Usambara Cultural Heritage Center

"Discover Shambaa heritage at Kwembago Nyumba ya Mila in West Usambara, blending cultural preservation with immersive tourism experiences. Join us"

Cultural Tourism In Tanzania And The West Usambara
Since Tanzanian independence in 1961, tourism has provided a major form of national revenue. Tanzania’s tourism has hinged primarily on promoting the nation’s natural attractions, such as game parks and national forest reserves. For most of its modern history, most tourist attractions in Tanzania lack any significant exposure to local cultural heritage and despite the promotion of the concept of cultural tourism in the late 1990s priority has been given over to ecological preservation and education rather than cultural preservation and education, including the development of cultural tourism programs in the West Usambara Mountains in 1997.

With the rise of foreign visitors to Tanzania seeking also a cultural experience, there is an immediate need for the development of cultural heritage programs that both help promote and preserve localized forms of cultural history while creating also opportunities for domestic and foreign exposure to, interaction, and education about these histories and traditional practices of local communities. This proposed project intends to create such an opportunity within the West Usambara Mountains in northeastern Tanzania, once center of the Shambaa kingdom.

The Friends of Usambara (FoU), a non-government organization, herein proposes to establish a sister institution in the form of a cultural heritage center, or nyumba ya mila. The successful completion of the proposed project will create an opportunity for the preservation, rebirth, and promotion of Shambaa traditions and culture, while creating also a new cultural tourist attraction in the West Usambara Mountains that will generate information and income to benefit the local community.

About The Project
The three-year project proposed herein aims to provide a means for the preservation and revival of Shambaa cultural heritage through the initial establishment of a cultural heritage center, or nyumba ya mila, in the Kilindi village of Kwembago. This royal village, which still functions as the traditional seat of power of the Kilindi clan of the Daffa family, is located within easy walking distance to the main town of Lushoto in the West Usambara Mountains, which from about 1700 to the end of the 19th century served as the center of the expansive Shambaa kingdom. Powerful rulers—including a paramount king, ministers, sub-chiefs, district chiefs, and village heads—were drawn from Kilindi clans that traced their ancestry to the culture hero, Mbegha, who is said to have migrated to these mountains from the more southern Ngulu Hills.

The headquarters (kitala kikuu) of the Shambaa kingdom was located in the village of Vuga while several Kilindi sub-chiefdoms were located throughout the mountains in the villages of Kwembago, Mlalo, Mtae, and Mlola. Each of these villages carried specific functions within the kingdom and thus maintained their individual cultural histories and heritages. When Europeans first came to the Usambaras in the mid 19th century en route to find the snow-covered peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, they were attracted to the beautiful mountain scenery, pleasant climate, natural resources, and warmth of its people. They soon began establishing missions in the regions as a means of proselytizing and colonizing local cultures while exploiting also their rich natural resources.

During the late 19th century, many Germans settled in the area to establish a capital for the new colony of German East Africa. The site of this new capital was the town now called Lushoto, which the Germans called Wilhelmstal. After the Germans lost the colony to Great Britain during WWI, the British also took great interest in this spectacular mountainous region where, like their German predecessors, they built many historical buildings, some of which continue to stand today as a reminder of the colonial past. During the colonial period (from the end of the 19th century to the mid-20th century), local culture was suppressed through both Christianization and Islamization. In more recent decades, modernization and globalization has continued to negatively impact the preservation of local cultural heritage. With few exceptions, the history and cultural heritage of the West Usambaras and the Shambaa kingdom have not been preserved in the memories of recent generations or in the published literature about this region. Furthermore, as more and more elders with living memory of Shambaa traditional ways, or mila, are dying and younger generations are turning away from the traditional way of life, the preservation of Shambaa cultural heritage continues to be threatened. However, current trends and interests in cultural tourism provide an opportunity for the preservation and education of local traditions.

Today, cultivated areas intermingle with untouched eco-systems of natural tropical rainforests, creating a unique patchwork landscape that foreign visitors have often referred to as “The Switzerland of Africa” that has attracted tourists from all corners of the world. From well-established viewpoints, visitors can see the majestic beauty of these mountains and the surrounding lowland plains of Handeni and Mkomazi, which give way to occasional glimpses of the mighty Mt. Kilimanjaro above the clouds and the expansive stretches of the Great Rift Valley of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. These spectacular views and the rich ecological history of the region have helped turn the West Usambaras into an important tourist destination for both domestic Tanzanian and foreign visitors, with an annual average of 1,000 tourists visiting the district per year and with an average yearly increase of 40%. The proposed project wishes to take advantage of this increase in tourism by offering an alternative yet complementary tourist venue focused on the equally as important purpose of preserving the area’s diverse cultural history.

About Kwembago And The Nyumba Ya Mila
The Kilindi village of Kwembago, located en route to three of the most popular tourist destinations in the West Usambaras, namely the Irente View Point, the Magamba Rainforest, and the village of Mtae, provides an ideal location for the establishment of a cultural heritage center, thus taking advantage of the visitors already passing through this site while also helping to preserve and promote Kwembago’s localized heritage. The Daffa family, traditional rulers of Kwembago, and Mr. Ali Daffa, current village head, have expressed the desire to support the establishment of a cultural heritage program. FoU thus proposes to create a cultural heritage center, or nyumba ya mila, in the village of Kwembago in three phases carried out over a three-year period to consist of the following:

  1. the purchase and renovation of an existing colonial property to serve as an administrative office, research center and library, revenue-generating educational center, and guest house;
  2.  the re-construction of eight traditional structures, which will be part of a larger walking tour, that educate visitors on the traditional architectural environment of a nineteenth-century Kilindi royal compound, such as once existed (and still partially exists) in the village of Kwembago
  3.  the development of revenue-generating cultural and educational programs and walking tours that will benefit the local community as well as domestic and foreign cultural tourism, focusing specifically on the history of the Shambaa kingdom, the role of Kwembago within that history, and the local interaction of the Kilindi clans with the larger Shambaa, Nango, Mbugu, and Pare peoples.

The successful achievement of these three main objectives will establishing a new kind of infrastructure for the preservation and promotion of local culture heritage and will cater to a localized form of cultural tourism. Additionally, Most this infrastructure will provide a space where members of the historical Kilindi sub-chiefdom of Kwembago can practice their rich cultural heritage in a supportive environment, while promoting a renaissance of mila, or heritage, among local youths.

The Kwembago Nyumba ya Mila will also serve as a research and educational center for the documentation, promotion, and marketing of the Usambara’s indigenous culture, knowledge, and language within a larger context of Tanzanian cultural pride and preservation. The center would enhance the limited education about Usambara cultural heritage received in national educational systems at the primary, secondary, and university levels. Research conducted and documentations created for this project would be shared with Tanzanian educational institutions via the internet for the purpose of curricular development. The project could also serve as a model for the development of similar projects in local communities elsewhere in Tanzania.

The centre would provide an opportunity to train younger generations through schools, would provide research assistance on local culture to visiting scholars, scientists, entrepreneurs, and government representatives; and would promote the West Usambara Mountains to Tanzanians and foreigners through publicity
(including web, newsletter and magazine, domestic and international
advertisement). The provision of a guesthouse will provide foreign and domestic visitors with a more authentic and sanitary experience of staying in a local village while educating them about traditional life in a royal community.

The centre would also provide foreign visitors with a new tourist attraction that gives them direct access to Shambaa cultural heritage, educates them about past and continued traditional practices, and takes them on educational walking tours via ancient trails that once connected the Kilindi village of Kwembago with other regional sub-chiefdoms and ecological sites of great cultural importance. The center would fall under the larger umbrella of the Friends of Usambaras, while maintaining its own identity and administrative structure.

FoU proposes that one third of the revenues gained from guesthouse stays, cultural center entrance fees and walking tours, and event rentals will be paid to the village of Kwembago for a community-identified cultural project or need. One third of the revenues will be paid to FoU to administer, maintain, and self-sustain the development of the project following three years of project implementation. One third will be used to pay local information sources, knowledge keepers, storytellers, and/or artists.