Why build a Culture Center in Mababu, Tanzania? 

Written by Hannah Wasson (Chocolate University, Class of 2020) and Melissa Gelner (Executive Director)

Things are changing in Mababu. Since 2017, Mababu, the rural agricultural community in southwest Tanzania where Askinosie Chocolate sources award-winning cacao beans, has welcomed a new English language preschool, increased digital wifi connectivity, and new paved roads ushering in more regional and international visitors and business. With these influences comes a growing importance to highlight the rich history and cultural heritage of the area – before it is forgotten.

The Mababu Cultural Center is an interactive museum at the Mababu Chekechea (preschool) that is designed to create a touchstone for the community’s identity and rich heritage. The center showcases important artifacts, documents the native Nyakyusa tribal stories, songs and dances while also celebrating the village as a fertile, generative agricultural resource. The Mababu Chekechea Cultural Center tethers the young students of the Mababu Village to their ancestors and their history. 

For the young Chekechea students at the school, establishing a sense of place and value for the community is imperative to foster a generation of Mababu youth that understands, preserves, and celebrates their own culture. Chekechea teachers and leaders of the farmer cooperative, Mababu Central Cocoa Fermentary (a cocoa farming partner of Askinosie Chocolate), share pride in the new center. Mama Mpoki, cocoa farmer co-op leader, comments, “The cultural center is important because it reminds us about the good practices of our culture and unique tools that we don’t have in our homes today. As leaders, we hope to see how the kids learn about and appreciate our history.”

Recently, the Mababu community has embraced the idea of hosting an annual Culture Day at the Chekechea. This celebration, held on December 18 this year, included costumes, food, drink, dance, song, and artifact displays showing the cultural items collected from the community. The 2020 Chekechea Culture Day involved students and families at the school and will evolve in 2021 to become a cultural showcase for the entire community to enjoy.

Special thanks for dedicated project leadership goes to chekechea teachers, Ms. Oganigwe Ngonya and Mr. Kassian Mwaipungu. Askinosie Foundation employees and board members, Saraphiner Zablon Urio and Violet Leonard Malaba, have been instrumental in creating community vision and support for the Mababu Cultural Center. Many thanks are also shared for the help of generous donors Mike and Amy Aquilino of Potomac, Maryland and Eric and Jana Hansen of Springfield, Missouri, for their continued financial commitment to the chekechea project through The Askinosie Foundation.