By Kizito Makoye
MACHAME, Tanzania (AA) – Wooed by the rich cultural heritage and attractions of Tanzania’s affluent Chagga tribe, tourists are flocking to their area at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro for a taste of local hospitality over the Christmas and New Year’s break.
Cultural tourism allows visitors to feel authentic cultural experiences such as natural scenery, folklore, ceremonies, dances, rituals, tales, handcraft, art, and hospitality, giving a unique insight into the Chagga people’s way of life.
The program, which influences visitors’ decisions to travel to a place, is hailed for providing employment and jobs to locals and offering markets for their products.
- Unique culture
Although Tanzania has many tourist attractions, cultural tourism, which includes more than 120 ethnic groups with distinctive cultures, traditions, and norms, has received little attention.
The Chagga, the country’s largest ethnic group, settled on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and its cultural traditions have remained strong for decades, according to its elders.
As the country’s tourism sector recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, which almost certainly brought the hospitality industry to its knees, women’s groups in Kilimanjaro are organizing cultural tourism activities that attract hundreds of tourists looking for unique cultural and travel experiences.
Cultural tourism is rapidly expanding in Tanzania, attracting a large number of foreign visitors each year seeking an authentic experience of the people’s way of life.
The Nkweshoo cultural tourism program in Machame has a multifaceted infrastructure for showcasing the Chagga people’s rich heritage and contemporary cultures.
Through the program local female entrepreneurs and community leaders use multiple tools to identify assets for attracting foreign visitors who prefer to live among families.
Stella Shoo, a coordinator with the Nkweshoo cultural tourism project, believes that Christmas and New Year are ideal times to attract tourists interested in experiencing the hospitality of the Chagga people.
“This is the only time when everyone is in town, so it is the best opportunity for tourists to get a feel for the vibe,” she told Anadolu Agency.
In Chagga tradition, family members must return to their villages for the holidays of Christmas and New Year in order to be accounted for and introduced to new members of their families, Shoo said.
Those who are unable to attend must provide a valid reason, according to her, or they will be considered outsiders.
“Chagga people travel home in December for many reasons, mainly for a family reunion, especially if the parents are still alive,” she said.
According to her, parents enjoy seeing their sons and daughters return to the village with their children.
- Way of life
Cultural tourism, which allows visitors to immerse themselves in the way of life of the locals, has helped inject tourism dollars into the local community and the development of sustainable income for women’s groups, Shoo said.
“Cultural tourism is a year-round source of income for communities,” she explained.
The Chagga have a population of about 2 million people and are one of East Africa’s wealthiest and most educated tribes. With their exposure to European education, the Chagga society wields enormous political and financial clout.
Walking through dense coffee and banana plantations, tourists have been thrilled by the spirit of hard-working among the locals.
At the Marangu town nestled on the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the locals have planned walking tours through valleys and waterfalls depicting mountain village life.
“Our guests are very pleased to see these attractions and experience the unique Chagga hospitality,” she commented.
To most tribal families, the end of the year is the time to re-examine oneself, take stock of the year, and lay down strategies for the new year.
“We usually perform sacrificial rituals for our ancestors, such as slaughtering goats and cows,” said Joshua Meena, an elder in the Machame district.
Manka Shirima, a tour guide with the Marangu cultural tourism program, stated that they have received over 120 tourists from various countries who have experienced Chagga cultural traditions since the beginning of December.
Tourist funds, she asserted, have helped boost the local economy and supported women’s groups in becoming more self-sufficient.
“The tourists we receive enjoy staying with local families and experiencing the unique Chagga hospitality,” Shirima said.
The Chaggas, who are well-known for their drinking habits, usually introduce their guests to Mbege, a local brew made from finger millet and bananas.
- Sumptuous meals
Some of the foods prepared during Christmas include mtori, ndafu, meat, and chicken, and some families also prepare pilau.
The tribesmen would cluster under the shade of banana and coffee plantations for other hours-long enjoyment after eating the most delicious cuisines.
Libby Jackson, a tourist from New Zealand, said her stay with a Chagga family in Machame taught her invaluable lessons about hospitality.
“They are very kind people. Staying with them is an amazing experience because they keep you entertained throughout your stay. The food too is delicious,” she told Anadolu Agency.