The Tonga are matrilineal and  peace-loving  Bantu people living Zambia, North-Western Zimbabwe, northern Malawi and Mozambique. The Tonga are known to be the first Bantu people to occupy Zimbezi Valley  at around 1100 AD before spreading to the various countries they occupy today. The Tonga people are identified strongly with the Zambezi River, calling themselves Bazilwizi, “the River People”. They had rain shrines all along the river where they carried out ceremonies, mulende or mpunde, to ensure sufficient rain and good harvests

Tonga people smoking from water pipe of Binga, in Zimbabwe . Their water pipes are made from the bulb of the calabash fruit which has a long stem, perfect for puffing. The bulb is filled with water. By

 The Tonga people in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique referred to themselves as BaTonga and their language as Chitonga/Xitonga/Gitonga and those in Malawi call themselves Atonga. There are 2 million Tonga speaking people in Africa. The name Tonga is apparently from a word in the Shona language that means "independent." Other suggested definition of the word Tonga is “chiefless”, but there are other interpretations, including “river”, such that the BaTonga are the people of the river.

                  BaTonga dancers, Zambia

Many other ethnic groups in southern Africa traditionally had centralized forms of government, but the Tonga recognized no chiefs. There were, however, certain people within Tonga society who had authority. The Sikatongo was a priest who made sure that the spirits would take care of the people and make the crops grow. In every neighborhood (a grouping of several villages), there was also a man called the Ulanyika, the owner of the land. The Ulanyika was usually the first settler in the neighborhood. He had some influence in his neighborhood, and hunters gave him part of every animal they killed there.

                                Tonga people from Zambia

 Tonga were the first people to adapt themselves to colonial rule and the they were the first to rebel against it. They are are renowned for their indigenous Malipenga, also called penenga, mapenenga,  and mganda dance music. Malipenga of the Tonga people of Nyasaland, now called Malawi, is said to have originated in imitations of military drills, substituting singing horns--kazoolike instruments--for military brass instruments.

Zambia Tonga
The Tonga people of Zambia live in the Southern Province. They occupy a territory which spreads from the two Kafue River bridges down to Livingstone. On the North-South axis their land stretches from somewhere around Kafue River down through Namwala to Zimbezi River. Through this region runs the Great North Road and Zambia`s major Railways. They are an agricultural tribe and herding cattle and crop growing are the two most important aspects of their traditional economy. They have a deep connection to their cattle and land reflecting an ancient spiritual harmony with nature.

The Tonga are considered to be original Zambian inhabitants - sites dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries have been found on the Batoka Plateau as well as ancient village sites near Kalomo and Choma. The oldest site can be found on Sebanzi Hill on Lochinvar Ranch which is on the edge of the Kafue Flats.
Zambian history suggests that 600 years ago a thriving trade centre existed in the Zambezi valley. A site christened Ingombe Ilede was unearthed by Archaeologists and it showed that people lived here and traded with the Arabs, Chinese and India. Copper crosses of about 30cm in length have been found to have been the main currency unit.
Zambia. Tonga woman with child on her back pounding grain near the shore of Lake Kariba, a man-made dam between Zambia and Zimbabwe which is 220 km long and up to 40 km wide and which was built in the late 1950s. Lake Kariba, Zambia.
Tonga woman with child on her back pounding grain near the shore of Lake Kariba, a man-made dam between Zambia and Zimbabwe which is 220 km long and up to 40 km wide and which was built in the late 1950s. Lake Kariba, Zambia.

The Tonga in Zambia can be divided into four categories. they are Ila of Namwala District, the Plataeu Tonga of the highlands along which the railway runs from Kafue to Kalomo; the Toka Leya of Livingstone and part of Kalomo, and the Valley Tonga which occupy the Zimbezi River.
The Zambian Tonga people are the patrons of Kafue Twa. pygmy people.

Zimbabwe Tonga
The intriguing Tonga people of Zimbabwe lives in  remotest parts of northern Zimbabwe, an area that is hot, dry and arid. They reside precisely in and around the Binga District, Binga village the Kariba area, and other parts of Matabeleland. They number up to 5000,000 and are mostly subsistence farmers. In Zimbabwe the language of the Tonga people is called chitonga. The arrived in Zimbabwe about AD 300. Their forefathers favoured the riverine areas along the Zambezi, Kana, Mzola and Tshongokwe Rivers in Zimbabwe. The Tonga People were settled along Lake Kariba after the construction of the Kariba Dam wall. They stretch from Chirundu, Kariba town, Mola,Binga to Victoria Falls.
Tonga woman exhaling smoke with eyes closed, near Binga, Zimbabwe
They cultivated alluvial soils based on recession agriculture which depended on the flood regime of the river. The Tonga people could harvest crops twice a year and were seldom afflicted by hunger and famine. The river valley provided them with wild animals as well as fruits.
Like any other tribes in Zimbabwe, the educated ones relocated to inner cities in search of jobs and better education
Women pounding maize for cornbread in Zimbabwe village
Tonga Women pounding maize for cornbread in Zimbabwe village

Malawi Tonga
The Malwai Tonga also called Batonga, Lake Shore Tonga or Nyasa Tonga lives northern Malawi. The Tongaland is bordered by the Vipya range of mountains to the west, extending north and south of the Luwenda River as well as the Kawandama mountain ranges in the south. The land is broken by high ridges of the foothills of Vipya. There are few large rivers and numerous perennial streams. There is a strip of flat land along the lake in the shape of a wedge. Furthermore, its thin end is a few kilometres south of Nkhata-Bay and it gradually broadens southwards. The neighbouring ethnic groups are; the patrilineal, cattle keeping Siska, who lived in another pocket to the north, however across the lake, are the inhabitants of the Likoma and Chizumulu Islands.
malawi lake-malawi children mending fishing nets wooden boat dug-out seascape horizontal
  Tonga kids mending net at Lake shore, Malawi

Tongaland was also known administratively in the colonial days as West Nyasa district border, later as Chintheche and today as Nkhata–Bay district, bordered on Tumbukaland to the North and West, and Chewaland (matrilineal society who are basically agriculturalists) to the South. Its southern neighbour is Nkhotakota where Swahili Arab influences were strong during the nineteenth century.

Mozambique Tonga
Tonga people of Mozambique or Mozambiqucan Gitonga live in the Inhambane Province of southeast Mozambique, from Inhambane south to Morrumbane.

Tonga mythology on creation
A local tradition suggests that before the arrival of the British there was a powerful chief in the town of Monze. According to oral tradition, the first Monze chief descended from heaven. He called the Tonga people to join him and settle in his chiefdom. Most people liked the chief because he had the power to heal, to cause rain, and to keep the peace. He did that by frustrating enemies through his communication with the spirits of the ancestors.

Tonga people speaks a Bantu language known as ChiTonga. It is spoken in Southern and Western provinces of Zambia, northern Zimbabwe, and in Maalwi,with a few in Mozambique and some part of Botswana. The language is also spoken by the Iwe, Toka and Leya people, perhaps by the Kafwe Twa (if that is not Ila), as well as many bilingual Zambians and Zimbabweans. It is one of the major lingua francas in Zambia, together with Bemba, Lozi and Nyanja. The Tonga of Malawi is not particularly close.
The Tonga speaking inhabitants are the oldest Bantu settlers, with the Tumbuka, a small tribe in the east, in what is known as Zambia. There are two distinctive dialects of the Tonga, Valley Tonga and Plateau Tonga. Valley Tonga is mostly spoken in the Zambezi valley and southern areas of the Batonga (Tonga People) while Plateau Tonga is spoken more around Monze district and the northern areas of the Batonga.
Tonga (Chitonga or iciTonga) developed as a spoken language and was not put into written form until missionaries arrived in the area. The language is not standardized, and speakers of the same dialect may have different spellings for the same words once put into written text.
It contains many words that are similar to those in other Bantu languages such as Bemba, Chichewa, and Luyana. For example, "to write" in all three languages is kulemba. A chicken is known as a'nkoko in Bemba, nkuku in Luyana, nkhuku in Chichewa, and inkuku in Tonga. In all four languages, a traditional doctor is called ng'anga.
At least some speakers have a bilabial nasal click where neighboring dialects have /mw/, as in mwana 'child' and kumwa 'to drink'.
Maho (2009) removes Shanjo as a separate, and not very closely related, language.
Some few Chitonga Expressions
"How are you?"    Mwapona
"Good, Fine."        kabotu
Thank You.         Twalumba
Left.                    "Chimwenhi'
Right.                   "Lulyo"

                            BaTonga girls

Tonga people are part of the Great Bantu migration from the Great Lakes area (Congo Basin) in Central Africa and from parts of equatorial forests of West Africa reaching the Zambezi Valley in Southern Africa via Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa. The Tonga were first Bantu people known to have been settled in the Zambezi valley at around 1100 AD. However, it is also believed that their ancestors may have occupied this region since Stone Age times. The evidence of their traditions succeeds those of the Kalamo Culture. Their descendants still live along the banks of the Zambezi above and below the Victoria Falls and form the largest tribal group occupying the immediate region.They were notable for not recognising the authority of chiefs but living in family groups.

                           Tonga woman. By youngrory.

Some historians claimed that the Tonga are a branch of the Chewa tribe, Dr David Mphande's ethnographic study indicates that the Tonga and the Chewa might have migrated from the central African plains together as they both ran away from the ruthlessness of the Chimtimkulu of present day Zambia. However, due to their long time association, the Tonga and the Chewa share some linguistic concepts and surnames or family names, such as Phiri (of the mountain) and Bandawanda (of the plains). However, they have unique cultures and cosmologies as expressed through their proverbs (thanthi), folktales (nthanu), and dances (maguli)
It is clear that the Tonga were little bothered by other tribes for many centuries, and white colonialists were also happy to leave them alone. David Livingstone encountered the Tonga on his journey through the Kariba Gorge and found them to be a peace-loving people. One reason for their isolation was that they occupied lands that others found extremely difficult, due to the climate both near the river and on the barren plateau to the south. With nobody casting envious eyes on their territory, they were left alone to carry on as their forefathers had done for hundreds of years, farming, raising livestock, hunting and making items from wood, clay and metal. The river was no obstacle to contacts between the Tonga living on either side (in modern-day Zambia and Zimbabwe)

                                BaTonga mother

Tonga's Nyaminyami, the "great River God" of the Zambezi, first documented by Major A. St. Hill Gibbons in 1898-99. It is not clear what status Nyaminyami had as an ancestral shade, but it caused those foolish enough to shoot the rapids of Kariba Gorge to disappear from face of the earth, and its tail was blamed for the 1957-58 destruction of bridges and coffer dams during the construction of Kariba Dam (Clements 1959:12-13, 18, 22, 88-89, 143-44).

Tonga's Nyaminyami, the "great River God" of the Zambezi,

Because of their common language and culture they are grouped together with a similar large tribal group, the Ila, living in the region of the Kafue Flats (Zambia), and together they are known as the Tonga-Ila speaking peoples. This large group is in turn split into smaller groups, including the Valley and Plateau Tonga, the We of the Middle Zambezi (or Gwembe Valley), and the Toka and Leya people of the immediate Falls region.
The Tonga, Ila and associated Lenje (from the region of Kabwe) are sometimes grouped together as the Bantu Botatwe ('three people').

                                              Tonga kids
The Tonga are agricultural and fishery people. Their occupational practices has been modeled along the dictates of their environmental conditions. They practice mixed agriculture around the river banks and those Tonga people whose land/soil are not suitable for growing crops engage in livestock rearing. Thus, their culture, to a large extent, emanates from cattle keeping.

                            Tonga farmer, Zimbabwe

 The Tonga rarely raise cattle, goats, and sheep- except the few that can be seen. There are few cash crops of minor importance such as rice, bananas, maize, tobacco, millet, coffee and tea. Most of the millet, coffee and tea are cultivated in the hills.
The riverine Tonga people of Malawi are known for their fishing activities with cassava as their staple food. Through mission education, they were able to earn higher wages during colonial times and worked primarily as porters, skilled or semi-skilled workers, and armed auxiliaries during the attack on Kimaurunga.
The Tonga women are basket weavers.

                            BaTonga woman winnowing basket

The staple food of the Tonga is cassava. The cultivation of cassava requires comparatively hard labour and can be done entirely by women. Cassava is normally served as a thick porridge (sima/kondole) together with a side dish relish (dende). The favourite relish consists of, chicken meat, or fish and this is the kind of relish which every host strives to offer his/her visitors

The Tonga Social Structure
It is an egalitarian society made up of equals; a chief is first among equals. One point to be noted about the Tonga society is that every individual has two common family names. One is derived from the father and represents his 'chiwongo' whilst 'fuko' (clan) represents the mothers side of the family.
Old Tonga woman smoking water pipe, near Binga, Zimbabwe
Tonga elder smoking from water pipe at Binga near Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe. By

 In cases of inheritance or succession, it is the latter or mother's title that is generally adopted. In the pre colonial past where a cluster of chiefs resided in a particular locality, say south of the Luweya river among the Kapunda Banda, seniority among the chiefs was arrived by observing in whose Mphara or public meeting place the initiation ceremony rites for girls or the nkhole was held. Gradually these rites became distributed among all the chiefs and thus the only measure by which seniority was judged ceased to exist, thus adding to the egalitarian nature of Tonga societies.
In addition to that, the small groups attached in various ways to the group village headman (fumu) may claim a direct or primary link with his /her, children or through membership of the headman's matrilineage. The category can further be divided into patrilocal residents whose ties with the village are patrilateral throughout, that is, the headman's children and his son's children, and those villagers whose link with the village however do not follow either line. This interaction has an influence on moral attitudes to their close neighbours.

Tonga's Kinship and Locality
A Tonga village constitutes of around 20-50 houses based on kinship or genealogy. Furthermore, people's distribution is highly determined by the geographical position. For instance, it is densely populated along the lakeshore and low population along in higher ground areas. Getting to the villages can be reached via steep winding paths up which both visitors and residents must negotiate to reach their settled community at the top, however not to forget that these paths are used by the Tonga women daily with their water containers balanced on their heads from a well or from a running stream below the hill. Kabunduli and Timbiri areas are typical of such features.

                                         Tonga village of Bingu,  By

In addition to that the Tonga call all the settlements muzi (plural mizi). The expression for hamlet leader and village headman shows the same flexibility. For instance, fumu (plural mafumu) can refer to either office. The word fumu or its abstract counter ufumu (headmanship/chieftainship) is sometimes used as synonymous with munangwa (freeman), as opposed to kapolo (slave). Furthermore, the Tonga kinship pattern puts stress on the bond between men and women within the same patrilineage. They distinguish two primary categories of kinsmen; kuchinthurumi (on the man's side), and kuchinthukazi (on the woman's side) call their daughter-in-law mkumwana. Tonga wives live virilocally, unlike the matrilineal Chewa where the husband lives uxorilocally. However, among the Tonga uxorilocality is very rare. The words mkumwana (daughter-in-law) and mkosano (son-in-law) also have the same implications as mlanda (orphan) and kaporo (slave).

Marriage is the most important factor integrating otherwise independent groups of kinsmen. Marriage serves not only the end of ordered procreation but has emotional, domestic, economic and political functions.To the Tonga marriages create bonds which extend beyond village or other geographical boundaries, they create a common focus for individuals or groups who may be spread over a wide area. Marriage rituals are powerful. For example, a wedding is an occasion which attracts the inhabitants within the neighbourhood of the village. Polygamy is also practiced by other Tonga clans.

    Beautiful Tonga girl from Bingu, Zimbabwe. By

According to Tonga folklorist “Long ago marriage was conducted in a simple manner. Thefirst thing to do for someone wanting to get married was to get a mediator, someone to go between, and this person was called sityombo. The sityombo would then be asked to go to the family of the bride-to-be to make the request. If the response was positive, he would then be . . . told that the bridegroom-to-be must bring a bundle of firewood to the parents-in-law to-be. Sityombo would assist the man to get that firewood which would be laid down at the door of the mother-in-law-to-be. The firewood had to be nicely cut and arranged.. .. The following day sityombo would accompany the bridegroom to be back to his in-laws-to-be.. .. Food would be specially prepared and served to the groom-to-be. Nevertheless, the bride would not be seen, let alone enter the house where the man was. She would instead put the food by the doorway.. . There was no question of having a full view of the wife-to-be at that stage.
“The process.. . would be put on hold till the rainy season. During that time the mother-in-law-to-be would be asked to prepare afield.. .. That field was for the son-in-law to weed, harvest, build an open storage shed for maize to dry in and then build a bin for eventual storage of that maize.. .. When the time for actual marriage came, the dowry would then be paid in part. A goat would be paid initially and that was called cuuma kkhoma. The next to be paid was part of the dowry to enable the bride to be collected. This
was a hoe, traditional hoe, accompanied by pieces of beads .... By late evening, a team from the man ’s side would arrive at the girl’s home secretly.. Someone from the girl’s side would catch her and call out for the people from her husband-to-be to come and get her. The girl would cry out. . .. There would be a lot of singing especially from the woman’s side.. .. The team from the woman ’s side would be demanding to be paid for every few short steps they make. Pieces of beads were used as payment. You would find that by
the time they would arrive at the bridegroom’s house the cock would have crowed several times and possibly it would be towards early morning. That night there would be no question of real sleeping as such..
“The following night is when the bride would be taken to the bridegroom’s house. She would be clad in . . . underwear that were extremely difficult to remove. These are for the man to remove but not without a long struggle, maybe the whole night .... The following day in the evening, the wife is required to serve food to her husband. She was required to walk with knees and elbows towards where he was seated with his fellow menfolk. The husband was required to meet the wife halfway, where he would be given a wash of the hands by the wife.. ..
Her mother-in-law would be seated and anxiously waiting her return. This is the kind of respect we had then. You find that, even to date,h omes that went through such marriages are still intact. Not like it is nowadays whereby even strangers.. .are easily and cordially greeted by girls or women. That was a taboo.”
The Tonga political system is basically a system of overlapping networks of kin groups and kin interests. Furthermore, the transactions which precede a formal marriage should fulfil several stages such as;
According to the Tonga tradition, there are two ways in which a man can approach his bride’s parents to propose marriage.

KUTIZYA (Eloping)
 Kutizya is commonly practiced in the villages. A man with an intention to take a wife arranges with his friends or relatives to "ambush" or "abduct"  the targeted girl in the night with or without her consent. In Tonga tradition abducting a girl for marriage is not a crime, provided that the abductor reveals the whereabouts of the girl to her relatives. Tonga men that usually use this method of marriage proposal are those that are shy or fear to profess their love to the girl.
After taking the girl to the groom’s home, his representatives are sent to the bride’s family to inform them that she was in the groom’s custody. The bride’s family then asks the groom to pay a fine for eloping with their daughter as the first payment. Later on, the groom is asked to pay dowry which is known as Kulunga (Making things right).
The dowry takes three forms, which are Chiko, Maamba and Kufwenezya.

Chiko is the bride price which is paid in form of cattle especially in the villages. The bride price for a virgin is valued between 5 and 8 cows. According to Tonga custom, payment of Chiko is important for the groom. A groom who has not paid Chiko cannot have any claim over the children that he may have with his wife. Children, who are born without the settlement of Chiko, belong to the wife.

Maamba   is the charge for the value of labour that the bride will expend in terms of cultivating her groom’s and her in-laws fields. It is paid in form of cash. In the village, a Tonga woman is expected to help her spouse in cultivating the land. The word maamba means hoes or ox driven ploughs in Tonga, tools mainly used for tilling the land.

Kufwenezya is the price that the groom pays for the labour that the bride will undergo in cooking for him as a husband and his extended family. In Tonga culture, close and extended families live closely as a family unit. The bride is expected to cook meals for the family. In this process, the bride’s aunt lights up the fire wood and puts a pot of relish which is left to cook. When the relish is cooked and ready, the aunt to the groom is expected to remove the pot from the fire. To do that, she is made to pay some cash. This ceremonial  process is repeated three or four times until the required amount of money is raised.

KUSELA ( Marriage Proposal Through a Representative)
This is a process that is commonly practised in most other Zambian traditions. A man, who chooses to take a wife in a more open manner as opposed to eloping, may send his representative to the bride’s family to inform them about his intentions to marry their daughter. According to common Tonga practice, Kusela is often practiced in urban areas, especially where a Tonga is marrying another tribe.
The first step to be taken is Chijalula mulomo. The other steps explained in the preceding paragraphs may be skipped in the case of intermarriage or may be followed in the event that the marriage is between fellow Tongas.

CHIJALULA MULOMO (Permission to Speak and Propose Marriage)
In most Zambian traditions, the groom or his representatives are not expected to utter any word to the bride’s family without payment of a token in form of cash, which symbolises permission to talk. Before asking for blessings for a hand in marriage and to commence any discussions, the groom’s representatives ask for a hollow small plate where they put in a certain amount of cash which is known as chijalula mulomo.
Upon payment of chijalula mulomo, the groom is asked to pay his bride price which is traditionally valued in form of cattle. Payment in form of cattle happens mainly when both the bride and the groom are Tonga.
In a situation where there is inter-marriage, the bride price may be converted into cash to the total value of the number of cows being demanded for dowry. For example, at the moment, a cows costs between one and half million and two million Zambian Kwacha. If the groom is expected to pay six cows and the value of one cow is Two million Kwacha, then he will be expected to pay twelve million Kwacha as his bride price.
Chilowola/chimalo (bride wealth) – is the legal payment in a formal marriage. The general rule is that there should be a go-between (thenga), who comes from the village where the suitor is resident and always sent by the attorney (nkhoswe). In recent years the amount of chilowola has gone up from MK1000.00 to MK 5000.00 at times even more.
Cattle are a measure of wealth in the Tonga tradition.
A man who has daughters is generally respected, because of the symbolic value that his daughters represent; value that is measured by the number of cattle that he will acquire upon marrying them off.
Tonga girl carrying a baby

Religious belief
Religion for the Tonga is "practice that works rather than a closed dogmatic system. It is perpetually at test and therefore always in flux". African traditional religion permeates  many aspects of Tonga life from birth to death. many of the rites of passage are concerned with ancestral spirits, to keep harmonious relationship between the living and the dead.
 The Tonga believe in many spirits that are organized in hierarchy and at the apex of the system is an abstract creator spirit (God), Leza "The supreme One," which is their last resort. Lesser gods like the spiritual animating force, a breath of life, muuya, are sent by Leza to assist in everyday-affairs of man. Closer to the living is the muzimo, the ancestral shade or spirit, and the basangu spirit of nature. All people engage with these spiritual forces, although specialists or "mediums" are adept at their propitiation and manipulation.
Spirit possession is an important part of the ritual, as is worshiping at rain shrine to ensure rains and good harvests. Spirit possession has two important types- possession by basangu, who sent the message or masabe, who express their personality through the medium.
 Aside from some minor linguistic and ritual differences, such spiritual forces seem similar to those found among surrounding Bantu-speakers. Perhaps what distinguishes the Tonga from many of their neighbors is their insistence on individual relationships with the spirit world, and the profusion of personal and local land shrines, spirit gates, and ancestors—to such an extent that there are no unifying myths, no national shrines, and no temples. Neither prophets nor royal clans managed to impose—or amalgamate—the many personal ancestral forms into a national religious structure. It is, then, precisely the lack of a Tonga religion that characterizes Tonga religious life.
                            Tonga elder at Bingu,Zimbabwe. By

Rainmaking ceremonies
Rainmaking ceremonies malende or mpande, are some of the most significant traditions in Tonga culture. Many Tonga believe that special skills are bestowed upon rainmakers, the sikatongo- these are spiritual leaders who preside over agricultural shrines. It is these men and women who communicate with the ancestral spirits to ensure sufficient rains and good harvests. They are inheritors of the spirits of the founding Tonga people.
 Rain ceremony is carried out in times of drought: ‘ certain year rains do not come in time, perhaps there is a severe drought, [the rainmaker] is consulted by the elders as to what the problem could be and what needs to be done if the situation is to be corrected. Once consulted, he advises as to whether or not rain will be there that season and what needs to be done by the people by way of carrying out a rainmaking ceremony. ”
The actual rainmaking ceremony would include the sacrifice of a goat and the participation of all community members: “[The rainmaker] normally, in such a situation, advises that the people raise a black goat for slaughter for sacrifice at a specially made shrine at his house. Offals are taken to the hot springs (mbila) where they are duly offered to the rain spirits by dipping them in hot salty water. A day would normally be appointed performing this ceremony. All participants walk to the rainmaker’s home and there is no one allowed to put on white attire as white scares away rain and white clouds do not bring rain anyway. People go there as a group and sing as they walk to his house.. . ”
The participants sing and dance and use certain colours to appease the rain spirits: “As people get to the rainmaker‘s place, they continue singing and the tempo is usually raised and they dance too, around the rain shrine. Meanwhile the rainmaker would be lying in his house communicating with the rain spirits. At an appropriate time, he gets out of the house dressed in his rainmaking ceremony attire. These are two pieces of cloth, a black one and a red one. The red one is strapped around his waist while the other is strung across his shoulder and he holds two ceremonial sticks of kafir corn stock in his hands. These are called “misfunko” in the local language. He also carries a ceremonial axe called “bukano” in Tonga. This is an arch-shaped axe.”
The role of the rainmaker is very significant because he communicates the information of the spirits about rain and harvests to the community: “He joins the dances around the rain shrine. At that point, he will announce to
the people what the rain situation is. He will tell them whether there will be just a little rain and warn people to brace themselves for hard times ahead in view of the would-be impending hunger. He will tell or warn them what to do - like grow enough or just a little food - depending on his observation about the rain that season. Accordingly, appointed elders will present peoples requests that they be given water for drinking, both for themselves and their animals, as well as water for their crops. A procession then follows fromh is
house to the rain shrine at the hot springs. The rainmaker joins the people as they walk while singing and dancing. They even ululate. At the hot springs, the singing and ululating continues as well as clapping while the rainmaker then performs his duties of calling upon the rain spirits to accede to people‘s requests. Once the ritual is over, the rainmaker directs that the people walk back to their homes, but taking the route through the rainmaker’s home.
Somewhere on the way, he tells those staying far to break off from the rest of the people and walk fast to their homes as rain was going to find them on the way. You will find before people reach their homes rain falls down. When this happens, people are required to walk on and singing happily that the much needed rain has come at last.”

Tonga female initiation rite
According to Tonga tradition, when a girl is about to reach puberty, she is  told that she is  expected to start crying without any reasonable cause immediately she sees blood soiling her underwear, which signals the beginning of her menstrual cycle. This is a signal for the parents to know that their daughter has come of age. Upon hearing her daughter’s cry, the mother has to call the paternal aunt (Father’s elder or younger sister or father’s female cousin). She will teach the girl how to look after herself each time she has her menses.
The young girl is strongly warned against having sex with male companions. Falling pregnant out of wedlock is strictly forbidden in Tonga tradition as this robs parents of potential measure of wealth when the time to marry off their daughter comes. Tongas marry off their daughters by charging their bride price in form of herds of cattle. A Tonga virgin known as NAKALINDU, can be paid for at as 10 herds of cattle as bride price.
When a girl comes of age, an initiation ceremony is held, which is known as KUVUNDIKA (Seclusion) young girl being indicted into the initiation is called KAMWALE, which simply means’ one who has come of age’. The other word is KUYALUKA. The initiation ceremony, KUVUNDIKA, takes between one to two months of initiation. During the period of seclusion, girls are not expected to go out and play after school work. When time comes for the secluded girls to take a bath, the girls are sneaked into the darkness of the early-morning hours to the river before everyone else in the village works up. This is so because according to Tonga tradition, these girls are not to be seen by the other people anyhow during the period of their initiation.
Girls who are in day schools are allowed to go to school and immediately return to the initiation hut after school work. Those that attend boarding school are initiated during holidays.
In the village, the message of initiation of a KAMWALE is spread across the village and near by villages by beating a traditional drum called” NDANDALA.”The people in the village and nearby village would know that there is a girl or a group of girls who has come of age at the sound of the drum. Even during meal times, the elderly women who are expected to live with the girls during the initiation prepare food that is taken to the girls in their secluded hut.
 During their seclusion, the girl or girls are taught by elderly women on how to traditional show respect to their in-laws when they get married. Other issues such as hygiene, abstinence from sex and how to conduct themselves in adult life are also taught.
The climax reaches when the date for release of the girl or girls from seclusion is set. The closing of the initiation occurs at an occasion known as NKOLOLA. Events leading to the closing of the initiation begin two days before the girls are released from seclusion.
Two days before the end of the initiation, elderly women put water in a clay port which is known as CHIBIYA. The water is poured on the unsuspecting girl who is not expected to shriek or show shock, but only remain quiet, calm and composed. Doing this, for a girl, symbolizes a strong character of a growing courageous woman who will be able to deal with impervious obstacles in her adult life.
A night before release, people gather to celebrate by singing and beating drums such as NDANDALA, which is made of wood and cow skin; MPITO and NYELE, traditional instruments made of clay and reeds respectively. The dances performed during this night are called KULINDA NKOLOLA (Waiting for the last day of initiation) and CHIN’GANDE.
At this occasion, a cow, chickens and goats are slaughtered for people to feed during celebrations.
Then the morning that everyone would have been waiting for arrives: the KAMWALE is led out of the secluded hut by the elderly women, covered in a blanket. She is led to sit on a reed mat at the arena of the occasion of her release with two elderly women seated by her side. Her father is called upon to uncover the blanket to reveal the KAMWALE to the public. Before he does this, he beats the NDANDALA drum and sings a song of self-praise in form of a poem known as KUYABILA. He next puts a certain amount of money on the reed mat where his daughter is seated and uncovers the girl. He later gives her advice and showers her with his blessings. After him, the rest of the people on the occasion present their various gifts to the KAMWALE, and thereafter, the ceremony ends. The young woman has begun her journey to into adult life.
 Importance of Coming of age ceremony: nkolola 
Stanard says: “The initiation ceremony is held when a girl or girls reach puberty. It is aimed at grooming a girl into and preparing her to enter womanhood, let alone motherhood. The ceremony is to show that the girl
is now grown up. The ancestral spirits are also informed accordingly through conducting this ceremony and are asked, in their own way, to join in the celebration. As for the boys, especially if that girl has a boyfriend, they too are informed about the new status of the girl. As for the training part itself the girl is confined in a house, for weeks or days, where she undergoes instruction about what is expected of her as a woman, and possibly as a mother. So I would say the initiation ceremony is a school whereby a girl is trained to be a woman, and a mother possibly.. . The trainers are elderly women of high reputation in society. ’’

Ceremonies to honour the dead
The Tonga also perform ceremonies to commemorate the spirits of the dead, which are called budima or ngoma buntibe. The spirits are perceived to play a beneficial role in the lives of the living as protectors but they can also cause illnesses and misfortunes if they are neglected. Some narrators say that these ceremonies are still performed; other people say they have changed or disappeared. Many narrators believe that these changes are a result of the social disruption caused by the resettlement, as well as the influence of Christian and western beliefs.
Siabalombe vividly describes a budima ceremony: “Budima is performed when there is a death. If the death is in another village some distance from here for instance, the big drum would be sounded verye arly in the morning and the men with bells and rattles would then perform a war cry... The whole village would then hear us and know that come sunrise, the budima is going to that funeral in that village.. . the whole village would gather at the base where the big drum was sounding. Details about the procession would be given out.. . The preparations would include haircuts in readiness for a war situation. Appropriate dressing in, for example, loincloths for men.. . You would find that maybe three or four budima troupes would converge at the funeral site that day. The point is that only one budima troupe has to perform at any one given time, not two or more. If more than one budima troupe perform simultaneously, then there is a very high probability
of opposite performers’ spears spearing each other.. .. You will appreciate that [in a budima troupe] there are drummers, there are nyeele players and there are thosew ho dance with spears.. .. The women sing togetherw ith men.
The women also get heated up with their rattles.. .. Once the drums sound.. . it is a serious business.”

Tonga Traditional Music
Tonga traditional music is very rich and diverse, but it is also in a state of constant transition in which much of the traditional music has been lost and new music has been introduced, which elders would consider as a sad departure from the traditional music which they knew.
Perhaps the best way to try and understand Tonga music is to take each musical expression and give an account of exactly how it is performed. In this task we have sought the knowledge of the elders in what we have written. We have taken every musical item and described it as best we can.

                                    BaTonga man Lifting railway track with his teeth.

Traditional Styles:
This is traditional music which is connected with work, in particular pounding songs (kutwa). In the past much of a woman's life was spend on pounding: it took a lot of time to pound for the ordinary meals of the day. When a woman was pounding she was usually singing, so over the years she built up quite an extensive repertoire of pounding songs. If you examine the content of these songs you would get a complete picture of Tonga life, for example she would sing about problems of marriage, different characters (such as her mother-in-law, the local headman etc.) and about her own emotions. Nowadays pounding has decreased compared to the past. Women also sang during grinding.

The Kuyabila song is very important to a Tonga person. It was sung by one person alone (man or woman) accompanied by the friction drum (Namalwa) or a rattle (Muyuwa). It could be also accompanied by an ordinary drum (Ngoma) using a special rhythm. It could be performed at a funeral or any time in every-day-life in order to release personal feelings. When somebody sang in this way people would listen carefully to what was being sung, because when a person sang like this they revealed some hidden experiences, which would not be expressed at other times. For example a man could sing in praise of his cattle, of a difficult journey he had undertaken or to give himself courage and bravery when facing fear. Like the pounding song it could cover many different experiences of life. In the middle of the song the listeners would call out, encouraging him as he sings (Kumutembula). At the end of the Kuyabila the performer would conclude by calling down praise names on himself (Kulibanda). To the Tonga this is not a kind of conceit, but a way to encourage oneself in enduring the difficulties of life.

Kalumbu & Kankobela
The Kalumbu is a one stringed musical bow used by the men. Attached to it is a gourd which is used as a resonator and can change the sound according to the movement to or from the chest. Like the pounding songs for the woman it is performed to express inner feelings or different experiences of life. There is one important function of the Kalumbu. When the time comes for a young man to be married, he will be found continuously playing this instrument. To his parents this will be a sign of his wish to find a companion and marry. The Kankobela is a small wooden keyboard into which are inserted about eight metal keys, beneath them a hole is pierced which in turn is covered with a white substance which covers the spiders eggs, (Namundelele), used to alter the sound of the piano according to the preference of the musician. The keys are tuned according to a pentatonic scale. Like the Kalumbu the musician uses the Kankobela to describe his feelings and different experiences of life.

Cikaambe-kaambe is a dance which is performed during the initiation training of a girl. There were different styles of dancing Cikaambe-kaambe which were connected with particular songs:

Mulupumbe: One girl would enter quickly followed by another girl and so on until all had danced. The movements of this manner of dancing concentrated on the shoulders and the legs.
Hiya mwana mwana: The right leg was lifted high in the air following the rhythm of the drum. The hands were thrown forwards and backwards while the performer looked from side to side.
This dance could be performed at initiation, as well as for funerals and beer parties. At initiation it was danced during the previous night of the coming out of the girl and the following day of the actual feast. At the funeral it was danced before the deceased was buried and at the actual burial. It was danced while encircling the grave and the drum was in the middle. Apart from that it was danced at the months mind (Mweesyo). The songs and the style of dancing of Ndikiti at a funeral were performed to suit the sorrowful occasion. Ndikiti was also danced with more freedom at beer parties, when people had imbibed plenty of alcohol and had become happy. In general we can say that the lyrics of Ndikiti were well developed compared to other more simple forms of Tonga singing. In different areas Ndikiti can be called Haamatika, Mayanze and Bukonkoolo.

This dance was also performed at initiation, funerals and beer parties, in each case suiting the mood of the occasion. The dancers formed a circle then each one would enter in turn to dance. Mime was one of the characteristics of this dance: the dancer would mimic people or animals, often in amusing situations.

It was performed for initiation, during the wedding and for general entertainment. The people would stand in a circle with the drum in the middle.

At the beginning this dance was very much connected with funerals. The instrument used was the pestle, this was placed on the ground and several women would sit on either side and beat out an integrated rhythm with sticks. Other women would encircle them while dancing.

This dance was first of all connected with the funeral of a chief or a rich person. This dance originated in the Gwembe Valley. It was accompanied by flutes (Nyeele) and a large ensemble of special drums, each with their specific name.

This dance was connected with sickness: the sick person was asked to dance and that is how recovery came. There was a special rhythm connected with each type of sickness. There were three drums played.

Ngoma Yabukali
The Ngoma Yabudali was originally connected with dangerous situations, for example if the villages were raided by other tribes (such as the Lozi, Matebele or the Makololo). It was beaten to warn the people of the impending attacks, similarly if there was a lion in the district it was beaten, to inform the people of its presence. So the rhythm of the Ngoma Yabudali was very vigorous. In modern times it's more associated with expressions of joy. The dance accompanying it was called Kutambala. People still use spears as they dance it. It is also used when an elderly person dies; it is played in the morning and in the evening. The drums would be accompanied by rattles and what is called Kuzemba.

This probably is the most popular dance of the Batonga at present. It can be played at different occasions such as funerals, initiation and at beer parties. It is danced by men and women. Two drums are in the centre of the arena and the dancers dance in a circle.

The following categories are not traditional and might be described as modern music

This music is associated with malende (shrine) beat although many Seesa players do not know this. It is characterised by the use of two drums. The master drum and a small “kasunto” drum. The Seesa name is actually where two dancers, female and male, would get engaged in a closed waist-wriggling dance. This has however changed as dancers now move in a circle around the drummers. Seesa is a drum dance that is modern to the Tonga culture. The drums have a fast jive that can be beaten in any rhythm the drummer chooses. Professional drummers can even make the drum ‘talk’, chirrup like a bird, bark like a dog and even weep like a child. One good example was the Gonde Culture Troupe from the sugar plantation town of Mazabuka. No word here fits a description of their performance.

Chigome is a contemporary type of music that imploys the use of guitars or banjos to accompany the singers. The name comes from the action of the fingers hitting in the body of the guitar near the sound hall. In Tonga this is known as Chigome. This music developed from Masabe (therapeutic) music that was used to heal those that were possessed with evil spirits. Peter Nangulu popularised this style and Short Mazabuka is the champion in this category here in Southern Zambia. Chigome on the other hand, took people to times of ritual dances known as MASABE. This string sound, which goes along with a ‘gong’ sound hence chigome – has a fast rhythm and usually the lead singer needs a back up vocalist.

Kalindula music is derived from the Kalindula dance of Serenje district in central Zambia. It was popularised by the Serenje Kalindula Band who begun by using home made guitars to produce their music. The notable instrument in this music is the big bass string instrument that uses three stretched chords over a big resonator made from the metal part of a drum. The melodies are composed in the African style of call and response.

Ma Guitar
Music performed with a classical looking guitar. These are wooden, hand made guitars, with different sets of strings: 3, 4, 5 or 6 strings guitars. Cords being played are very original, different from player to player.

Music that is of Tonga-land but not among the one described above.
Zambia. Tonga woman with child on her back pounding grain near the shore of Lake Kariba, a man-made dam between Zambia and Zimbabwe which is 220 km long and up to 40 km wide and which was built in the late 1950s. Lake Kariba, Zambia.
Tonga woman with child on her back pounding grain near the shore of Lake Kariba, a man-made dam between Zambia and Zimbabwe which is 220 km long and up to 40 km wide and which was built in the late 1950s. Lake Kariba, Zambia.


  1. Hello Kwekudee,

    I came across your blog while researching about Gana. I am originally from Salvador Bahia living in Geneva at the moment. I'd be interested in asking you a few questions for a book I am writing. I'd be happy if you write me back via email Looking forward to hearing back from you.

    thank you

  2. There is an Island country of Tonga in Pacific Asia. Perhaps the Tonga people migrated out of Africa to Asia 50,000 years ago.

  3. Hello Kwekudee,

    Fabulous article. I lived amongst the BaTonga people from 1977 through 1980 during the Rhodesian War/2nd Chimurenga, and sell their wonderful baskets all through the USA. Can I use your article on my blog? Great research. Thank you, Guy.


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