Oyster nuts – super food of the Kilimanjaro

Oyster nuts are a tasty and highly nutritious super food, and everything about them fascinates me. Kweme in Swahili, it's definitely another one of Mother Earth's wonders and a special gift to the mountain dwellers. The nuts, that grow inside a kind of a giant green gourd, have a unique connection to the heritage of the Chagga tribe among which I live...
Chagga tribe grandmother holding the nuts she harvested in her farm
Oyster nuts, kweme, in the hands of a Chagga grandma

Paradise is here

Tropical forest of Shimbwe village
Kilimanjaro paradise of Shimbwe village

The Chagga tribe living on the slopes of the Kilimanjaro, enjoy the nutritional abundance that the fertile soil of the mountain grants them. It’s not for nothing that they call the mountain their paradise.

Tropical forestry, rich vegetation, plenty of water flowing down from the snowy mountain peak, and volcanic red soil from which everything grows easily.

Besides the agricultural crops, the mountain is abundant with fruits and vegetables that grow wild, many of them unique to the area. These are the heritage foods that have nourished the ancestors of the Chagga tribe for centuries.

The oyster nuts – Kweme in the Swahili language – were used in many ways. These nuts are the ultimate super food. Rich in protein, tasty and nutritious.

Traditional uses of Kweme

oyster nut guard
Each huge guard contains up to 150 nuts and can weigh up to 15 kg! It's ready for harvest when it drops to the ground.

Here are some ways nuts have been used in the past by the Chagga people:

🍃 The nut helps a woman get stronger after giving birth.

🍃 It’s rich in proteins and helps fractured bones to heal.

🍃 Cooking oil was produced from the nuts.

🍃 The nuts were used in a variety of dishes. 

 🍃 🍃 🍃
And when grandma was cooking in the kitchen and telling the children stories, she would roast the nuts on the fire until they cracked open
like an oyster, and then served the delicious snack to the kids.

chagga kids , oyster nuts , Shimbwe , Kilimanjaro
chagga grandmother
roasted kweme nuts
Roasted nuts- a Chagga heritage snack

The comeback of Kweme nuts

The oyster nuts, Kweme, originate from Kilimanjaro and northern Tanzania (and Mozambique). For centuries they remained an important part of the Chagga people heritage foods.

Unfortunately, as more and more new crops were introduced in Tanzania, and with the arrival of industrial oil in the markets, the nuts all but disappeared from the Chagga family farms…

In the village of Shimbwe, the unique nuts are making a blessed comeback thanks to a local permaculture project.

oyster nut climbing plant spreads its vines around forest trees
The Kweme vines climb up indigenous forest trees, and on the way protect the trees from being cut down for profit.

Oyster nut seedlings are given to neighbors throughout the village. Within two years the climbing plant already bears its first fruit, and continues to produce fruit for almost twenty years!

Victor telling about his days in his beloved grandma kitchen, and shows us how to roast the kweme nut on open fire.

Win win

Nowadays, the nuts can generate good value in the local and international markets, both as a super food, and for use in the cosmetics industry.

Shimbwe village small farm owner drying the kweme nuts
Shimbwe village small farm owner holding some of his yield.

🍃 And so the mountain got his oyster nut plants back, and his people were reminded of the nuts nutritious richness.

and also…

🍃 They gained another source of livelihood in the post-colonial era where peoples who lived off the abundance of the land, are no longer able to exist without modern day money bills.

and also…

🍃 The Kweme plant stretches its vines high up forest trees, that are being, more often than before, cut down for timber. It’s hard to resist selling a tree that grows on your land, knowing it will yield hundreds of dollars. But it’s a different story all together if the same tree is hosting the Kweme climbing plant. The annual return from the sale of the nuts exceeds the one-time profit from cutting down the tree and selling it.

In short, win-win-win in all directions.

My Kweme art project

A new project began when one day I stepped into the kitchen of the guesthouse that became my home. The chef had just finished cracking the oyster nuts for his famous sauce. The shells that were still scattered on the counter caught my attention, and I was immediately wowed by their rich texture.

Kweme nut outer shell on the left and inner shell on the right.
Kweme nut outer shell on the left and inner shell on the right.

The artist that I am immediately announced:

I got to work, and so, in a magical way that I couldn’t have planned, I brought to the mountain another use for the Kweme…

But this was just the beginning of a new beautiful story.
Read all about it here…

My Kweme earrings. On the left from the hard inner shell, and on the left from the outer inner shell.
My kweme earrings

More beautiful Kweme earrings created by Baraka Kinyaiya.



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About Me

Hi, I’m the Wandering Goddess.

My life in a nutshell – B.A. in anthropology, a life changing one year journey in East Africa at 26, followed by Shamanic initiation, tribal wisdom & femininity studies, then, giving in-depth workshops for women and girls, tribal storytelling to children… And at 50, coming back to my Mama Africa to bring you more inspiration on our original way of life.

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