top of page

cultural preservation

Tanzania is home to over 120 ethnic groups. Each of these groups differ along language, culture, and social organization. Interethnic conflict has not been a major issue within Tanzania, as it has been in other African countries. Today, ethnicity still tends to reflect geographic area, however groups live peacefully together.

The Olive Branch for Children has worked in the Usangu Plains for the last 15 years. The Usangu Plains is historically where the Usangu people lived and ruled. Today, the Usangu Plains is an ethnically diverse area comprised of various ethnic groups including the Maasai, Sukuma, and Sangu.

TOBFC works in partnership with the leaders of groups to ensure cultures are preserved. Our projects include:

  • Usangu Atlas, which locates and documents remote villages on Google maps

  • Documenting and translating the history of the Usangu Plains, and the various ethnic groups residing in the area

  • Providing Early Education Centres in our catchment area with educational materials in local languages, and Kiswahili to ensure languages are preserved between generations

  • Raising awareness, and campaigning for the preservation of the Usangu's Chief's Palace located in Utengule Village with the aim to create a community-owned  museum and cultural heritage site

usangu atlas

brief 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.

[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

bottom of page