The Mbulu ethnic group, also known as Iraqw, originated in the Great Lakes region in Eastern Africa and currently live in central Tanzania in the region between Arusha and Manyara, not far away from the Great Rift Valley undercliff and South-East of the Ngorongoro crater.
Iraqw early villages varied greatly in size and number of inhabitants, with 40 to 400 villagers each, but in 1974, following governmental decisions, they moved to the Mbulu district and were divided into 86 villages. The new villages were bigger in size compared to the original ones, and consisted of 2,500 people each divided into 400 family units in the North, and 1,500 people divided into 225 family units in the South.
A typical family consists of a couple, husband and wife, and their children, and represents the main economic unit in the Iraqw society, as every family owns farming land and livestock; polygamy is allowed in the Mbulu society; if a man has more than one wife, each wife has a separate house.
Villages consist of several housing units scattered in the area; there are three different types of dwellings, depending on the geographical context and influence from other cultures.
There are underground houses, that are dug out into the side of a slope, and in the past were used as caves to better face the Maasai raids; round huts, that are the most common kind of shelter used by the Mbulu and consist of a plain round hut built by intertwining sticks and adding mud, with a thatched roof; they feature a small entrance with no windows; these huts have several rooms inside, as well as an enclosure where to leave the cattle overnight; the Swahili-style huts, that are the most recent and modern kind of dwelling; they feature a rectangular base and several rooms, a sloping roof made of straw or metal sheet.
The space inside the houses is strictly and rigorously divided according to gender; men are not allowed to enter a certain room, where they cannot touch objects, such as pots and cooking utensils, while women, in turn, are not allowed to touch spears, arrows and shields.
The village is the basic unit of the Iraqw society; the inhabitants of neighbouring villages help one another in agricultural work, or in case of disease or attacks from outsiders; the villages usually make up a county, or province, ruled by a council of elders who make important decisions to ensure the welfare of all.
An elder, known as Kahamusmo, is the chief of the council of elders; he convenes meetings, oversees rituals and assigns new plots of land; on his death, the title of Kahamusmo is passed down to the one who is appointed as his successor, usually the eldest son, but he can also be chosen among the members of the council.
Life, tradition and culture of Mbulu or Iraqw people