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The Gogo: History, Customs and Traditions

Ugogo is the region of Tanzania that Dodoma is in – basically, it’s the middle bit. The people of Ugogo are called Wagogo (plural); one person is an mgogo.

Recently I’ve read an English translation of Mathias E Mnyampala’s The Gogo: History, Customs and Traditions written in 1954. While much of the book reads something a bit like Numbers in the Bible – names and clans that don’t mean much to me – many of the place names are familiar, and there’s an extended essay at the beginning which helps to interpret the information. I gained many fascinating insights into what the region we live in was like before and during colonial rule.

To start with, here’s a quick run-down of the history of the region according to what I picked up.

  • pre-600 years ago – Ugogo is inhabited by 3 tribes plus some pygmies.
  • 600 years ago – Experiencing disruption in their home places, a massive Bantu migration occurs. Bitter about their experiences there, they give up their old names and take on the customs of the Ugogo region.
  • The new Wagogo people prosper with livestock and crops but this makes them a threat to the Maasai and Wahehe to the north, and they fight a war. The Wagogo are largely disorganised and don’t trust each other while also admiring the Maasai, so they don’t do very well. Just as they started to co-ordinate and grow strong, European rule begins.
  • Late 19thC – the Germans were the first colonisers of what became German East Africa. In Ugogo, they made village leaders wajumbe which means delegate or representatives. The wajumbe reported to maakida, German tax clerks, and were required to treat them as honoured guests on pain of whipping. There was a boma (government outpost) but most people did not trust this because the soldiers’ evidence was always taken over testimony given by Wagogo.
  • World War One – English and Germans fight in Ugogo, involving many Wagogo and placing great demands on labour and food. There is a rumour that watemi (hereditary rain chiefs) who hate the Germans meet secretly with the English. As the Germans flee, many of them seize Wagogo as porters and displace them. (The German government eventually pays wages to the survivors.) The rains are poor and there is a great famine. Many die.
  • post-World War One – English rule. The English are big on education and say they will abolish the maakida and hand over rule to the Wagogo. The new rulers are called ‘Native Authorities’ and ‘Native Treasuries’. There is some controversy about how these people are appointed.
  • 1954 – amid fears of nationalisation, the English government commissions Mnyampala to write a history of the Wagogo to emphasise their unity as their own people. The first generation educated under the colonists starts to work in the government. The Ugogo Union is formed as a local counterpart to Julius Nyerere’s larger TANU (nationalist association.)

Next up, how to interpret this book. Then we’ll look at what life was like for the Wagogo, and what happened under colonialism.

Categories: Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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