Pare Culture

The Pare (locally, Wapare) hail from the Taita Hills area of southern Kenya, where they were herders, hunters and farmers. It was the Maasai, according to Pare oral tradition, who pursued them into the mountains, capturing and stealing their cattle. Today, many Pare are farmers, cultivating plots of vegetables, maize, bananas, cassava and cardamom. Thanks to significant missionary activity, the Pare distinguish themselves as being among Tanzania’s most educated groups. During the 1940s, leading Pares formed the Wapare Union, which played an important role in the independence drive.

Traditional Pare society is patrilineal. Fathers are considered to have great authority during their lifetime as well as after death, and all those descended from a single man through male links share a sense of common fate. Once a man dies, his ghost influences all male descendants for as long as the ghost’s name is remembered. After this, the dead man’s spirit joins a collectively influential body of ancestors. Daughters are also dependent on the goodwill of their father. Yet, since property and status are transmitted through the male line, a father’s ghost only has influence over his daughter’s descendants until her death.

The Pare believe that deceased persons possess great powers, and thus have developed elaborate rituals centred on the dead. Near most villages are sacred areas where the skulls of tribal chiefs are kept, although you’re unlikely to see these unless you spend an extended period in the mountains. When people die, they are believed to inhabit a netherworld between the land of the living and the spirit world. If they are allowed to remain in this state, ill fate will befall their descendants. The prescribed rituals allowing the deceased to pass into the world of the ancestors are of great importance.

For more about Pare culture, read The Shambaa Kingdom by Steven Feierman (1974) and Lute: The Curse and the Blessing by Jakob Janssen Dannholz, who established the first mission station at Mbaga.