Social Organization. The social organization of contemporary Nyakyusa and Ngonde society is oriented around the family, individual agricultural production, national politics, and the churches. In former times the age village was the center of social life; the wider community came into play via war, the power of chieftaincies, and the enactment of collective ritual.
Political Organization. In the 1930s there were at least a hundred chiefdoms in Nyakyusa country, each with a chief descended from the original Kinga immigrants. The commoners, for their part, had powers of witchcraft as well as of defense against it, and provided wives for the immigrants. Commoners also played an essential role in the installation rituals for the chiefs and were symbolically associated with the chief as woman is to man; the exercise of the complementary powers of chiefs and commoners ensured fertility and protection against evil. There were several Nyakyusa figures who transcended ordinary chiefs to the point that they have been labeled "divine kings." It was widely believed that formerly, when their powers began to wane, they were killed lest they take their powers into the grave with them; however, these "kings" had no political power as such, whereas an equivalent figure among the Ngonde, the kyungu, became paramount administrative chief of his domain. Tanzania deprived all such chiefs of their powers, and replaced them with elected local authorities.
Social Control. Social control is, for the most part, exercised informally, often through witchcraft accusations or fear of them, and by threat of the mystical powers of senior relatives to discipline wayward kin. Village headmen had the responsibility to arbitrate disputes. The obstinate were subject to banishment, and were also susceptible to "the breath of men," a mystical projection of dislike or dissatisfaction resulting in illness. Headmen had innate powers to combat witches by engaging in dream combat with them at night, but might be accused of witchcraft themselves if they misused their offices. In extreme cases of suspected witchcraft, a poison ordeal could be administered as a kind of lie-detector test.
Conflict. Small-scale warfare and cattle raiding were once endemic between adjoining chiefdoms; occasionally a chiefdom would be subsumed by another because of defeat in war. The most violent period in local history occurred in the late nineteenth century, when a coastal slaver set himself up in Ngonde country—an activity brought to an end by British intervention in 1895.