Who Are the Sukuma?

The largest population of Sukuma people live near Lake Victoria, Tanzania.
The largest population of Sukuma people live near Lake Victoria, Tanzania.

The Sukuma are a Bantu ethnic group who live near the African Great Lakes. The Sukuma people are the largest ethnic group in Tanzania, with a population of approximately 8.9 million, and making up 16 percent of the country's total population. Most of the Sukuma people live in Mwanza, near the southeastern shores of Lake Victoria, and over 80% of the Sukuma still live in the rural areas, which include the Shinyanga, Mara, and Simiyu regions. The Sukuma are closely related to the Nyamwenzi ethnic group, who are their neighbors. The term ‘’Sukuma’’ refers to ‘’nor,’’ which means the people living in the north.

The Sukuma people are cattle herders and subsistence farmer, with millet and sweet potatoes as their staple food. The main cash crops planted in Sukuma land include tobacco and cotton. Additionally, the Sukuma were the main meat suppliers to the Unyanyembe, a crucial chiefdom among the Wanjamwezi, which was centered in Tabora. However, in 1892 their cattle herds began to decline because of tsetse fly and rinderpest, which rendered over two-thirds of German East Africa unsuitable for raising cattle.

Which Language Do the Sukuma Speak?

The Sukuma people speak both the Swahili and Sukuma languages. The national language of Tanzania is Swahili, while the Sukuma belongs to the Bantu branch from the Niger-Congo family of languages.

Which Religions Do the Sukuma Practice?

Although Christianity was introduced in Sukumaland over a century ago, a vast majority of the Sukuma people still practice animism. Every aspect of the Sukuma people, from planting crops to the naming of their children, is affected by their spiritual and ancestral beliefs. Christianity was introduced in Sukumaland during the early 1900s, with African Inland Mission (AIM) membership being the first Christians to influence the locals. The Anglicans later established their missionary works in Ihelele and Nasa, while the Baptist mission had an intensive Sukuma project, which began during the late 1970s and continued into the early 1980s.

What Are Some of the Sukuma Customs?

The Sukuma people are considered to be matriarchal, especially in their naming system and clan lineage. The Sukuma people rear livestock and grow numerous crops. The Kinakia clan members are farmers who grow peanuts, rice, cassava, and cotton, while the Kisomao are both herders and farmers.

Where in Tanzania Do the Sukuma People Live?

The Sukuma, commonly known as the tribe from the North, and the Nyamwezi, also known as the tribe from the south, were closely related ethnic groups who lived on the southern shores of Lake Victoria. Sukumaland lies to the northeast, with over 250,000 people in Mwanza and over 40,000 living in east Shinyanga. The Sukuma and other ethnic groups like Sumbwa and Tusi live in Nyamwezi villages, but Sukuma villages are homogenous. During the colonial era the Sukuma took over Geita region, and had they expanded west they have also moved to the Igunga and Nzega Districts, while some moved to the southern highland and even Zambia. The constant migration of the Sukuma people stemmed numerous political issues like the colonial cattle-culling policy, deteriorating soil conditions, and overcrowding.


More in Society