Mwera people

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Mwera people
Regions with significant populations
Tanzania,385,000 (2009)[1]
Mwera language, Swahili
Traditional religion, Islam, Christianity[2]

The Mwera people are an African ethnic and linguistic group. They are found in southeast Lindi and Mtwara Region and Ruvuma Region of Tanzania, as well as around the border regions between Tanzania and Mozambique.[3]

According to their oral traditions, the Mwera people are a Bantu people who originated around Lake Albert in north Uganda.[4] They migrated south, back into Africa in the late medieval era, and reached Lake Malawi (Nyasa), where they settled into two communities: Mweras near Nyasa, and the second called coastal Mweras who settled between the Lake and the Indian Ocean coast. The word "Mwera" literally means "inland dwellers" (far from coast). Those Mwera people who live on the coast are called "Wamwera" by other Mwera people. They are known to be peaceful people, whose migration and population distribution has been historically affected by violence and seizure inflicted on them.[4]

In 2001, the Mwera population was estimated to number 469,000.[1] They speak the Mwera language, also called Kimwera, Mwela or Chimwera. This is a Bantu language that is part of the Niger-Congo family of languages.[1] The Mwera language contains a hodiernal tense.[citation needed]


The Mwera people have had a Traditional Religion that existed through the 19th century. With the arrival of the German colonial rule of Tanzania, the German Christian missionaries introduced Christianity among the Mwera, and gained converts. However, after the World War I, the British colonial rule of Tanzania began, which expelled all German missionaries. The Mwera missions were abandoned, Islamic missionaries filled the gap particularly in the coastal regions, gained Muslim converts and introduced polygyny among the Mwera people. The contemporary Mwera people have a mixture of Traditional Religion, Christians in the inland regions and Muslims.[2]

Society and culture[edit]

The Mwera do not keep cattle or domestic animals, as their traditional region has been infested with Tsetse flies. They have hunted and fished instead. They live in clusters of oval huts made from wooden poles, grass thatch and local mud.[4] In contemporary society, the Mwera have adopted subsistence farming.[4]

Storytelling and riddles are important facets of the Mwera culture.[5] They have rites of passage, such as Likomanga for boys, and Chikwembo for girls, which marks their entry into adulthood followed by a quick marriage shortly after the initiation.[6]

Historically, women of the Mwera culture were known for their lip piercing, in which the upper lip was pierced in girlhood and gradually enlarged over time to hold various sizes of solid plugs. In this way they shared similarities with the neighboring Makonde people.[7]


The Mwera people, like the Makonde people who share the Rovuma valley, have a historic musical tradition. Their seven metal key lamellophone is notable, and is called a Luliimba. This device is notable because its design and construction features are strikingly similar to Saron found in Southeast Asia and South Asia, suggesting a possible historic cultural exchange between the coastal southern Africa and the coastal southeast Asia. It is unclear if the exchange was from Africa to Asia, or vice versa.[8][9]


  1. ^ a b c Mwera: Languages of Tanzania, Chimwera, Cimwela, Cimwera, Kimwera, Mwela
  2. ^ a b John Iliffe (10 May 1979). A Modern History of Tanganyika. Cambridge University Press. pp. 256–260. ISBN 978-0-521-29611-3.
  3. ^ David Lawrence (2009). Tanzania and Its People. New Africa Press. pp. 113–114. ISBN 978-1-4414-8692-9.
  4. ^ a b c d Zubeida Zuberi Tumbo-Masabo (1994). Chelewa, Chelewa. Nordic Africa Institute. pp. 120–121. ISBN 978-91-7106-354-0.
  5. ^ Harries, Lyndon (1947). "Some riddles of the Mwera people". African Studies. 6 (1): 21–34. doi:10.1080/00020184708706725.
  6. ^ Zubeida Zuberi Tumbo-Masabo (1994). Chelewa, Chelewa. Nordic Africa Institute. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-91-7106-354-0.
  7. ^ Weule, Karl (1909). Native Life in East Africa. Translated by Werner, Alice. Sir Pitman.
  8. ^ Uta Reuster-Jahn (2007), The Mwera Lamellophone "Luliimba", African Music, Vol. 8, No. 1 (2007), pages 6-20
  9. ^ Laurence Libin (2014), Luliimba, The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (2 ed.), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199743391