The Meru

The Meru are Bantu people who settle in the area between Mt. Meru and Mt. Kilimanjaro. The name 'Meru' is a foreign designation. The Meru themselves call their people ‘Varwa’ or ‘Rwo’. Probably the term Meru originated because of a false transcription by the early missionaries and thus became the common appellation. The Meru language is a kind of Chagga dialect. According to their tradition, three clan leaders came from the Usambara Mountains to the region west of Mt. Kilimanjaro. two of them, Kaaya and Mbise, went further westerly to Mt. Meru, while the third, Macame, went easterly to Mt. Kilimanjaro. The clan of Macame belongs to the Chagga while Mbise and Kaaya are Meru people. This myth tells about a fraternity between the Chagga and the Meru. This cannot be proven historically, though, as there is no cultural or linguistic relationship between the Meru and the Shambaa, who are the people of the Usambara Mountains. Today there is a common agreement about the Meru being Chagga people who came westerly in the middle of the 17th century. The Meru are organised in clans with a patrilineal lineage. The female members of the clan marry men out of different clans and then become members of their husband's clan. Being a fully initiated member of the community is the most important precondition for marriage. In case of the Meru this means being circumcised. The marriage ceremony is mostly held immediately after the circumcision of the bride. The marriage age varies between 20 and 30 years for the men and between 18 and 25 for the women. Besides kinship, belonging to different age classes is another central attribute of the Meru society. There are three classes as a whole but only according to the second class of the vasero warriors an initiation is required. The highest political charge is that of mangi who reigns over the Meru clan. He is principally a member of the kaaya clan. All conflicts are tried to be solved through Palaver which is the common practice in almost every African society. All people who are involved come together and talk until a solution is found which fits the interests of all participants.

Agriculture is the traditional economic system. The Meru cultivate beans, corn and bananas in small gardens. They also have small cattle herds. As farmers, the Meru live in farm houses with their core family consisting of parents and the unmarried children. Sometimes also married children stay at their parent’s house if they do not have their own residency. Besides agriculture, the Meru are well known beekeepers. Hollowed-out tree trunks are hung up on the branches of special trees. In former times honey wine was made out of the honey and used especially during different ritualistic processes. Drinking this wine was a prerogative of the elder men of the community. During the19th century, honey wine was widely replaced by beer which is now also incorporated in the ritualistic functions.
Today the majority of the Meru are Christians. The belief in ancestral spirits is widely common. There is a tight relationship between the clan, its ancestors and the land they settle on. This relationship must be worshipped through different religious practices. There is also a belief in witchcraft and magical practices. The Meru have Vanga people, who have healing abilities and therefore deal with good spirits. Whereas the Vasawi are malevolent witches mostly dealing with poison to harm their victims.