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close this bookTraditional Sex Education in Tanzania (WAZAZI, 1991, 82 p.)
close this folderChapter two THE ETHNIC COMMUNITIES
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe Chagga
View the documentThe Fipa
View the documentThe Gogo
View the documentThe Makonde
View the documentThe Makonde Malaba
View the documentThe Masai
View the documentThe Nyakyusa
View the documentThe Nyaturu
View the documentThe Sukuma
View the documentThe Zanzibaris
View the documentThe Zaramo

The Sukuma

The Sukuma, one of the largest ethnic groups in Tanzania, live in the Mwanza region around the southern shores of Lake Victoria in the northwest. The Sukuma focus group was held in the village of Nyampulukane in the Sengerema district, one of six districts in the region.

This group had 15 participants, ten men and five women. They met three times a week for one and a half hours or more.

Social organization. The Sukuma were patrilineal, with male elders at the top of the community hierarchy. Houses were clustered by clan, with the head of the homestead in the largest house. Young children lived with their parents; young unmarried men lived in their own bachelor quarters.

The community was divided into age groups. The elders, who had retired from public affairs, served as chief advisors and led the community’s rituals. Adult men were responsible for food production and defense of the clan against invaders; young men herded cattle for their parents. Very young children of both sexes were cared for by the community’s older women. Girls stayed in their charge. Boys graduated at the age of three to the shikoma or “man’s place,” where the head of the household presided. Here, most of their training for adulthood took place in an informal way, as customs and tribal legends were passed on from one generation to another through stories, riddles, and songs. Similarly, girls had their training in the kitchen or while grinding corn or millet or drawing water. Neither boys nor girls went through formal initiation rites. But parents attached great importance to the informal training process.

The community also had professionals - men who were hunters and ironworkers, and women who specialized in pottery, basketry, and mat making. Some singers were famous for their performances at weddings, funerals, harvest festivals, and other ceremonies. There were many ceremonies, since the Sukuma, like other traditional societies, tended to cope with extraordinary events - epidemics, deaths, natural disasters - by inventing rituals to explain them.

Economic organization. The Sukuma were mainly herders of cattle, though they also raised millet, maize, and beans. Cattle were their symbol of wealth - rich families were those with many cattle - as well as their medium of exchange - cattle were used to pay dowries and fines.

Labor was divided along sex lines. Men’s jobs included herding, fishing, hunting, felling trees, forging tools, sculpting, conducting funerals, and defending the community against enemies. Women made pottery, baskets, and mats, prepared food, and drew water.

Political organization. Authority rested with household heads and the senior male members of each clan. There were three grades of leadership. The highest was the mtemi, the chief.

Sex life. Sukuma society officially discouraged sex before marriage. Mothers cautioned their daughters about flirting and warned that girls who were not virgins fetched smaller dowries. A premarital pregnancy meant disgrace for the girl and a heavy fine for the boy, payable in cattle.

Yet in fact, the society was rather permissive, coming close to authorizing premarital sex-for-fun through an institution known as chagulaga mayu.

In this traditional game, often played after evening dances, girl players were surrounded by admiring young men. A boy player began by going up to a girl, usually one with whom he already had some kind of understanding. “Chagulaga,” he would say - choose the one you love. The girl signaled her choice by touching him. Then she would sprint off, and he would run after her. If he failed to catch her, he would be ridiculed and laughed at. But if he caught her, he was entitled to pull her into the bushes and make love to her - actually have sex with her, if he could.

Many girls had their first sexual experience through this game. Afterward, the boy was considered the girl’s “‘boyfriend” - and having a boyfriend was evidence she was attractive. Some couples might even go on to marry, the game having served as a kind of test of sexual compatibility and fertility.

Once married, a girl was expected to be faithful to her husband. On the other hand, he was allowed - even encouraged - to marry as many wives as he could support. A household of many children was the ideal for a man of wealth and social standing.