The Chagga are a Tanzanian people who speak both Chagga and KiSwahili, the national language of the country. According to the elders of the Chagga people, the name of their Supreme Deity is Ruwa. In many ways, this name has correspondence with the ancient Egyptian name, Ra, for the Supreme Deity. Ruwa is also the word for the sun and,as such,might be seen as a form of the ancient Sun God. This is not to be understood in the sense that the sun was god, but that the sun was a representative of the energy and power of god.
Ruwa is the central figure in Chagga existence and is seen as the almighty liberator, protector, and sustainer of the Chagga community. There are many narratives of Ruwa’s sensitivity, mercy, tolerance, kindness, and charity when the people need him. In this sense, he is not simply the creator god who creates and moves away, but an active participant in the affairs of the Chagga.
The names of the ancestors are important to the Chagga, and they have enshrined past kings such as Orombo, Marealle, and Sina in their rituals as outstanding personalities who made contributions to the Chagga. But it is not only the ancestors who are important to the Chagga, but children as well. Among the elders, there is a saying that a person who lives for eternity must leave a child behind. It is considered a positive value that people can live eternally through their children because posterity is responsible for remembering the deceased.
Each community takes the teaching of children as a measure for survival, and therefore introducing children to responsibilities early is a way to prepare them for handling the more significant rituals of memory for the ancestors. Thus, young children are given chores and are required to carry out their duties with diligence. Some children are herders; they wake early and go follow the herd of cattle. Others learn to grind corn or clean out the cattle stalls. Although children have these duties, they must still go through the kususa rite. This is an elaborate ritual that has one principal goal: to intercede in the lives of unruly children.Thus,a child of 12 years old may be brought before an elder woman who teaches the child about good behavior. Other children who are already initiated will be asked to give the new initiate advice about morality. The previously initiated children sing songs and chant proverbs that are meant to influence the new initiate. Thus, both the elders and the youths are brought in to assist with the ritual of kisusa. Afterward, there is both a sacrificial and a purification ceremony, one followed by the other after a month.
In previous generations,the Chagga also held separate rituals for boys and girls before they were married. The young males had to experience and participate in the Ngasi ceremony. They would be sent out into the forest where they would perform certain ordeals for several days, hunting, fishing, and demonstrating their ability to live in the woods without family and community. Young women had to go through the Shija ceremony, which included instruction in rituals as well as learning about sexuality, procreation, and childrearing.
However, the Germans who ruled Tanzania from 1885 to 1946 abolished all Chagga initiation rites.It might be said that abolition of these rituals created a crisis in identity and culture that continues to plague the society today. Clearly, everything did not disappear with the presence of the colonial administrators; the Chagga have retained the greeting rituals that show the elaborate forms of previous generations. How you greet the elders is important to the society. One does not greet the elders the same way that one greets peers.
Furthermore, the greeting may vary depending on the time of the day. Because the older the elder is, the closer he or she is to the ancestors,it behooves the person to ensure that he or she practices the proper greetings. Propriety is also shown when wives and husbands meet; they must always face each other less one believes that the other is offering a curse. Indeed, even when a daughter-in-law meets her father-in-law, she must show him respect by bowing before him. Likewise, the father-in-law must always treat the daughter-in-law with respect and must show no hostility toward her.
As in a great many African societies, public displays of affection, such as hugging and kissing in public, are considered inappropriate. Thus, although Chagga have changed some of their customs, they remain grounded in the principal concepts of their culture. Molefi Kete Asante
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