Nsenga people



The Nsenga, not to be confused with the Senga, are a Bantu ethnic tribe of Zambia and Mozambique.

In Zambia, they are found in two districts of Eastern province namely Nyimba and Petauke. They are also dialects with the Nsenga Luzi of the Luangwa valley in Chief Nyalugwe, Mboloma and Lwembe and the Chikunda of Luangwa Boma (Feira). Their Senior Chief is Kalindawalo M'ndikula who resides in Merwe 10 kilometers from Petauke Boma. His subjects include Chief Mwape, Nyamphande, Nyanje, Mumbi, Sandwe, Nyalugwe, Ndake, Lwembe and Mwanjaw'anthu. They are well known for their culture and artwork which includes bead work and basketry. They also grow groundnuts, maize, millet and sorghum for consumption and cotton (Thonje) as cash crop, and are popular for their Mbewa (Mice), a practice which they are often teased for.



The Nsenga people of Mozambique are one of several groups of people called Nsenga (or Senga) in the region.  Nsenga groups speaking the same Nsenga language are found in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The majority live in the Luangwa River Valley in southeastern Zambia, with a population of 427,000 (Johnstone, 1993).  The same source gives the population in Mozambique as only 141,000.  While the smallest number live in Zimbabwe, no updated population figures have been provided since the 1969 census report of 16,100.

Other Nsenga (or Senga) groups in Zambia speak a Senga dialect of the common Chewa (Nyanja) language spoken by their neighbouring ethnic groups or a dialect of the Tumbuka language.   There is insufficient information available to determine if any of the groups speaking Senga dialects of these languages still consider themselves related to the Nsenga.



There is limited information available on the Nsenga people and their history.  As a Bantu-speaking people, they do share the general history of migration from Central Africa, which began around the time of Christ.  They are part of the boader Luba group with origins likely in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.



The language of the Nsenga people is also called Nsenga (code nse).  Some Nsenga groups in Zambia speak forms of language which, even though they call it Nsenga, the speech is actually a dialect of Tumbuka (Zambia and Tanzania).

The Nsenga people in Mozambique are located in Western Mozambique along the border with Zambia, north of the Zambezi, and close to the Zambia-Zimbabwe line on the river. nbsp;They make up about 0.5% of the population of the country.



The language of the Nsenga is a Bantu language called by the same name.  The Ethnologue comments that the speech of the Nsenga differs from the Senga dialect of Tumbuka in Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania.

The Nsenga language (also called Chinsenga) spoken by people of this tribe has been adopted by many groups in Zambia and diluted to Zambia’s widely spoken language Chinyanja.


Political Situation

The state of the Nsengas' relationships with the nearby peoples is not clear, but there are no current reports of obvious conflict.  Little information is available about the political status or involvement of the Nsenga as an ethnic group in political affairs.

The country is still recovering from the long civil war after independence in 1975, comlicated by a series of severe droughts.  No internal development was provided by the Portuguese, and little infrastructure in place in the huge geographical area of Mozambique.  Social integration is being pursued by the current government and educational opportunities are expanding.



Very little information is available about the culture and customs of the Nsenga.  They depend largely on subsistence agriculture, similar to other peoples living along the Zambezi River.

The Nsenga follow a greeting custom similar to the Shona and other peoples in the region.  Rather than shaking hands, they place the open palms of the hands together, similar to a light, slow handclap.  This may be accompanied by a slight dip or curtsy similar to obeisance.



The Nsenga follow ancient practices of tribal religion.  Like other African "religions," this is not an institutional religion in the western academic sense.  Outsiders sometimes refer to it as Ancestor Worship, due to the veneration of deceased members of the community.  No information about their traditional practices are available.

Like most African peoples, the basic view of the world is a dynamic one, that has been characterized as religious.  Unlike the dualistic worldview as in the west, Traditional African peoples do not separate a secular sphere from unseen sphere of the spiritual realities.  The spirit world is seen as active and immediate.  There tends to be a sense of resignation in many traditional cultures.

A Creator God is thought to be far away and not involved in the direct affairs of humans and the daily activities of life.  Other spiritual entities, good and bad, are active in the life of the family and the individual.



The Nsenga people are believed to have migrated into Zambia around the 14th century from the Luba – Lunda kingdom as distinct language. Nsenga means land of sand. (In songye language Nsenga means earth.) the Nsenga people share much more same culture with the lala people. The strong historical assumption is that the Nsenga people followed the same pattern of movements as the lamba, swaka, lila lala and Bisa. This comes clearly as a typical comparison between nsenga and Chichewa and Nsenga and Bemba outlines much similarity to Bemba, Bisa and lala compared to Chichewa.

A typical vocabulary analysis on selected Katanga languages, further proves that Nsenga was indeed a distinct language and clearly dispels the assumption that nsenga could have been an off short of chewa. Nsenga people might have directly originated from Katanga alongside or from the same source as the lala, Bemba, lamba and the Bisa people. The Nsenga people’s chiefdom ship could have not been so strengthened compared to other tribes as seen from the fact that most of the Nsenga chiefs were installed by the British and the chewa people, a case of kalindawaro who was left as a caretaker of the land by Undi of the Chewa people.


Chewa Influence

Historical review shows that the Nsenga people were to a large extent influenced by the Chewa people interns of language, culture and way of living. Nsenga language is mutually intelligible to the Chichewa language. This suggests that the Nsengas could have been settled in the eastern province of Zambia much earlier than the Chewa. This was actually done before the Chewa people had actually moved toward Malawi and Mozambique. Nsenga dialects include;

Nsenga luzi (Nsengas of the river), ambo Nsenga, kunda – Nsenga, Kunda