Pare people



The Pare (Asu) are a Northeast Bantu-speaking people of Tanzania who are part of the larger Shambaa cluster of peoples.

The Pare (pronounced "Pahray") people are members of an ethnic group indigenous to the Pare Mountains of northern Tanzania, part of the Kilimanjaro Region. Historically, Pareland was also known as Vuasu (South Pare) and Vughweno (North Pare) to its inhabitants. The location lies on one of the northern routes of the historic East-African long-distance trade, connecting the hinterland with the coast of the Indian Ocean.

Pare people

The people of Vuasu (Asu being the root word) are referred to as Vaasu and they speak a language known as Chasu or Athu. The people of Vughweno (Ugweno, in Swahili) are referred to as Vaghweno (Wagweno in Swahili) and they speak a language known as Kighweno (Gweno in Swahili).

Although once constituting a single, greater Vughweno area; current residents of northern Pare recognise two sub-areas based on ethnolinguistic differences: Gweno-speaking Ugweno to the north and Chasu-speaking Usangi to the south. The general interaction of the Pare people with the Ma'a (Va-ma'a) or Mbughu people (an ethnic group with Cushitic origins) has also led to one of the few genuinely mixed languages, reputedly combining Chasu (Bantu) grammar with Cushitic vocabulary (i.e. Kimbughu language).

The Pare have a current population of ap- proximately 240,000 people (James S.Olson 1996).

They are a patrilineal people who are divided among Christian, Muslim, and shamanistic faiths.

Since the 1970s, the Pare have been affected by the Tanzanian government's program (ujamaa) to elimínate the homestead settlement pattern in favor of bringing groups into villages where public education and health programs can be more effective. The government has also abolished the traditional chiefdoms and is working to integrate the Pare into the larger body politic.


From the 1940s, the Parelands flourished from the growth of the coffee economy. Consequently, modern Parelands are, by Tanzanian standards, quite prosperous, as its infrastructure of roads, electricity, telephones, and piped water supply attests. The area's main produce is tea, coffee, sisal, and cinchona. Rice is grown in the swampy plains.

An older infrastructure of irrigation furrows, stone-lined terraces and sacred forests lies alongside these newer technologies and shows that the Pare landscape has been carefully managed for centuries. In 1890, for example, a German geographer praised the stone terraces of the area as being similar to European vineyards and stated that the northern Pare irrigation system was a "truly magnificent achievement for a primitive people" It has been argued that the establishment and management of the irrigation infrastructure system depended on institutions that could contribute to knowledge of the development of irrigated agriculture.


Traditional food

Makande is a typical dish of the Pare tribe and is popular throughout Tanzania. The dish is a stew of maize, red beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and chicken stock. It is usually prepared on Friday and lasts through Sunday evening, giving people more time to socialize during the weekend without worrying about cooking. The food is kept in a large clay pot on damp ground so it stays cool.

Kishumba is a traditional Pare dish of banana cooked with red beans and crushed to make a hard porridge.

Vughai is a traditional Pare dish of hard porridge prepared with banana, cassava or maize flour (or a mixture of both). It is served with vegetable, beans or meat/fish/chicken stew (or both if available). When served with meat/chicken, it is considered as a welcoming dish for guests.

Special foods are also given to women after giving birth, to aid in their quick recovery.


Traditional medicine

Before the introduction of western medicine, there were certain diseases that were cured using traditional medicine. When Lutheran missionaries were actively introducing Christianity and western style medicine in north Pare and later in south Pare from the early 1900s, it was acknowledged: "The Pare people did not embrace the modern institutions introduced by the missionaries as readily as the Chaga. The stronger position of local healers meant that traditional medicine was never rejected as an inferior or backward tradition …”.

For children who used to suffer from Wintu (mouth sore), a fungal disease thought to come from the mother's breast, they were treated by giving them sheep's milk instead of breast milk.

Kirumu, kirutu, and kinyoka (eye infection of the newborn) may be neonatal conjunctivitis. The juice of leaves from a plant called mwore was used as a cure.

Mtoro (diarrhea) made 'the child as thin as firewood' and ash of the root of wild banana was administered orally as its medicine.

The most prominent traditional belief within the Pare community was when a baby's milk teeth grew from the upper jaw; they believed it to be a curse to the society and thus killed the baby by throwing them off a large rock with a steep slope facing down a mountain.

Pare people are known to have a variety of medicine for all sorts of diseases, largely enabled by the fertile area with natural vegetation and an unpolluted land with few people.


Traditional appearance

Traditionally, the Vaghonu were marked by a black streak running from the middle of the forehead to the nose. Unmarried warriors were characterised as muscular and their bodies were plastered with grease and a red clay. They had different hairstyles: fully shaven, cut at the crown, worn in a thatch hanging down their necks, and twisted into thin dreads (most common). The men carried spears and shields and wore a piece of cloth or hide that hung across their breasts.

In nearby Shighatini, missionaries managed to take a picture (in the year 1902) of the Pare men in traditional clothing; refer to link: Pare Men Wearing Traditional Clothing.

The women wore a garment of hide fastened around their waist. They had spirals of iron wire as arm and leg ornaments. They also wore large earrings made of beads, thick necklaces of brass and iron-decorated wooden ear stretchers.


Traditional housing

The Pare built two types of round houses:


Sacred sites

The origins of a clan can be traced through the location of its sacred sites. For instance, despite the Shana having migrated to other parts of Pareland, their sacred sites remain in Ugweno, signifying their place of origin. Sacred sites can be referred to as Mpungi (for lineages), Mshitu/Mtiru (for clans), and Kwa Mrigha or Kwa Kivia (for ancestors). At these sites, various tribal ceremonies, customs and/or initiation were performed.


Cultural misconception

In Tanzania, referring to someone as "Pare" is synonymous with calling them "stingy" or "cheap". Even during Tanzania's history of economic hardship, the Pare believed in making ends meet by adopting strict budget plans, albeit having insufficient funds. Given their honest and direct nature about their economic circumstances, this has been misinterpreted and stereotyped nationally. However, culturally the Pare just strive to be open and fair, hence a lack of hypocrisy in declaring their finances as modest and incorruptible (despite the odds) is viewed as the right thing to do.