The Nyamwezi of Tanzania

Population: 1.5 million

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.

Learn more about the Nyamwezi at Joshua Project or about Tanzania at Operation World.

Latest Prayer Updates:

O Families of the Peoples!

“Give to the LORD, you families of the nations, give to the LORD glory and power.” (Psalm 96:7) Praise God for heads of households who have confessed Christ as Lord. Culturally, for the head of the house to say this confession implies that all in the household will now follow Jesus. We rejoice in the decision to turn to Christ as a group, but they need follow up with teaching each to confess and grow in Christ. Pray that these “families of the peoples” will grow together in walking with Jesus. When it comes to worshipping on Sundays, some households may send their kids to church, or only one adult from the household shows up for service, not bringing anyone else with them. There are usually circumstances that keep the others at home, so pray that those who come to church will retell what message was given and bring others with them next week. Pray that the Holy Spirit would work in each of their lives to grow spiritually and serve the Lord together as one: “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) Pray more households would be free from that which hinders them from being able to worship together. May the children rejoice as in Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”

Bible School Students

Pray for twelve Bible school students, as they return home to their village ministry sites among the Nyamwezi. Each has studied evangelism and discipleship activities. Pray they would put into practice what they have learned, that the Lord would use them to lead others to Christ. Pray that new groups would be formed to discover and learn God’s Word together. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

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