The Tloma House at Gibb’s Farm

While driving to Gibb’s Farm from the main road, you may not have realized it but you drove right through the village of Tloma.  Gibb’s Farm is intimately tied with its neighboring village, Tloma, in many ways.  Not only is it right next door to the farm but also many of the staff at Gibb’s Farm reside in this village and Gibb’s is responsible for projects that aim to help the education of Tloma’s youth. 

The Iraqw, one of the culture groups that reside in this area, primarily inhabit Tloma.  Many of the activities offered at Gibb’s Farm allow travelers to experience and observe Iraqw traditions and ways of life such as the cultural walk.  This walk exposes travelers to a traditional Iraqw house and delves into the dynamics of the household.  You will see how a traditional house is built into a hillside and, therefore, partly underground to afford protection from their traditional nemesis and fellow cattlemen, the Maasai.  Traditional houses are made of mud and local clay whereas modern Iraqw houses are typically made of brick and not necessarily nestled into a hillside.  Travelers are able to view a brick factory on the cultural walk that exhibits the process of acquiring bricks to make these modern houses.

Many of the traditional activities that villagers participate in are portrayed in the carving Kazi (1) by Charles Bies, a SANNA artist-in-residence.  Kazi is the Swahili word for ‘work’ and this piece portrays the interconnection of individuals resulting in the successful operation of the village as a whole.  The close up of the bottom of the sculpture shows a villager pounding grain with a wooden mortar and pestle.  This is still done today in the village as well as at Gibb’s Farm during the processing of coffee.  The pounding bowl can be seen in the corner of the cottage.  Other traditional shamba tools, such as two examples of hoes are hung on the wall.   These were found and created in a recent season’s Intercultural Indigenous Knowledge class conducted with farm employees.  These classes are a result of a commissioned curriculum.  These employee classes facilitate the discovery and sharing of important aspects of the history, oral literature, traditional economy    and spirituality of the particular ethnic groups represented in our community.  This serves to preserve the knowledge, to prevent its loss by using it with the aim to equip the participants to serve as ‘cultural communicators’ or storytellers.

If you participate in the guided farm or village walks, you may be able to see some of these activities such as pounding the grain or witness the detailed work that goes into the creation of an Iraqw wedding skirt such as the one lying in the box by the fireplace. 

A wedding skirt takes about three months to make because of the involved process that goes into its creation.  The leather needs to be tanned by hand using a fruit from a local plant and the intricate, purposeful beadwork is woven on the skirt and tells a story older than the bride who will wear it on her wedding day.

Farming and livestock are very important to Tloma.  The Iraqw grow maize as their staple crop, which can be used for ugali, a stiff porridge.  Sweet potatoes, legumes and similar crops are also grown for sustenance.  Various traditional farming tools can be found in Tloma House.

As you walk along the village roads you will often see the women display a delicate yet effortless balancing act by carrying buckets of water, baskets filled with necessities or bags of grain on their head, similar to those in Robert Aswani’s ‘Village Ladies’ (2) painting.  Robert is a SANAA artist-in-residence.  Iraqw women traditionally take care of the cooking, cleaning, and childcare.  These activities of the house are considered the women’s domain and an area that men do not enter or question.  The household unit is highly valued in the Iraqw culture.  How a man and women behave or act within their household directly affects their position within the community.  If an adult is a good husband, wife, mother or father, he or she is respected within the community.

Tloma life was captured (right) by French artist Denis Clavreul when he was in residence in 2005.

Tloma Primary School can be visited during a cultural walk.  This primary school has about six hundred students that begin grade one at seven years of age and complete grades seven around fourteen to fifteen years of age.  Those in grade seven take an exam to get into secondary school and recent statistics from the head master report that about 56% of Tloma primary students go on to attend secondary school.  The teachers and students are very welcoming of travelers and often usher in visitors with songs that are made even more beautiful with the pure voices of the children.

Tloma Primary School is one of the project schools of the Karatu Education Fund, founded by the Jensen’s, General Manager team of Gibb’s Farm for eight years, until 2006.  Some of the current board members of the Fund are also employees of Gibb’s Farm and are striving to improve the education experience for youth in the area.  If you visit the school and would like to help improve conditions for the students, please visit for more information.

Bysayuki’s (3) painting of a group of village women, suggests a fully engaged community of women, which is typically the case.  In Z. Moutha’s (4) depiction of a village mother who’s attention is fully engaged by a group of rabbits is no different than when a mother is left to care for her neighbor’s children in addition to her own. 

Rich village life is depicted in Ujamaa (5), a broad carving by Charles BiesUjamaa was the concept that formed the basis of Julius Nyerere's social and economic development policies in Tanzania just after it gained independence from Britain in 1961. In 1967, President Nyerere published his development blueprint titled the Arusha Declaration, in which Nyerere pointed out the need for an African model of development and which formed the basis of African socialism. Ujamaa comes from the Swahili word for "extended family" or "familyhood" and is distinguished by several key characteristics, namely that a person becomes a person through the people or community.

Nyerere used Ujamaa as the basis for a national development project. He translated the Ujamaa concept into a political-economic management model.  The villagization of production which essentially collectivized all forms of local productive capacity; the fostering of Tanzanian self-reliance through two dimensions: the transformation of economic and cultural attitudes. Economically, everyone would work for both the group and for him/herself.

Eventually a number of factors contributed to the downfall of the development model based on the Ujamaa concept. Among those factors were the oil crisis of the 1970s, the collapse of export commodity prices (particularly coffee and sisal), a lack of foreign direct investment, and the onset of the war with Uganda in 1978 which bled the young Tanzanian nation of valuable resources.

Gibb’s Farm thrives today because of the support of the local communities, in particular Tloma.  We invite you to take advantage of the welcoming nature of this community and learn about the Iraqw culture through activities such as the mountain bike safari into Tloma with a Gibb’s Farm naturalist, as in the photo below. Through such a walk or bike ride one is sure to meet some of our staff that live in the Tloma community; they are a valuable source of information and experience.


(1) Kazi by Charles Bies, Mpingo wood carving,  A Commissioned Sanaa work.

(3) Bysayuki’s painting of village women deep in story telling and conversation

(2) Robert Aswani, Village Ladies, acrylic on canvas  A Commissioned Sanaa work.

(4) Moutha’s print of a women’s desperate attempt to keep order around her home

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(5) Charles Bies, Ujamaa Village, Mpingo wood carving. A Commissioned Sanaa work.

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