Tonga people (Zambia and Zimbabwe)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A BaTonga crafter working on a decorative wall basket in Zimbabwe.

The Tonga people of Zambia and Zimbabwe (also called 'Batonga') are a Bantu ethnic group of southern Zambia and neighbouring northern Zimbabwe, and to a lesser extent, in Mozambique. They are related to the Batoka who are part of the Tokaleya people in the same area, but not to the Tonga people of Malawi. In southern Zambia they are patrons of the Kafue Twa. They differ culturally and linguistically from the Tsonga people of South Africa and southern Mozambique.

The Tonga of Zimbabwe[edit]

The BaTonga people of Zimbabwe are found in and around the Binga District, Binga village the Kariba area, and other parts of Matabeleland. They number up to 300,000 and are mostly subsistence farmers. ln Zimbabwe the language of the Tonga people is called tchitonga.

The Tonga People were settled along Lake Kariba after the construction of the Kariba Dam wall.[1] They stretch from Chirundu, Kariba town, Mola, Binga to Victoria Falls.

In the 1800s, during the reign of Mzilikazi and Lobengula, BaTonga people were regarded by the Ndebele (at the time called the "Matabele") as very peaceful. Early British explorers also regarded them as "wholesome" and "entirely peaceful" on "both sides of the Zambezi."[2]

Human-Environmental Interactions of the Tonga of Zambia[edit]

The Longitudinal Gwembe Tonga Research project a 50-year study took place in southern Zambia uses carrying capacity to explain general social processes and the human-environment interactions of the Tonga people.[3] In the article Carrying Capacity's New Guise: Folk Models for Public Debate and Longitudinal Study of Environmental Change, Lisa Cligget focuses on the relationship between the Tonga people and the environment.[3] The construction of the Kariba Dam caused 57,000 Tonga people on both sides of the Zambian lake[clarification needed] due to constant flooding.[3] Lake Kariba is the largest artificial reservoir in the world. A majority of the population moved up stream. However, last minute engineering forced 6000 people to relocate to Lusitu, a small village downstream from the dam.[3] Lusitu is known as the most ecological disturbed region.The drought cycle is a common ecological risk that affects the southern African farmers and directly impacts the Tonga people's access to food. The worst drought in the past decade happened between 1994 and 1995 in Lusitu.[3] This drought caused no harvest for the people in Lusitu. Economic factors have influenced relationships within and outside of Tonga people community. The economic factors in the region include; the collapse of the copper industry, and the structural adjustment program.[3] The structural adjustment program for these rural communities cut government funding limiting infrastructure even more. The consequences of the structural adjustment program means clinics do not have access to aspirin, chloroquine, antibiotics and other medications. The negative effect on education in these rural areas that are remote makes it challenging to find teachers to accept and keep positions.[3] The Tonga people in Lusitu and surrounding areas have become dependent on agriculture production and kinship family networks.[3]

Gwembe people's coping strategies to scarcity[edit]

Via the Gwembe Tonga Research Project, the Gwembe people’s adaptations to their environment have been observed through many changing environmental conditions.[3] As environmental conditions become harsher, there are four strategies in which the Gwembe people cope with scarcity. These coping strategies address scarcity in both physical and economic environments in Gwembe Valley. The copper industry failed in Zambia in the 1970s and there is a lack of maintenance of national and local infrastructure, creating equally harsh conditions of economic strife.[3] Extended family networks and kinship play a large role in how scarcity is confronted, exemplified by the four coping strategies.[3]


Humans are capable of eating less and less food, both in volume and nutritional value, and surviving.[3] A way that Gwembe people change behavior in response to food scarcity is through malnutrition.

Alternative food sources[edit]

When preferred foods become scarce or disappear, Gwembe people turn to “famine foods” that include tamarind seeds mixed with ash.[3]

Decrease domestic-group size[edit]

Gwembe people decrease their domestic group size to be more mobile and to feed less people.[3] Being more mobile allows for bettered ability to find food sources, through the environment or asking extended family members not encountering scarcity.[3]

Limit sharing with outsiders[edit]

Gwembe families will not repair their homestead granaries to maintain the appearance to outsiders of a lack of grain, while they still have it.[3] Families will also start eating indoors. Both strategies are to prevent neighbors from pleading for grain.


The Tonga language of Zambia is spoken by about 1.38 million people in Zambia and 137,000 in Zimbabwe; it is an important lingua franca in parts of those countries and is spoken by members of other ethnic groups as well as the Tonga.[4] (The Malawian Tonga language is classified in a different zone of the Bantu languages.)

In Zimbabwe, the Tonga also speak Shona, Ndebele and English. In Zambia, the Tonga also speak Nyanja and English, in Mozambique the also speak Portuguese as second languages. One of the most difficult task is to quantity the actual population of the Tonga people. Because of their peaceful approach, they easily assimilate to other tribes and eventually move over to dominant tribes. In Zimbabwe not only do they speak dominant languages such as Shona and Ndebele but a great population have taken on either Shona or Ndebele surnames. There are families in places such as Binga, Zimbabwe where half the siblings could carry Tonga surnames and another Ndebele surnames. In the national population register the ones with Ndebele surnames will be counted among the Ndebeles. Beside the Tsonga speaking in South Africa, they are also a population of that speaks predominantly Zulu, however among the Zulu tribe it is well known that there is a great population of the Tonga people among them. In Mpumalanga, Enkomazi, there is a place called Tonga, while the population of the area is called Swati, the name is a testimony to the once existence of the Tonga people in the area.

Notable Tonga People of Zambia[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Colson, Elizabeth (1971). The social consequences of resettlement: The impact of the Kariba resettlement upon the Gwembe Tonga. Human problems of Kariba, No. 4. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press on behalf of the Institute for African Studies, University of Zambia. ISBN 978-0-7190-1033-0.
  2. ^ Matabele Rebellion, 1896: With the Belingwe Field Force by Laing D. Tyrie · 1901
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Cliggett, Lisa (2001). "Carrying Capacity's New Guise: Folk Models for Public Debate and Longitudinal Study of Environmental Change". Africa Today. 48: 2–19. doi:10.2979/AFT.2001.48.1.2 – via Researchgate.
  4. ^ Gordon, Raymond G. Jr., ed. (2005). "Ethnologue report for language code: toi". Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Retrieved 2006-05-08.