ALTERNATE NAMES: Wanyamwezi
LOCATION: Unyamwezi (Tanzania: Provinces of Tabora and Shinyunga, Northwest central, between Lake Victoria and Lake Rukwa)
POPULATION: 1.5 million
LANGUAGE: Kinyamwezi; Nyamwesi; Kiswahili (Tanzania's national language); English; languages of neighboring ethnic groups
RELIGION: spirituality shaped by traditional beliefs; Islam; and Christianity
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Tanzanians
The Nyamwezi people, or the Wanyamwezi, live in the East African country of Tanzania. (The country of Tanzania was created when Tanganyika and the island of Zanzibar formed a union in 1964. Before German colonial occupation in the late 1890s there was no geographical entity known as Tanganyika.) They are the second largest of over 120 ethnic groups in Tanzania. Their home area, Unyamwezi, which means “the place of the Wanyamwezi,” is located in the western plateau area of the Tanzanian provinces of Tabora and Shinyanga, south of Lake Victoria and east of Lake Tanganyika. While this is considered the traditional homeland of the Wanyamwezi, many Wanyamwezi work in the commercial and agricultural centers of Tanzania.
In trying to understand Nyamwezi culture, it is important to remember that it is not static or insulated from broader political and economic changes that have affected the larger Tanzanian society. Nyamwezi society and culture have been dynamic, constantly evolving to meet the changing environment. Over the years, Nyamwezi culture has both influenced and been influenced by the cultures of neighboring African societies as well as the national Tanzanian culture. Islam and Christianity have also had a great impact on modern Nyamwezi cultural practices. According to oral tradition, the Nyamwezi are thought to have settled in west central Tanzania (their present location) sometime in the 1600s. The earliest evidence comes from the Galahansa and confirms their presence there in the late 1600s.
The notion held by many Europeans during the colonial era, that the Nyamwezi were an ethnically uniform tribe ruled by a chief, did not fit the realities of Nyamwezi life. Even though the Wanyamwezi shared a common language and culture, they did not see themselves as one people and they were never united into one political entity that corresponded with the boundaries of their cultural group. The Wanyamwezi speak three distinct dialects of their Kinyamwezi language and are made up of four distinct subgroups, the Wagalaganza, the Sagala, the Kahama, and the Iguluibi. Each group claims to descend from its own special ancestor. The largest group, the Wagalaganza, consisted of thirty states in the 1860s. Culturally and linguistically, there is very little that separates the Wanyamwezi from their neighbors, including the Wasukuma, who are the largest ethnic group in Tanzania (more than 5 million or 13% of the population). Before the onset of colonial rule, all people who were part of the present day Sukuma, Sumbwa, and Nyamwezi ethnic groups were called Nyamwezi by outsiders to the region.
The term Nyamwezi probably meant either “people of the moon” or “path of the moon,” most likely referring to their location in the Western part of Tanzania. In the Nyamwezi language, Sukuma means “north,” and the Wasukuma were those who lived north of Unyamwezi. Perhaps the best way to characterize Nyamwezi identity before colonialism would be as an ethnic category, meaning that the people shared a common language and culture without a sense of self-identification.
The Wanyamwezi are believed to have migrated during the 16th and 17th centuries from various parts of east and central Africa to their homeland in western Tanzania. The first Nyamwezi settlers formed small communities that grew into larger kingdoms ruled by a mtemi, or king. Prior to the 1860s, Nyamwezi states tended to be small, usually numbering a few thousand persons. They had no standing armies and depended on the men of the society to defend their country from raids or to raid neighboring states. These raids and counter raids were aimed at capturing grain, cattle, and other goods or avenging a wrong done by one state or ruler to another. Prior to the 1860s, it was unusual for one state to use military power to impose its authority over another. However, in the years leading up to the 1860s Nyamwezi societies began to undergo important changes.
The Wanyamwezi were well-known traders in the pre-colonial era and played an important role in developing the region's trade. They pioneered caravan routes throughout east and central Africa, while Nyamwezi trading settlements spread throughout central Tanzania. It is the Nyamwezi who are said to have established the caravan routes to the coast that were later used by Swahili and Arab traders and European explorers, including Dr. David Livingstone, Henry Morton Stanley, Richard Burton, and John Hanning Speke. In the years leading up to the 1860s, trade with the coastal areas became increasingly important. As trade developed with the coast, one of the Nyamwezi states, Unyanyembe, became a prosperous trading center. Unyanyembe used its wealth to become the most powerful state in Unyamwezi. Soon after the rise of Unyanyembe, a rival state under the leadership of the famous mtemi Mirambo challenged Unyanyembe's control over the caravan routes. Unlike Unyanyembe, which used its control over trade to increase its military power, Mirambo was a great military tactician who used force to enhance his country's trading position. Mirambo can be thought of as a Nyamwezi nationalist with the vision of a unified Nyamwezi people. However, Mirambo was unable to conquer Unyanyembe and failed to build a united Nyamwezi nation-state. After Mirambo's death in 1884, Urambo split into a number of smaller kingdoms.
The onset of colonial rule brought many important changes for Nyamwezi society. For the first time the Wanyamwezi, along with the 140 other African ethnic groups in Tanzania, were united under one government. The German colonial occupation of Tanzania was very brutal. During the 1880s and 1890s Germany conducted a series of military operations throughout Tanzania with the aim of establishing a colony. Vicious reprisal raids against African areas that resisted German authority characterized German military campaigns. Often the Germans depended on local allies in their wars and raids. The first German military expedition arrived in Unyamwezi in 1890. Although it did not spark an immediate confrontation, it planted the seeds for a future German military conquest of Unyamwezi. Its commander, Emin Pasha, allied himself with the opponents of the mtemi Isike of Unyanyembe.
In 1892, another German expedition reached Unyanyembe and, acting on reports from Pasha and Isike's enemies, launched a series of attacks on Isike's headquarters, Isiunula (the “impregnable” fort). Isike's fortress proved to be well named, as the European attackers were defeated three times by Isike's troops. Later, in December of 1892, the Germans sent their best military officer, Lieutenant Tom von Prince, to fight Isike. Prince formed alliances with the son of Mirambo, Katukamoto, who ruled what was left of Urambo, and Bibi Nyaso, an internal opponent of Isike from Unyanyembe.
Using German African troops and the forces of Isike's enemies, Prince was able to capture Isiunula. Rather than being captured by the Germans, Isike unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide by blowing himself up with his ammunition dump. After the Germans stormed the fort, they hanged his nearly lifeless body from the closest tree and shot his young son. The Germans then made Bibi Nyaso the mtemi of Unyanyembe. The killing of Isike, however, did not bring Unyamwezi fully under German control; for two years after the attack on Isiunula, Isike's chief minister, Swetu, led a guerrilla war against the Germans. Swetu was eventually forced to retreat from Unyanyembe, bringing an end to Nyamwezi armed resistance to German colonial rule. Ironically, Mirambo's son, Katukamoto, who used the Germans to defeat his rival Isike, was later imprisoned by his onetime ally in 1898. The Germans then broke up the remaining parts of Urambo and appointed their own mtemi to rule it.
In many respects the European colonialists in Tanzania used the “take us to your king” approach to rule Tanzania, and where no king existed the Europeans created one. For example, in nearby Usandawe, Mtoro, the leader of a Nyamwezi trading settlement, was appointed chief of the Sandawe people. The Wasandawe had no supreme leader or king and authority was dispersed throughout society. These types of African societies were difficult for Europeans to understand and to incorporate into their colonial administration. In Usandawe, the Germans mistakenly thought that the Wanyamwezi settlers were an immigrant ruling class, much as the Germans saw themselves in Tanzania. However, the Nyamwezi trading center was more of an enclave that the Wasandawe tolerated but did not particularly like.
When the Germans appointed Mtoro the headman of the Wasandawe, the Wasandawe showed their displeasure by expelling the Wanyamwezi settlers from their territory and taking their cattle. In response, the Germans launched two punitive expeditions against the Wasandawe. The first force killed 800 Wasandawe without suffering any casualties, and the second confiscated over 1,000 head of cattle, most of which were given to the displaced Wanyamwezi settlers. Under German protection the Wanyamwezi returned to their settlement. But when the German soldiers left Usandawe, they were attacked by the Wasandawe, who also raided the Wanyamwezi settlers. The Germans responded by launching a bloody war against the Wasandawe that finally established their authority in the area.
Colonial rule in Unyamwezi and throughout Tanzania was based on physical violence and a racial hierarchy in which Africans were segregated into a rural and urban underclass. Nyamwezi watemi (watemi is the plural of mtemi) were made responsible to German colonial authorities. Nyamwezi leaders who did not suit the Germans were removed. The Germans forced watemi to collect taxes and to supply men to labor on European plantations or public-works projects such as roads and railroads. These activities often made African leaders who cooperated with the Germans unpopular with their people, for the conditions for African laborers were very harsh, including whippings, beatings, and the withholding of food and wages. However, African leaders who resisted the Germans faced the threat of being deposed, arrested, or exiled, or possibly of exposing their societies to brutal retaliatory raids by the Germans. The goal of the Germans was to reduce the authority of the watemi and to administer Unyamwezi directly through German colonial officials.
German rule was deeply resented. One of the notable acts of resistance to colonial rule was the Maji-Maji rebellion, which engulfed Tanzania from 1905 to 1907. A prophet named Kinjikitile, who called on the African people to take up arms to expel the Germans, inspired the rebellion. Specially trained assistants who traveled throughout Tanzania spread Kinjikitile's message. While historians believe that many Wanyamwezi supported Kinjikitile, Unyamwezi did not erupt in violence against the colonialists, as did the southern and coastal regions.
After World War I, Britain replaced the defeated Germany in Tanzania. Britain inherited Tanzania as a League of Nations Trust Territory. As such, Tanzania was to be administered to the benefit of the African inhabitants, but in practice, British administration of the territory was characterized by racial segregation.
While the Germans aspired to administer Tanzania directly without going through traditional or indigenous leaders, the British strove to create a system of local government, called “indirect rule,” which incorporated “tribal” units of government into the colonial administration. Like the Germans, British colonial authorities believed that all Africans belonged to a tribe, just as all Europeans belonged to a nation. They viewed the tribe as a cultural and political unit with a common language, a single social system, established customary law, hereditary membership, and a chief. But the realities of African social structures often did not match European conceptions, and African societies were restructured, and sometimes invented, by colonial authorities. In Unyamwezi, the British followed a policy of amalgamating smaller Nyamwezi states into larger ones to create larger administrative units. For example, the British subordinated a number of smaller Nyamwezi states into Unyanyembe. They also replaced the ruling line of Bibi Nyaso as mtemi of Unyanyembe with a descendant of Isike, in order to avenge Bibi Nyaso's collaboration with the Germans. Under British rule, Africans were denied the right to participate in politics or public administration outside of “tribal” government.
Conflicts between chiefs and Arab traders lasted through the last half of the 19th century. Chiefs such as Isike and Mirambo, no longer being purely ritual, had found that the arrival of firearms enabled them to establish standing armies and a new state organization. It was firearms and trade that transformed the region, for trade generated the wealth needed to obtain firearms. Chiefs were normally ritual figures who had no very rigid rules of succession. They lived very restricted lives, with the most significant duties being carried out by headmen. They were strangled when they became seriously ill (as probably happened to Mirambo while dying of cancer) for the well being of the state and its continuation was identified with chief and his subordinate administrators. A hierarchy of territorial offices came into being. There were sub-chiefs, assistant chiefs, headmen elders, ritual officials, etc., as each dynasty seized power from another. Greater Nyamwezi had become a war zone.
Colonialism brought about a fundamental change in the way the Wanyamwezi perceived themselves. Many Wanyamwezi, fighting against the racism associated with colonial rule, which portrayed Africans as primitive, culturally backward, and unfit for independence, directed their energies into promoting their cultural traditions, writing histories, and developing feelings of Nyamwezi identity. While a shared language and culture, which provided the foundation for building an ethnic group, had existed in Unyamwezi since the early 1800s, it was not until the onset of the colonial era that the Wanyamwezi began to see themselves as one people. In the towns, the Wanyamwezi formed ethnic associations to help their members find work, organize and conduct funerals, write letters for the illiterate, and help in other ways in times of need. One of the first Nyamwezi urban associations was “The New Wanyamwezi Association,” formed in 1936 in Dar es Salaam. The organization reflected the loose sense of Nyamwezi identity and was open to all people from the western plateau, including the Sukuma and Sumbwa.
Many Wanyamwezi, like Tanzanians of other ethnic groups, played important roles in the struggle for independence. The brother of the chief of Unyanyembe, Abdallah Fundikira, was an early leader of the Tanzania National African Union (TANU), the political party that spearheaded the fight for Tanzanian independence. Many Wanyamwezi became labor leaders after workers gained the right to form labor unions during the midst of the independence struggle in the 1950s.
While numerous traditional leaders including Abdallah Fundikira supported TANU, many others did not and sided with colonial authorities. After independence the role of traditional leaders in local government was abolished by TANU, which was interested in developing a national culture that helped people to identify with the new nation, rather than promoting sub-national identities.
Tanzania like many modern African states embraces a democratic system of Government with multiparty competitive elections and a free-market economy. The Wanyamwezi participate actively in the political process of Tanzania. A number of Wanyamwezi have emerged as leaders of the opposition parties and have played important roles in the ruling party, CCM (Chama cha Mapinduzi/Party of the Revolution, formerly known as TANU).
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The Nyamwezi make up about 4% of the Tanzanian population and number around 1,500,000. They live in the northwest central area of the country, between Lake Victoria and Lake Rukwa. Unyamwezi is located in a high plateau area with elevations ranging from about 900 to 1,375 meters (about 3,000 to 4,500 feet). Much of the land is covered by dry woodland with strings of ridges and numerous granite outcroppings. Most of Unyamwezi is not considered prime agricultural land. Water is often scarce. From April to October, very little rain falls and the rivers often dry up. The rainy season lasts from October to April and is characterized by wide variations in yearly rainfall. Unlike some of the more fertile agricultural regions, which have two growing seasons, Unyamwezi has only one. The major city in Unyamwezi is Tabora, a famous pre-colonial trading center and former colonial administrative center. Tanzanians of various ethnic groups live in Unyamwezi. Many Wasukuma, Wasumbwa, and Watusi live throughout Unyamwezi, and even in some rural areas, non-Wanyamwezi may make up as much as 73% of the population. Many small shop owners in the rural areas are Arabs, as there are many people in Tabora. There are also a number of Asian Tanzanians, whose ancestors came from India and Pakistan, living in the larger commercial centers of Unyamwezi. About 30% of the Nyamwezi live and work outside Unyamwezi, mainly in neighboring areas and in the coastal regions.
Historically, there have been five tribal groups, all referring to themselves as Wanyamwezi to outsiders: Kimbu, Nyamwezi, Sukuma, and Sumbwa, who were never united. All groups normally merged have broadly similar cultures, although it is an oversimplification to view them as a single group. The Nyamwezi have close cultural ties with the Sukuma people. Their homeland is called Unyamwezi, and they speak the language Kinyamwezi, although many also speak Swahili or English. Many Wanyamwezi can speak at least three languages. Most are also fluent in Kiswahili, Tanzania's national language. Many Wanyamwezi are also able to speak English and the languages of neighboring ethnic groups, such as Kisukuma, the language of the Sukuma people.
Kiswahili has borrowed many words from Kinyamwezi, and vice versa. For example, the Kiswahili term for the president's residence is Ikulu, which is the Kinyamwezi word for the mtemi's residence. Kinyamwezi has about 84% lexical similarity with Sukuma, 61% with Sumbwa, and 56% with Nilamba.
One of the most important historical figures for the Wanyamwezi is the mtemi Mirambo. Mirambo was the mtemi of a small state in Unyamwezi called Uyowa. By the time of his death, he had created a central African empire that incorporated the greater part of Unyamwezi. Mirambo was a brilliant military tactician, known for his fierceness in battle. Ironically, the inspiration for the innovations that made Mirambo's army a powerful fighting force came from an early battlefield defeat. After failing to conquer a neighboring state, Mirambo decided to reorganize his army. Mirambo asked a neighboring chief to train his army in Ngoni fighting techniques, which were based on the style of warfare pioneered by Shaka Zulu of South Africa. It was said that Mirambo acquired his name, which means “corpses” in Kinyamwezi, from his Ngoni allies who marveled at the large number of people he killed in battle. Mirambo was so feared throughout Unyamwezi that mothers would stop their children from crying by telling them, “Hulikaga, Limilambo likwiza” (“Be quiet, Mirambo is coming”).
Mirambo created a standing army called rugaruga, which was organized into regiments of similar-aged soldiers. Soldiers between 20 and 30 years of age formed the backbone of the rugaruga. They were not allowed to have wives, children, or houses and lived with Mirambo inside his fortress capital, Iselemagazi. These young rugaruga were used on campaigns to conquer other states and to raid for cattle, slaves, and property. The young rugaruga wore red cloth often decorated with feathers or human hair said to have been shaved off their fallen victims. The rugaruga were armed with pistols, muzzle-loading rifles, spears, bows and arrows, and shields. Before battle, Mirambo's soldiers would eat meat specially prepared by ritual experts and smoke bhangi (Indian hemp, or marijuana). Older, more experienced soldiers were mainly used for defensive purposes and organized into units called sinhu. They were allowed to marry and have their own houses. A special king's guard, wearing black uniforms and turbans, was created to protect Mirambo during battle.
After reorganizing his army, Mirambo conquered and raided the other Nyamwezi states as well as nearby non-Nyamwezi states. Success on the battlefield led to a rapid expansion of Mirambo's rugaruga, which grew from a few hundred in the 1860s to 10,000 by the 1880s. The fear of Mirambo's rugaruga led many states to voluntarily accept Urambo rule. Leaders who aligned their states with Urambo were allowed to continue as leaders of their territory, but those who fought against Urambo were killed.
Mirambo used military force to take control of the caravan routes leading west to Lake Tanzania, over which ivory and slaves passed, as well as the caravan routes heading north to Lake Victoria and the markets in Buganda, Bunyoro and the other large kingdoms in the lakes region. Mirambo's kingdom grew in size and power to the point of rivaling Unyanyembe, the dominant Nyamwezi state of the time. Urambo blocked Unyanyembe's access to important markets to the west and north. Feeling their position threatened by Mirambo, the merchants in Tabora and the leaders of Unyanyembe invited dissidents from Urambo to train their army in Mirambo's military tactics. The growing tension between Urambo and Unyanyembe caused Mirambo to close the caravan routes to traders from Unyanyembe. Hostilities broke into open warfare in 1871, when Unyanyembe attacked Urambo. After reaching far into Mirambo's territory, Unyanyembe's army was successfully ambushed by Mirambo's forces. Mirambo then attacked Tabora. Mirambo was unable to conquer Unyanyembe, however.
Mirambo's war with Unyanyembe interrupted trade and angered the large Arab and Indian commercial houses on the coast. In an effort to defeat Mirambo militarily, the Sultan of Zanzibar sent three thousand troops to help Unyanyembe. However, the Tabora Arabs refused to cooperate with the leader of the troops, and the troops were withdrawn. On the coast, the Sultan enforced sanctions against Mirambo, especially with regard to firearms and gunpowder. To evade sanctions, Mirambo entered into blood brotherhoods with European missionaries, traders, and explorers and asked them to trade his goods on the coast. Mirambo died in 1884 while on a campaign against the Nyamwezi state of Ukune. After Mirambo's death, the component states of Urambo reasserted their independence and his empire broke up.
The historical importance of Mirambo lies in the fact that he was a brilliant military leader and diplomat who was able to deal with Europeans from a position of strength and use Europeans to further his own interests. The example of Mirambo challenged the basic assumptions on which European colonial rule in Africa was built.
In honor of the important historical role played by Mirambo, his grave was made a national monument by the government after independence. A major street in the nation's capital, Dar es Salaam, and the military garrison at Tabora were also named after him. One of Mirambo's war songs, “Ohoo Chuma chabela mitwe” (“Iron has broken heads”), was adopted by Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's first president, who changed the words and used it to inspire the young nation. However, one major difference existed between Mirambo and the nationalist movement. While Mirambo was dedicated to creating a great Nyamwezi kingdom through the force of arms, the nationalist movement was geared toward creating an independent Tanzania through peaceful means. The violence associated with Mirambo has lessened to some extent, his suitability as a hero for modern Tanzania.
Traditional beliefs, Islam, and Christianity have shaped Nyamwezi spirituality. Most follow a traditional religion, despite conversion attempts by Islam and Christianity. They believe in a powerful god called Likube (High God), Limatunda (Creator), Limi (the Sun) and Liwelolo (the Universe), but ancestor worship is a more frequent daily practice. Traditional Nyamwezi spirituality centers on the connection between the living and their ancestors. Ancestors are seen as upholding the tradition, law, and values of society. The spirits of the ancestors are believed to be capable of intervening into the affairs of the living, either to show their pleasure or, more commonly, to show their anger. Not honoring one's ancestors is a sign of disrespect for Nyamwezi culture and tradition and is bound to lead to adverse consequences, usually sickness.
Offerings of sheep or goats are made to ancestors, and the help of Likube is invoked beforehand. Spirits also play an active role in Nyamwezi religious life, with mfumu, witchdoctors, or diviners, playing the role of counselor and medical practitioner. Bulogi (witchcraft) is a powerful force in Nyamwezi culture, with cults forming around (for example) possession by certain types of spirit. The Baswezi society recruits people possessed by the Swezi spirit.
With the main exceptions of the villages around Tabora and of areas around some Christian missions, neither Islam nor Christianity has flourished strongly among villagers. Religion in the area, like society itself, is accretive rather than exclusive.
Beliefs in a High God are widely held but involve no special cult. Ancestor worship is the main element in the religious complex. Chiefs' ancestors are thought to influence the lives of the inhabitants of their domains, but ordinary ancestors only affect their own descendants. Belief in witchcraft is widespread and strong.
In addition to the High God and the ancestors, some non-ancestral spirits are believed to influence some people's lives. Spirit-possession societies, such as the Baswezi, deal with such attacks and recruit the victims into membership. As a link between belief and action, the diviner (mfumu) is a key figure in religious life; diviners interpret the belief system for individuals and groups. They decide which forces are active and help people to deal with them. Although it is not strictly an hereditary art, people often take up divination when a misfortune is diagnosed as having been induced by a diviner ancestor who wishes them to do so. There are often several diviners in a village, but only one or two are likely to attract a wide clientele. All diviners, like their neighbors, engage in farming and participate fully in village life.
Divination takes many forms, the most common being chicken divination, in which a young fowl is killed and readings are taken from its wings and other features. Sacrifices and libations, along with initiation into a spirit-possession or other society, may result from a divinatory séance. Divination and subsequent rituals may divide people, especially if witchcraft is diagnosed, but in many contexts the system allows villagers to express their solidarity with each other without loss of individual identity. In addition to ritual focused upon individuals and attended by their kin and neighbors, there is some public ceremonial at village and wider levels. Chiefly rituals are still sometimes performed, and there are ceremonies to cleanse a village of pollution when a member dies.
Likewise, the inability to live socially with family and friends is liable to cause the ancestors to intervene. Relations with the ancestors and respect for Nyamwezi traditions are maintained through ritual activity such as animal sacrifices and other ceremonies. These activities are overseen by diviners, who act as spiritual advisers for the Wanyamwezi, interpreting events and determining which spirits are involved and what rituals should be followed to restore balance in people's lives. Both men and women can become diviners, many of whom are self-taught, having worked through their own serious spiritual difficulties.
During pre-colonial times, spirituality underscored the mtemi's power. The mtemi was seen as the embodiment of the law of the ancestors on earth. He was mediator in the relationship between the living and their ancestors and had an important ceremonial role. Each inhabitant of a Nyamwezi country was seen as the child of his or her own ancestors and a child of the royal ancestors. The mtemi would oversee royal spiritual ceremonies directed toward the former watemi, societal heroes, and legendary diviners. The relationship between a community and its ancestors was very important. Breaks in this relationship could lead to ancestors' showing their displeasure with the mtemi or society through some calamity such as drought or military defeat.
Nyamwezi spirituality fulfills two needs. First, it is practical in that rituals are designed to help people diagnose the source of their problems and offer solutions. For example, diviners will tell people the cause of their sickness and what ceremonies to perform to restore a balance in their lives. Secondly, Nyamwezi spirituality centers on giving a moral meaning to people's problems. It focuses on how people can live at peace with themselves and with those around them.
Although Nyamwezi religion emphasizes living in harmony with one's ancestors and community, witchcraft is a serious problem in Unyamwezi. It offers an outlet to built-up social tensions that are found in the intense interpersonal relations that develop in rural village society. Some people have moved from their homes to escape the power of witches, who are believed to be able to poison and bring misfortune to their victims.
The traditional Nyamwezi belief system has influenced the way many Wanyamwezi interpret Islam and Christianity. While many rural Wanyamwezi are not practicing Christians or Muslims, they do believe in one overarching god. However, unlike Christianity or Islam, which provide their followers with a personal religious code to be followed, Nyamwezi spirituality emphasizes personal spiritual development and the creation of personal behavioral taboos so that the individual can live in harmony with the community and ancestors. While many Wanyamwezi follow traditional practices in regard to healing, this does not preclude going to doctors or hospitals. Rather than competing with Christianity, Islam, and modern medicine, traditional Nyamwezi beliefs and diviners supplement the newer religions and practices.
The major holidays in Tanzania are Union Day (April 26), which celebrates the creation of the union between mainland Tanzania and the Islands of Zanzibar; May day/Workers Day (May 1); Independence Day (December 9); and New Year's Day (January 1). Major religious holidays are Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Id ul-Fitr (end of Ramadan), Id ul-Haj (Festival of Sacrifice), Islamic New Year, and the Prophet Muhammad's Birthday. Secular holidays such as Independence Day are characterized by military parades and speeches by the country's leaders, while religious holidays are usually celebrated by attendance at the mosque or church and visits with family and friends. Feasts on these days often feature pilau, a spicy rice dish.
RITES OF PASSAGE
For the Wanyamwezi, the first major rite of passage is birth. It should be noted that with the introduction of Western medical practices and new values, many of the practices surrounding birth have changed. Traditionally, newborn babies were secluded cluded until their umbilical cords fell off. When the child was brought out of seclusion, he or she was presented to the village and given a name by the midwife. The child would often be named after her grandfather or grandmother. If the pregnancy had been difficult, the child was usually named Maganga, Misambwa, or Kalamata. If the mother or father had died before the child was born, the child would be called Mulekwa or Kalekwa, meaning “the one who is left behind.” For baby boys, their father would make them a small bow and arrow as a symbol of strength. The male child, together with his bow, was then taken before the male village elders. After a feast, the elders one by one would shell a peanut near the child's ear in a ceremony called bupatula matwi, so that the child would be alert and attentive when he grew up. If the child was a girl she would be brought before a group of women elders.
Traditionally, twins, babies born with teeth, and those born legs first were considered a bad omen for their parents and the community. It was thought that if they lived, the parents would die and the community would experience disasters. Usually these children were killed and elaborate ceremonies involving the mtemi were needed to counter the effects of their birth. Not surprisingly, many of the early converts to Christianity in Unyamwezi were these outcast children and their families. Today, these practices are against the law, and new societal norms and practices have been adopted.
In precolonial times (and even today), long journeys were considered a rite of passage into manhood. Another rite of passage is the requirement that a man be capable of establishing his own household, meaning that he must be economically independent before he can get married.
Marriage is a very important Nyamwezi institution. As in the United States, the majority of marriages end in divorce. Nyamwezi men usually marry for the first time in their late teens or early twenties; women tend to marry at a slightly younger age. Polygyny is practiced in Nyamwezi society, but in many respects polygynous marriages tend to be unstable than single-partner marriages. The courtship process typically involves a young man's search for a suitable young woman to marry. With one or two male friends, he visits her home and discusses the possibility of marriage. Usually this process goes on for a number of weeks. If, after consulting with her female elders, the young woman agrees, bride wealth negotiations begin. Male neighbors of the groom and bride, acting on instructions of the couple's fathers, meet at the bride's house to discuss bride wealth. Often negotiations are carried out for several days before an agreement can be reached. Typical payments consist of livestock for the bride's paternal grandfather and maternal uncle. Other payments might also be required. Much, but not all, of the bride wealth would be returned in case of divorce. After the bride wealth is agreed upon, the groom's father holds a large feast, during which a delegation from the bride's family comes to collect the cattle and other goods. After the bride wealth has been paid, a wedding ceremony, usually lasting one to three days, is held; and amidst much feasting, dancing, and singing, the bride and groom receive blessings in public from their parents and relatives. Many of these traditional practices have been incorporated into Christian weddings, while Muslim weddings tend to mirror those found at the coast.
The last important rite of passage is death. After a person dies, close relatives have their heads shaved in mourning. The bereaved parents and spouse go into a period of seclusion. When it is time for the actual burial, all the men in the village come together to help; the women and children must hide themselves until the body is buried. A special ritual is then performed to purify the village, followed by a divination to determine the cause of death. Finally, a ceremony is held to mark the end of mourning. Traditionally, witches and people with diseases such as leprosy would not be buried, and their bodies would be left in the bush. This practice is no longer followed. Funerals are important rituals for bereaved families and their kin and neighbors. Neighbors dig the grave and take news of the death to relatives of the deceased who live outside the village. The dead become ancestors who may continue to affect the lives of their descendants and demand appeasement. The idea that the dead live on in their descendants is expressed in terms of shared identity between alternate generations
Greetings are very important in Nyamwezi society. Greetings last for several minutes, and it would be considered rude just to pass a friend on the street and say, “Hi” as in the United States. As a form of respect, younger people usually initiate greetings with their elders; then the elder will take the lead in the ensuing conversation, inquiring how the person is doing, how work or studies are going, and whether the relatives are well. One greets very important people by bowing, clapping one's hands, and averting one's gaze before a handshake. Greetings among close friends are less formal and often incorporate some teasing and joking. Greeting is always accompanied by a handshake, as is leave-taking. After the greetings, it is considered impolite to “get straight to the point,” and the matter to be discussed is usually approached gradually in an indirect manner.
Visiting relatives and friends is a favorite activity on the weekends, on holidays, or after work. Hospitality is taken very seriously. It is customary for the visitor to be given some refreshments, usually soda, tea, coffee, or traditional beer, and a snack. If the person comes at mealtime, he or she will be invited to join the family for the meal. It is customary to cook more food than is usually eaten by the family, in case guests arrive. If an important visitor comes or someone comes from a long journey, it is customary to slaughter a chicken and have a large feast in the person's honor. At parties or celebrations, it is the responsibility of the host to provide guests with a good meal, beverages, and entertainment. As some celebrations last all night, the host is often responsible for providing sleeping accommodations.
Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. Within Tanzania the most prosperous area is Dar es Salaam, the capital, while the poorest region is the southern coast. Unyamwezi falls between these two extremes. Although Tanzania is one of the poorest countries, its quality of life indicators such as literacy rates, life expectancy, and access to safe drinking water tend to be comparable with countries that have higher income levels.
Most people in Unyamwezi live in houses made of mud bricks with either thatched grass or corrugated iron roofs with dirt floors. Most houses do not have electricity or indoor plumbing. Since rural incomes are very low, most people have few material possessions; these consist mainly of radios, bicycles, lanterns, secondhand clothes, shoes, and household goods.
One of the main problems affecting the Wanyamwezi is malaria. The disease is endemic in most parts of Tanzania, including Unyamwezi, and it is about as common as the flu is in North America. The disease, while not usually fatal for healthy adults, can be fatal for people in a weakened condition or for the very old or very young. Another major health problem in Unyamwezi is the tsetse fly. It is slightly larger than a housefly and has a stinging bite. The tsetse fly is a carrier of two diseases, which adversely affect humans. One disease, sleeping sickness, is lethal to humans. The other is lethal to cattle and is called trypanosomiasis. Tsetse flies thrive in areas where there are abundant wild animals, which are immune to the diseases that strike humans and their livestock.
Diviners and other local experts provide herbal and other forms of treatment for illness. Shops sell some Western medicines, including aspirin and liniments. Village dispensaries and state and mission hospitals also provide Western medicine. People commonly use both Western and indigenous treatments rather than trusting wholly in either.
Transportation is a major problem in Tanzania. Most roads are in terrible shape and filled with potholes, making long-distance travel very difficult. Currently a major project to repair the roads in Tanzania is under way, which has eased some of the difficulties in road transportation. Tabora, the main city in Unyamwezi, is at the crossroads of the central railway line and is easily reached from Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika, Mwanza on Lake Victoria, and Dar es Salaam. There is also an airport in Tabora, but the cost of tickets keeps most people from flying.
Most families are made up of a mother, a father, and their children. Families often take care of relatives' children. Men have traditionally controlled most of the power within a household. For example, only men are able to inherit property. This pattern is changing, as the government has stressed equal rights for women. Within the household women are responsible for many of the daily chores, such as weeding crops and cooking, while the men are responsible for work such as building the house and clearing the fields. Children help their parents watch the fields to keep birds from eating the millet and sorghum. Girls also help their mothers with household work, while boys help with herding the livestock. It is not unusual for school enrollment rates in rural areas to fall during harvest and planting times as children help their parents with agricultural work.
Historically, villages were normally not kinship units and people found their relatives spread over wide areas. Spouses generally came from outside the Tembes and sons commonly moved away from their father's homestead. The core members of a domestic group consisted of the husband, his wife or wives, and any children who still lived with them. Sometimes relatives, such as a mother, younger unmarried brothers or sisters, and their children could be found together. The sexes usually ate separately. In general men did the heavy work, while women did the recurring tasks and much of the everyday agricultural work.
Ideally every adult person should be married, and every married woman should have her own household and bring her own household utensils. The husband is said to technically own his wife's hut, fields, and most of the household's food, but a wise husband usually listened to the wife's advice. There was little ranking between co-wives, although seniority in terms of who was first married was at times recognized. Jealously and sorcery were common, much depending on how well co-wives got along. Unlike the Wagogo, divorce was common, a large majority of persons experiencing at least one divorce by the time they were 50 years of age, which included the return of bride wealth minus the number and sex of the children born. Divorce was most often accomplished by the separation of either party. Chiefdom courts found certain reasons to automatically justify divorce: a woman's desertion, being struck by a wife, the wife's adultery, sexual refusal of the wife, and having an abortion, were all adequate reasons. Grounds for a husband to claim divorce were failure of the wife to carry out household duties, visiting a doctor without permission, and possible infertility. A wife could divorce if the husband deserted for a period of time without supporting her; if the husband seriously injured her by, for example, breaking a limb, but not simply beating her; the husband's impotence or perversions; or if her husband generally failed to maintain her and her children properly. A husband's adultery would not be one of the grounds.
It was customary for the younger brother of her former husband to inherit a widow, (a kind of “widows and orphans” security system), although it was not done against her will. Among some, inheritance of a widow by her husband's sister's son was particularly favored.
Wanyamwezi traditionally wore clothing made of bark cloth, but as trade grew in the 18th century, imported textiles became popular. Many women wear khangas, printed cloth adorned with Swahili sayings and vitenge, printed cloth with brightly colored and ornate designs. Dresses based on Arab, European, and Indian styles are also popular. Men wear trousers and shirts, and on special occasions Muslim men wear flowing white robes called Kanzus.
A favorite food is ugali, a stiff porridge made from corn, millet, or sorghum meal and served with beef, chicken, and vegetables. Cassava, rice, bread, peanuts, spinach, cassava leaves and other vegetables are also eaten. Snacks often consist of fruits. When available, the meat from wild game is a special treat. Ugali a porridge made from hominy and served with meat and vegetables. Beer made from fermented corn, sorghum, or millet was also common. Goats were used for ancestor sacrifices, but the economic value of goats and sheep lay in their meat and skins. By tradition five goats or sheep equated one bull; two bulls were worth one cow. Their year is divided into two seasons, wet and dry, with considerable variation depending on time and place.
Before the European colonial occupation of Unyamwezi, children were educated by their elders. They would learn how to farm, hunt, cook, herd cattle, and do other work from their parents. Stories told by parents or grandparents after the evening meal were an important way in which children were socialized into Nyamwezi society. Typically stories began with a call and response, in which the story teller would tease the listeners as follows:
Storyteller: A Story.
Listeners: There once was what?
Listeners: Go on!
Storyteller: You know who.
Listeners: Go on!
Many children's stories in the United States are based on African folktales. For example, one Nyamwezi story closely resembles the tale of “Br'er Rabbit.” It tells of some farmers who decided to catch a hare that was eating their crops by using a wood carving covered with glue. When the rabbit came to the field and saw the wood carving he tried to talk to it. When the carving did not respond the rabbit resorted to violence, kicking and punching the carving and becoming stuck in its glue. When the farmers returned to kill the rabbit he pleaded with them not to beat him to death on the sand. When the farmers tried to do this, the soft sand broke the rabbit's fall and he was able to run away.
Proverbs are another important way in which Nyamwezi culture is passed on from generation to generation. One Nyamwezi proverb states that “Hoes that are together don't stop scraping each other.” What this proverb means is that when people live together, disagreements are going to occur. Unlike American society, where people place a high value on their privacy and are socialized to mind their own business, Nyamwezi culture stresses the importance of outside intervention in a conflict. When quarrels erupt it is expected that neighbors, friends, family members, and elders will help to calm the situation. After a disagreement it is customary for the people involved to tell their sides of the story to mediators and for a consensus to be reached on who is at fault. The guilty party is then asked to refrain from the same behavior in the future, and the parties shake hands to show they have made up.
While informal education is still important for teaching societal values, formal education plays an important role in equipping the Wanyamwezi with the basic skills needed for life in modern Tanzanian society. After independence the leaders decided to devote most of the educational resources to providing free elementary education for all Tanzanian children. Until about 1980, this policy was very successful in improving elementary attendance rates: from 45% before independence to around 90% by 1980. However, enrollment rates have dropped in recent years in response to deteriorating economic conditions and the poor quality of some elementary schools. Very few Tanzanian children (around 5%) have a chance to go to high school, and only a very small percentage of high school graduates are accepted for university studies. Until 1994, all students who finished high school were required to attend National Youth Service. However, economic difficulties have caused the suspension of this program.
Education is very important for most Tanzanian families. But their appreciation of education is mixed with practicality. The low quality of some elementary schools, rising costs associated with education, strong competition for the few spots available in secondary schools, and the difficulties many secondary and university graduates have in finding jobs have caused some parents and students, especially in poorer families, to question the usefulness of elementary school.
The Wanyamwezi have a rich cultural heritage. Perhaps the most important part of their heritage is their emphasis on harmonious and balanced social relations. Nyamwezi society has historically been open and placed a high value on tolerance. This has allowed many people from outside Unyamwezi to live peacefully in the area and has allowed the Wanyamwezi to live throughout Tanzania. One of the unique institutions governing the relations among different ethnic groups in Tanzania is utani, or what is often called a joking relationship. Utani involves a special bond that allows people from different ethnic groups to verbally abuse each other without taking offense. Usually these joking relationships also entail an exchange of services and mutual aid, such as helping with funerals or helping visitors with directions or getting settled. Utani allows people arriving from a distant place or coming as strangers into a community to seek and receive help. Historians speculate that utani developed as a way to manage previously hostile and sometimes violent relationships between people of different ethnic groups. In addition to creating a positive and peaceful relationship between groups whose relationships could otherwise be marked by tension, hostility, and unpredictability, utani provides amusement and elevates the insult to a high art form.
For the Wanyamwezi, music and dance are an important part of their cultural heritage and play an important part in wedding festivities and other ceremonies.
Hunting is also an important part of Nyamwezi culture, and many men belong to secret societies of hunters with special rituals to help them track various types of animals.
It had always been part or the Nyamwezi system for the chief to receive tribute, bring success and prosperity to the people, and play an active role in ceremonies. All land was said to have belonged to the chief and he had the right to expel witches and undesirables; abuse was checked by the general need to maintain a large population; and while no one had the right to sell land in a chiefdom, the people had considerable security in their rights to the land. Permission to clear land was not needed, but care was taken so as not to conflict with others in the area. If there was a shortage of land in an area to be inherited, a headman could insist upon other holdings. Water was free to all.
Representational art is not strongly developed; it has mainly ritual functions. Music and dancing are the main art forms, and drums are the main instruments, although the nailpiano (a box with metal prongs that twang at different pitches) and other instruments are also found. Traditional songs are sung at weddings and at dances, but new songs are also composed by dance leaders. Male dance teams are the most common, but some female and mixed teams perform. Ritual and other societies have their own dance styles. Transistor radios are now widespread. Local and visiting jazz and other bands play in the towns.
In the precolonial era the Wanyamwezi were known for their trading activities. From the beginning of the 19th century, Nyamwezi long-distance trading caravans dominated the central routes through Tanzania, stretching from Mrima coast ports such as Bagamoyo and Saadani to Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika. Despite the inroads of Omani Arab and Swahili trading enterprises from the middle of the century, the Nyamwezi maintained a position of strength. In the second half of the 19th century, market relations emerged as the dominant form of economic organization along the central routes, although the market for many commodities was clearly fractured by transport difficulties, and non-market relations frequently substituted for weakly developed commercial institutions and tools. Most caravan porters in 19th century Tanzania were free wage workers, and nearly all were clearly migrant or itinerant laborers. The development of a labor market for caravan porters was an early and significant stage in the transition to capitalism, which began in a period of violence and political upheaval. The argument that porters were mostly wage laborers rests on evidence that their labor was bought and sold according to fluctuating labor market conditions. Market conditions in the second half of the 19th century shows a broadly rising demand for porters, a demand that could only be met if caravan operators offered adequate wages and observed the customs established within porter work culture. Thus, market conditions along the central routes contributed to the development of a free wage labor, characterized by a unique labor culture The Wanyamwezi acted as middlemen for bringing goods plentiful in one area to areas where they were scarce. For example, salt was a scarce commodity throughout mainland Tanzania. However, high-quality salt was produced nearby at Uvinza, so the Wanyamwezi traded it for iron goods in neighboring Usumbwa and Usukuma. The Wanyamwezi would trade the salt and iron for cattle and skins from the Wagogo, who lived in central Tanzania (around the present day city of Dodoma). They would also trade grain, honey, bark cloth, and other forest products for cattle from the Wasukuma, Wahaya, and Waha. Nyamwezi traders traveled as far as present-day Zambia and southern Democratic Republic of the Congo and pioneered trade routes to the coast in the late 1700s. By the 1800s large Nyamwezi caravans consisting of thousands of people would head to the coast carrying ivory to trade for cloth, beads, firearms, ammunition, and gunpowder. From the early 1800s to the Civil War, the United States was one of eastern Africa's major trading partners, with ships from Salem, Massachusetts, trading American-produced cloth (called marakani) for ivory to make billiard balls and piano keys and gum copal, which was used in making varnish.
While the Wanyamwezi had a reputation for trade before the colonial era, they gained a reputation as laborers during the European occupation. The transformation of the Wanyamwezi from traders to workers had its origins in the years preceding the colonial occupation. Shortly after Nyamwezi caravans began to bring ivory to the coast, Arab and Swahili caravans launched from the ports of Bagamoyo, Pangani, Tanga, Sadani, and Dar es Salaam went into the interior and established trading centers. With support from the State of Zanzibar, coastal traders increasingly displaced their Wanyamwezi counterparts. Many Wanyamwezi porters were forced to work on contract or as slaves on coastal caravans.
After the Germans took power in Tanzania they used physical coercion and taxation to force the Wanyamwezi into migrant labor while at the same time discouraging them from earning money through cash-crop production. As early as the 1890s, labor recruiters spread throughout the western plateau, trying to gain workers. Many Wanyamwezi went to work on European-owned plantations in order to pay their taxes. As work conditions on the plantations were very bad, characterized by flogging, poor housing, hunger, and disease, there were chronic shortages of labor. Areas of labor migration for the Wanyamwezi have included sisal plantations near Tanga, the clove plantations of Pemba, and more recently the cotton-growing areas of Usukuma. The Wanyamwezi became the backbone of mainland Tanzania's labor force, being employed in great numbers to construct and work on the railways; work on the docks in Mombasa, Kisumu, Tanga and Dar es Salaam; work on Kenyan farms and in the Kenyan police; work for British safari firms; and even work in South African gold mines.
Since independence, a number of Wanyamwezi have become politicians, civil servants, teachers, businesspeople, and professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants. While many Wanyamwezi have become involved in the various aspects of the modern economy, most are agriculturalists relying on traditional farming techniques.
While trade and wage labor were important activities for the Wanyamwezi, the backbone of Nyamwezi society has been agriculture. Many Wanyamwezi men would farm for half the year and engage in trade for the other half. As in the past, most of the farming is done manually although some tractors and animals are now used. Since the Wanyamwezi live in areas where rainfall is often unreliable, they long ago developed techniques, such as ridging their fields, to conserve water. The major crops are sorghum, millet, maize (corn), rice, sweet potatoes, cassava, peanuts, beans, chickpeas, gourds, sunflowers, pumpkins, cotton, and tobacco.
Elephant hunters have historically been one of the most prestigious occupations among the Nyamwezi, since the elephant hunters could get very rich from ivory trade. The elephant hunters were organized in a guild, which only accepted those who could pass the apprenticeship and the tests that were associated with it. Hunting had a wide variety of forms. Guild members often used lethal poison, and when they used it, in a German sergeant's words, “it worked slowly but surely.”
The guild members believed they possessed powerful hunting medicine acquired through rigorous apprenticeships, tracking game in all types of terrain and moving swiftly and silently through thorny underbrush. The elephant hunting lead to a decrease in elephant population, which combined with the increased trade in slaves, lead to large changes in the social and economic conditions.
In addition to agriculture, crafts were a part-time occupation and were not hereditary. Regionally traded products of importance were drums, ladles, stools, storage boxes for grain, and snuffboxes of horn. Iron and cloth were very important in regional networks, but the cloth industry in particular was ailing in 1857 because of severe competition from India, and over the next 60 years almost disappeared. Ironwork came from localized settlements whose products were then traded over wide areas: bows, arrows, spears, the payment of fines, and the extremely valuable hoes for bride wealth were all produced with considerable ritual by the smiths; and depending on the place that was blamed, for the heavy deforestation to obtain charcoal.
By far the most popular sport is soccer. The Tanzanian landscape is dotted with soccer fields, and children and teenagers enjoy playing the game, often in bare feet with homemade soccer balls. On weekends many people enjoy listening to soccer games on the radio. For those who can go to the stadium, Simba and Young Africans of Dar es Salaam are the most popular teams to watch. Many Wanyamwezi also support their local team, Mirambo, based in Tabora and named for the great pre-colonial leader Mirambo.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Besides soccer, many people like to play cards or play a board game called bao. Bao, sometimes called African chess, is a very complex game in which good players need to plan many turns in advance to capture their opponents' markers, or pieces. One plays by placing one's markers (usually large round seeds) into carved-out depressions on a large wooden board. More affluent families enjoy watching videos, especially action films, musicals, and Indian films—which usually combine a musical, an action film, and a love story into one movie. Perhaps the most important form of relaxation in Unyamwezi, especially in the rural areas, is visiting friends after work or on the weekends and drinking traditional homemade beer.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
A hobby for many children is making their own toys. Children in Unyamwezi have done this for many years. In the 1870s, children made toy guns and used ashes for gunpowder. More modern toys consist of wire cars with wheels cut out of old pieces of rubber from tires or flip-flops. Children also make their own soccer balls out of string tied around old plastic bags or socks.
Important crafts in Unyamwezi include iron-working, basket making, and making traditional stools. Some skills are closely guarded secrets that are passed down within a family or a close-knit secret society. For example, in the case of iron-working, most blacksmiths are non-Wanyamwezi, outsiders, whose work is cloaked in magic and spirits. In the case of stool making, this skill is more widely spread through Unyamwezi and is not particularly associated with any immigrant community or guild.
For adults, beer brewing is an important hobby. There are many types of traditional beer brewed by people in Unyamwezi. One of the more popular is called Kangala and is made from fermented corn bran. After the beer has been prepared, a process that takes several days, the brewer will have a party with much singing and dancing. Traditional beer is an important part of Nyamwezi life. It is used in numerous ceremonies, including weddings, funerals, feasts, and holidays. It is said that next to water, traditional beer is the most popular drink in Unyamwezi.
The most pressing problem facing the Wanyamwezi, as with most Tanzanians, is poverty. Malnutrition, along with lack of clean water, health care, and medicine allow opportunistic diseases to take their toll. As in most countries, poor people are often put at a severe disadvantage in dealing with more affluent groups and in protecting their rights and advocating their interests within official channels.
Tanzania was ruled from 1965 to 1992 by a one-party state that tended to restrict political rights and individual liberties. The implementation of a radical new societal development plan called ujamaa, or African socialism, in the 1960s and 1970s led to numerous economic problems including a shortage of basic goods, corruption, high rates of inflation, declining production, and a deterioration of the nation's physical infrastructure. However, these problems need to be considered within the context of a ruling regime that seemed committed to building a new egalitarian society and promoting a national culture that has so far avoided much of the ethnic animosity that has characterized numerous other multiethnic societies.
Malnutrition, the lack of clean water, and insufficient health care allow diseases to take their toll. As in most countries, poor people are often at a severe disadvantage in protecting their rights and advocating their interests through the official channels of government.
In traditional Nyamwezi society the roles of men and women were different. Women had an extremely important economic role as the food producers and in some cases held high political office. It is also suggested that at the village level, perceptions about correct gender roles have not changed greatly, and there is a willingness to accept women in authority, which is an indication of changing times and attitudes.
There is a strong gender division of labor. In general, men do shorter, heavy tasks, and women do more repetitive chores. Cattle are mainly men's concern, as are iron working and machine sewing. Only men hunt. Pottery is women's work. Some urgent tasks, such as harvesting, are done by both sexes. Most diviners are men. The state has been keen to draw women into politics, but only moderate progress has been made.
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—revised by M. Njoroge
"Nyamwezi." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/nyamwezi
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