There are about 120 different tribes in Tanzania. Chaga is one of the most populous of these tribes. Most Chaga live in the Kilimanjaro region, especially around the mountain. The culture is notoriously hardworking and intelligent. They are also relatively small people. The Glorious family is Chaga. The kids speak very limited Chaga, however the parents speak it as their first language. They grew up in a village where they practiced traditional Chaga customs.
There’s your introduction, here’s the story. The other day I was working in Uzima Healing Center writing some brochures to be sent out to a partner organization we have in Missouri. I spent a lot of time alone that day so it was very productive, but after a few hours of high-concentration work, I grew restless. I fired up my ipod and began ballerina-style dancing around the room to Billy Joel. Mama pulled up to the healing center about halfway through the song, so I quickly composed myself and sat back down to work. Still, I was giddy and involuntarily whistled as I worked. Mama came in, we chatted, then she settled down in her office and I continued to whistle and work away. Suddenly I heard her howling with laughter from the other room.
laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh
“Mama, what’s so funny?”
laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh, laugh….”You! You-you’re-you’re whistling!” She choked out.
“Yeah, do you not know how to whistle?”
“No, no, sweet heart not that. Women don’t whistle here. It means they’re trying to be a man. If I ever whistled in front of my husband ooo-wee!” She clicked her tongue and laughed while shaking her head.
I don’t know why I was feeling so melodious that day, but this exchange happened another two or three times: I would begin whistling and mama would laugh and laugh. I find the unwritten rule so puzzling: women can’t whistle. They can burp, they can eat food with their fingers, but they can’t whistle. By now, I usually catch myself when I whistle, but never before a few heads snap puzzledly in my direction.