The Nyakyusa have preferred to live in nucleated settlements and are best known for their system of "age villages," whereby new generations of young men set themselves up in residential communities separate from those of their fathers. This separation is not strictly an "age set" system composed of named grades (as among many East African herding societies), but rather an outgrowth of the idea that the sexual activities of the generations should be kept separate and that contemporaries make the best neighbors—that they provide "good company" for one another. There was a powerful avoidance between fathers-in-law and daughters-in-law. The germ of a new village would form as boys reaching adolescence set up huts on the edge of a parent village; this new village recruited for perhaps five years, and then closed its membership. The fundamental principle of residential affiliation was therefore not kinship but age (kin often lived in the same village, however, or at least in the same "side" of the chiefdom).
Although there were no named age sets, each generation had a corporate identity in that it went through a collective transition ritual called a "coming out." Seniors were supposed to "move aside" in a comprehensive redistribution of land within the chiefdom. At this time new chiefs were also brought out, as were commoner headmen, the headmen of the villages newly elevated to senior status. Ideally, the chiefdom would also split, dividing between the two senior sons of the old chief. The system can be seen as an institutional way of handling a natural process of growth and fission, but the way in which it actually worked remains somewhat obscure. In any event these arrangements were dependent on an ample supply of vacant land; with the onset of colonial rule and an increasing population, it began to fall apart. The last recorded "coming out" in Ngonde occurring in 1913, the last in BuNyakyusa in 1953. By 1969, the establishment of age villages had also ceased, and the system itself was scarcely remembered.