1902 and 1914. Iliffe, Modern History, 275–6; and Wimmelbücker, Kilimanjaro.

40 Iliffe, Modern History, 276.

41 PRO CO 691/102/7, ‘Unrest at Kilimanjaro, Situation which has Arisen Among the Native and Non-Native Communities’, 1928.

42 TNA 9/6/5, Government of Tanganyika, ‘Northern Province Native Agriculture’, 1945.

43 TNA 26601, A. W. Griffiths, ‘Chagga Land Tenure Report, 1930’.

44 Hailey, M., An African Survey: A Study of Problems Arising in Africa South of the Sahara (London, 1938), 848Google Scholar.

45 Moore, S. F., Law as Process: An Anthropological Approach (London, 1978), 199203Google Scholar.

46 Records from the Holy Ghost Fathers mission stations at Kilema, Kibosho, and Rombo indicate that drought conditions were present in these time spans. The observations of explorers, Lutheran missionaries, and colonial officials corroborate these observations. See Archives of the Congrégation du Saint-Esprit, Chevilly-Larue, France (CSEA) 2K2.18, ‘Journal de la Communauté de Rombo’; CSEA 2K2.5, ‘Journal de la Communauté de Kibosho’; and CSEA 2K2.7, ‘Journal de la Communauté de Kilema’ ; as well as Johnston, The Kilima-Njaro Expedition.

47 The American Dust Bowl was a major catalyst in the spread of erosion concern, leading to the implementation of heavily invasive agricultural policies throughout much of Eastern Africa. Anderson, D., ‘Depression, Dust Bowl, demography, and drought: the colonial state and soil conservation in East Africa during the 1930s’, African Affairs, 83:332 (1984), 321–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

48 Bender, ‘Water brings no harm’, 149.

49 Government of Tanganyika, ‘Natural water supply regulation ordinance of 1923’, No. 4, Annotated Ordinances, 1923 (Dar es Salaam, 1923)Google Scholar.

50 Kanthack, F. E., Report on the Control of the Natural Waters of Tanganyika and the Framework of a Water Law on which Such Control Should Be Based (Dar es Salaam, 1938)Google Scholar. Contrary to its name, the document focuses almost exclusively on the Kilimanjaro region.

51 Moore, S. F., Social Facts and Fabrications: ‘Customary’ Law on Kilimanjaro, 1880–1980 (Cambridge, 1986), 119Google Scholar.

52 PRO CO 691/116/6, ‘Kilimanjaro Native Planters Association’.

53 Rogers, ‘Search for political focus’, 355–61; cited in Moore, Social Facts and Fabrications, 123.

54 This occurred as part of the Co-operative Societies Ordinance. See Government of Tanganyika, ‘Co-operative Societies Ordinance of 1932’, Annotated Ordinances, 1932 (Dar es Salaam, 1932)Google Scholar. See also, Rogers, ‘Search for political focus’, iv–vi.

55 Interview with Fr. Aidan Msafiri, Kilema, 4 Mar. 2004. Also from field notes of interviews with several retired members of KNCU offices on the mountain.

56 While coffee from the mountain was branded for the international market as ‘Kilimanjaro’ coffee, people used the term ‘Chagga’ coffee to indicate that it had been grown by a member of the co-op, as opposed to either an African non-member or a European settler.

57 For more on the Arusha-Moshi Lands Commission, and in particular the Meru Land Case, see Spear, T. T., Mountain Farmers: Moral Economies of Land and Agricultural Development in Arusha and Meru (Oxford, 1997)Google Scholar.

58 Johnston, P. H., ‘Chagga constitutional development,’ Journal of African Administration, 5 (1953), 134–40Google Scholar. These changes are discussed in detail in Rogers, ‘Search for political focus’, 793–8.

59 TNA 5/25/16, Letter from the Chagga Association, Moshi, to the District Commissioner, Moshi, 31 May 1945.

60 Letter from Merinyo to the Honorable Excellencies, the Wamangi Waitori, Hai, Vunjo, and Rombo, 29 Sept. 1947, ‘The Traditional Structure of Leadership in the Past and Today’, Swahili typescript, cited in Rogers, ‘Search for political focus’, 819.

61 For a more detailed background and discussion, see Hunter, ‘In pursuit’.

62 Iliffe, Modern History, 493.

63 Ibid. 492.


64 See von Clemm, ‘Agricultural productivity and sentiment on Kilimanjaro’.

65 Chuwa, ‘Interview with Thomas Marealle’.

66 Iliffe, Modern History, 491; also Chuwa, ‘Interview with Thomas Marealle’.

67 Rogers, ‘Search for political focus’, 891.

68 Since the mid-1920s, the government had assessed a coffee cess or tax, on growers at the time of sale. The tax was extremely unpopular among coffee farmers, in part because the revenues helped to support the Council of Chagga Chiefs. See Rogers, ‘Search for political focus’, 891; and Moore, Social Facts and Fabrications, 127 and 129.

69 TNA 23/49, ‘Election Results’, as cited in Rogers, ‘Search for political focus’, 899–901.

70 In this three-page article, Tawney spent nearly one page discussing the land problems of Kilimanjaro, and the relationship between land politics and the creation of an office of paramount chief. Tawney, J., ‘Election in Tanganyika’, Corona, 4:5 (1952), 181–3Google Scholar.

71 A fuller description of this ceremony can be found in Whitlamsmith, Recent Trends, 3–8.


73 ‘Introduction to Chagga Day Brochure, 1955’, in Whitlamsmith, Recent Trends, I-III.

74 The Chagga Trust paid Stahl a sum of £5,000 to write an accurate ‘history’ of the Chagga people. It was published in 1964 by Mouton Press, London under the title History of the Chagga People of Kilimanjaro.

75 Dag Hammarskjöld Library, United Nations, New York T/PV.817, ‘Hearing of Chief Marealle II, Paramount Chief of the Wachagga, member of the executive council, Tanganyika. Verbatim record of the Eight Hundred and Seventeenth Meeting, Twentieth Session, 17 June 1957’.

76 For more on Thomas Marealle's relationship with Julius Nyerere and TANU, see P. K. Bjerk, ‘Julius Nyerere and the Establishment of Sovereignty in Tanganyika’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2008), 158–9; and Stahl, K. M., ‘The Chagga,’ in Gulliver, P. H. (ed.), Tradition and Transition in East Africa: Studies of the Tribal Element in the Modern Era (Berkeley, CA, 1969), 216–9Google Scholar.

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