Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Bena are agriculturalists who live in two different ecozones in Tanzania. One is a high plateau where a large majority of the Bena live and the other is a plain, occupied by a small minority. The Bena speak a Southern Bantu language of the Niger-Congo language family. In pre-colonial times the Bena were organized into villages which were largely autonomous and warring. They were conquered by the Hehe and, in the late nineteenth century, became subject to German colonists.


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 the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

There are two major Bena groups, one lives in the highlands of Njombe District, Iringa Region, Tanzania ("Bena of the Hills") and the other, the "Bena of the Rivers" live in the Ulanga valley in southwestern Morogoro Region. There are eight documents in the eHRAF Collection of Ethnography collection on the Bena. Marc Swartz who wrote seven of the articles in the collection studied the highland Bena. His research focuses on Bena politics, social organization, and psychology, especially in regard to rural development projects. Swartz examines the relationship between leaders, people, and power (Swartz 1968, no. 1); the psychological underpinnings of power relations (Swartz 1966, no. 7); the exercise of power in two local institutions (Swartz 1977, no. 4); and the continuity of rural institutions and leadership under various overlords (Swartz 1962, no. 6). He also discusses Bena kinship terminology (Swartz 1968, no. 3) and provides a general monograph on Bena culture (Swartz 2002, no. 5.) Culwick (1935, no. 1) has written a major monograph on the other Bena group living in the Ulanga valley covering a variety of topics. For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in the collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is from the article "Bena of Southwestern Tanzania" by Marc J. Swartz, in the Encyclopedia Of World Cultures Supplement. 2002. Carol Ember, Melvin Ember, and Ian Skoggard, eds. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. The synopsis was written by Ian Skoggard in 2002.

BARAZA-village dispute settlement sessions-627

JUMBE-village headman-622


LIBETU-bride wealth-583


MABONGOLI-shrine-346, 778

MTEMA-paramount ruler-631

MUGOVE-work party-476

MULUNGO-creator god and supernatural power-776, 778

Simsim-oil-bearing crop-249

TANU-an anagram for a national political party-665

VATWA-petty ruler-631

VEO-village executive officer-631

WALONGO-mutual aid-476, 571, 602


WANYAMBIKI-village officials-624


Close Box