It’s not just about the Maasai! Tanzania has over 120 different ethnic groups, each with its own unique language, oral literature, cultural heritage and medicinal plant knowledge. Yet most of this indigenous knowledge could be gone forever within two or three generations, as elders die and young people migrate to the cities.
These are a few of the ethnic groups, other than Maasai, that are well represented in Noonkodin’s staff and student body (note that the prefix `wa’ means people in Swahili):
The Wa-Chagga people come from the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, a fertile land where sustainable small-scale agriculture and horticulture have been practised for thousands of years. Most families have home gardens, where they grow up to twenty different varieties of plantains and bananas, as well as beans, coffee, maize and a huge diversity of indigenous fruits and medicines. A popular food among the Wa-Chagga is ndizi nyama, a thick stew made with plantain, potato, boiled beef, green peppers and coconut milk.
The Wa-Arusha (Ilarusa) and Wa-Meru are thought to be the descendants of refugees from the nineteenth-century Maasai wars, who lost their cattle during the fighting and settled down to a more peaceful life on the lower slopes of Mount Meru. The name ‘Arusha’, which is also Tanzania’s third largest city, comes from the Maa word for ‘mixture’, based on the fact that their genetic heritage is a mixture of Maasai, Meru and Chagga. Both the Wa-Arusha and Wa-Meru are small-scale farmers who grow mainly maize, beans, pigeon peas and some vegetables; many of them also keep two or three stall-fed cattle or goats. They are fond of ugali (white cornmeal polenta) served with indigenous greens such as the bitter mnafu (Solanum incanum) leaves, potato stew, meat, or small locally caught minnows known as dagaa. Another very popular traditional food, for which the Wa-Arusha are famous, is called loshoro (boiled maize and sour milk).
The Wa-Iraqw (Wa-Mbulu) people come from the Mbulu Plateau between Lake Manyara and Lake Eyasi, and live in and around the town of Karatu – the gateway to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Some of them claim that their distant ancestors really did come from Iraq! They are agropastoralists, herding indigenous cattle in the traditional way and growing some crops – mostly maize, sorghum, millet, beans and wheat. Many of the older men still wear traditional tartan blankets, like the Maasai, but with the key difference that the Wa-Iraqw blankets are mainly green rather than red. Some women supplement their income by weaving baskets and mats dyed with a variety of natural pigments.