Collection Description

Culture Name

Lakeshore Tonga

Culture Description

The Lakeshore Tonga live on the western shore of Lake Malawi in the Northern Province of the Republic of Malawi. They are a heterogeneous people formed from at least four different groups who settled the area in the late 18th century. The Tonga of Malawi are distinct from the people of the same name who live in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique. The Tonga language belongs to the Bantu family. The Tonga people also speak the language of the dominant ethnic group of the country. The Tonga practice a subsistence economy of fishing and gardening, supported by income from outside wage labor. The staple crop is cassava. The Tonga grow some crops for domestic or export markets. There are several rubber and tea estates in the region, which employ Tonga administrators and workers.


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


Africa --Southern Africa



OWC Code


Number of Documents


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

Number of Pages


Collection Overview

There are six documents in the file, five of them by the ethnographer van Velsen, including a classic ethnography, 'Politics of Kinship,' which strikes this reader as the work Edmund Leach, van Velsen's contemporary, would have written if his trunk of field notes had not been unfortunately lost at sea. The greatness of the book lies in its detailed, situational analysis of power relations within and between kin groups and villages, and the strategies Tonga leaders employ in their quest for power (Van Velsen 1964, no. 1). The other four works by Van Velsen are articles that look specifically at Tonga labor migration (Van Velsen 1961, no. 5), oral history prior to British contact (Van Veslen 1959, no. 3), and the histories of British missionaries (Van Velsen 1960, no. 2) and administration (Van Velsen 1962, no. 4). Douglas (1950, no. 6) has written a very brief description of Tonga traditional religion, history, economy, and social organization. It is only included in the collection, because of the paucity of information on the Tonga. There is much information on Tonga culture that is missing here and nothing after 1960.

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

The culture summary was written by Ian Skoggard in July, 1999.

book--census, tax registrar, symbol of administration in office--631, 651

councilor-court judge-693

LINGGA-stockade village-712

Native Authority-court system-692

owners of the village-matrilocal residents and members of a lineage--613

village sons-patrilocal residents in a village-602

Close Box