Ha people


Ha / Abaha / Waha

The Ha, also called Waha in Swahili or Abaha, are a Bantu ethnic group found in Kigoma Region in northwestern Tanzania bordering Lake Tanganyika.

The Ha population is estimated to number1,850,000 (Peoplegroups.org, 2023), making them one of the largest ethnic groups in ethnically diverse Tanzania. Their country, which they call Buha, comprises grasslands and open woodlands.

Ha People


Their language is a Bantu language, and is called the Ha language, also called Kiha, Ikiha or Giha. It is closely related to the Kirundi and Kinyarwanda spoken in neighbouring Burundi and Rwanda, and belongs to the Niger-Congo family of languages.


Social structure

At the head of each group was a chief, always of Tutsi origin, and the territory, divided into small provinces, was administered by sub-chiefs who were also Tutsi. Dependence manifested itself in the form of clientele, so practiced by the Tutsi in all the territories they dominated.

Chiefs and sub-chiefs, some of whom managed to make their position hereditary, applied justice according to their own traditions and administered their small territories with the help of advisers appointed by themselves. The income for the payment of the rulers came from sanctions, confiscations, gifts and mandatory benefits.



Agriculture is their primary economic activity. Sorghum, millet, corn (maize), cassava, yams, peanuts (groundnuts), and other crops were cultivated by hoe techniques until efforts were made by the Tanzanian government to introduce plow agriculture. Cattle are raised mostly in the southwestern grasslands of Buha; elsewhere there is less water and problems with tsetse flies.Good weather and sufficient rains led to the introduction of coffee for export.



The nuclear family constitutes the fundamental economic unit and lives in huts built in the form of a beehive; polygamy makes each woman live in a hut with her children, so that several of these can appear together in a scattered habitat devoid of villages. The clans are patrilineal and constitute clearly defined groups, but not corporate, that do not have any relation to the territory in which they live, nor do they have chiefs. Each clan has its own totem which is ordinarily an animal that cannot be killed or eaten.
At some time, slavery must have existed and those interested in having slaves seem to have favored women, buying them from Arabs and other peoples. The blacksmith occupies an important position in society; pottery is only carried out by men, while basketry work is left to women.

For the Ha, as with a number of peoples of East Africa, cattle are vital as the gifts that help establish social ties at marriage or on other occasions. Goats and other livestock are also raised.



The Ha people are animists who revere their ancestors as well as nature spirits. Their traditional religion includes Imana deity as their supreme being and creator. They have witnessed Islamic missionary activity from the Arabs since the pre-colonial era and Christian missionary activity during the German and British colonial era thereafter from Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and others.

The "Great Spirits" are worshiped almost every day of the year. The greatest is Kiranda who likes beer very much and can produce good and sometimes also evil. The men who serve him must be initiated and chosen by Kiranga himself, whose choice is manifested by psychic-physical anomalies in the candidate, interpreted by the diviner.

This fortune teller is a very important and influential character, since he has special relations with the divinity. He is always next to the boss. To be so, he had to receive the instruction of another fortune teller or have been chosen by Rubambo, the fortune teller of Kiranga. The goodness of the fortune teller is not opposed by the sorcerer, to whom death, sterility and other ills are attributed; that is why his identity is not known.



The Ha reside in dispersed homesteads, normally as an extended family with a few generations of related males at its core.



The Ha, who claim to have lived in Buha indefinitely into the past, were contacted and described by Arab travelers in the 19th century; by the end of the century several European explorers and missionaries had made brief visits. For some years up to the end of World War I this area was under a tenuous German colonial authority. An invasion of troops from the former Belgian Congo (now Congo [Kinshasa]) was followed by the British, who reinforced the system of indirect rule that had been established by the Germans. The Ha, nevertheless, could not be forced to provide labour for the British during World War II, and the British subsequently introduced a system of regulation involving taxes, fines, and salaries. Since independence the Tanzanian government has discouraged political organization based on independent kingdoms and ethnic distinctions. The Ha numbered about 1,000,000 at the end of the 20th century.


Society and culture

The Ha people call the lake bordering the area they live in as Buha, and the region consists of grasslands and open woodlands. The Ha people share the northwestern part of Tanzania with the Sukuma, the Haya, the Zinza, the Hangaza and the Subi ethnic groups.
The Ha people grow sorghum, millet, corn (maize), cassava, yams, peanuts and other crops. Wherever the tse tse fly problem is minor, the Ha people raise cattle, goats and other livestock that are highly valued in Ha society and gifted at marriage. In the northern parts of their territories, where the tse tse fly problem is significant, they hunt and gather honey.



Historically, the Ha are were considered politically as one tribe, divided into the Following small kingdoms Based on two districts; Kasulu District: Heru, Kunkanda, Nkalinzi or Bujiji and Bushingo Kingdoms. Kibondo District: Muhambwe Kingdom and Banyingu Kingdom. They use a common language and have similar cultural customs. Bujiji was geographically separated from Kasulu District and became part of Kigoma District. According to the 1948 Tanganyika census, the Ha were the third largest tribe in Tanganyika Territory.

On a larger scale Buha traditionally existed as six independent kingdoms, called Buyunga, Muhambwe, Heru, Luguru (Kunkanda), Bushingo, and Bujiji (Nkalinzi). Since about the 18th century a small number—about 2 percent—of Tutsi people have lived among the Ha. The Tutsi, the well-known East African pastoralists, have formed an aristocratic ruling class. At the same time the two groups substantially share language and culture and at times have intermarried.


Social structure

The Ha people live in dispersed homes, typically as a joint family whose male members are related by their lineage. Since about the 18th century, the Tutsi people have lived among the Ha people, but as a small minority (2%), but typically in an aristocratic role. The two ethnic groups substantially share language and culture and there is some intermarriage. The Ha women share some cultural traditions with neighboring ethnic groups, such as wearing the Kitindi, or coiled bracelets made of copper wire worn near the elbow.