The Zaramo were not living in their present territory 200 years ago. They moved into this area later, at the time when there were raids by the Ngoni from the south and the Kamba from the north. The Shomvi, who have resided in this region much longer, called on Pazi Kilama of the Kutu for help. Pazi Kilama was known to be a brave hunter of elephants and lions. He helped to chase the Kamba away from the area, and most of them fled back to Kenya. Kamba place-names are still in evidence, however, and pockets of Kamba are still found among the Zaramo. After the war was over, Pazi Kilama sent his people to the Shomvi for payment. The Shomvi could not fulfill their promise, and they were then subjected to paying yearly tribute to Pazi Kilama. This payment was to continue forever and was eventually paid by the sultan of Zanzibar to the Zaramo.
Similarities in social structure, religious beliefs, and political organization are all indications that the Zaramo originated from the Luguru. The Luguru, the Kutu, and the Zaramo are not tribes in the organizational sense, because there is no political control over all the people. The various local clans or village groups were essentially independent politically, economically, and religiously. The binding factor was habitation within a clearly defined area of land, which was regarded as the property of a particular matrilineal lineage. As Iliffe (1979) observed, groups and identities in Tanzania in the early nineteenth century were categorized by adaptation to a specific environment. The Luguru comprise an ethnic group that lives in the Uluguru Mountains, about 200 kilometers west of Dar es Salaam. The name "Luguru" simply means "people of the mountains." The group expanded or moved down the mountains onto the plains south of the mountain area and formed the group known as the Kutu. The Kutu in turn moved farther east when they were called upon to help fight the Kamba from Kenya. Beidelman (1967), who studied the matrilineal peoples of eastern Tanzania, took matrilineality as the common denominator of these groups of people. He noted a great number of social features that were shared by the Zaramo, Kwere, Luguru, Kutu, Kaguru, Sagara, Vidunda, Ngulu, and Zigua. Besides the similarity in language, their material culture and the basis of their subsistence were practically the same.
Pazi Kilama may have been looked upon as the protector of the Zaramo for some time, but that protection did not develop into any political or organizational structure. Each village with a headman had autonomy and ruled its own affairs. There was much quarreling between headmen and clans, and no political unity developed. In 1875, however, the Zaramo mustered a large fighting force of 4,000 to 5,000 men, which marched to Bagamoyo when the sultan failed to pay his tribute. Although the sultan of Zanzibar had begun to extend his power on the mainland, he did not rule the inland tribes to any great extent. The sultan had dispatched an administrative officer, known in Swahili as the liwali, and under him lower officers, to collect taxes from trade caravans passing through the coastal towns; however, these officers did not have authority over the Zaramo. In 1879 Lieut. Henry O'Neill wrote, "Relations between the Sultan's authority of Dar es Salaam and the Wazaramo, with whom they came into contact during the late war, flavor somewhat of an armed neutrality and the soldiers are even now afraid of proceeding through the country thirty miles in the interior ... " (quoted in L. W. Swantz 1965, 19-20). Swantz further notes that there is no mention in any written reference that the Zaramo were ever under the authority of the sultan.