Collection Description

Culture Name

Nyakyusa and Ngonde

Culture Description

The Nyakyusa and Ngonde are ethnically and culturally related people living in southwestern Tanzania and northern Malawi. They speak closely related Bantu languages, with minor dialectal differences in some regions. They are primarily rural people, earning their living from a combination of grain cultivation, banana/plantain gardens, cattle herding and seasonal migration to towns. Traditional Nyakyusa society was especially noted for its nucleated "age villages", a residential segregation of generations in adjoining communities.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Eastern Africa




OWC Code


Number of Documents


Note: Select the Collection Documents tab above to browse documents.

Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

The Nyakyusa and Ngonde (FN17) collection covers cultural, economic and historical information, circa 1875 to 1983. Most of the documents in the collection were written by the husband-wife team of Godfrey and Monica Wilson based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in 1934-1938. The basic introduction to Nyakyusa society and culture is Godfrey Wilson’s “An Introduction to Nyakyusa society” (Wilson 1936, no. 8). The information in this document is further enriched by the works of Monica Wilson which, together, provide a comprehensive first-hand account of Nyakyusa culture and society as observed in mid-1930s. Main themes covered in these works include social and economic structure of a Nyakyusa age-village (Wilson 1951, no. 1), communal rituals related to burials, marriage, birth, misfortunes, etc (Wilson 1957, no. 2), relationship of religion to Nyakyusa social structure (Wilson 1959, no. 9), changes in generational and gender relations (Wilson1977, no. 16), and traditional land tenure systems (Wilson 1938, no. 5).

The collection also includes two other documents that focus on the Ngonde. Coverage of these documents includes traditional political structure of Ngonde society (Wilson 1939, no. 6) and aspects socioeconomic change since 18th century (Kalinga 1984, no. 15).

Finally, the collection also includes one essay which seeks to re-evaluate some of the key arguments in the earlier work by the Wilsons. The focus is on dynamics of kinship and chieftainship in age-villages, a uniquely Nyakyusa residence pattern in which a cohort of boys establish their own village settlement in previously uninhabited land (McKenny 1973, no. 17).

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Akaja –homestead or residence site– Use SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361) with HOUSEHOLD ( 592)

Avanyago –hereditary priests believed to have the divine powers– Use PRIESTHOOD ( 793) with MAGICIANS AND DIVINERS ( 791)

Efepanga –an age-villages– Use COMMUNITY STRUCTURE ( 621) with SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361) and/or AGE STRATIFICATION ( 561)

Elisyeto –sacred groves marking graves of chiefs– Use SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES ( 778) with CULT OF THE DEAD ( 769)

Ikikolo –bilateral kindred– Use KINDREDS AND RAMAGES ( 612)

Imigunda –garden plot– Use LAND USE ( 311) and/or TILLAGE ( 241)

Kyungu –Ngonde King– Use CHIEF EXECUTIVE ( 643) and/or STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE ( 554)

Obwene nakyo –a chief’s title of ownership to the land of his chiefdom– Use REAL PROPERTY ( 423) with STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE ( 554)

Okamanela –literally, “milking each other’s cow”, an institution of cattle exchange– Use PASTORAL ACTIVITIES ( 233) with MUTUAL AID ( 476) and/or SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND GROUPS ( 571)

Okokwa –marriage ceremony– Use NUPTIALS ( 585)

Olifumu –literally, “great commoner", head or paramount chief presiding over 6-12 age-villages– Use COMMUNITY HEADS ( 622) with STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE ( 554) and/or TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY ( 631)

Onkasikolo –chief [senior] wife in a polygynous family– Use POLYGAMY ( 595) with GENDER STATUS ( 562)

Onkondwe –favorite wife in a polygynous family– Use POLYGAMY ( 595) with FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS ( 593)

Ovosoka –literally, coming out, a community ritual through which new agevillages are created– Use PUBERTY AND INITIATION ( 881) and/or SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361)

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

Close Box