cultural preservation

The Olive Branch for Children has worked in the Usangu Plains for the last 15 years. The Usangu Plains is a ethnically diverse area comprised of various ethnic groups including the Maasai, Sukuma, and Sangu. 

TOBFC works in partnership with the leaders of grousp to ensure cultures are preserved.

History of the usangu plains

The available documented history of the Sangu indicate that historically there were three kindred groups; the Mgawa (who settled in MIlamba and lived in the north of Ruaha), Mhami (Settled in the area of Madundasi and Utengule) and Mswaya (settled in the West of Sangu) [1]. These various groups, spread across the Usangu Plains, the catchment area of The Olive Branch for Children, and were ruled by one royal line of Chiefs, the Merere, since the foundation of the Sangu Royal line [1]. Utengule village is documented as the location where the line of Chiefs has ruled Usangu in the Chief’s palace, until Tanzania was granted independence in 1961 [1]. The house is described as a “two story white building in the center of the village, the only structure of its kind in the area” [1]. The chiefs house was completed in 1896 [3]. Because the palace was built in phases, it was a long process that captures the complex history of the Usangu. The house was started to be built in 1870s, based on Arab designs. By 1971, there stood the initial one-story structure, by 1896 the two-story structure was completed [1,2,3]. In 1950s, the Chief Alfeo (the current chief’s father) had added a small structure [2]. By 1988, the house became inhabitable. Alfeo lived in this house until his death, therefore Chief Merere is the first chief who cannot live there because of its condition [2].

 

The land where this Chief’s house is specific to the culture of the Sangu. It is believed that the first chief put a protective shield on this land to protect the chief and those buried on the property [3]. It has been stressed by Chief Merere, and community members, that the chief’s duties cannot be moved to any other piece of land or structure [3]. In Sangu culture, the palace is where they were able to store all the historical artifacts, it’s an official meeting palace for the Sangu Elder Committee and the burial place for all Chiefs and any traditional believer [3]. This is the single building that captures the above kindred groups and their history, and is believed to be the last chance to preserve the Sangu Culture [2].  Chief Merere has emphasized that within Utengule, the standing Palace is a symbol of Sangu culture and emboldens a sense of cultural preservation in the communities [2].

 

In the 1950s, with the dismantling of Chief power, the Sangu chief’s powers were limited to the surrounding area of Utengule [2,3]. This also meant, that other ethnic groups were allowed to move into the Sangu territory. In 1953 and 1960 two groups, predominantly Sukuma and Maasai, settled. This movement, restructured the societal organization of the district introducing pastoral livelihoods and making it more ethnically diverse.

 

Today, the Sangu Plains is ethnically diverse. TOBFC works with all groups to preserve their culture.

Our aim is to open a community-owned museum and cultural heritage site, that highlights the diverse cultures of the Usangu Plains. This site, will not only preserve various cultures, but will revitalize this area with employment opportunities, boost the local economy with more visitors, and act as a community center for this area.

 

Our first step is to restore the Sangu Chief’s Palace which will act as the site for this museum. For more information read below.

[1] Walsh, M. (1983) Merere The Arab: Legitimacy Upside-down and Inside-out. Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge.

[2] Chief Merere (2017) “History of the Sangu” Interviewed by: The Olive Branch for Children

[3] Chief Merere (2018) “History of the Sangu Continued” Interviewed by: The Olive Branch for Children

** CUrrent funding opportunity

The Restoration of the Sangu's Chief Palace and artifacts in Utengule-Usangu and Revival of the Usangu Plains' Music and Dances

This photo shows the Chief’s Palace from the current private house of the Chief. The Chief specifically bought land beside the Palace to ensure he can maintain security to the best of his ability. In the far left corner, the house for prayer is seen.

Back side of Palace, left section. This section depicts the the loss of wooden beams. These beams signified all of the Chief's daughters who have been married. Traditionally any suitor would have to demonstrate his ability to take care of the chief’s daughter by carrying a wooden beam for the house from the furthest villages.

The Olive Branch for Children has been approached by Chief Merere  (Sangu) on multiple occasions expressing the interest of collaboration between the Sangu and TOBFC, stating that the building’s condition will continue to degrade to a point where conservation efforts are ineffective.

The proposed project is multi-dimensional and holistic, envisioning a comprehensive revival, restoration and preservation of the cultures of the Usangu Plains (including ethnic groups Sangu, Maasai, Sukuma) for the benefit of the residents of the Plains and Tanzanians, a need specifically expressed by the current Chief Merere (the Chief of the Sangu).

 

We hope to complete the following;

  1. A complete restoration of the Usangu Chief’s Palace, 

  2. Opening the Usangu Chief’s Palace as a cultural centre, and museum open to the public 

  3. Refurbishment of the various historical buildings within the main community of Utengule-Usangu, including the courthouse and surrounding buildings, 

  4. Restoration of the “Malejela”, the set of one large and five smaller drums kept by the Chief, 

  5. Collection of dance videos of the respective ethnic communities represented on the Usangu Plains, recording of songs from the various ethnic communities represented on the Usangu Plains and extensive trainings for Sangu youth in the dances and songs, documentation of traditional stories, and creation of children books

The Olive Branch for Children has been approached by Chief Merere on multiple occasions expressing the interest of collaboration between the Sangu tribe and TOBFC, stating that the Chief Palace’s condition will continue to degrade to a point where conservation efforts are ineffective. As seen in the attached photos, the Chief’s Palace is at the point where the safety of the structure is compromised and large portions of the building needs to be re-built. Since large portions of the building are open to the elements, after this next rainy season, it is questionable as to whether or not the building will be able to withstand another season without further degrading the structure. As it is shown in the attached budget, the majority of funds will be funneled to conserving the Palace.

The motivation of the community, including younger generations, is at a record high. The dilapidated state of the Palace has roused significant interest in the community, encouraging the Sangu to take an active interest in their history. The Chief fears if the building’s degradation continues, the community will feel helpless and become less interested in documenting and preserving the culture. The Olive Branch staff recognize the key informants regarding this project are reaching old age, and if the history is not documented within the next few years, history that has yet to be passed down accurately will be lost. If the documentation process regarding the Palace and Court does not start in the next year, the entire history as well as the opportunity to preserve these cultures and histories will be lost completely. 

History of the Sangu People

 

The available documented history of the Sangu indicate that historically there were three kindred groups; the Mgawa (who settled in MIlamba and lived in the north of Ruaha), Mhami (Settled in the area of Madundasi and Utengule) and Mswaya (settled in the West of Sangu) [1]. These various groups, spread across the Usangu Plains, the catchment area of The Olive Branch for Children, and were ruled by one royal line of Chiefs, the Merere, since the foundation of the Sangu Royal line [1]. Utengule is documented as the location where the line of Chiefs has ruled Usangu in the Chief’s palace, until Tanzania was granted independence in 1961 [1]. The house is described as a “two story white building in the center of the village, the only structure of its kind in the area” [1, pg. 4]. This is the single building that captures the above kindred groups and their history, and is believed to be the last chance to preserve the Sangu Culture [2]. Chief Merere has emphasized that within Utengule, the standing Palace is a symbol of Sangu culture and emboldens a sense of cultural preservation in the communities. If the Palace is to degrade to a state beyond the scope of conservation efforts, the Chief believes the younger generations will have no motivation to preserve and participate in traditions. Thus, this project is time sensitive due to the current state of the building. Without conservation efforts the building will not survive many more rainy seasons. Within the palace, various artifacts are kept, including the Malenjela [2]. 

 

In the 1950s, the Sangu chief’s powers were limited to the surrounding area of Utengule (ibid). With the accession of Alfeo in 1953, “many traditional practices and rituals of the chiefship fell into abeyance” [1, p.11]. Today, the Sangu Chief reiterates this statement, emphasizing numerous traditional practices and rituals are at risk of being lost due to the lack of authentic documentation and transferral of knowledge between generations [2]. Historically, the chief has taken “the role of the author” when it comes to Sangu history. Elders in the community are respected for their historical knowledge that is passed down for generations [1, pg. 7; 2]. Walsh (1984) acknowledges that without blessings from the Chief, the elders are not allowed to pass down any information to foreigners. Thus, having the blessing of the Chief allows this project to access a wealth of knowledge regarding the Sangu, the Chief’s Palace and the Malenjela. 

If the Palace is to degrade to a state beyond the scope of conservation efforts, the Chief believes the younger generations will have no motivation to preserve and participate in traditions.

[1] Walsh, M. (1983) Merere The Arab: Legitimacy Upside-down and Inside-out. Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge.

[2] Chief Merere (2018) “History of the Sangu” Interviewed by: The Olive Branch for Children

Chief Merere standing at the right side of the palace.

Chief Merere outside the Prayer house. He is standing in front of some of the burial grounds of the past Chiefs, as well as community members who have died traditional believers of Sangu.

Side view of the burial grounds.

This house is a prayer place for the first chief not to be buried on site. He was killed in war protecting Sangu Land. This house is dedicated to him.

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