SHAMBAA Information

Location: Northeast Tanzania in the Usambara Mountains
Population: 200,000
Language: Kishambaa (central B
Neighbors: Bondei, Zigua, Pare, Chagga
Types of Art: Shambaa art forms include wooden sculpture and medicine gourds that are used in healing ceremonies.
History: Shambaa history can be divided into three periods. The first begins with the settling of Shambaa peoples in the Usambara mountains over 200 years ago and extends until the early 19th century when the Kilindi ruled supreme in Shambaa territory. The first Kilindi king was Mbegha, an exile from neighboring Ngulu. According to oral traditions, he was awarded with the kingship of the Shambaa peoples, after he demonstrated his hunting prowess by killing the bush pigs that had been destroying Shambaa land and distributing the meat to the citizens. The Kilindi ruled Shambaa territory for close to a hundred years. In the late 1800s, German colonial officials executed the last Kilindi king and brought about the collapse of the empire.
Economy: In the higher altitudes of the Usambara mountains banana and other fruit trees provide Shambaa peoples with an ample food supply when droughts and famine threaten those living below in the plains. In fact, it is believed that Shambaa communities first ascended the mountains in an effort to escape the famine they experienced as members of Zigua communities. Shambaa are mostly farmers who plant various crops in terraced fields on the sides of the steep mountains they inhabit. Shambaa territory was not situated along the ivory and trade routes that crossed Tanzania throughout the 19th century. As a result, those living in the mountains remained fairly isolated from the outside world.
Political Systems: Before the emergence of Kilindi domination, Shambaa participated in a non-centralized governing system. Each family established its own community around its own demarcated territory. Disagreements between these extended families were solved by a council of elders from the area. Marriage served to cement political bonds between clans. Under the Kilindi, Shambaa territory became unified and authority rested in the hands of a centralized chieftancy. He ruled surrounding territories through proxy, most often by establishing his sons as local leaders. The Kilindi king was thought to have supernatural powers, including the ability to control the rain.
Religion: Shambaa religion is family based, with the most significant ritual obligations being made to the ancestors of the lineage. The deities are divided into two main groups, those spirits associated with the ancestors and those associated with nature. Spirits preside over healing ceremonies, purification rites, the settlement of disputes, the identification of criminals, and rain-making ceremonies. They provide the living with guidance, insight, and medicinal knowledge. If, however, these spirits are angered by the actions of the living, they can also cause humans the kinds of afflictions they are called upon to cure.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,