The Segeju are an ethnic and linguistic group from Mkinga District, Tanga Region, Tanzania, between the city of Tanga and the Kenyan border and the Kwale district of southern Kenya, mainly in the villages of Kidimu and Simoni.
The people are historically related to the Dhaiso. In 2003 the Segeju population was estimated to number fewer than 15,000, with fewer than 7,000 speaking the (ki) Segeju language. The Segeju have kinship relations with the Digo people, who are part of the nine tribes of the Mijikenda. The Segeju live in two areas namely the coastal and the highlands of the Usambaras. Those that live in the Usambara call their language Dahisu and call themselves Segeju.
Traditionally their diet was made up almost entirely of cow's milk and blood but they also engaged in farming where they raised coconuts, cassava, rice, and a large variety of fruits and vegetables.
Like the larger Maasai group, they braided their hair with red ochre and wore animal skins. The main social grouping of the Segeju is the mlango, or clan.
Formerly, all ownership of land by the Segeju was communal and based on the mlango. Interestingly, inheritance laws applied to coconut palms, but not to land, huts, and livestock.
Today, most of the Segeju live in the typical coral-rag, lime-plastered pole, thatched houses that are found in the coastal villages. Like other coastal peoples, the Segeju have an aptitude for handicrafts.
They braid very attractive sleeping mats made from palm leaves. Also they make hand carved combs, coconut graters, and wooden stools.
Like many other coastal tribes, the Segeju are virtually all Muslim of the Shafi'itebranch. They believe that Jesus was a prophet, a teacher, and a good man, but not the Son of God. They pray to Allah five times a day while facing Mecca, their holy city.
The name Segeju is said to derive from the Swahili words "Kusega", meaning 'to draw' and "juu", meaning 'up' or 'high'. The Segeju were said to have acquired the name following contact with the Shirazi Arabs in the 17th century, on account of the habit of their wearing of skin garments around their loins higher than was usual.
According to Segeju traditions recorded by Mhando (2008), the Segeju state that they originated in Shungwaya. Another version states that they came from Yemen.
In the seventeenth century, the Segeju were forced out of their territory into towns that became important centers of caravan trade. Many of them found employment as porters with the caravans. Over the last century, they have been pushed even farther south until many now reside in Tanzania.
The main social grouping of the Segeju is the mlango, or clan. When a woman dies, her funeral expenses are divided among her husband, her husband's brothers, and her siblings.
The siblings are not obligated to help the man pay for the funeral because he is their brother-in-law but because he is a member of the mlango. The husband's other wives may even help pay some of the expenses, since they are also members of the mlango.
At Segeju weddings and funerals, it is common to hear the sound of the tall war-drums. The drums are carved from the trunks of mchani trees and are covered with tautly stretched ox hide that is held firm with wooden pegs at the open end. Palm-branch ribs serve as the drum sticks.
Formerly, all ownership of land by the Segeju was communal and based on the mlango. Although marriage did not entitle a person to membership in the mlango, these ties appear to have given the person equal rights to the land. Interestingly, inheritance laws applied to coconut palms, but not to land, huts, and livestock.
The Segeju farmers raise coconuts, cassava, rice, and a large variety of fruits and vegetables. Today, however, many of them have abandoned their land and the mlango system. This is primarily a result of the younger generation moving to Mombasa to receive an education.
Today, most of the Segeju live in the typical coral-rag, lime-plastered pole, thatched houses that are found in the coastal villages. Very few Segeju raise livestock, except for an occasional chicken or goat.
The lure of wage employment in industry, commerce, and tourism draws most of the educated young people to the big cities. They have assimilated well into the modern coastal cultures, leaving behind the out-dated traditions of the past.
Like other coastal peoples, the Segeju have an aptitude for handicrafts. They dye palm leaves in various shades of purple and mauve, braid them into narrow strips, and sew them together to make attractive sleeping mats. They also make hand carved combs, coconut graters, and wooden stools.
Like many other coastal tribes, the Segeju are virtually all Muslim of the Shafi'ite branch. There are only a handful of known Christians among the Segeju in Kenya.