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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 Nyakyusa

The focus group was held in the village of Itezi, about ten kilometers from the town of Mbeya in the Iyunga division of the Mbeya region. Fifteen Nyakyusa, eight men and seven women, participated. Their ages ranged from 40 to 80.

Because Itezi lies on the great highway linking Mbeya and Dar es Salaam, the Nyakyusa have been exposed to many different ethnic groups and different sets of values, often urban and western.

The focus group members regretted the impact these contacts have had on their traditional culture. They blamed western lifestyles and imported religions for corrupting the culture and making modem Tanzanian society too tolerant and permissive. What is described below is a remembered world rather than an existing one.



· sexual pleasure

· reproduction

· expansion of kinship/affinity network

Acceptable sexual activities

Before puberty

· fondling/touching mother’s breasts (age 0-7)

monitored by family,

· interest in own genitals (age 0-7)

peer groups, age set

· sucking mother’s nipples (age 0-7)

· playing father/mother games (age 0-7)

· interest in opposite sex (7-14)

· interest in genitals, breasts, buttocks (age 7-14)

· forming opposite-sex peer groups (age 7-14)

· lovemaking and sexual intercourse (age 7-14)

At puberty

· interest in initiation rites

monitored by family, peer/

· interest in opposite sex

age groups, elders, laiboni

· sexual intercourse with variety of partners

At marriage

· sexual intercourse with wife/husband only

monitored by family, age

· pregnancy

set, council of elders

· childbirth

Unacceptable sexual activities

Before puberty

· sexual intercourse (age 0-7)

monitored by family, peer/

· sodomy (age 7-14)

age groups, elders

· bestiality (age 7-14)

· rape (age 7-14)

· abusive language (age 7-14)

· incest (age 7-14)

At puberty

· sodomy and lesbianism

monitored by family, peer/

· bestiality

age groups, elders

· rape

· abusive language

· incest

At marriage

· adultery

monitored by family, peer/

· sodomy and lesbianism

age groups, elders

· bestiality

· child abuse

· rape

· incest



· social approval


· beatings

· scoldings in songs and dances

· fines to be paid in cattle

The ideal marriage


· sexually stimulating

· circumcized

· productive, possessing many cattle

· loyal to family and clan


· sexually energetic

· well educated sexually

· able to bear healthy children

· able to care for family and homestead

· loyal to her husband, her family, her people

Family size

· large

Sex status

· males superior to females


· young people become successful fathers/mothers


· positive

Mode of education

· informal/nonformal

Social organization. Originally, the Nyakyusa lived in the highlands of the Rungwe district. Descent was traced from the father’s side. Several households made up a clan, and clan members built their houses in the same area. Kinship was important to the Nyakyusa; it represented support in all aspects of their lives.

Daily life centered around the family unit - father, mother, children. Unmarried young men lived in areas set apart from the village. So did the elderly women who were in charge of girls’ initiation rites.

Social position was determined by the group to which one belonged. Social position, in turn, determined the individual’s special role within the community.

The elders or wakombe, retired old men, formed the community’s reservoir of experience and wisdom and its highest-ranking age group. They served as advisors to the supreme chief or mwanafyale.

Economic organization. Traditionally, the Nyakyusa were farmers and hunters. Some men farmed and hunted on their own. Others did so collectively, sharing the proceeds after the best shares had been set aside for the mwanafyale and the household heads.

Work was divided according to sex. Activities associated with power, authority, and ownership were usually considered “male.” Other tasks were considered “female” or shared by both sexes. Men owned the land, the homesteads, and the hunting equipment.

Political organization. The political structure was well-defined. At the top, above all the clans, was the mwanafyale - supreme authority in all matters of state, supreme judge in all conflicts, supreme diviner in all rituals. Held in great reverence and awe, he was free to take any woman he pleased as a wife.

Below him were the heads of the individual clans, who were liaisons between the mwanafyale and their clan members. Each received the mwanafyale’s orders and passed them down to the heads of clan households, who then passed them on to the people. On the lowest level of Nyakyusa society were poor families who worked as slaves for rich landowners or the mwanafyale.

Sex life. Training in sexual matters, along with broader training for adulthood itself, was provided within the community’s framework of age groups. The system was designed to assure individual physical satisfaction, public order, and sufficient manpower. Taboos and norms regulated sexual life to assure peace and social equilibrium.

Children younger than 12 lived at home with their families. Their sex education began with family members helping them to discover their bodies, including their genitals and the beginnings of sexual desire.

At the age of 12, boys were sent to live in a separate village, away from their families and from contact with girls. With other adolescents and young men up to the age of 24, they learned the skills of community defense and leadership.

When girls came of age, they were instructed in sexual matters by a special group of elderly women in the clan. These women, known as banyago, taught girls about their changing bodies, about marriage and its privileges and duties, about childbirth and its attendant conditions - and equally important, how to be sexually exciting to their husbands and respected by their neighbors. The girls learned the importance of virginity before the wedding and fidelity after it.

Occasionally, young men and women were allowed to meet at special festivals where partners could be chosen. But the real decisions about marriage were family affairs. Dowries were required. A bride could earn many cows for her family, and if she proved to be a virgin, the bridegroom’s family would make the additional gift of a bull.

Sexual satisfaction was important, but the real goal of marriage for a Nyakyusa man was children - daughters to bring in more cows, sons to defend the homestead and increase the power of the clan.

To assure more children, he married several wives, all of whom were expected to live harmoniously together under the first wife’s leadership. Polygamy was seen as, among other things, a kind of family planning method-it allowed individual wives to delay another pregnancy until they had stopped breastfeeding the previous baby. (Women who became pregnant while still nursing were ridiculed.) A childless marriage was considered a disaster. Abortion was not permitted, and divorce was allowed only in exceptional circumstances.