Nyamwezi and Sukuma - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Agriculture and cattle keeping are the chief economic activities. Most families grow food for themselves and attempt to produce some surplus for the market. Maize, sorghum, and rice are the main food crops sold, and cotton and tobacco are produced in substantial quantities. Other crops include groundnuts, beans, cassava, and some vegetables and fruits. The main cattle owners are Sukuma. Some families own very large herds of a thousand head or more, but smaller herds are more usual. Small stock are also raised. Most families still use hoes, but plows pulled by oxen are quite common. Some richer people own tractors that they hire out to others, in addition to using them to cultivate large areas for themselves.

Industrial Arts. Traditional crafts include building, ironwork, pottery, basketry, drum making, and stool carving. These crafts are usually part-time occupations, and some have declined as foreign goods have been imported. Bow and arrow making has enjoyed a resurgence with the rise of Sungusungu (see "Sociopolitical Organization"). Some carpenters make Western-type chairs and other furniture, and some men work as sewing-machine operators in local shops.

Trade. Local caravans down to the coast ceased in colonial times, but people continued to go as porters and migrant laborers. Shops were largely owned by Asians and Arabs, but after independence local shopkeepers became common in the villages and towns. Private trade was discouraged by the state for many years, and cooperative shops and state trading agencies were established. The private sector has persisted, however, and there are many successful businesses, especially among the Sukuma.

Division of Labor. There is a strong sexual division of labor. In general, men do shorter, heavy tasks, and women do more repetitive chores. Cattle are mainly men's concern, as are ironworking and machine sewing. Only men hunt. Pottery is women's work. Some urgent tasks, such as harvesting, are done by both sexes. Most diviners are men. The state has been keen to draw women into politics, but only moderate progress has been made.

Land Tenure. Under the chiefs, land could be acquired in several ways. A villager might clear new land or obtain cleared land from a village headman. He might also inherit land with agreement from the headman. The chief was said to be "owner" of the land; this meant that those who held it were his subjects, and that the prosperity of the chiefdom depended on him and his ancestors. There was some variation in the degree of control that chiefs and headmen exercised over land. Fields could not customarily be sold, but those who had cleared land could often lend it to others and pass it on to heirs. In the 1960s, once chieftainship was abolished, land started to be sold, but this was stemmed by government. Later, land was defined as belonging to a village as the agent of the state. Villagers were allocated land for their own use, and some land was retained for communal production. Some villagers are now returning to live on their former holdings.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

CAPTCHA