Land of Africa’s highest mountain, Tanzania and the snows capped Mount Kilimanjaro have inspired authors like Ernest Hemingway and many avid climbers. Today Chris, a Chaga man whose ethnic group has always lived on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, is now living in the pretty town of Echuca in regional Victoria. After 20 years spent in Echuca, Chris tells us more about the first 18 years of his life in his native country, Tanzania.
Tanzania is home for more than 125 ethnic groups and the Chaga tribe is one of the largest groups near Mount Kilimanjaro. Their staple food is mainly banana, which is used in the banana beer called Mbege and many of their local dishes. They are also known for implementing successful agricultural methods with extensive irrigation systems, terracing and continuous organic fertilization practised for thousands of years.
Originally from the picturesque region of the Chaga, Chris was born and grew up in the vibrant city of Dar es Salaam where his father migrated leaving the town of Moshi to get into business in the economic heart of Tanzania. Literally named ‘the residence of peace’, Dar es Salaam is the largest city of Tanzania where Chris’ Sri Lankan maternal family arrived as expatriates sent by the British government to work in the main railway company, Tazara. Chris stills holds pleasant memories of growing up on Dar es Salaam as he portrays it a place where many diverse cultures inhabit the city, “not only you can find Tanzanians but Chinese, Japanese, Americans, Italians, Greeks and Scandinavians giving me the opportunity to meet people from different parts of the world and inspiring me to discover other places and languages.”
Chris also stresses the beauty of Dar es Salaam’s surroundings with pristine and secluded beaches located “at your doorstep.” Additionly, he feels that the country is as unique as the cosmopolitan and resort-like Dar es Salaam. He tells that not only is it the land of the highest mountain in Africa but Tanzania has the most beautiful national reserves such as Serengeti, Ngorongo and Gombe Stream National Park “where you can see the wilderness and watch animals in their true habitat.”
The history of the country also reveals the cultural diversity of the Tanzania as it is the combination of the name Tanganyika meaning ‘sail in the wilderness’ in Swahili and the name Zanzibar derived from Persian meaning ‘the coast of black people’. Tanzania became independent by kicking out the British in 1962 and their first president, Julius Nyerere, nicknamed Baba wa Taifa (meaning Father of the Nation) played an important role in unifying Tanganyika to the Zanzibar archipelago.
Culturally speaking, Chris tells that Zanzibaris have been greatly influenced by the Arabs. The island used to be run by Arab traders involved in slave and spices trade. Chris reminds us that Zanzibari was also a holding area of slaves coming from many ports of Africa. Today the Arab culture is entrenched in Zanzibar as Arabic words have been integrated into their Swahili language. Interestingly, Zanzibar remains an autonomous island where Zanzibaris used to pay respect to their Sultan, who was then replaced by the President of Zanzibar after the Independence.
It was in 1990 that Chris enrolled at the then Monash University to study Business Management for four years. His then girlfriend, who became his wife, invited him to discover Echuca for a weekend and as Chris expressed it he “fell in love with the town.” He has now formed his family in Echuca, a town that he proudly calls ‘home’ and where “everyone knows who you are and Echuca inhabitants are genuinely interested in where you come from.” After many years growing up between the paradisiacal beaches and heaven-like skies of Tanzania, what is important for Chris is also to inspire and share with his family “my origins, my background, knowing where and what I grew up with. I want my children to know the good and the not-so-good parts of things. I want them to also know my privilege growing up in the raw beauty of Tanzania and as the first boy of the family.”