Rainmaking and Climate Change in Tanzania: Traditions, Rituals and Globalisation

Researcher: Terje Oestigaard
Project established in 2010.

Water is the basis for all agricultural practices. The absence and presence of different types of water sources structure all societies whether it is rain, river or lakes or a combination of different water bodies at a certain place, which is used and needed. Too much water at the wrong time of the year is as bad as too little water when it is really needed. The life-giving water is in a special category because it highlights human’s essential and vital need for a specific type of water at a particular time for agriculture and successful harvests. This is most often the annual flood or the rain season.

The water world changes according to seasonal rhythms, human modifications such as dam building and irrigation schemes, and consequences of globalisation and climate change. Climate change as experienced by people is to a large extent changes in water systems resulting in more droughts or more floods and unpredictable weather, directly impacting on agrarian practices.

Although the water world with the absence and presence of water is a consequence of hydrological and climatic parameters, in traditional African societies the occurrences of the annual flood or rain have been a fundamental part of culture and religion. It is these life-giving waters which give the successful harvest and life and prosperity to people. Depending upon the ecological contexts, different rituals are conducted with regards to the life-giving waters in the forms of rain, rivers and lakes according to when and how these different types of water are included in the domestic sphere for agrarian purposes.

In Tanzania rainmaking has been an intrinsic part of culture and religion. The rainmaker is responsible for the wealth and health of his people by controlling and providing the life-giving waters. Thus, the rainmaker tries to control and manipulate nature by rituals where the forefathers and the deceased provide rain through the chieftain or the king as a medium. The chieftain or king’s divinity is defined by his power to control disasters, which includes the fertility of the fields, the health and wealth of humans and animals, epidemics, plagues, and safety from attacks by wild beasts, etc. If the chieftain or king fails to provide the life-giving waters and wealth and health to his people, he could be killed because he threatens the safety of the society. Agricultural practices are thus deeply rooted in culture and religion linking the ancestors to the structure and governance of society. These beliefs co-exist in Christianity where droughts or failure of the annual rains are seen as a penalty by God due to people’s disobedience and sinful behaviour. Together, these traditional believes are under pressure due to modernity and globalisation.

In order to understand changing agricultural practices the project will study the relation between traditional rainmaking and agricultural practices in the face of modernity and globalisation. This will involve a dual approach: On the one hand, how do changes or resilience in the traditional culture and religion with regards to rainmaking affect the actual agricultural practices, and on the other hand, how do introduction of new agricultural activities and crops, higher stress and pressure on land and water resources, growing population, shortage of food, erratic rainfall patterns and climate change influence the actual ritual practices and religious beliefs with cultural consequences in society?

The area of investigation will be the Mwanza region in northern Tanzania by the shores of Lake Victoria. Mwanza is the second largest town in Tanzania and in the Mwanza region 85% of the population practice smallholder agriculture. In this region rivers flow into Lake Victoria which also enables a comparison of how traditions and rituals with regards to different bodies of water such as rain, rivers and lake may enable changing and various strategies and agricultural practices in relation to globalization and climate change.

East Africa
Religious practice
Terje Oestigaard
Traditional culture
climate change
climatic parameters
dam building
erratic rainfall climate change influence
growing population
irrigation schemes
life-giving waters
religious beliefs
ritual practices
shortage of food
unpredictable weather
water sources
To the top