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The Calabash Kids
A Tale of Tanzania


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Copyright © 1996, 1998, 2005 Aaron Shepard. All rights reserved.


Here is background info on my story.—Aaron

This tale comes from the Chagga people—a collective name for a variety of Bantu peoples living on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. Though of diverse origin, they have developed a common language and culture, distinct from those of the surrounding plains.

A Chagga story about children growing from gourds is not surprising, because Chaggas are often named after gourds. For instance, two common names for females are Mambiri, which means “ripe,” and Mambishi, “not ripe.” (Kitete, however, is not such a name.)

Though some of us might feel uneasy that children should work for their mother, this is part of the traditional education called ipvunda, based on “learning by doing.” Instead of studying subjects in classrooms, children took part in the same activities they would carry on as adults. Nowadays, though, Chagga children attend regular schools, as introduced by the British colonialists and continued by the independent government.

The source for my retelling was Kilimanjaro and Its People, by Charles Dundas, Witherby, High Holburn, England, 1924. The information here on Chagga names and education came from Ladi Semali, a Chagga and an assistant professor of education at Pennsylvania State University.