Arusha Project


Caving
August 13, 2007, 8:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Yesterday, Tom took us caving in an area that was used as a hiding place during the slave trade. Tom explained that in the 17th century, people started migrating inland to avoid becoming a subject of the burgeoning Arab slave trade in the coastal regions. However, slaving crept inland as well. Fearful of capture and hoping to preserve their livelihoods, people took refuge in natural caves. The one we were hiking to in the Meru region sheltered about 100 individuals from the 17th to the 18th century. Mostly children and elders stayed in the cave, whilst the adults worked outside, hunting and foraging for food and supplies.

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We walked an hour and a half from the main road up a lush hillside that increasingly steepened with elevation. Near the top, the striking view encompassed most of the eastern Arusha region. Tom picked out rectangular areas of land that farmers rent from the neighbourhood association to plant crops. It seemed like modern sharecropping, with a little more community development involved.
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Further on, we ran into a group of people, apparently waiting for us. A grandpa sat on a rock explaining that this was his land, his house, his garden, and that we were welcome. His sons were to be our guides. Tom walked over a short hedge into what looked like the side-piece of someone’s garden and stopped in front of a small mound of rocks. We looked in and immediately felt a warm whiff of air from within. The heat was from the evaporation from the lake, Tom said. The opening was little wider than three feet and just taller than one. It opened up inside, they promised.

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After waiting for a few minutes for someone to run to buy batteries for the flashlights our newly met guides would carry, we one by one approached the cave. It was best to lodge yourself in feet first so you were sitting on the dirt, then bend sideways and creep into the hole sideways so you could see the footholds on the sides of the short vertical shaft. Once inside, the cave did open up into a small “room” and then continued in a long, thin hallway. It opened up again, the guides said, but a boulder had recently fallen, blocking the passage. Inside the cave, Tom picked out areas that were used for sleeping, nursing, cooking, etc. He told us how all activity was conducted in the caves and only for short periods of time would the inhabitants venture outside when they deemed it safe enough.

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He continued, when the Germans came, they ended the slave trade, but brought religion with them. Resisting colonization, the local peoples often fought back. They believed that if they tried to kill the Germans, they would rise up in three days with stronger powers, so they would kill the religious figures and colonizers and cut them up into small pieces so that the remains of their bodies would have no way to contact their god and come back from the dead. They buried them all together on the hill. It seems like a religious misunderstanding, or some intricate scheme on the part of the colonizers.

These were stories passed down the generations, knowledge that Tom sought out from his grandparents and parents. A verbal history, if you will.

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