Tonga people


Tonga / Batonga / Balumbila / Batoka / Bawe / Toka

The Tonga people of Zambia and Zimbabwe (also called 'Batonga') are a Bantu ethnic group of southern Zambia and neighbouring northern Zimbabwe, and to a lesser extent, in Mozambique. They are related to the Batoka who are part of the Tokaleya people in the same area, but not to the Tonga people of Malawi. In southern Zambia they are patrons of the Kafue Twa. They differ culturally and linguistically from the Tsonga people of South Africa and southern Mozambique.

Tonga people


Identification. The Tonga occupy much of Southern Province in Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia), spilling over on the east into Zimbabwe (once Southern Rhodesia or Rhodesia). Tonga in Kalomo and Livingstone districts are known as Toka; to the north are Plateau Tonga; Gwembe Tonga live in Gwembe District and in nearby Zimbabwe. The Tonga never formed a single political unit. Today they are an ethnic group united by common language and in opposition to other Zambian ethnic groups, with whom they compete.

Location. Tonga country, Butonga, lies between 16° and 18° S and 26° and 29° E, bounded on the north by the Kafue and Sanyati rivers, in Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively. Its southern boundary follows the Zambezi and Gwai rivers. It includes the southern Zambian plateau, which rises to more than 1,000 meters, the escarpment hills facing the Middle Zambezi Valley, the Zambezi plain lying some 600 meters below the plateau, and the escarpment hills within Zimbabwe. The Middle Zambezi Valley is knows as Gwembe Valley. Average annual rainfall varies from nearly 80 centimeters at the escarpment edges to 40 centimeters in northern Gwembe Valley. Drought years are frequent. Rains are expected by mid-November and taper off through March and April, when the cold dry season begins. June and July may bring light frost. In late August the hot dry season begins abruptly. Temperatures in northern Gwembe may reach 45° C. The Zambian Railway and a highway paralleling it cross the plateau south to north, giving access to markets for agricultural produce first created when copper mines were opened in Zaire and Zambia in the 1920s. This led to European farming settlement, the building of small townships dominated by Indian shopkeepers, and cash cropping by Plateau Tonga. Since the completion of Kriba Hydroelectric Dam in 1958, much of the Zambezi plain and the lower reaches of its tributary rivers have been flooded by Kariba Lake. Over 54,000 Gwembe Tonga were displaced from the river plain to new habitats in the hills above Kariba Lake or in more arid country below Kariba Dam. They also became more accessible.

Demography. In 1980 Southern Province had an estimated population of 791,296, at an average density of 7.9 per square kilometer, some of whom were non-Tonga immigrants. Many Tonga have emigrated to Central Province since the 1940s in search of agricultural land or urban jobs. In 1969 Tonga speakers comprised slightly over 10 percent of the Zambian population; in the 1980s they probably numbered over 800,000. There were approximately 40,000 Tonga settled in Zimbabwe in the 1950s. Birthrates are high; the rate of population increase is around 2.8 percent per annum.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Tonga speak dialects of ciTonga, a Central Bantu language, along with other languages of central and northern Zambia and adjacent regions in Zaire. It was committed to writing by missionaries in the early twentieth century and today has a minute literature, but Tonga writers prefer to write in English, the official language of Zambia. The Central Plateau dialect is becoming the standard used in schools and for broadcasting.

Tonga mythology on creation

A local tradition suggests that before the arrival of the British there was a powerful chief in the town of Monze. According to oral tradition, the first Monze chief descended from heaven. He called the Tonga people to join him and settle in his chiefdom. Most people liked the chief because he had the power to heal, to cause rain, and to keep the peace. He did that by frustrating enemies through his communication with the spirits of the ancestors.


Tonga oral history is local history of no great time depth. Archaeological sites on the southern plateau associated with the arrival of the Tonga from the northwest date from the twelfth century A . D . Although they were shifting cultivators who had cattle, they also relied on game and fish. Their crafts included pottery and ironwork; a few scraps of copper remain. There is little evidence of differences in status or of long-distance trade. Sites in northern Gwembe from much the same period have richer assemblages and may not have been Tonga sites. Finds from Ingombe Ilede indicate trade contacts with the Indian Ocean. Some fourteenth- and fifteenth-century graves contained trade beads and worked gold, copper, and bronze. Ingombe Ilede may have been an outpost of one of the Shona kingdoms. Shona speakers still live nearby. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries northern Gwembe was visited by Portuguese and Chikunda from Mozambique, who first sought ivory and slaves, and then settled. In general, the nineteenth century was a time of turmoil: Toka country was occupied for a few years by Makololo from southern Africa; in the last half of the century, Lozi raiders from the Upper Zambezi and Ndebele raiders from Zimbabwe harassed all of Tonga country, and the Lozi established hegemony among the Toka. In the 1890s the British South Africa Company had little difficulty in annexing Tonga country and administering it as part of the newly created Northern Rhodesia that, in 1923, was handed over to the British Colonial Office. Early administrators organized the country into districts and created a skeletal administration based on appointed village headmen. These headmen were grouped into chieftaincies under appointed chiefs, who were responsible to a district administrator. Much land was taken for European settlement. After 1923, native reserves were set aside and allocated to the three divisions into which Tonga were by then grouped, under councils called the Plateau Tonga, the Toka-Leya, and the Gwembe Tonga native authorities. Missions arrived at the beginning of the twentieth century. They established schools and, on the plateau, provided instruction in plow agriculture. The Plateau Tonga developed a cash-crop economy by the 1930s; the Toka, with poorer soils, and the Gwembe Tonga, cut off by the escarpment, continued to work as labor migrants, usually in Zimbabwe, until after Zambian independence in 1964. Independence removed restrictions on African access to employment and the use of lands reserved for European development.


Plateau villages in the late nineteenth century were small clusters of round pole-and-mud huts with associated granaries and cattle pens, frequently housing a single extended family or a small number of kinsmen with their dependents, including slaves. Shifting cultivation encouraged the relocation of villages; these occasions provided the opportunity for dissidents to hive off. In the west, the placement of homesteads along long ridges to avoid floods led to larger aggregates. On the Zambezi plain, where alluvial soils permitted long-term cultivation, villages were stable and could contain up to 400 or 500 people. Early colonial administrators amalgamated small villages and required each village to have a minimum of 10 able-bodied male taxpayers, who had to build near their appointed headman. When these rules were relaxed in the 1950s, plateau villages were already somewhat stabilized by the placement of schools, by the planting of fruit trees, and by the construction of more permanent housing; nevertheless, villages rarely contained more than 300 people. Gwembe villages began to fragment after their relocation to the hills in 1958. Many Tonga now live in cities or in the small towns of the province, which are commercial and service centers for rural people.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Tonga were hoe cultivators whose staple crops were sorghums and millets until well into the twentieth century. Maize, cucurbits, groundnuts, ground peas, sweet potatoes, tobacco, and cannabis were additional crops. Livestock included cattle (in areas where tsetse flies were absent), goats, sheep, dogs, and chickens. Hunting, fishing, and gathering wild produce were important. Plow agriculture, using oxen, is now universal. Many Plateau Tonga have substantial farms of more than a hundred hectares, as well as large herds of cattle. Some own small tractors that they hire to neighbors. Maize has been the primary plateau crop since the 1930s, but farmers have also experimented with beans, cotton, and sunflowers. They began to keep pigs in the 1930s. The shift to plowing in much of Gwembe came in the late 1950s. Gwembe farmers raise maize, sorghums, bulrush millet, and, since the 1970s, cotton, now the main cash crop, which, like maize, is sold to governments depots. Income is also derived through the sale of cattle, goats, chickens, and out-of-season vegetables. Tobacco is no longer an important crop. Pigs were recently introduced. Hunting is now important only in some sections of Gwembe and on the western plateau. Commercial fisheries exist on the Kafue River and on Kariba Lake, where most fishers are immigrants. Rural diets continue to rely upon plants collected in the bush.

Industrial Arts. Crafts were part-time occupations despite being practiced by specialists, among them blacksmiths, woodworkers, potters, and basket makers. Work at a craft was validated by the belief that an ancestor required a given person to carry on the skill. Other specialists were diviners, herbalists, song makers, and hunters. Old crafts, in abeyance because of a preference for factory-made imports, were revived after the 1970s when the difficulty of transportation and the high cost of foreign goods made imports difficult to obtain. Production is now for the tourist trade as well as local use. New crafts include carpentry, brick making, auto repair, tailoring, and needlework.

Trade. Marketplaces and shops are twentieth-century phenomena; earlier, trade took the form of direct exchange based on equivalences. Marketplaces are located in townships, where women are prominent as traders. Shops exist both in townships and villages and usually have male owners. In the townships, shop owners are frequently Indians.

Division of Labor. Building houses, clearing fields, taking care of cattle, woodworking, blacksmithing, hunting, and most fishing are the responsibilities of men. They work in their own fields and usually do the plowing. They are hawkers and shop owners and work in a wide variety of paid jobs. Women are potters and basket makers. They do much of the agricultural work, gather wild produce, fish with baskets, process food, brew beer, care for small stock, do much transport, plaster huts, and provide most care of children. Increasingly, they plow. Some also work for wages, as shop assistants or house servants, but also in professional positions. Both men and women are ritual experts and both are politically active.

Land Tenure. Alluvial fields along the Zambezi were lineage property but were allocated to individual men and women. In general, rights in a field belonged to the person who cleared it and were transferable. Where shifting cultivation prevailed, land was not inherited. A man was expected to clear fields for himself and for each wife. Wives controlled the produce from their own fields, which they stored in their own granaries. The crop from the husband's field was his. Uncleared land is now scarce, and fields are kept in permanent cultivation. Sale of land in former reserve areas is prohibited, and land is obtained through loan, gift, or inheritance. Grazing areas are held in common. Claims to fishing and hunting grounds are now unimportant, except on Kariba Lake, where the government licenses kapenta ( Limnothrissa miodon ) fishing outfits and assigns them sites along the lake. Land pressure has led to emigration. The emergence of a landless rural class is imminent. Already, smallholders hire themselves to farmers who need additional labor. Cultivators are also being dispossessed as government allocates large tracts to multinational agribusinesses in hopes of spurring production.


onga belong to the clans and matrilineal descent groups of their mothers, although children also identify with their fathers and the descent groups of the latter. Residence is usually virilocal. The residential group, or homestead, usually consists of a man, his wife or wives, and their children. Sons may settle initially with their father but are likely to join other kin or establish their own homestead on the death or divorce of their parents. Descent groups disperse, but matrilineal kin assemble for funerals as long as common descent is remembered, and those living in proximity consult frequently. They inherit from each other and, in the past, formed a mutual defense and vengeance group. Residential units based on multilateral linkages, however important at any one time, are ephemeral. Continuity is created by the ties of matrilineal descent. Some fourteen clans exist. People with the same clan name are assumed to be related. Clanship provides a means of legitimating associations, which over time can be converted into kinship. The system of clan joking links clans for the provision of essential services at funerals and in some other tense situations.

Alternate generations are merged. Within-generation speakers refer to each other as senior or junior. On the plateau and in the Gwembe hills, Iroquois cousin terms are used. Plain dwellers use Crow cousin terms.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Polygyny is common and may be increasing as farmers marry additional wives to obtain labor for expanded operations. Christians divide on whether monogamy is necessary. Childhood betrothal was abandoned by Plateau Tonga in the 1920s and by Gwembe Tonga in the 1950s. Cross cousins of both types were preferred spouses among Plateau Tonga and in the Gwembe hills, whereas Plains Tonga preferred marriage into the descent groups of their grandfathers. Most marriages linked people of the same village or neighborhood. Marriage today is usually initiated by elopement or when the woman is pregnant. Both damages and marriage payments are required, even in Christian marriages, and their value is steadily inflating. Young couples are initially attached to a relative's homestead; formerly, they did not have the right to their own cooking fire or to make beer for ancestral offerings until several years after marriage. A second wife may be attached to the household of the first wife for the probationary period; thereafter each wife is independent. Couples who begin married life in urban areas usually establish an independent household immediately. Divorce was and is common. Households headed by a single woman are increasingly common, although even early in the twentieth century some women chose to have children by lovers rather then accept a husband's domination. Couples do not hold property in common; upon divorce, each spouse retains his or her assets. Once equitable, this practice now places women at a disadvantage because the property they helped earn can be claimed by the husband. They also lose when widowed because the husband's assets are taken by his kin. Therefore, women try to build up their own assets, which they safeguard by sending to their own kin. Widows are ideally inherited by someone in the husband's descent group, but this practice is increasingly controversial, especially among Christians.

Domestic Unit. Each established wife or senior single woman is expected to cook for herself, her children, and other dependents and to send food to her husband. Women, girls, and very young boys of the homestead eat either together, sharing food, or separately, each woman eating alone with her children. Men and boys of the homestead eat together, sharing the food contributed by all the women. Each woman has her own dwelling. Monogamous women share the dwelling with their husbands; polygynous men move from wife to wife. Only unmarried men have their own houses. Co-wives have separate fields and separate granaries.

Inheritance. As the inheritance council held when the funeral ends, claims are canvassed. The father of the deceased, or his heir, can claim a share in stock and, today, money, but the bulk of the estate goes to matrilineal kin who appoint someone to become the guardian of the new spirit. This person is the primary heir, but stock and other possessions are distributed among a large number of claimants. The heir becomes the ritual parent of any children of the deceased and has claims upon their services and property, including marriage payments for daughters. In the past the preferred heir was of the same or alternate generation. Sons and daughters do not have the right to inherit, but in rural areas they may be given one or more head of cattle, and courts increasingly argue that those who work to increase the wealth of their father should benefit from that labor. Widows may be permitted to retain their fields but can be driven away if they refuse to be inherited.

Socialization. Infants and children are raised by parents and siblings, and frequently by other kin. Grandparents often care for children after divorce. Today children are exchanged between urban and rural areas to work for relatives or to attend school. Training in the past was oriented toward ensuring that children acquired skills essential to rural life; now families urge children to succeed at school so they can get good jobs and provide support to parents and siblings.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Tonga society was once strongly egalitarian despite differences in wealth and the existence of slavery. Slaves were incorporated into the descent group of the owner, and they or their descendants might then be chosen as spirit guardians. The colonial administration abolished slavery. Today few know whose ancestors were or were not slaves. Lineages claiming priority of settlement within a neighbor.hood were said to hold katongo in that area, which amounted to a right to provide custodians for local shrines and sometimes a right to receive a portion of game killed. In southern Gwembe, status differences were more apparent. Today status reflects success in exploiting new economic opportunities, including education. Teachers and others with technical training, along with shop owners and wealthier farmers, form an emerging rural elite.

Political Organization. The Republic of Zambia is a single-party state organized into provinces and districts with their own administrations. Districts are divided into wards, and these into branches and sections. Elected councillors provide the effective grassroots political organization and have replaced the chieftaincy/village hierarchy that was the backbone of the colonial administration. Chiefs and village headmen still exist, but headmen have few functions, and chiefs act primarily as land allocators and ceremonial heads. Political initiative flows from the central government. As much as possible, the Tonga maintain their independence by avoiding contact with authority except when it might work to their advantage-Prior to the colonial era, and even much later, political leadership was usually provided by "big-men," whose exercise of power did not create a permanent office. Hereditary political office was the exception. Usually the political community was the neighborhood, of perhaps a thousand people, whose name derived from a geographical feature. Political authority was shared by senior men and women who assembled to settle disputes and organize communal rituals. Neighborhood residents were expected to attend each other's funerals. They had to observe ritual restrictions associated with "the work of the neighborhood," which centered on the agricultural cycle. They came together at local shrines to appeal for rain. Neighborhoods are still important under the party organization. Branch and section councillors summon people for communal labor: repairing roads, building additions to the local school, and other community work. Gwembe neighborhoods also have drum teams that perform at local funerals and represent the neighborhood on ceremonial occasions.

Social Control. Homestead members were expected to settle their own differences. Neighborhood moots dealt with quarrels between descent groups or general issues. Direct action to enforce rights or redress injury was common, but crosscutting ties of kinship damped down the possibility for prolonged feuding. Gossip and the fear of sorcery were important mechanisms of social control. The colonial administration instituted chief's courts and delegated to headmen the right to settle village disputes. Messengers attached to the chief's court provided an embryonic police force, reinforced by district messengers under the authority of the district commissioner. In 1964 elected party officers took over adjudication at the neighborhood level, and local courts are no longer under the jurisdiction of chiefs. Courts are responsible to the Ministry of Justice, which appoints their members and regulates procedures. Courts are still expected to operate within customary law unless it clashes with national legislation. Police units, party vigilantes, and other representatives of the central government are constant reminders of the centralization of authority.

Conflict. In years of hunger, neighborhood once raided neighborhood to obtain food, and neighbor stole from neighbor. In the Zambezi plain, lineage members quarreled over the allocation of alluvial fields, and adjacent cultivators accused each other of moving boundary marks. When cattle or other stock invaded fields, damages were demanded. There were quarrels over adultery, the flight of wives, and failure to meet marriage payments. Deaths, illnesses, and other misfortune led to accusations of sorcery. Many of these grounds for conflict still exist, and theft of livestock has increased vastly, as has armed banditry along the roads. The availability of alcohol, since beer has become commercialized, has increased the amount of physical violence.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Tonga have been exposed to Christian missions of many denominations since the beginning of the twentieth century. More recently, they have been evangelized by Pentecostal and Apostolic groups originating in the towns. Churches exist in many neighborhoods. Many people consider themselves Christians, but they may also adhere to some aspects of earlier Tonga belief and practice.

The Tonga recognized the existence of a creator god, Leza, now identified with the Christian God but formerly not responsive to human appeals. Basangu are spirits concerned with the fate of neighborhood communities and sometimes with larger regions. Mizimo are the spirits of the dead, concerned with the affairs of their own kin. Adult men and women become mizimo after death. Mizimo of parents are the most important, but offerings are also made to any former member of the descent group, to siblings of the father, and to grandparents. Invading spirits, masabe, attack individuals, as do ghosts, zelo. In the twentieth century new masabe are frequently recognized; recent ones have been Angels, Negroes, and the Regiment. Many Christians say these, along with the spirits of the dead and the community spirits, are demons.

The world is basically good. Evil exists through the malice of human beings who try to obtain power to maximize their own interests by use of medicines. Suffering may also occur because of failure to deal correctly with spiritual forces.

Religious Practitioners. Adult men and women serve as officiants at offerings to their ancestors. Spirit guardians are appointed to make such offerings on behalf of the children and grandchildren of the deceased. Shrine custodians perform rituals at neighborhood shrines and first-fruit rituals at their homes. Spirit mediums and diviners discover the will of spirits. Many women and some men are subject to possession by masabe and, when treatment is completed, may treat others similarly afflicted. Since the 1970s, some Tonga have become heads of evolving cults. Witch finders, today based in the towns, provide a means of controlling sorcerers. Evangelists, pastors, and other Christian leaders are other religious figures.

Ceremonies. Christians attend church services, and Christmas and Easter are now days of feasting. Appeals for rain and community protection are held at local shrines, but such rites are now rare among Plateau Tonga. Mediums are consulted by neighborhood delegations to learn why communal spirits are angry and how to renegotiate relationships with them. The spirits may demand an offering of beer or the sacrifice of a chicken, goat, or cow, after which those attending share a communion meal. Men and women pour an offering of beer at the doorway of a dwelling or at a special spirit shrine in the doorway. The beer should be made from grain grown in the field of the supplicant. Possession by invading spirits is treated by holding the appropriate dance and drama, through which the demands of the spirit are enacted.

Arts. Wood carving, pottery, basketry and metalwork are utilitarian, although fine pieces are made. Beadwork was formerly elaborate, but beads are now scarce and styles have changed. Music is important: Gwembe Tonga pride themselves on their drum teams; musical instruments include several types of drums, antelope-horn flutes, rattles, hand pianos, musical bows, and crude xylophones. Guitars, homemade banjos or ukeleles, and accordions cater to new musical interests. Men compose elaborate songs describing personal adventures or embodying insulting comments toward others. Women compose lullabies, dirges, and other songs. Beer drinking is enlivened by dramatic dancing.

Medicine. Illness is attributed to the anger of ancestral spirits, sorcery, the misuse of medicines acquired for success, the use of a tabooed substance, or spirit invasion. Minor illnesses are considered normal. Treatment may involve driving out an invading ghost through fumigation, sucking out the intrusive object, cupping (drawing blood by suction), pacifying an indignant ancestor, or taming an invading alien spirit through a dance, as well as the use of medicines. Herbalists supplement the widespread knowledge of home remedies. Medicines are infused and drunk, rubbed into cuts, or used in fumigation. People also use Western medicine, dispensed by hospitals, local health centers, private doctors, and herbalists.

Death and Afterlife. Infants and small children are given abbreviated funerals, and their spirits return to their mother's womb to be reborn. Adults receive elaborate funerals in preparation for their return as ancestral spirits at the end of the funeral, when the chosen guardian is pointed out to the spirit. If possible, beer is poured in its honor, to which it summons fellow spirits, thereby becoming acceptable to them. Burial is immediate, and usually close to the dwelling of the deceased; some villages have established cemeteries. Formerly, bodies were buried in the fetal position; today they are laid at full length and, if possible, in a coffin. Christians attend and pray over the grave even if the deceased was not a Christian.

Rainmaking ceremonies

Rainmaking ceremonies malende or mpande, are some of the most significant traditions in Tonga culture. Many Tonga believe that special skills are bestowed upon rainmakers, the sikatongo- these are spiritual leaders who preside over agricultural shrines. It is these men and women who communicate with the ancestral spirits to ensure sufficient rains and good harvests. They are inheritors of the spirits of the founding Tonga people.
Rain ceremony is carried out in times of drought: ‘ certain year rains do not come in time, perhaps there is a severe drought, [the rainmaker] is consulted by the elders as to what the problem could be and what needs to be done if the situation is to be corrected. Once consulted, he advises as to whether or not rain will be there that season and what needs to be done by the people by way of carrying out a rainmaking ceremony.”

The actual rainmaking ceremony would include the sacrifice of a goat and the participation of all community members: “[The rainmaker] normally, in such a situation, advises that the people raise a black goat for slaughter for sacrifice at a specially made shrine at his house. Offals are taken to the hot springs (mbila) where they are duly offered to the rain spirits by dipping them in hot salty water. A day would normally be appointed performing this ceremony. All participants walk to the rainmaker’s home and there is no one allowed to put on white attire as white scares away rain and white clouds do not bring rain anyway. People go there as a group and sing as they walk to his house.. .”

The participants sing and dance and use certain colours to appease the rain spirits: “As people get to the rainmaker‘s place, they continue singing and the tempo is usually raised and they dance too, around the rain shrine. Meanwhile the rainmaker would be lying in his house communicating with the rain spirits. At an appropriate time, he gets out of the house dressed in his rainmaking ceremony attire. These are two pieces of cloth, a black one and a red one. The red one is strapped around his waist while the other is strung across his shoulder and he holds two ceremonial sticks of kafir corn stock in his hands. These are called “misfunko” in the local language. He also carries a ceremonial axe called “bukano” in Tonga. This is an arch-shaped axe.”
The role of the rainmaker is very significant because he communicates the information of the spirits about rain and harvests to the community: “He joins the dances around the rain shrine. At that point, he will announce to the people what the rain situation is. He will tell them whether there will be just a little rain and warn people to brace themselves for hard times ahead in view of the would-be impending hunger. He will tell or warn them what to do - like grow enough or just a little food - depending on his observation about the rain that season. Accordingly, appointed elders will present peoples requests that they be given water for drinking, both for themselves and their animals, as well as water for their crops. A procession then follows fromh is house to the rain shrine at the hot springs. The rainmaker joins the people as they walk while singing and dancing. They even ululate. At the hot springs, the singing and ululating continues as well as clapping while the rainmaker then performs his duties of calling upon the rain spirits to accede to people‘s requests. Once the ritual is over, the rainmaker directs that the people walk back to their homes, but taking the route through the rainmaker’s home.

Somewhere on the way, he tells those staying far to break off from the rest of the people and walk fast to their homes as rain was going to find them on the way. You will find before people reach their homes rain falls down. When this happens, people are required to walk on and singing happily that the much needed rain has come at last.”

Tonga female initiation rite

According to Tonga tradition, when a girl is about to reach puberty, she is  told that she is  expected to start crying without any reasonable cause immediately she sees blood soiling her underwear, which signals the beginning of her menstrual cycle. This is a signal for the parents to know that their daughter has come of age. Upon hearing her daughter’s cry, the mother has to call the paternal aunt (Father’s elder or younger sister or father’s female cousin). She will teach the girl how to look after herself each time she has her menses.

The young girl is strongly warned against having sex with male companions. Falling pregnant out of wedlock is strictly forbidden in Tonga tradition as this robs parents of potential measure of wealth when the time to marry off their daughter comes. Tongas marry off their daughters by charging their bride price in form of herds of cattle. A Tonga virgin known as NAKALINDU, can be paid for at as 10 herds of cattle as bride price.

When a girl comes of age, an initiation ceremony is held, which is known as KUVUNDIKA (Seclusion) young girl being indicted into the initiation is called KAMWALE, which simply means’ one who has come of age’. The other word is KUYALUKA. The initiation ceremony, KUVUNDIKA, takes between one to two months of initiation. During the period of seclusion, girls are not expected to go out and play after school work. When time comes for the secluded girls to take a bath, the girls are sneaked into the darkness of the early-morning hours to the river before everyone else in the village works up. This is so because according to Tonga tradition, these girls are not to be seen by the other people anyhow during the period of their initiation.

Girls who are in day schools are allowed to go to school and immediately return to the initiation hut after school work. Those that attend boarding school are initiated during holidays.

In the village, the message of initiation of a KAMWALE is spread across the village and near by villages by beating a traditional drum called” NDANDALA.”The people in the village and nearby village would know that there is a girl or a group of girls who has come of age at the sound of the drum. Even during meal times, the elderly women who are expected to live with the girls during the initiation prepare food that is taken to the girls in their secluded hut.

 During their seclusion, the girl or girls are taught by elderly women on how to traditional show respect to their in-laws when they get married. Other issues such as hygiene, abstinence from sex and how to conduct themselves in adult life are also taught.

The climax reaches when the date for release of the girl or girls from seclusion is set. The closing of the initiation occurs at an occasion known as NKOLOLA. Events leading to the closing of the initiation begin two days before the girls are released from seclusion.

Two days before the end of the initiation, elderly women put water in a clay port which is known as CHIBIYA. The water is poured on the unsuspecting girl who is not expected to shriek or show shock, but only remain quiet, calm and composed. Doing this, for a girl, symbolizes a strong character of a growing courageous woman who will be able to deal with impervious obstacles in her adult life.

A night before release, people gather to celebrate by singing and beating drums such as NDANDALA, which is made of wood and cow skin; MPITO and NYELE, traditional instruments made of clay and reeds respectively. The dances performed during this night are called KULINDA NKOLOLA (Waiting for the last day of initiation) and CHIN’GANDE. At this occasion, a cow, chickens and goats are slaughtered for people to feed during celebrations.

Then the morning that everyone would have been waiting for arrives: the KAMWALE is led out of the secluded hut by the elderly women, covered in a blanket. She is led to sit on a reed mat at the arena of the occasion of her release with two elderly women seated by her side. Her father is called upon to uncover the blanket to reveal the KAMWALE to the public. Before he does this, he beats the NDANDALA drum and sings a song of self-praise in form of a poem known as KUYABILA. He next puts a certain amount of money on the reed mat where his daughter is seated and uncovers the girl. He later gives her advice and showers her with his blessings. After him, the rest of the people on the occasion present their various gifts to the KAMWALE, and thereafter, the ceremony ends. The young woman has begun her journey to into adult life.

Importance of Coming of age ceremony: nkolola 
Stanard says: “The initiation ceremony is held when a girl or girls reach puberty. It is aimed at grooming a girl into and preparing her to enter womanhood, let alone motherhood. The ceremony is to show that the girl is now grown up. The ancestral spirits are also informed accordingly through conducting this ceremony and are asked, in their own way, to join in the celebration. As for the boys, especially if that girl has a boyfriend, they too are informed about the new status of the girl. As for the training part itself the girl is confined in a house, for weeks or days, where she undergoes instruction about what is expected of her as a woman, and possibly as a mother. So I would say the initiation ceremony is a school whereby a girl is trained to be a woman, and a mother possibly.. . The trainers are elderly women of high reputation in society. ’’

Ceremonies to honour the dead

The Tonga also perform ceremonies to commemorate the spirits of the dead, which are called budima or ngoma buntibe. The spirits are perceived to play a beneficial role in the lives of the living as protectors but they can also cause illnesses and misfortunes if they are neglected. Some narrators say that these ceremonies are still performed; other people say they have changed or disappeared. Many narrators believe that these changes are a result of the social disruption caused by the resettlement, as well as the influence of Christian and western beliefs.

Siabalombe vividly describes a budima ceremony: “Budima is performed when there is a death. If the death is in another village some distance from here for instance, the big drum would be sounded verye arly in the morning and the men with bells and rattles would then perform a war cry... The whole village would then hear us and know that come sunrise, the budima is going to that funeral in that village.. . the whole village would gather at the base where the big drum was sounding. Details about the procession would be given out.. . The preparations would include haircuts in readiness for a war situation. Appropriate dressing in, for example, loincloths for men.. . You would find that maybe three or four budima troupes would converge at the funeral site that day. The point is that only one budima troupe has to perform at any one given time, not two or more. If more than one budima troupe perform simultaneously, then there is a very high probability of opposite performers’ spears spearing each other.. .. You will appreciate that [in a budima troupe] there are drummers, there are nyeele players and there are thosew ho dance with spears.. .. The women sing togetherw ith men.
The women also get heated up with their rattles.. .. Once the drums sound.. . it is a serious business.”

Tonga Traditional Music

Tonga traditional music is very rich and diverse, but it is also in a state of constant transition in which much of the traditional music has been lost and new music has been introduced, which elders would consider as a sad departure from the traditional music which they knew.

Perhaps the best way to try and understand Tonga music is to take each musical expression and give an account of exactly how it is performed. In this task we have sought the knowledge of the elders in what we have written. We have taken every musical item and described it as best we can.

Kutwa. This is traditional music which is connected with work, in particular pounding songs (kutwa). In the past much of a woman's life was spend on pounding: it took a lot of time to pound for the ordinary meals of the day. When a woman was pounding she was usually singing, so over the years she built up quite an extensive repertoire of pounding songs. If you examine the content of these songs you would get a complete picture of Tonga life, for example she would sing about problems of marriage, different characters (such as her mother-in-law, the local headman etc.) and about her own emotions. Nowadays pounding has decreased compared to the past. Women also sang during grinding.

Kuyabila. The Kuyabila song is very important to a Tonga person. It was sung by one person alone (man or woman) accompanied by the friction drum (Namalwa) or a rattle (Muyuwa). It could be also accompanied by an ordinary drum (Ngoma) using a special rhythm. It could be performed at a funeral or any time in every-day-life in order to release personal feelings. When somebody sang in this way people would listen carefully to what was being sung, because when a person sang like this they revealed some hidden experiences, which would not be expressed at other times. For example a man could sing in praise of his cattle, of a difficult journey he had undertaken or to give himself courage and bravery when facing fear. Like the pounding song it could cover many different experiences of life. In the middle of the song the listeners would call out, encouraging him as he sings (Kumutembula). At the end of the Kuyabila the performer would conclude by calling down praise names on himself (Kulibanda). To the Tonga this is not a kind of conceit, but a way to encourage oneself in enduring the difficulties of life.

Kalumbu & Kankobela. The Kalumbu is a one stringed musical bow used by the men. Attached to it is a gourd which is used as a resonator and can change the sound according to the movement to or from the chest. Like the pounding songs for the woman it is performed to express inner feelings or different experiences of life. There is one important function of the Kalumbu. When the time comes for a young man to be married, he will be found continuously playing this instrument. To his parents this will be a sign of his wish to find a companion and marry. The Kankobela is a small wooden keyboard into which are inserted about eight metal keys, beneath them a hole is pierced which in turn is covered with a white substance which covers the spiders eggs, (Namundelele), used to alter the sound of the piano according to the preference of the musician. The keys are tuned according to a pentatonic scale. Like the Kalumbu the musician uses the Kankobela to describe his feelings and different experiences of life.

Chikaambe-kaambe. Cikaambe-kaambe is a dance which is performed during the initiation training of a girl. There were different styles of dancing Cikaambe-kaambe which were connected with particular songs:

Mulupumbe. One girl would enter quickly followed by another girl and so on until all had danced. The movements of this manner of dancing concentrated on the shoulders and the legs. Hiya mwana mwana: The right leg was lifted high in the air following the rhythm of the drum. The hands were thrown forwards and backwards while the performer looked from side to side.

Ndikiti. This dance could be performed at initiation, as well as for funerals and beer parties. At initiation it was danced during the previous night of the coming out of the girl and the following day of the actual feast. At the funeral it was danced before the deceased was buried and at the actual burial. It was danced while encircling the grave and the drum was in the middle. Apart from that it was danced at the months mind (Mweesyo). The songs and the style of dancing of Ndikiti at a funeral were performed to suit the sorrowful occasion. Ndikiti was also danced with more freedom at beer parties, when people had imbibed plenty of alcohol and had become happy. In general we can say that the lyrics of Ndikiti were well developed compared to other more simple forms of Tonga singing. In different areas Ndikiti can be called Haamatika, Mayanze and Bukonkoolo.

Kukambilana. This dance was also performed at initiation, funerals and beer parties, in each case suiting the mood of the occasion. The dancers formed a circle then each one would enter in turn to dance. Mime was one of the characteristics of this dance: the dancer would mimic people or animals, often in amusing situations.

Makwaya. It was performed for initiation, during the wedding and for general entertainment. The people would stand in a circle with the drum in the middle.

Bukonkoolo. At the beginning this dance was very much connected with funerals. The instrument used was the pestle, this was placed on the ground and several women would sit on either side and beat out an integrated rhythm with sticks. Other women would encircle them while dancing.

Budima. This dance was first of all connected with the funeral of a chief or a rich person. This dance originated in the Gwembe Valley. It was accompanied by flutes (Nyeele) and a large ensemble of special drums, each with their specific name.

Masabe. This dance was connected with sickness: the sick person was asked to dance and that is how recovery came. There was a special rhythm connected with each type of sickness. There were three drums played.

Ngoma Yabukali. The Ngoma Yabudali was originally connected with dangerous situations, for example if the villages were raided by other tribes (such as the Lozi, Matebele or the Makololo). It was beaten to warn the people of the impending attacks, similarly if there was a lion in the district it was beaten, to inform the people of its presence. So the rhythm of the Ngoma Yabudali was very vigorous. In modern times it's more associated with expressions of joy. The dance accompanying it was called Kutambala. People still use spears as they dance it. It is also used when an elderly person dies; it is played in the morning and in the evening. The drums would be accompanied by rattles and what is called Kuzemba.

Kalyaba. This probably is the most popular dance of the Batonga at present. It can be played at different occasions such as funerals, initiation and at beer parties. It is danced by men and women. Two drums are in the centre of the arena and the dancers dance in a circle.