The Bondei People (Swahili: Wabondei) are a Bantu ethnic group based in Pangani District in east Tanga Region in northeastern Tanzania. Bondei speak a Bantu language and are related to the Shambaa ethnic group.
The Bondei of Tanzania are numbering 183,000 (Peoplegroups.org, 2023)
The name "Bondei" was given to the people by the Kilindi dynasty after their conquest, who called them "WaBondei"- people of the valley. This was to describe the people who lived between the Lwengera Valley and the sea east of the usambaras. After the Kilindi Kingdom collapsed in 1868, the Bondei moved southwards from Magila near present day town of Muheza towards southern Muheza District and most of Pangani District. They also moved lands south of the Sigi River. However, due to rampant slave raiding after the collapse of the Kilindi kingdom, some Zigua migrants also became the Bondei people for protection escaping to Magila. The Bondei population is roughly 100,000. Most of Bondei people reside in Pangani District where they engage in different activities, especially small-scale agriculture. Some Bondei also reside in east Muheza District. The first Bondei to go overseas was a man named Dr. Geldart Mhando in 1890.
The language of the Bondei is a Bantu language called Bondei or Bonde. The Ethnologue reports that the speakers of the Bondei language are shifting to Swahili. Many of the languages of Tanzania have less than 1000 speakers, and some linguistic sources report that 93.4% of Tanzania’s population speak Swahili as a second language.
Many tribes are fully bilingual and many, like the Bondei, are shifting into the Swahili language stream. As new generations learn only Swahili as a mother tongue, their traditional speech is gradually dying out.
The Ethnologue reports that the Bondei language has been influenced linguistically by neighbouring Doe and Kwere, and Bondei has likewise influenced them. It is close to the neighbouring Bantu languages of Shambala, Zigula and Ngulu.
The Bondei, as well as their Digo neighbours, depend on livestock keeping and fishing along the coast. In the past they were a more warlike people, attacking the Kilindi who had moved into their territory, fomenting a resistance to the Kilindi hegemony in the 1860s.
The Bondei have been affected by the presence of Islam. Like most of their neighbours, the majority consider themselves Muslims. But also like some of their neighbours, they have a form of Islam which retains traditional practices, sometimes referred to as “folk Islam.”
The Bondei were understandably terrified by the Kiva revolt, which allowed them to reclaim their freedom, and the restoration of the kingdom. The Bondei, a staunchly stateless people, were unable to recognize any one of their kind as leader since any family head would invariably spark opposition from all other families. The Germans and early British regimes both appointed foreign akidas to deal with this challenge, but because to Cameron's intense hate of akidas, the akida had to be transformed into an elected jumbe Mkuu (superior headman).
The two candidates for the inaugural election in November 1925 were Geldart Mhina, a Christian Bondei clerk and the founder of TTACSA, and John Juma, the serving akida and the son of a Bondei man and a Kilindi woman. Despite the fact that everyone would have wanted John Juma to be an akida, 95% of the elders and headmen chose him, according to the provincial commissioner. The losing party interpreted the selection of a part-Kilindi as a return of Kilindi hegemony.
Bondei elders were unable to choose a jumbe Mkuu twice more between the wars, in 1930 and 1934, and were forced to accept the government's candidacy of persons with Kilindi ties. Bondei acquired the skill of presenting political assertions in terms of the past in the interim. While Geldart Mhina disputed that he was the last surviving member of Bonde's old kings, his followers asserted that they were reminded of the Kilindi carnage during Kiva "every time we see a Kilindi on the throne." Strangely, their idea of a "pure Bondei" derived from those members of the Shambaa-Zigua language group who lived "in the valley.