There are two major tribes in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania: the Maasai and the Chagga. Although, the tribes were all united in the mid 1960s when Tanzania became one country, the history and tradition of these two once at war tribes are still discussed today.
The Maasai reside in the lower lands of the Kilimanjaro region and produce livestock: cows, goats, etc. The Chagga people reside in the highlands of the mountain and produce agricultural goods due to the constant moist climate. In the early 1800s the Kilimanjaro region underwent an intense drought, causing the Maasai to move into the highland region and try to overtake the resource rich lands of the Chagga, which due to the mountain climate was not impacted by the drought. The Maasai went into households of the Chagga, disfiguring the Chagga men by breaking their bones and castrating them, and leaving them in the homes to physiologically damage the families. Additionally, the Chagga women were brought to the lower lands and raped by very large men, ensuring a strong, large children (genetic engineering) which would be used as a slaves to work the Maasai lands. After being raped for 4 years and producing 3-4 children, the Chagga women would be murdered, ensuring that the young children did not have a mother to teach them about the Chagga people. By not being educated by a mother, the children, who were used as slaves, wouldn’t question the Maasai’s authority because they didn’t know better.
To stay safe from the Maasai, the Chagga people went underground. The Chagga people built entire homes underground and navigated them through tunnel systems, even the livestock were underground. Whenever the Maasai would enter the highlands, the Chunga people would sound horns and everyone would move underground. The livestock were fed volcanic ash which would make the livestock very thirsty; after filling up on water the livestock would fall asleep, ensuring that their sounds would not alert the Maasai of the Chagga’s whereabouts. During the approximate 200 year period in which the Chagga people lived underground due to threats from the Maasai, the 300 Chaggas who lived underground were able to kill about 3,000- 5,000 Maasai who tried to penetrate their underground home system.
How did they do this when they were clearly outnumbered?
The Chagga people had warriors/ guards to keep them safe from the Maasai, and for every Maasai that entered the caves, not one resurfaced. In order to be a tunnel guard for the Chagga, the guard has to be fluent in the Maasai language. When a group of Maasai warriors would travel down the tunnel with a lit torch (which gave them away because the Chagga did not use torches in the tunnels) three Chagga guards would be hiding in a corner (pictured) and knock the torch carrier on the head with a big stick, often killing him. The two other guards would then jump down from the ledge and tell the other Maasai (in their language) that they have to be careful and that the tunnels go very low; if they aren’t careful they will end up like the torch carrier and knock themselves out. The others would duck low, allowing the ‘basher’ to hit them all on the head with a club when passing by. Every time one was hit, there would be one loud cry, in which the Chagga guards who spoke the Maasai language, would confuse the Maasai and say that they must duck lower or they will end up the same as the guy that just hit his head on the top of the tunnel. After killing the Maasai warriors, the Chaggas would dispose of the Maasai warriors by cutting them up in little pieces and disposing of them in the river, always making it seem like the Maasai just vanished when entering the Chagga caves.
During one large attack the Maasai tried to use chemical warfare to kill the Chagga people in the cave. Using a combination of toxic chili and tobacco the Maasai lit the lethal combination at the entrance of the tunnels and smoked the caves out for a week. The Chagga people moved quickly, using cow hide to block the tunnel entrances and limiting the chemicals from entering the homes; the Chagga also had ventilation holes which removed any smoke that got through. Once the Maasai thought the Chagga people had died, the Maasai entered the tunnels, only to killed by the Chagga guards/warriors.
Nowadays the two tribes live in peace with one another; largely due to the unification of Tanzania in the 1960s. However, even with reunification, the caves (that still exist today) are a long standing reminder of the tribal background of history of Tanzania.
Pictured below is where the Chagga guards use to hide, waiting for the Maasai warriors.
Entering the tunnels.