The Nyamwezi of Tanzania
Location and Background: The Nyamwezi tribe (“people of the moon”) is the second largest in Tanzania, living principally south of Lake Victoria in west-central Tanzania. About 30% of Nyamwezi live and work outside of their 35,000 miles of land, in Tanzania’s commercial and agricultural centers.
History: It is believed the Nyamwezi and their related tribe the Sukuma arrived in their present location in the 16th c. Before Europeans arrived, they had an empire consisting of four clans, each descended from one ancestor. Their ancient king, Mirambo, was known to be a brilliant military leader. They were traders, and by 1800 they were involved in trade of copper, wax, ivory, and slaves with Arabs at the coast. Elephant hunting was a prestigious occupation due to the wealth from ivory trade. They also acquired guns and were often involved in intra-tribal wars, and conflicts with the Arabs.
Culture: The nuclear family lives together, and villages are not necessarily based on kinship relationships. Ideally every adult should be married. Various rituals are held for marriage and naming babies, and Westernization has had much influence on how the Nyamwezi function. Children go to the government schools. They are agriculturalists and pastoralists. Goats and sheep are used for sacrifices, and for their meat and skins. Their land is dry woodland, with scarce water, so it is not prime agricultural land. Men work the land, women care for the home.
Religion: The Nyamwezi embrace African Traditional beliefs, Islam and Christianity. They have much respect for their ancestors (the living dead), to whom they offer sacrifices and rely on for their benevolence. Most claim to be Muslims and follow the five pillars of Islam, but in reality they live by their animistic worldview, believing in a creator God, the spirit world, and the importance of using witchdoctors and other diviners to communicate with the spirits. It is reported there are 80,000 Nyamwezi in the Moravian church. The AIC-T has planted a hundred churches in the area but the majority of attenders could be Sukuma, not Nyamwezi. Some say up to 15% of Nyamwezi could be Christian, most of those are Catholic or nominal Christian.
An evangelical worker recently asked a pastor’s son, “Who is you closest friend in school? The boy replied, Mohammed! The second son said Hussein was his closest friend. The daughter replied her best friend was Aisha. Pray for cross-cultural workers, sent out as families to live among those who do not yet know Jesus as the Son of God. Pray for their living faithfully in Christ and for His protection over the families. May the friendships developed bring about fruit for the Kingdom and a light into the lives of their friends that they may no longer be held in darkness but come to Jesus.
Funerals are opportunities for Christians to share their hope with others who do not yet understand the eternal blessings that can be theirs. We mourn the loss of a beloved Christian who was taking Bible courses to become a full time church worker. During his life he shared the Gospel with his family, village, and in neighboring areas. The student’s faith in Christ was evident not only in his life but also became his final testimony at his funeral. How different a Christian funeral is as hymns of hope are sung about resurrection rather than the typical wailing and piercing cries of unquenchable lament! Pray that those who stand in need of peace with God accept the gift of God – to be saved by grace through faith.