How Mother Maria Stieren converted the fierce Barabaig tribe of Tanzania | National Catholic Register
GEHANDU, Tanzania – In 1987, a valiant nun from Bavaria called Mother Maria Stieren drove with a group of nuns from her newly founded order through a small but notoriously dangerous part of the East African country en route to one of its missions. Houses.
Everything was going according to plan until Mother Maria, who founded the Mothers of the Holy Cross and the Missionaries of the Holy Cross 10 years earlier, suffered chest pains and had to stop the car to pick up the car. ‘air. Her sisters warned her not to, as it was not uncommon for members of the fierce Barabaig tribe, who inhabited this area, to attack passers-by.
Known for its barbarism and warfare as a means of defence, for decades members of the Barabaig tribe had often killed members of a rival tribe, the Nyaturu, and dumped them in a valley below. They were also known to ambush vehicles in order to steal the rubber tires to make shoes.
The Barabaig, similar to the better-known and neighboring Maasai warrior tribe that straddles the Kenya-Tanzania border, are animist herders with a culture of using sharp spears to hunt (their name means “men who beat with a stick”). Indeed, the Barabaig were so ferocious at this time (they skillfully used highly poisoned arrows) that the local Tanzanian police were often too scared to confront them.
Despite this, Mother Maria was unfazed. She got out of the car and went to sit near a tree to let her heart pains ease, during which time 50 to 60 Bush Tribe members gathered around her. Local police arrived soon after, as they saw a car stuck in such a dangerous place. They asked her what she was doing there and pledged to defend her if she was attacked. But Mother Maria declined their offer of help, insisting the situation was not dangerous and adding that the people were her “friends”.
Her instincts and her trust in God were rewarded: the people of the tribes left Mother Maria and her sisters alone. In the days that followed, Mother returned to the area as she had promised, as it was located between two missions she had established.
When she passed by again and again, the tribesmen waited for her expecting her to bring them help, which she did in the form of clothes, blankets, medicine, tobacco for the elders and other supplies.
‘Messenger of God’
Members of his community, who were with Mother Maria at the time, later reminded the Registry what happened next.
After several charitable visits, a chief of the tribe (the Barabaig do not have a central chief, because they are nomads and therefore always on the move) asks Mother Maria: “The others don’t like us. Why do you love us? She replied, “Because I am a messenger from God to you.” This immediately caused some of the tribesmen to remember something their ancestors had told them: that at some point in the future, “Someone will come who will tell you about God.”
The elder asked Mother Maria: “Are you the chosen one?to which she replied without hesitation, “Yes, I believe so.”
As Mother Maria’s words were translated into the tribal language, a tribesman asked, “Okay, but you come to visit us from time to time while in the meantime we are dying with our livestock without never know the Truth. Do you want to come and teach us the Truth?
Mother Maria replied that if they gave her a piece of land, she would “Come live with you, with my brothers and sisters, and teach you the true God.“The local chief agreed and later showed him the area of land where Mother could build the mission – at that time mostly in the bush, but now a small town called Gehandu which is growing rapidly and is located about 50 miles from the central Tanzanian town of Singide.
A lot of work had to be done. When the nuns arrived, the local tribesmen had to walk 30 miles to get medical attention. They had no drinking water or electricity and food was scarce. So Mother Maria and her sisters quickly set about providing what they could, starting with food and clothing.
Since the 1990s, the community has struggled to find running water for the impoverished tribe, their children and their livestock, and have drilled five boreholes but failed to find water.
But for 16 years, from November to May, they regularly brought food to 8,000 people, and built a 180-acre farm, which to this day feeds up to 200 people. They also set out to build a small 15-bed clinic and a pharmacy, currently run by a competent young doctor called Godlove Gadiel Kiromari.
The situation today
Mother Maria Stieren, who first arrived in Tanzania in 1959 as a Benedictine missionary sister, died in 2008 at the age of 85 after a remarkable life of service to the Lord.
Tanzanian Mothers of the Holy Cross, Sister Maria Walburga, who was with Mother Maria at the start and now leads the Gehandu Mission, told the Register that nearly half of the tribe (about 20,000) are now baptized. The Gehandu area is now a peaceful place to live, and the people are relatively polite and welcoming.
“When their children start going to school and hearing the gospel, it changes the culture, but it’s slow,” she told the Register. “It’s because all paganism is still very close to them, so it’s very difficult to convert them, they need time.” Some Protestants and Evangelicals also moved in and converted some of the tribe.
Sister Maria Walburga said food and clothing – their practical needs – were the first to be given, then Mother Maria “gently began to tell them about the Lord and slowly they came back.” She used to humorously say, “Friendship begins in the stomach” and “The mind and soul will keep the faith true when the stomach is at peace!” But the catechesis could not be rushed, she said, because while some of them, including the leader, believed the prophecy of their ancestors, “others said, ‘No, this new teaching is against us'”.
The mission caretaker, Pascali Vitalis, is a member of the Barabaig tribe and is now Catholic. He told the Register that Mother Maria “really helped us change our pagan ways and become Christians.” She did, he said, starting with “helping me and my people by giving us beans and corn, and then she helped build a school here.”
Vitalis said, “We live to remember her.”