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:

New church begins with 10 baptisms!

Praise God for a Nyamwezi evangelist’s enthusiasm and initiative to reach out to four unreached villages. In one such village, ten believers were baptized in August, Praise God!! They have joined together to build a place of worship where they are meeting regularly. Pray for continued efforts to reach and teach in this village, for God’s lovingkindness and truth to be evident, and that men repent of their evil ways. Proverbs 16:6 “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.”

Lip Service vs. Transformation in Lives

Jesus spoke to religious leaders in Matthew 21:28-32 about a son who said to his father he would work in the vineyard but did not. Another son said he would not work, but later repented and went. There are many similarities in this context among Nyamwezi who say they believe but there is no evidence of this belief. Others wait and repent a long time after an invitation is given. Please pray none would be fearful and would quickly embrace the cost to follow Jesus. Pray that God would lavish Himself upon those who turn their lives in immediate obedience to the Living Word. The Lord God is a good Father who is patient even with deferred obedience, but pray for an outpouring of the Spirit and many would trust Christ without delay. Even if their “yes to Jesus” makes no sense to their neighbors, pray new believers would show inexplicable joy, transformation, and new life in Christ.

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