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The sprawling town of Songea, just over 1000m in altitude, is capital of the surrounding Ruvuma region and will probably seem like a major metropolis if you’ve just come from Tunduru or Mbamba Bay. Away from the scruffy and crowded central market and bus stand area, it’s a pleasant, attractive place, with shaded leafy streets, surrounded by rolling hill country dotted with yellow sunflowers and grazing cattle.
The main tribal group here is the Ngoni, who migrated into the area from South Africa during the 19th century, subduing many smaller tribes along the way. Songea takes its name from one of their greatest chiefs, who was killed following the Maji Maji rebellion and is buried about 1km from town near the Maji Maji Museum. Songea’s colorful market (Soko Kuu) along the main road is worth a visit. The impressive carved wooden doors on the Catholic cathedral diagonally opposite the bus stand are also worth a look, as are the wall paintings inside. About 30km west of town, in Peramiho, is a large Benedictine monastery with an affiliated hospital, should you fall ill.