Tongwe in Tanzania

Tongwe
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People Name: Tongwe
Country: Tanzania
10/40 Window: No
Population: 64,000
World Population: 64,000
Primary Language: Tongwe
Primary Religion: Islam
Christian Adherents: 20.00 %
Evangelicals: 1.10 %
Scripture: Translation Started
Online Audio NT: No
Jesus Film: No
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: Bantu, Central-Tanzania
Affinity Bloc: Sub-Saharan Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

The Tongwe are a small African tribe. The Tongwe originally came from eastern Congo and crossed over Lake Tanganyika into Tanzania. They settled in what are presently Mahale National Park and the surrounding area. When Tanzania gained its independence, the newly elected President Julius Kambarage Nyerere, forced all Tanzanians to move from their rural homelands into major villages, towns, and cities. This relocation was called Ujamaa. The Tongwe were drastically affected, and many of them were forced to move and spread into towns and villages, such as, Uvinza, Ilagala, Kalya, Kashaguru, Mgambo, Rukoma, Kaparamsenga, and Mgambazi. After Tanzania's independence, all the Tongwe that lived in the Rukwa region were renamed the Bende tribe.

After Nyerere left office, something interesting happened. Many of the Tongwe who lived in Uvinza and Ilagala did not stray far away from the main villages. In the regions south of the Malagarasi River, the Tongwe returned in large numbers back up into the forests and the hills, and refused to become acclimated to life in the main villages. It was not, however, the last time the Tongwe had to be relocated in Tanzania's modern history. The Tongwe, who lived on the land that is now Mahale National Park and Katavi National Park, were forced once more to leave their homes and land when the parks were established in 1990. The Tongwe are now very suspicious of the government, and even Westerners, because of the numerous forced relocations from their homelands.

Where Are they Located?

The Tongwe are located as far north as Ujiji (near Kigoma), as far south as Kashaguru and Kalya, and as far west as Nguruka and in villages along the road to Mpanda via Uvinza. Places where there are large populations of Tongwe are Uvinza, Ilagala, Mahanga, Sunuka, Kaparamsenga, Mgambazi, Rukoma, Igalula, Mgambo, Mkonkwa, Ikuburu, Rubalizi, Sibwesi, Kalya, Kashaguru, Lufubu, and Isonga.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The Tongwe are farmers (mostly rice farming), gatherers, and hunters. Hunting has become extremely difficult in recent years because of a crackdown by the government forcing the Tongwe to buy hunting permits, which cost more than a year's wages to kill one animal. When they do go against the law, they use either spears or homemade muskets (one-shot guns) that use gunpowder and some type of homemade metal or lead projectile. They make beehives and collect honey at various times of the year.

They are a very destitute people, who lack much of the education that is available to Tanzanians in other parts of the country. It is very probable that a Tongwe child will never get a formal education, though for sure some have attained a high degree of secondary education and work in highly skilled jobs. Medical services are also another large problem. Some walk for sixty hours to reach the nearest semi-efficient hospital. Many mothers lose their lives giving birth to children because of poor or non-existent medical services. Many children do not even make it to adulthood because of malaria and cholera epidemics that are rampant and out of control. Life is extremely difficult and harsh south of Kigoma Region.

What Are Their Beliefs?

Islam is the religion for many Tongwe. The Muslims told the Tongwe that the Christians hated them and that Christians wanted nothing to do with their kind. The Tongwe are infamous throughout Kigoma and other parts of Tanzania for being inseparable from witchcraft, demonic, and animistic worship. The legends and spirits of great witch doctors, and Tongwe kings and queens, still lurk heavy in the air throughout all the mountains, forests, lakes, streams, and villages that they have inhabited both now and in the past.

What Are Their Needs?

Their needs are so incredible that it is almost overwhelming to think about. First and foremost, they need to come into relationship with Jesus Christ, who can change their lives forever. Secondly, they need basic infrastructures, such as, education, medical facilities and trained professionals to work them, roads to boost their economy in transporting agricultural produce, wells to produce clean water and eradicate water-borne diseases, Christian witnesses, such as African missionaries and pastors who are willing to live and work amongst the Tongwe.

Prayer Points

Please pray that God changes their whole tribe, we cannot settle for one or two here and there to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
God is moving amongst them in the most peculiar way and whole villages are on the verge of comming to Christ. Pray that God sends people who can meet both their physical needs and their spiritual needs.

Text Source:   Torbjorn Rasmussen