Preliminary notes on language, history and ethnography
Martin Walsh #1, April 1998 Introduction The Nyika of Rungwe district in south-west Tanzania are a small ethnic group on the western fringe of the area dominated by Nyakyusa speakers. Their primary historical affinity appears to be with peoples living to their west, and they are referred to here as the eastern Nyika to distinguish them from other groups called by the same and cognate names (Nyika, Nyixa, Nyiha). The eastern Nyika seem to have eluded notice by early missionaries and colonial administrators, and they do not appear by name in official German and British sources. Their existence was at least known to later workers at Rungwe Moravian Mission (Gemuseus and Busse 1950: 6). However, the eastern Nyika were not described as a geographically distinct group until Monica Wilson began to publish the detailed results of her anthropological fieldwork (undertaken with Godfrey Wilson in the 1930s) among the Kukwe and other Nyakyusa-speakers living to their east (1951: 2-3). The following notes comprise a first attempt to compile information on the eastern Nyika, drawing on the few published references to them, our knowledge of neighbouring and related peoples, and observations which I recorded while engaged in field research in Usangu. The source of these observations was a 27-year old Kukwe woman, Betitha Mwakalinga, who was the wife of my principal Sangu host in Utengule-Usangu when I lived there in 1980-81. To my subsequent regret, I did not question her systematically about the Nyika, but merely recorded what she told me about them in the course of two separate conversations (on 27 September and 7 November 1981). Location The eastern Nyika occupy land on the western bank of the Kiwira River in its middle course, approximately 10-15 km to the south-west of Tukuyu town. This is in the area of Daraja la Mungu (‘God’s Bridge’), a well-known natural bridge over the Kiwira (Cribb and Leedal 1982: 23). According to Betitha Mwakalinga, the principal village of the Nyika is Ikuti, which is shown on maps as lying about 3 km to the south-west of the river. Administratively, Ikuti and the surrounding area are located in the southernmost corner of Ukukwe division in Rungwe district, bordering Pakati division to the east and Undali division in Ileje district to the south and west.


The eastern neighbours of the Nyika, across the Kiwira, are the Nyakyusa-speaking Kukwe in the north and the Nyakyusa of Masoko in the south. On the western side of the Kiwira, the Nyika share boundaries with the Penja to their north and the Ndali to their south. Monica Wilson’s map of this area also suggests that the Nyika might share boundaries with the Malila and Lambya (1958: facing page 8), though the proximity of these peoples to the Nyika was not mentioned by Betitha Mwakalinga. Population The eastern Nyika have never been identified as a separate group in published census statistics. In the absence of information on which and how many villages they occupy, it is difficult to estimate the Nyika population. It seems unlikely, though, that they exceed more than a few thousand in number. Ethnographic classification Monica Wilson first referred to the eastern Nyika in the introduction to Good Company, her study of Nyakyusa age-villages. Then, as later, Wilson adopted a broad linguistic and cultural definition of ‘Nyakyusa’ society, though she made clear that this excluded the Nyika and other peoples living to the west of the Kiwira River:
“The Nyakyusa themselves may be sub-divided into those living on the Lake-shore plain (MuNgonde), those around Masoko, those to the east under the Livingstone mountains in Selya and Saku, and those to the north, viz. the Kukwe and Lugulu. The last two groups differ appreciably in dialect and custom from the others, but all speak dialects which are mutually intelligible. There are also a number of small groups with old languages of their own which, though related to that of the Nyakyusa and Ngonde, are more or less unintelligible to them; and they have equally distinct cultures. These include the Penja on the plateau to the west of the Kukwe; a small group of Nyika on the same plateau; the Ndali in the hills to the north of the Songwe; the Sukwa to the south of them; the Lambya and Wenya further west; small groups of Henga and Mambwe on the western border of Ngonde, and the Kisi, a people famous as potters and fishermen, who live on the north-east shore of the Lake. Most of these people are now, we are told, being rapidly assimilated to the Nyakyusa and Ngonde in speech and law, but we have little first-hand knowledge of them.” (1951: 2-3)

Wilson’s reference to ‘a small group of Nyika’ implies that she considered them to be a sub-group of the people of the same name who live further to the west: elsewhere in Good Company she uses the name Nyika to refer to all of these people (1951: 4, 8). However, when she wrote her survey of The Peoples of the Nyasa-Tanganyika Corridor (1958), she switched to using the cognate name Nyiha for individual groups – including the eastern Nyika - as well the larger grouping to which they and others were seen to belong:
“The Nyiha consist of a number of scattered groups living mostly on the drier parts of the table-land between the Lakes. They include (i) the Nyiha around Mbozi in Mbeya district; (ii) the Lambya who adjoin them in Rungwe district; (iii) the Lambya to the south of the Songwe in Nyasaland [now Malawi]; (iv) the Wandya who adjoin them (to be distinguished from the Wanda at the south of Lake Rukwa); (v) the Lambya of Northern Rhodesia [now Zambia]; (vi) the Nyiha of Nothern Rhodesia [Zambia]; (vii) the people of the wet Malila plateau adjoining the Lambya of Rungwe district; (viii) scattered groups on the Fipa plateau; and (ix) the Nyiha of Rungwe district.” (1958: 28)


Elsewhere in the same work Wilson considered the possibility that the Safwa should be added to this group, a position which she later adopted, referring to the whole as ‘Nyiha-Safwa’ (1958: 41; 1972: 141; 1977: 14). In concluding her 1958 survey, Wilson listed ‘A study of the Nyiha ‘people’’ as one of a number of ‘obvious topics’ for ethnographic research:
“They are the only large group in the area on whom there is no professional study either published or forthcoming. They appear to have been very early inhabitants of the Corridor, and they have been so conservative that detailed field work might yet provide a great deal on traditional history and culture. Are the various ‘dialect groups’ here classed as Nyiha indeed similar in language and custom?” (1958: 61-62)

Subsequent linguistic, historical and anthropological research has confirmed that at least half of Wilson’s ‘Nyiha-Safwa’ peoples – the Nyiha of Mbozi, the Lambya of both Tanzania and Malawi, the Malila, and the Safwa – are indeed closely related. However, the classificatory status of the other groups included by Wilson remains to be determined, including that of the eastern Nyika (‘Nyiha of Rungwe district’). In her last major work on the Nyakyusa and their close relatives, For Men and Elders, Wilson no longer felt it necessary to exclude the eastern Nyika from an expanded definition of ‘Nyakyusa’:
“The terms ‘Nyakyusa’ and ‘Ngonde’ are used in this book, as in previous publications, in an extended sense… ‘Nyakyusa’ is used to include Selya, Kukwe, Ndali, Sukwa, and the small groups of Penja, Lugulu, Nyiha, and Kisi which they absorbed, as well as the people of Masoko and the lakeshore plain who are distinguished as ‘Nyakyusa proper’; Ngonde is used to include Sukwa and others absorbed into the kingdom of Ngonde.” (1977: 14)

This ethnographic classification reflects the extent to which Wilson felt that the eastern Nyika and their neighbours had become integrated within the general pattern of ‘Nyakyusa’ culture. From a linguistic point of view it leaves a lot to be desired: Ndali and Sukwa do not merely speak dialects of Nyakyusa / Ngonde, but a quite distinct language, as do the Kisi. Likewise, there is no evidence to suggest that the eastern Nyika speak a Nyakyusa dialect or think of themselves as being part of wider Nyakyusa society, at least not on their home territory (see below). It is quite possible, however, that on occasion Nyakyusa speakers are prepared to think of the Nyika as belonging to the same broad cultural grouping. Betitha Mwakalinga first mentioned the Nyika in conversation after telling me that both her parents were Kukwe. The Nyakyusa, she said, are really a collection of different ethnic groups which speak the same language, and these include the Kukwe, Lugulu, Selya, Ngonde, and Nyika – but not the Ndali. The inclusion of the eastern Nyika in this list of Nyakyusa language speakers conflicted, however, with her later observations about their language and customs (see below), so should not be taken at face value. Monica Wilson seems to have been taken in by similar sentiments, presumably offered by Nyakyusa speaking informants wishing to stress the inclusiveness (and superiority) of their culture.


This leaves us, for the time being, with Wilson’s original working hypothesis: that the eastern Nyika are most closely related to other ‘Nyiha-Safwa’ peoples. Their use of the ethnonym Nyika appears to strengthen this hypothesis, given that it also used (in identical or cognate form) by other members of the same grouping. As Monica Wilson pointed out, however, this may be no more than a coincidence, given that the ethnonym ultimately derives from a widespread term for dry savannah environments (1958: 29; 1972: 141). Betitha Mwakalinga emphasised that the eastern Nyika are distinct from the Nyiha of Mbozi, but this statement does not preclude a historical relationship with the central Nyiha or other members of the same group. In the absence of more detailed research on them, the precise affiliation of the eastern Nyika must remain an open question. Language Given that systematic research has never been undertaken among or on the eastern Nyika, it is hardly surprising that we know next to nothing about their speech. The little that we do know, or that be guessed from existing sources, is presented below. Linguistic data The available evidence suggests that the eastern Nyika do (or at least did, until very recently) possess their own language, though we know precious little about it. Monica Wilson, as we have seen, described the Nyika as one among ‘a number of small groups with old languages of their own which, though related to that of the Nyakyusa and Ngonde, are more or less unintelligible to them’ (1951: 2). She also noted that ‘Most of these people are now, we are told, being rapidly assimilated to the Nyakyusa and Ngonde in speech…’ (1951: 2-3). The ‘ethnographic present’ of this statement was 1934-38, the period of the Wilsons’ fieldwork. Given the Wilson’s lack of first-hand knowledge of the eastern Nyika, these statements have to be treated with some caution. Nonetheless, similar observations were made by Betitha Mwakalinga. During our second, more detailed conversation about the Nyika, she described their language as being ‘different’ from Nyakyusa. She went on to say that she herself was unable to hear much of their language. As an example of the difference between languages, she cited the use of ‘mwagona?’ as an everyday greeting in Nyika, in contrast to the ‘ugonile?’ of Nyakyusa. The verb stem in both of these examples (-gon-, ‘to sleep’) is common to a large number of local languages: mwagona is a plural past form (‘did you sleep?’), also used in Safwa; ugonile is a singular perfective (‘have you slept?) (the plural Nyakyusa form, mugonile, is used to individuals when emphasising respect: Walsh 1982: 32). Linguistic classification This example provides further evidence in favour of the hypothesis of a western affiliation for eastern Nyika. The linguistic unity of Wilson’s ‘Nyiha-Safwa’ grouping has long been recognised. In the most recent genetic classification of the Eastern Bantu languages of this region, the ‘Nyika’ languages form a sub-group which is co-ordinate with the ‘Mwika’ sub-group (comprising Fipa and other languages further to the west).


These form, together with the two languages of the ‘Nyakyusa-Ndali’ sub-group (of which Wungu is possibly a third member), the wider ‘Corridor’ group (Nurse 1988: passim.). The choice of the name ‘Nyika’ to replace Wilson’s ‘Nyiha(-Safwa)’ reflects the fact that this is undoubtedly the original form of the widespread ethnonym from which ‘Nyixa’ and ‘Nyiha’ derive by regular sound changes. The fact that the eastern Nyika use (or at least are referred to by) the earlier form may well be significant in this context, suggesting that they have remained phonologically conservative in their treatment of proto-Nyika /*k/, isolated as they are on the eastern fringe of the ‘Nyika’ sub-group (the same argument might also be applied to the western Nyika, who live to the west of Lake Rukwa). Their use of mwagona also suggests some resistance to common Nyakyusa idioms on the part of the eastern Nyika. Other close neighbours of Nyakyusa speaking groups, such as the Wanji (who do not speak a Corridor language), have readily adopted the Nyakyusa ugonile as their everyday greeting (Walsh 1982: 39). Otherwise it is quite likely that the speech of the eastern Nyika has been influenced by Nyakyusa. The little evidence we possess, however, does not indicate that they have undergone a wholesale language-shift, a process which Wilson implies was already well underway in the 1930s. History The linguistic evidence, such as it is, provides us with some clues about eastern Nyika history. More can be deduced from our knowledge of the history of their Nyakyusa speaking neighbours and the general region in which they live. Further clues are provided by the few direct references to the eastern Nyika in print, together with the statements of my own Kukwe informant. The sum of these deductions and fragments of information does not, however, add up to much, though it does provide us with a starting point for further research. Origin traditions The general consensus of opinion in the existing literature is that the eastern Nyika originated as a splinter group of the Nyiha of Mbozi. This appears to be the view held by the Nyiha themselves as well as by at least some Nyakyusa speakers. Joseph Busse has the following to say about the eastern Nyika in his monograph on the language of the Nyiha of Mbozi:
“In the land of the Nyakyusa, along the middle course of the Kiwira, there is an area inhabited by Nyiha. They seem to be from the same clans, which some generations ago wandered out of Nyiha-land and settled there. I have not been able to find out what caused this migration.” (1960: 9, my translation)

The anthropologist Beverley Brock, who worked among the Nyiha of Mbozi in 1961, succeeded in recording ‘vague legends’ which do, nonetheless, give a reason for the presence of this splinter group in the east:
“Nyiha traditions speak of people moving long ago to Ufipa and of others being left behind in Rungwe after battles with the Nyakyusa.” (1963: 11-12)


This statement implies that the eastern Nyika travelled east to fight with the Nyakyusa but remained behind after being defeated or coming to some form of accommodation with them. Alternatively, although this seems less likely, it might be interpreted to mean that the eastern Nyika were in the east all along, and remained there after the rest of their kin had fled westwards. Viewed more sceptically, however, these traditions might be no more than inventions on the part of the Nyiha to explain the presence of a group of their namesakes and relatives (real or putative) in the east. The Nyakyusa speakers interviewed by Monica Wilson also claimed that their Nyika neighbours were related to the Nyiha of Mbozi. The Nyika chief and councillors whom Wilson met denied this: however, the way in which they did so led her to believe that they were suppressing the truth:
“Less completely absorbed [by Nyakyusa culture than the Penja and Lugulu] are the Nyiha who are said by other people to be related to the Nyiha of Mbozi but whose chief and councillors maintained at an informal meeting with me that their ancestors had come from BuKinga like other Nyakyusa and had no connection with the Nyiha of Mbozi. The modification of tradition at this meeting was plain. An old man reciting the praises of the chiefs was hastily silenced and an official version of the royal genealogy put forward. The reason for this was, perhaps, the fear of losing land rights if their character as a foreign group was stressed.” (1958: 9)

Unfortunately, Wilson does not report the content of the (allegedly censored) praises she heard or the details of the royal genealogy that she was given. She clearly implies, however, that it was the Nyika’s relationship with the Nyiha which was being suppressed in favour of a tradition of origin in Ukinga paralleling that of other Nyakyusa speakers. Wilson does not say when (or where) her meeting with the Nyika chief took place, whether in the 1930s or during her return trip to Unyakyusa and neighbouring areas in the mid-1950s. Whichever the case, we might reasonably expect to find that the Nyika have since strengthened their claim to a Kinga origin, and succeeded to some degree in persuading their Nyakyusa speaking neighbours likewise. This, at least, would fit with Wilson’s later (1977) treatment of the eastern Nyika as a group that the Nyakyusa had successfully absorbed. However, more recent evidence suggests that this has not been the case. My Kukwe informant, Betitha Mwakalinga, provided a very different view of eastern Nyika origins. When she first mentioned the Nyika she stated baldly that they were originally from Ufipa. During our second conversation she rephrased this slightly by telling me that the Nyika are said to be of Fipa origin. Unfortunately I did not ask her whose claim this was. It may be significant to point out, however, that she had more than a passing acquaintance with the Nyika: her family home was on the opposite side of the Kiwira valley and she knew and was affinally related to the chief of the Nyika at Ikuti, David Mwanjali. He was her classificatory father-in-law: specifically her MeZDHF (mother’s elder sister’s daughter’s husband’s father). She described him as a relatively young man, and though the Kukwe (and general Nyakyusa) practice of fatherin-law avoidance may have meant that relations between them were less than familiar, she almost certainly had close contact with his son and other family members.


It is difficult to assess the status of brief statements like this from a single informant. Like many people of her age, Betitha Mwakalinga, was not (and would not have considered herself) a repository of historical traditions, although she was aware of particular events involving family members and was a lively purveyor of anecdotes in general. When she first mentioned that the eastern Nyika came from Ufipa it was in the context of telling me that the Nyakyusa are really a collection of different ethnic groups with disparate origins. The Kukwe, she said, came from the Songea area. Likewise the Selya and the Ngonde, specifying that the latter originated in Matengo country. The Lugulu, meanwhile, came from the Morogoro area. It is notable that none of these claims, apart from the last, accords with common knowledge. The Kukwe, Selya and Ngonde usually claim that their chiefs came from Ukinga, immediately to the east of Unyakyusa. Songea (and Matengo) are much further away on the eastern side of Lake Nyasa. Nonetheless, she did get the general direction right; and it may be that her references to Songea and Matengo simply reflected a lack of geographical knowledge. Betitha Mwakalinga’s claim that the eastern Nyika originated in Ufipa (or as Fipa) might be interpreted similarly: perhaps we should take it as no more than a statement about the general direction from they or their chiefs are reputed to have come. At the same time, however, it must be said that a tradition of Fipa (or Ufipa) origin is well within the bounds of possibility. It might, for example, be understood as a reference to a historical relationship between the eastern Nyika and the western Nyika of the Rukwa valley and Fipa plateau (for the western Nyika see Willis 1966: 68-70; Slater 1976: 63-76). Otherwise, we might recall that the Fipa themselves – together with other members of Nurse’s Mwika sub-group - are relatively close linguistic kin of the Nyika speaking peoples (Nyiha, Safwa and others). Both Mwika and Nyika sub-groups evidently share a more recent common origin than either does with the other Corridor sub-group, Nyakyusa-Ndali (see above). A tradition of Fipa origin does not necessarily contradict earlier suggestions that the eastern Nyika are related to the Nyiha. These derive from Nyiha and Nyakyusa sources, and we cannot be sure that they also reflect (or once reflected) the views of the eastern Nyika themselves. It may be, of course, that Nyika traditions have changed over time. Monica Wilson believed that she had witnessed this process in action, while the Kinga tradition that she heard has evidently not become the orthodoxy which we might have assumed. One reason for this may be that in the present era, when chiefly origins are no longer important for the determination of land rights, there is no reason for Nyika to modify (or continue to modify) their traditions in order to influence the powers-that-be. It is also possible that the eastern Nyika themselves have divergent views about their origins, chiefly and/or otherwise. According to Monica Wilson, the Nyika possessed two chiefdoms:
“The small Nyiha group in Rungwe district have two chiefdoms of their own, and acknowledge no overlord.” (1958: 31)

It may well be that these two chiefdoms did not share the same traditions. Unfortunately, when discussing her meeting with a Nyika chief and his councillors, Wilson did not indicate which chiefdom they might be from; nor, indeed, did she refer to the fact that there was more than one chiefdom (see above). Betitha Mwakalinga


implied that David Mwanjali at Ikuti was the Nyika chief, though she could merely have meant that he was the Nyika chief at Ikuti, which she thought was the principal Nyika village. Further clarification is clearly required on this matter. The family name of Betitha Mwakalinga’s classificatory father-in-law adds a further tantalising piece to this incomplete jigsaw. According to Fipa traditions, Mwanjali was the name of a ‘military governor’ in the service of Kimalaunga, a charismatic war leader and ivory hunter who caused considerable trouble in the southern Fipa chiefship of Lyangalile from the 1870s onwards. Kimalaunga rebelled against the ruler of Lyangalile, starting from his base in the Rukwa valley:
“Not content with subduing Lyangalile’s territory in the Rukwa valley, Kimalaunga invaded the plateau and attacked the village of Nandeka. The Nyika of Nandeka yielded to Kimalaunga and he installed a military governor (unndaasi) there called Mwanjali.” (Willis 1981: 90)

Willis adds, in a footnote, that ‘Nandeka is about ten miles from the Rukwa escarpment, and a few miles southwest of Lake Kwela in a part of Lyangalile with a predominantly Nyika population’ (1981: 260). We are not told where Mwanjali was from, whether he was an outsider like Kimalaunga, a Fipa, or even one of the western Nyika over whom he was given authority. The latter seems unlikely, though not entirely impossible. Kimalaunga was originally from Usangu, on one account a member of the Sangu royal family. The Sangu themselves, who call him Shimalawunga, deny this. It is likely, however, that he left Usangu as a consequence of the bitter civil war which raged there in the 1860s following the death of the Sangu chief Mwahavanga and usurpation of the royal stool by his maternal grandson, Merere (Shorter 1972: 267-269; Willis 1981: 89, 259). Njali is the name of the putative founder of the Sangu royal line, and is still used as a title by the Sangu chiefs. Male members of both major branches of the Sangu royal family may be greeted with the praise-name mwana njali (‘child of Njali’), often abbreviated to mwanjali; collectively they are referred to as the avamwanjali. These praise-names are more readily applied to the patrilineal descendants of Mwahavanga than those of Merere, and one branch of the Mwahavanga line now uses Mwanjali as a patronym (Walsh 1984: 148-149). Given Kimalaunga’s Sangu roots, it therefore seems most likely that the Mwanjali who served under him was either a Sangu himself – one of the many members of Mwahavanga’s family who fled from Merere – or had been given this name by Kimalaunga (who may have begun adapting Sangu royal titles and praise-names for his own purposes). This raises the possibility of a late nineteenth century ‘Fipa’ source for the name of the eastern Nyika chief, or perhaps a more direct connection with the Sangu royal family or the Bena who use a related name (Mwanzali). There is, however, no firm evidence for either link. It is extremely unlikely that David Mwanjali is descended from Kimalaunga’s lieutenant, and we have no other evidence for historical ties between the eastern Nyika and the Sangu or Bena. Is, then, their possession of the same name merely a coincidence? Recent history


We know almost nothing else about the history of the eastern Nyika, although a fair amount might be surmised from what we know about the history of the region in general and Rungwe district in particular. Unless the Nyika were comparative latecomers to their eastern home, we can guess that they were affected by the major events of the immediate pre-colonial period in ways similar to other eastern Corridor peoples (see, for example, the surveys of Safwa and Nyiha history in Kootz-Kretschmer 1929 and Brock 1968 respectively). We can also guess at the general impacts of missionary activity and the establishment of German and British administrations upon the eastern Nyika, though the precise details remain obscure (for general surveys see Wright 1971 and Wilson 1977). Monica Wilson’s observations, already discussed above, suggest that the eastern Nyika were increasingly influenced by their Nyakyusa speaking neighbours during the British period. Given that they formed an ethnic (and linguistic) minority in a Nyakyusa dominated district, this is hardly surprising. At the same time it is possible that, as the colonial period has receded, they have since felt freer to assert their ethnic identity, at least in the local arena. It is interesting to note that in 1981 a Nyika chief was still recognised, though what remains of chiefly practice now is an open question. Ethnography Our knowledge of eastern Nyika ethnography is as fragmentary as our knowledge of their history. As we have seen, when Monica Wilson first wrote about the eastern Nyika she grouped them together with other peoples on the fringe of the Nyakyusa speaking world who were culturally distinct from the Nyakyusa. However, her informants led her to assume that this distinctiveness was in the process of being lost as the inexorable tide of Nyakyusa culture advanced (1951: 2-3). In 1981, more than thirty years after Monica Wilson published Good Company (and more than forty years after the Wilsons completed the fieldwork upon which it was based), this process was evidently far from complete. Betitha Mwakalinga emphasised to me that the Nyika have their own customs: indeed, when she said this she had just given me a striking example of these (discussed in detail below). Social structure Good Company was primarily a description of what Monica Wilson took to be the distinguishing feature of Nyakyusa social structure: a system of ‘age-villages’ whose developmental cycle was linked to that of the chiefdoms of which they formed a part. Each chiefdom was destined to divide in two, with wide-ranging consequences for the status of its constituent villages and the ownership of land. This process of fission took place once in a generation, when the ruling chief handed over power to his two senior sons (and their age-mates) during a great ‘coming out’ ritual (Wilson 1951: passim.). This, at least, was the ideal. According to Monica Wilson the system was already beginning to break down before she and Godfrey Wilson began fieldwork, and it is clear than not much remains of it now (Wilson 1977: 1-7). When she wrote Good Company, Monica Wilson appeared to believe that the eastern Nyika had also adopted the Nyakyusa system as she described it:


“This book is concerned with the Nyakyusa [including the Kukwe and others]. What it contains is true in general terms for the people of Ngonde, but how far it is applicable to the smaller groups cited we are not certain. The Ndali, Sukwa, and Penja, are said to have long had an age-village organization; and Henga, Nyika and Kisi living intermingled with Ngonde and Nyakyusa have adopted it; but of the customs of the Wenya and Lambya we know little.” (1951: 3)

While the eastern Nyika might have had age-villages in the 1930s, it is difficult to imagine that they shared other key features of the Nyakyusa system. Wilson herself later noted the existence of only two Nyika chiefdoms (1958: 31). If these had formed from the division of a single chiefdom on the Nyakyusa model, then this model must only have been applied once, in the recent past. Of course we have no evidence to show that these two chiefdoms were the result of an earlier fission, and, if they were, whether this was the product of an organised ‘coming out’. Marriage and affinal relations In discussing whether or not the institution of age-villages was traditional among different groups on the Nyakyusa fringe, Monica Wilson referred to its correlation with the practice of father-in-law avoidance:
“Its origin is connected by the Nyakyusa themselves with the danger of incest between fatherin-law and daughter-in-law and linked with a taboo on father-in-law and daughter-in-law ever meeting face to face. The rules of avoidance are most stringent among the Nyakyusa proper, rather less among the Kukwe and Lugulu, and much less among the Penja and Nyiha [eastern Nyika]; therefore it may be assumed that the age-village is essentially an institution of the Nyakyusa proper and their close kin, the people of Selya and Ngonde.” (1958: 10)

Betitha Mwakalinga, my Kukwe informant, studiously avoided her Sangu father-in-law; in this respect at least she seemed to apply the Nyakyusa rule as strictly as possible. She did not tell me, however, whether she had ever met face-to-face with David Mwanjali, her classificatory Nyika father-in-law, though I assumed from her description of him that she had. This need not mean that relations between them were familiar (see above), though it does perhaps lend some support to Wilson’s statement about the comparative weakness of the taboo among the Kukwe. Betitha Mwakalinga’s behaviour towards David Mwanjali, however, would not necessarily tell us anything about his and general Nyika attitudes. The Sangu do not share the Nyakyusa taboo, but this did not stop her from totally avoiding her Sangu father-in-law. The marriage of Betitha’s Mwakalinga’s cousin (MeZD) to the Nyika chief’s son appears to be part of a broader pattern of intermarriage between neighbouring peoples. She described the Nyika as being ‘very mixed’ as a result of intermarriage with Kukwe and other Nyakyusa speakers across the Kiwira river. Presumably the Nyika are ‘wifegivers’ as well as ‘wife-takers’. Later on in the course of the same conversation, Betitha Mwakalinga said that the Sangu, Safwa, Nyiha and Malila are considered to be ‘dirty’ by Nyakyusa speakers, and it is interesting that she chose not to describe the eastern Nyika in the same terms. Elsewhere in East Africa fathers and other male agnates are generally reluctant to let their daughters marry into ethnic groups thought to be inferior. This proved no obstacle to Betitha Mwakalinga herself – her Sangu husband was well-educated and her father was no longer alive when she married. Her cousin’s marriage to a Nyika man reinforces the impression that the Nyika are not


looked down upon by the Kukwe, but are thought to be suitable marriage partners. This, indeed, is what the reported pattern of intermarriage suggests. Such intermarriage has obviously also been a factor in the ongoing exposure of the eastern Nyika to the influence of Nyakyusa culture. Witchcraft My second, more detailed, conversation with Betitha Mwakalinga about the eastern Nyika followed on from a discussion about different types of witchcraft and sorcery in south-west Tanzania. After talking about two well-known phenomena in the region – Wanji ‘ritual murder’ (Garland 1983) and the collection of human blood by Europeanemployed wachinjachinja in and around Mbeya (Slater 1976: passim.) – she started to tell me about a distinctive type of witchcraft practised by the Nyika. Its practitioners, she said, are called manyamanyafu; they (or the witchcraft they practise) may also be referred to as mbobe (or mbove). The manyamanyafu inherit this witchcraft through their mothers (presumably in contrast with the normative Nyika pattern of patrilineal inheritance). Unlike most other forms of witchcraft, however, it is practised quite openly and not in secret. She did not specify what exactly the manyamanyafu did to their victims, but said that people afflicted by their witchcraft recover if they pay money to them. Needless to say, victims have to pay something every year thereafter to ensure their continued freedom from affliction. The manyamanyafu are not otherwise known from the literature, and presumably are as localised in their activities as this account suggested. The use of the name mbobe (which I also recorded as mbove) in this context is, however, particularly intriguing. Simbowe is the name of a ‘clan’ and its eponymous ancestor which (who) figures prominently in the historical traditions of the Ngonde, the close relatives and neighbours of the Nyakyusa who live across the Malawian border. According to Kalinga’s informants, the Simbowes originally came from Unyiha, before the arrival of the first Kyungu (and founder of the Ngonde ruling dynasty of that name) from Ukinga. Official histories describe the Simbowes simply as elephant hunters who operated from Mbande hill, later to become the seat of the Kyungus. The Simbowes themselves dispute this characterisation of their activities, but say that they originally came to the Mbande area in search of agricultural land. The evidence suggests that they rose to some prominence among the indigenous population, and this is reinforced by the claim that they possessed the conus shells (imbande) which gave Mbande hill its name. Conus shells are important items of chiefly regalia among the Wungu, Kimbu and Nyamwezi, far to the north of Ungonde. The incoming Kyungus are said to have been envious of the Simbowes for their possession of these, and once the Kyungus had established their headquarters at Mbande hill they became an important part of their own royal regalia. As Kalinga points out, these traditions imply that the Kyungus displaced the Simbowes as local rulers. The Simbowes interviewed by Kalinga stated unequivocally that their ancestor was killed by the first Kyungu (1979: 20-29). The Wilsons, whom Kalinga accuses of having uncritically accepted official Ngonde traditions, were told in 1937 that the first Simbowe (whom Monica Wilson calls Simbobwe) was a Fipa elephant hunter (1959: 11-12; 1972: 140, 142). Whether he was of Fipa or Nyiha origin, an elephant hunter or a pre-Kyungu ruler, the history of Simbowe and his followers hints at a possible connection with the alternative name of the manyamanyafu among the eastern Nyika, as well as with their own traditions of


origin. Si- is a widespread prefix to clan names among the Nyika speaking peoples, and it is not improbable that Betitha Mwakalinga’s mbobe or mbove is cognate with the Ngonde name Simbowe or Simbobwe, the original possessor of which is said to be of Fipa or Nyiha origin. Without further information, however, we can only guess at what this possible connection might mean. Specific forms of witchcraft are sometimes associated with historical personages or groups who have been dislodged from power: their witchcraft represents, in a sense, their ritual revenge upon the people who have dispossessed them (for a Sangu example see Walsh 1984: 108-109). It may be that the Simbowes also played a role in eastern Nyika history, in which case it could be significant that, like the eastern Nyika themselves, a Fipa or Nyiha origin is alternately ascribed to them. A Simbowe connection would provide some support to the hypothesis that the eastern Nyika originate in early movements of population in the Nyasa-Tanganyika corridor – earlier, at least, than those which have produced the present distribution of the Nyakyusa speaking peoples and their close linguistic relatives. Given the current state of our knowledge about the eastern Nyika and their neighbours, however, this remains no more than unsubstantiated speculation. Conclusion It has to be admitted that we know very little about the eastern Nyika. As noted above, we are not even sure how they should be classified ethnographically and linguistically. We know next to nothing about their language, history and ethnography, and are largely reduced to making educated guesses. It may be that future research on the eastern Nyika will provide few surprises. There can be no doubt, however, that such research is sorely needed, as it is among all the undescribed peoples on the edge of the Nyakyusa cultural diaspora.

This paper is based primarily upon research undertaken by the author while studying the Sangu and other peoples of south-west Tanzania (1979-85, 1995-ongoing). I am particularly grateful to the late Betitha Mwakalinga (b.1953, d.1984) for her information about the eastern Nyika and their neighbours, and even more so for the good company (and cooking) which she and other members of her family provided during my stay in Utengule-Usangu between 4 October 1980 and 31 December 1981.


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Wilson, Monica (1972) ‘Reflections on the Early History of North Malawi’, in Bridglal Pachai (ed.) The Early History of Malawi. London: Longman. 136-147. Wilson, Monica (1977) For Men and Elders: Change in the Relations of Generations and of Men and Women among the Nyakyusa-Ngonde People 1875-1971. London: International African Institute. Wright, Marcia (1971) German Missions in Tanganyika 1891-1941: Lutherans and Moravians in the Southern Highlands. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


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