The Ngorongoro House at Gibb’s Farm

The front door of Ngorongoro House faces Ngorongoro Conservation Area, less than 40 feet away.  The Ngorongoro Crater, only one and a half hour’s drive, or seven hours walk from Gibb’s Farm, hosts one of the largest concentration of wildlife in Africa. There are many smaller craters also within the conservation area, such as Empakai and Olmoti.

There are many interesting stories surrounding the origins of the name Ngorongoro. This version is the one we prefer:

The Datong and Hadzabe people occupied the area long before the Maasai. Around 1840 they were driven out by the Maasai. The story we prefer regards an elder Mzee Ngoyoo Mollel who lived in the area. [His likeness has been carved, see photo right.] He was a maker of cow bells, or inkokorri, which he used for trade. The bells he made hung from many of the cows and goats in the area, each with a very sweet sound. The community, called lkorongoro, desired the sound of Mzee’s bells, a pleasant way to keep track of a herd.

The sweet sounding bell speaks ngoro ngoro ngoro.  The German’s, the first Europeans in the area, heard mzee’s bells in the early 1800’s and came to call the area Ngorongoro.

Mzee likely obtained the metal for his cowbells from the Somalis to the north or Toga people from the south.  Traded pots and cups from such people were recycled into bells and bush knives.  Highly valued spears and knives were made by the Toga people who had access to the iron ore and forge technology. Mzee Ngoyoo made the cowbells so loved by the community for filling the air with ngoro ngoro ngoro. 

As he was an elder he enjoyed tobacco.  Some would trade tobacco for small bells. Warriors would trade the alartata, a long walk stick used by wazee - helpful when walking down steep trails such as the Ngorongoro Crater rim.  Villagers would trade their goat or cow skins for bowls and cups with the Somalians or Togan people. Mzee Ngoyoo Mollel used the pots for cooking medicine.  When the pots were worn out, he would fashion them into bells. Especially prized were his battle bells worn by

the warriors on the thigh.

Such bells were used when raiding cattle or defending the hunting lands. Ejore Olorora is the act of one raiding party taking the cows from another raiding group returning from the village from where the cows came from. When the second party, Ejore Olorora, returns to the Manyatta a very strong irmurran will challenge others to prove his strength and dominance. He will commonly control the distribution of the prize,

an event called enkiriaba.

Wazee tought the warriors how to make shields and the alartata stick for themselves. There are many stories of warriors who learn from their fathers and elders, most importantly how to live a strong and honorable life well into retirement.

Bring the cows home, enkiriaba, is a significant part of Ejore Olorora.  The raiding party is greeted with great celebration upon their return home. Fathers and mothers are eager to recognize their sons’ achievements, but jealous if only a few cattle are put away into the paddocks. The shields and weapons made under the instruction of the elders are prized – they usually account for a more successful return.

When metal was scarce mzee Ngoyoo Mollel made goats bells from the wood of the Orbilli tree. Today the area is known as Ngorongoro for the making and sound of Mzee’s bells.  He and his fellow Maasai call the area lrkorongoro.

It’s estimated that Ngorongoro Crater formed about 2-3 million years ago when a volcano thought to be almost 15,000-19,000 feet high exploded and became the largest un-flooded caldera in the world.  Many who travel through the Crater see the Maasai, who moved into the area during the 19th century amid battles with the Datoga, who eventually moved south leaving the Maasai in control of  the Serengeti/Ngorongoro plains and the crater.

Today’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area has been through several transitions over time.  In 1930 all of what is today Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Conservation Area became a “closed Reserve”, which meant that anyone wanting to hunt or photograph inside the area needed special permission.  In 1932 the first road to the crater rim became accessible and within the next couple of years the first lodge began construction.  It was called Ngorongoro Crater Lodge with its first earliest building constructed in 1937 , now unrecognizable in the current form operated by Conservation Corporation Africa (CCA) and opened in 1997.  In 1951 Serengeti became the first National Park in Tanganyika (later called Tanzania) and it included the Ngorongoro highlands.  In 1959 the Eastern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater were removed from the National Park and formed into the present Conservation Area.

The Maasai who lived in the Serengeti were often in disagreement with the National Park and were relocated to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  They were allowed to settle in the crater until about 1976 when they were moved off the Crater floor.  Today, the Maasai can still take their herds down to the crater floor for water in the morning but only with special permission.  The Maasai are very much a part of the Ngorongoro area and visitors cannot help but notice the Maasai once entering the Conservation Area and making their way to the Crater descent road.  These pastoralists are often seen tending their herds in their signature brightly colored, distinct apparel and adornments.  Near the descent road there is a boma that allows visitors to enter and interact with the inhabitants.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is perhaps a lone world example of a national reserve to include an indigenous people.  Unlike the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro highland biosphere is an example (good or bad) of humans living in harmony with the environment.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area became a Natural World Heritage Site in 1979 because of its natural and cultural significance.  It has one of the largest concentrations of wildlife including a small and isolated population of black rhino and it also includes Oldupai Gorge, significant for discoveries and research concerning the evolution of humans.  The most famous discovery being the Laetoli footprints discovered by Louis and Mary Leakey and estimated to have been made 3.6 million years ago.  The Ngorongoro Conservation Area became part of the Serengeti-Ngorongoro biosphere reserve in 1982.  Biosphere reserves are designated by UNESCO and exhibit a balanced relationship between humans and the encompassed ecosystems within the designated area. Sterling Riber’s (1) captures this cohabitation in his large photography work Ngorongoro Boma.

The history of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is intimately tied with the history of Gibb’s Farm.  In 1959 when the Conservation Area was established, there was an influx of visitors to Northern Tanzania.  At this time, James Gibb had owned the coffee farm for about eleven years and just recently married his wife, Margaret.  The coffee producers in Tanzania were suffering from the low prices of coffee and James and Margaret were finding it hard to survive on coffee production alone.  In 1972 they opened a few cottages to accommodate the growing number of visitors to the Conservation Area, thus becoming one of the oldest accommodations in Northern Tanzania.

This ambitious sculpture by Charles Bies (2), a SANAA artist-in-residence, depicts the relationship of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and its inhabitants, both wild life and humans.  The bottom of the sculpture represents the Crater holding the vast amount of wildlife such as elephants, buffalo, hippos, primates, and more.  The piece of the sculpture jutting up on the left hand side represents a waterfall, similar to the waterfall seen near the Elephant Caves near Gibb’s Farm, with a buffalo standing at the base of the waterfall and flowers curling up the side.  The right protrusion of the sculpture touches upon the Maasai connection to the crater with a traditional Maasai house and Maasai woman at the bottom waiting for her moran (warrior) to herd the cows home from the top.  This sculpture conveys the relationship that exists between the wildlife, environment and the culture groups within the crater.  The wood used for this is ebony , or Mpingo in Swahili.  You will notice that this piece has not been polished but rather the artist chose to exhibit the two-toned nature of this wood, lighter around the edge and darker in the middle.

In Riziki Kateya’s, a regular SANAA artist-in-residence, botanical illustration above the Ocimum Suave is documented (3).  The plant medicine can be found in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and forest.  It is one among nearly fifty phyto-medicines used by the Osero Forest Clinic and African Living Spa.  It is used often to relax the stomach and body, and as a mouth freshener.

Reinhard Kunkel’s (4) incredible photography book (right) details the wondrous aspects of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  His large image of a small rhino herd in the crater with the rim face set to the background dominates image; the imposing stone wall of the bedroom area echos the crater rim.  (See room photo below).

A past resident of the reserve, Kunkel looked down into the crater in 1963. Ten years later he returned to live there to work on the Rhino Project.  A Berliner, he studied economics at Saarbrüeken. A German champion in his teens his swimming career later led to his first African safari.  The safari saw the end of the economist and the beginning of the wildlife photographer, filmmaker and writer. He is the author of African Elephants (1998), and his photographs and articles have appeared in many magazines, including: National Geographic, Life, Stern, Geo, Paris-Match, Terre Sauvage, BBC Wildlife Magazine and the Sunday Times magazine.

Msaguta’s (5) print suggests a harmonious relationship between the indigenous people of Ngorongoro and the biosphere teaming with wildlife.

A textile called Mud Cloth is draped on a rail  across the stone wall.  Surrounding the Ngorongoro area accommodations are very informal, the motifs includes coffee, crops, and traditional design.

Rush Nyakundi’s (6) oil painting of four cows represents the Maasai co-habitation experience in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area just outside the door of this house.  Gibb’s Farm offers a variety of activities that include its neighbor, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  There is a two hour guided walk to the Elephant Caves inside the Conservation Area.  These caves were made by elephants and buffalo coming to the area to dig out minerals from the hillside.  The bird walk sometimes includes the Conservation Area, which has over 400 species of birds, many unique to this area. 

It also ventures into Namnyak Village were three Maasai Morani live who work at Gibb’s Farm with the Osero Forest Clinic project (photo right).  They helped construct the dwellings in 2007 located along the reserve and farm estate forest boarder.  Two of them are traditional Maasai healers who uses traditional healing techniques to help employees and travelers.   With the clinic they are typically providing primary heath care to 500 employees and dependents along with the staff allopathic (western) healer.


(1) Sterling Riber, Ngorongoro Boma, photography

(2) Charles Bies, Ngorongoro,

Mpingo wood carving,  A Commissioned Sanaa work.

(3) Riziki Kateya, Ocimum Suave, off-set lithography from water color original in the Sanaa Gallery collection.  A Commissioned Sanaa work.

(4) Reinhard Kunkel, Ngorongoro photography and literary publication

(5) Msaguta, lithography

Sanaa Art Gallery Collection installed in each cottage.  Select works have been commissioned to carry the theme and lesson of the house.

(6) Rush Nyakundi, oil on canvas

(1) Charles Bies, Mzee Ngoyoo Mollel ,wood carving,  A Commissioned Sanaa work.