Makhuwa language

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Native toMozambique, Tanzania, Malawi
Native speakers
7.4 million (2006)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
vmw – Central Makhuwa
mgh – Makhuwa-Meetto
vmk – Makhuwa-Shirima
kzn – Kokola
llb – Lolo
mny – Manyawa
vmr – Marenje
tke – Takwane
xmc – Makhuwa-Marrevone
xsq – Makhuwa-Saka
Glottologmaku1279  Makua–Lomwe; adds Lomwe & Moniga
chuw1239  Chuwaboic; adds Chuwabo
koko1267  Kokola
many1259  Manyawa
A Makhuwa family in Nampula.

Makhuwa (Emakhuwa; also spelt Makua and Macua) is the primary Bantu language of northern Mozambique. It is spoken by 4 million Makua people, who live north of the Zambezi River, particularly in Nampula Province, which is virtually entirely ethnically Makua.[3] It is the most widely spoken indigenous language of Mozambique.

Apart from the languages in the same group, eMakhuwa is distinguished from other Bantu languages by the loss of consonant + vowel prefixes in favour of e; compare epula, "rain", with Tswana pula.

Long and short vowels are used for i, e, a, o, u, which is unusually sparse for a Bantu language:

  • omala - to finish
  • omaala - to paste, stick
  • omela - to sprout, bud
  • omeela - to share out

The consonants are more complex: postalveolar tt and tth exist, both p and ph are used. Both x (English "sh") and h exist while x varies with s. Regionally, there are also θ (the "th" of English "thorn"), ð (the "th" of English "seethe"), z and ng. For instance in eLomwe, to which Makhuwa is closely related, the tt of eMakhuwa is represented by a "ch" as in English "church".[3]



Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive voiceless p t ʈ c k
aspirated ʈʰ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ h
voiced v (θ)~ð z
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Lateral l ʎ
Trill r
Approximant w j


Front Central Back
Close i iː u uː
Mid e eː o oː
Open a aː



The names of the dialects vary in different sources. The shibboleth or distinctive variant in the dialects is the treatment of the s:

  • eSamgagi dialect: odhiva
  • eSangagi dialect: θtiva
  • eSaaka dialect: ociva
  • eNahara dialect: oziva - all meaning "agreeable, pleasant" [3]

Maho (2009) lists the following dialects:[2]

  • Central Makhuwa (3.1 million)
  • Meetto (Metto) (1.3 million, including Ruvuma)
  • Chirima (Shirima) (1.5 million, including subdialects Kokola, Lolo, Manyawa, Marenje, Takwane)
  • Marrevone (Coastal Makhuwa; 460,000 including eNahara)
  • eNahara (Naharra)
  • eSaka (Saka, 210,000)
  • Ruvuma Makhuwa (Tanzanian Makhuwa, including subdialects Imithupi, Ikorovere)

Mutual intelligibility between these is limited. Central Makhuwa ("Makhuwa-Makhuwana") is the basis of the standard language. Ethnologue lists Central Makhuwa, Meetto–Ruvuma, Marrevone–Enahara, and Esaka as separate languages, and Chirima as six languages.

The population figures are from Ethnologue for 2006. They tally 3.1 million speakers of Central Makhuwa and 3.5 million of the other varieties, though the Ethnologue article for Central Makhuwa covers Marrevone and Enahara, so these might be double counted.

Reading matter in eMakhuwa[edit]

Muluku Onnalavuliha Àn'awe - Ipantte sikosolasiwe sa Biblia ("God speaks to his children" - extracts from the Scriptures for children) Aid to the Church in Need. Edição em Macúa / eMakhuwa) Editorial Verbo Divino, Estella, Navarra, 1997.


  1. ^ Central Makhuwa at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019)
    Makhuwa-Meetto at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019)
    Makhuwa-Shirima at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019)
    Kokola at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019)
    Lolo at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019)
    Manyawa at Ethnologue (22nd ed., 2019)
    (Additional references under 'Language codes' in the information box)
  2. ^ a b Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  3. ^ a b c d Relatório do I Seminário sobre a Padronização da Ortografia de Línguas Moçambicanas. NELIMO, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, 1989.

External links[edit]