The Makua people, also known as Makhuwa, are a Bantu ethnic group found in northern Mozambique and the southern border provinces of Tanzania such as the Mtwara Region.
They are the largest ethnic group in Mozambique, and primarily concentrated in a large region to the north of the Zambezi River.
They are studied by sociologists in four geographical and linguistic sub-divisions: the lower or Lolo Makua, the upper or Lomwe Makua, the Maua and the Niassa Makua or Medo.
They speak variants of the Makua language, also called Emakua, and this is a Bantu-group language. The total Makua population is estimated to be about 3.5 million of which over 1 million speak the lower (southern) dialect and about 2 million the upper (northern, Lomwe) version; given the large region and population, several ethnic groups that share the region with the Makua people also speak the Emakua.
The Makua or Makhua also known as Makhuwa-Meetto, Macua, Emeto, Amakhua, Makhuwa-Shirima, Medo, Wamakua etc are Bantu-speaking African and the largest ethnic group in Mozambique, and also have a large population across the border in the Masasi District of Mtwara Region in southern Tanzania. The Makua or Macua are well known for holding tight to their traditional African worship and their unique white "musiro" facial mask.
The Makhuas live in an extensive area that covers the northern parts of Mozambique and includes the Cabo Delgado, Niassa, Zambézia and Nampula provinces. This area stretces from the Rovuma river in the North to the Licungo river in the South (in the vicinity of the Zambezi river) and from the Indian Ocean in the East to the Lugenda river in the West. As far as the Maúa district is concerned, it forms part of Northern Niassa and covers an area of approximately 10 000km2.
There is no uniformity amongst the few sources available when it comes to the population numbers of the Makhuas. According to Africa South of the Sahara 2001 (789, 805), the population of Mozambique in 2000 was 17 242 240. The biggest ethno-linguistic group is the Makhua-Lomwe group which comprises about 40 percent of the total population. Moseley & Asher (1924: 296) estimate the Makhua-Lomwe speakers to be in the vicinity of 7,653,000. Dalby (1998: 386) is of opinion that there are about 3,500,000 of these that speak Makhua ( as opposed to Lomwe speakers). The Pittman & Grimes Ethnologue of 2000 estimates that there are approximately 900 000 Makhua Xirima speakers. This is definitely an over estimation. There are probably not more than 300 000 Makhua Xirima speakers.
Other Makua people were known to be residing in South Africa in a Durban city called Bluff. However, due to the Group Areas Act, they were forcibly removed from Bluff and settled in Bayview, Chatsworth, Durban in 1960. Although the majority of the Amakua people in South Africa were settled in Bayview, some live in Wentworth, Marianhill, Marianridge, Umlazi, Newlands East and West, Pietermaritzburg, Cape Town and Johannesburg. The Makua people in South Africa are mostly Muslims.
The Makua/emakhua is a Niger-Congo or Bantu language is predominantly spoken among the people, alongside Afrikaans and Zulu (in South Africa), Portuguese in Mozambique, some Swahili by the elders of the community but still spoken by many on the Tanzania-Mozambican border, and English in South Africa and Tanzania. According to Newitt (1995: 62 – 63) the distinctive Makhua dialects originated from one Makhua language that was spoken about a thousand years ago. “The Makua language is now spoken in dialects sufficiently distinct to suggest that a thousand years may have passed since the break-up of the original Makua speaking group”. There are no clear answers as to the etymology of the word “Makhua” . Hypotheses vary from “savages” (thus a non Makhua term ascribed to them from the outside) to “person who yell” (okhuwa/okhuwela means to yell or shout for joy) to “those who come from Goa” (thus “MaKoa”).
According to Prata (1960: 3) the most plausible solution is found in the word “nikhuwa” which probably comes from nikuwa and which means “an extensive desolate marshland” or even “jungle”.
Many believe they originated on a sacred mountain called mount Namuli. There is a cave on the mountain from which all the animals were born. A female foot is said to be imprinted on the outside of the cave – hence the matrilineal family structure.
A mythical legend, in the oral tradition of the Makua people, tells that their ancestor were the first man and woman born of Namuli which is their original home, while other living creatures came from nearby mountains. Scholars are uncertain whether their origins are in the mountains, or west of Lake Malawi, or northern lands such as in Tanzania or the south. However they concur that they likely have been an established ethnic group in northern Mozambique region by the 1st millennium CE. The Makua people are closely related to the Animist Maravi people. They have had a history of conflict with the Muslim Yao people in the north involved in slave raids and slave trading.
The Makua people have a documented history of metal ore processing and tools manufacturing. The colonial era Portuguese naturalist, Manuel Galvao da Silva for example, described iron mines of the Makua people. Similarly, the French explorer Eugene de Froberville summarized the indigenous Makua iron manufacturing methods from iron ore, where the Makua people extracted the metal by processing the ore in a wood-burning hearth as a community. The extracted metal was then worked into axes, knives, spear, rings and other items.
The Makua people have traditionally been dedicated to agriculture and hunting, yet medieval era documents suggest that the Makua people were also successful traders that controlled the trade routes between Lake Malawi and the Atlantic coast doing brisk business with the Swahili (East Africa) and Gujarati (India) merchants before the start of the colonial era. However, prior to the 18th-century, the Makua population was primarily exchanging food, ivory tusks and metal products for textiles, salt and other products, but they were not involved in the trade of ivory or gold.
The Portuguese who arrived in Mozambique in early 16th-century describe them for their trading relationships and expertise. The colonial settlers contacted the Makua people in early 16th century. The Makua people were generally peaceful with the colonial Portuguese in 17th century and through about the mid 18th century. However, with a rise in plantations, dramatic increase in ivory trade which required large scale killing of elephants, and particularly slave raids that captured Makua people in the 18th-century, the Makua people retaliated with a war of attrition from 1749 onwards, against the Portuguese and those ethnic groups that supported the colonial interests, and against the Sultans on the African coast of Indian Ocean.
In early 18th-century, states Edward Alpers, the primary demand for slaves out of Makua people, and Mozambique in general, came not from Portugal or its Indian Ocean colonies such as Goa because labor was readily available in South Asia and Portuguese colonial empire in Asia was small. The largest demand came from the 'Umani Arabs seeking slaves for domestic labor and the French who lacked plantation workers but controlled nearby island colonies such as Comoros, Réunion, Madagascar, Seychelles, Isle de France (now Mauritius) and others. With the growth of Portuguese interests in Brazil and of plantation owners from other colonial empires in the Caribbean, North and South America, the demand for slaves grew dramatically. The Makua people were one of the major victims of this demand, slave capture and export that attempted to satisfy this demand.
The Makua people also became victims of the slave raids and capture from their north. The Yao people targeted them to meet the slave demand of Swahili Arabs centered around Zanzibar. After being victims of the slave raids and devastated communities, the Makua chiefs joined the lucrative trading in the 19th-century by becoming a supplier of slaves and raiding ethnic groups near them, selling the captured people to the same merchants and exporters. The exports of Makua people has led to this ethnic group's presence in many islands of the Indian Ocean such as Madagascar, the Caribbean, the United States and elsewhere.
According to Palmer and Newitt, one of the strategies deployed by Africans and Arab slave raiders and traders was to dehumanize the Makua and Lomwe communities, by publicly stereotyping them as "barbarous and savage tribes", which made slave buyers between 1800 and 1880 feel justified and righteous in "exploiting, civilizing" them from their barbarous ways. In truth, state modern era scholars, the historical evidence and economic success of Makua people suggest that they were peaceful and industrious.
The Makhuas are mainly peasants that are making a living by planting maize and other produce on their little pieces of land. The so-called subsistence farming which characterize so many parts of Africa is also typical of the Makhuas. Other forms of economical activities include hunting and fishing. In the Maúa District maize is produced on a large scale and it is their main source of food. It is planted when the first rains announce the rainy season (“eyita”), usually in the middle of December. Other vegetables that are planted are pumpkin, sweet potatoes and rye. Some families and especially certain areas also plant cotton, rice or beans. A lot of people in the Maúa District plant sunflowers these days because of the press and factory on the mission station in Muapula.
Some products that are planted and produced are used for barter and some to be sold for money. Each adult member is allocated a piece of land (“ematta”) by the headman of the area. The first phase is then to clear the land (“Mphelelo”). All the trunks and roots are taken out during the dry season (“elimwe”) that last from April to November. The man chops down the trees and the woman dig up the ground. The second phase starts with the sowing (“waala”). The rainy season is critically important to the Makhuas for their survival. Sowing is mainly the woman’s task and from the sowing time until the harvest time, the main task is to clean their lands (“olima”). Towards the end of the rainy season it is time to harvest, the third phase (“ohepha”). The whole family takes part in the harvesting. The harvest is put into a “bush silo” (“ntatha”) that stands on wooden poles. The Makhuas basic diet consists of maize that are stamped (othita) by the woman and are cooked to make “eshima” or a type of maize porridge without salt.
“Women have historically been responsible for all domestic tasks. In the towns and cities, they generally are confined to the home, whereas in rural areas, they play an important role in the agricultural labor force.” Woman also engage in making clay pots for cooking.
Makua people believe in their traditional ancient African worship. About 67% of Makua people practice ethnic traditional religions. Some statistics list the Makua as the largest animistic people group in Africa. They believe in a God (“Muluku”) who created the whole world and are almighty, but who is also remote and not involved in the ordinary daily things of humans. The forefathers are treated as intermediaries between them and God. They have a saying in Makhua: “Muluku mukumi, makholo murette” : God is life, the forefathers are medicine. This is a very significant saying. Muluku (God) is life – He is the author of life. He is the creator of all things. We have already received life. What is now needed from time to time is not life, but medicine – we need the forefathers during our lives, but God to give life. He is also almighty and knows everything. But he is aloof and not involved.
God is far away. In the Makhuas culture, the more important people are often left alone and are not frequently disturbed by “ordinary” people with less important matters. They are left alone to live peacefully (Martinez, 1988: 231). In a certain sense they have the same attitude towards God. His distance from man does not imply however that He is ignorant of man’s activities. Some of the Makhua sayings underline the contrary:
Every clan in Makua had a shrine where they worshipped God. These shrines were normally under "Msoro" tree and not at any other place. The place was normally kept clean and the Msoro tree was normally wrapped up with a piece of a new "Nakoto" cloth made from the bark of a "Mpakala" tree to warn the would be worshippers that the place is holy.
The Makua has one holy shrine known to local spiritual tourists as "Tingatinga sacred places." The place is called Mkwera Bwawani, simply translated as Mkwera pond situated 4 km from the main road Lindi - Ndanda. The pond is said to be a place of miracles in 1960s. Bwawani has been visited by thousands of sick people and fortune seekers alike. The bathe in the pond is holy and a short ceremony must be executed before entering the waters.
Every morning worshippers gathered at the "Msoro" tree to say their morning prayers and ask God their God for his protection during the day. After the prayers they went away to continue with their daily activities.
At sun-set in the evening they visited the shrine (Msoro) to thank God for protection afforded them during the day and asked Him for his protection afforded them during the day and they asked Him for his protection during oncoming night and bide their goodnight to him Children were not allowed to come to these shrines. However, there were special or important situations when each Makua had to offer special offerings to God, especially before the planting or harvesting season. Other major occasions or situations where offerings were given to God after the outbreak of epidemic and prolonged periods of drought. On each of such occasion many varied sacrifices were brought to the "Msoro" tree and placed at the disposal of God. Those who brought the sacrifices at the place of worship were important or distinguished men like "Mwene" (Chief) the best hunters or famous farmers and warriors. These people had to squat at the shrine and call their "Mluku" (God) by the customary names intended to give honour to him. The problem facing the villagers was normally mentioned and God was asked to help or avert problems. Makua people believed that God was the creator of the world and mankind and that there was nothing above Him. God was normally called by several customary names in Makua tribe.
They would refer to him as "the only who pays every person according to his merit, the saviour of mankind and guardian and protector." They normally made up names designed to give Him honour. Makua people maintain strongly that they trust in God-"the invisible one" and dispute bitterly claim that before the arrival of the Arabs and the white man Makuas were pagans and worshipped trees and idols. They claim that such claims saved the interest of the foreigners and contributed to the massacre of the Makua system of worshiping which ultimately erased makua culture.
The Makua were converted to Islam due to Arab influence in the region before the arrival of Europeans. About 18% of Makua are Islam, and about 15.00 % of them are Christians (Evangelical: 4.00 %).
In Makua tribe circumcision is mandatory. When a boy attain the age of 12 years his parents make arrangements for his circumcision. The local chief commonly known as the Mwene normally summons his top advisor and a date is normally set for the circumcision ceremony. It is the Mwene's responsibility to appoint two people who are specialised in circumcision work. When all arrangement are ready the parents have a final assignment to accomplish. They have to build a hut to accommodate the children. The hut is normally built on the eve of the circumcision ceremony. On this day all parents and their relative and friends get into a festive mood and ngomas (tam-tams) will played throughout the night. The boy to be circumcised must shave his hair and in the evening all boys to be circumcised must be sent to the Mwene who prays to God and our ancestor to protect the children and avert all shortcomings while they are away from their parents. When the Mwene's, prayers are over the children are never allowed to get back to their homes. They normally housed or grouped in one selected room. From here each boys will be under the close eye of his NAMKU - a person charged with the task of taking care of the boy while away from his parents. It is the NAMKU's task to take the boy to the circumcision ground commonly known as MANAVA. The situation abruptly became serious. The circumcision ground is actually set near the M'MERA (hut) the ultimate residence of the children. As a rule the boys must have a heavy meal with a cock before their departure but are warned never to eat its skin or break a bone. When the meals are over the boys are immediately put under a strict guard and every NAMKU gets hold of his boy. At this stage the boys are advised to go and ease up themselves before being ushered to the circumcision ground.
I t is the chief of the clan (MWENE) who normally leads the people including the boys to be circumcised to the circumcision place. The boys are actually deceived that when they arrive there will enjoy or eat honey. The Makua circumcision exercise is normally brutal and cruel. What takes place is that the boy is striped of his loin cloth and is forced to lie on the ground when the (ngaliba) pulls up the skin of the penis and chops off the skin with a sharp knife and the wound is dressed with either local medicine of flavine. From here the boy is forced to drink cold water and placed to rest in the hut specially built for them.
It takes almost three weeks for the wound to heal and it is the responsibility of the NAMKU to take care of the boy. After a week in the bush where they are not allowed to meet with women the boys start intensive training on Makua traditions. Songs are normally sung and the boys are normally instructed to behave as grown-up and discard their old way of life.
If for any reason a Makua is not circumcised, he can not expect to marry a wife among the Makua. No Makua girl will take any man who is not circumcised.
The boys will stay away from their mothers for at least a month after which they are sent back to their homes.
Makua do not circumcise girls but after the age 12 the young girls are initiated and are taken away to their chiputu places. Two elders are chosen to train the girls Makua traditions. The girls normally stay away from their parents for two weeks.
When a girl reaches or attain the puberty stage she must undergo training for her future life. When her mother or aunt gets information from their daughter they fix the MATENGUSI date and invites relative who normally take part, in training the girl, an exercise which takes the whole day. The girl is warned never to have an affair with a man and is asked to protect her virginity if she is to get a husband.
No Makua girl will take a man in marriage before attaining the puberty stage. It is the responsibility of the mother to instruct and guide her daughter so that she may not fall a victim to the traps set by men. If a girl become pregnant before she is traditionally married, she is treated as an outcast and her presence is a bad omen. Her mother in turn, is looked upon as an irresponsible. For this reason special precautions were normally taken. As soon a girl attain the puberty stage and after the Matengusi education, she is taken to a specially room, until she gates a sweetheart. From then on-wards she is ready for marriage.
Makua people regards marriage as a sacred noble plan to rear a family in line with God's wishes. In Makua the birth of a baby girl carries special task and responsibilities. It is the duty of the mother to instruct and guide her daughter to avoid manoeuvres of men. A girl who become pregnant before her traditional marriage is treated as an outcast and her presence as eyesore.
Likewise, her mother is looked upon as an irresponsible sex-maniac. To avoid such short-coming special precaution are taken and adhered to until the girl gets married in accordance with Makua tradition. Before the massacre of makua tradition no makua girl was allowed to marry a non -makua man; likewise no makua boy was allowed to cross Makua boarders and take in marriage a non-Makua girl. Makua people paid no dowry to marry a girl. They regard a dowry as commercialising marriage.
When a young man thinks he is ready to take a wife he makes his intentions known to his parents. If his parents are no longer living he contact his uncle or his nearest relatives who will want to know how much money he has. If he is financially resourceful ( and provided he is of age ) his father will approve the plan. Friends and relative will be informed of the sons noble plan to own a family. He instruct them with the duty of looking for a young girl of untarnished character. Beauty is not the deciding factor but good character family history and background are important. If a girl is found who appeals to the suitor marriage arrangements get into motion. The mans uncle is normally responsible for establishing contact with the girl parents. As a rule a date is set on which the parties will meet. On the appointed day, the man must go to his in-laws to be accompanied with his uncle and few friends loaded with a good amount of money conversation will range from the days activities to the of the foreigner. After the conversation one of the elders accompanying the husband -to- starts talking in proverbs and as soon as very person has understood to the purpose of the mission, the hostess serves food for the guest.
After the meal is over, the man calls his daughter who will appear putting an air of indifference. All eyes are now focused in her the girls father will ask her daughter whether she is prepared to take the man as her husband. If she accept and confirm that she loves the man, then her father mentions the dowry price but if she turns down the offer the matter ends there. The husband to be will spend the night at his laws and may go back to his home the next day.
The dowry must be paid in full by the husband to be uncle's before they depart for home. From here on the young couple are considered as husband and wife.
The Makua regards death as unwanted, accidental and an called for event and caused by bad spirits or man. They believe that God never created us as his beloved sons and daughter only to kill us in the end. They also believe that there are strong forces or spirits which are more powerful than God Himself and that is why we loose our lives and die. There is no death in Makua which is not connected with witchcraft or bad spirits.
The pregnancy is six months old the couples parents must meet to prepare Ikahi briefings. A day will normally be fixed and the parents will inform friends and relatives who must attend and participate. Ikahi briefings are mandatory to a couple who expect to rear their first child. Defaulters are seriously reprimanded and deplored. Ikahi is a woman only business. Men are not allowed to attend the briefings, likewise a woman who has never conceived may not attend the briefings.
The only man allowed to attend Ikahi is the husband of the pregnant woman. As rule, the man must sit side by side with his wife. They will normally dress in black material and all of them must be half naked. The women will surround the couple dancing around. The briefings are accompanied with songs. They get briefings on how to protect the pregnancy and follow certain ethics until delivery day-In makua version the exercise is known-"Wiinanela Iwei". The expectant girl is warned never to have an affair with any other man except her husband. The man will also warned likewise. It is on Ikahi day that the expectant girl is given a calabash known as Ikahi with which to drink her water with and no other person is allowed to touch Ikahi. The expectant mother on receiving Ikahi is instructed to remain mute until delivery day. She is not allowed to see anybody. Only her husband and very close relatives are permitted to see or speak with her. The principal lectures on Ikahi briefings are normally old women conversant with makua tradition. These elderly women will warn the expectant girl that delivery is a painful blood-spilling exercise. Courage and endurance are necessary prerequisite on delivery day. The expectant mother is warned that if she contravenes any of the briefings , she will be doing so at her own peril.
Our traditional mid-wives also give their briefings to the expectant mother. Ikahi and Ntara briefing therefore meant to prepare the expectant mother on her first delivery. The so-called civilised ideas continue to denounce Ikahi and Ntara with claim that the whole affair is primitive.
Besides this prohibition there are other prohibitions commonly known by Amakhua community that pregnant women are expected to follow carefully. It’s believed that failing to follow this prohibitions a pregnant woman can end up in serious health problems. So among many other prohibition I will provide five:
1. A pregnant woman must not have sex with other men:
The belief behind this prohibition is that if a pregnant woman has a sexual contact with different man from her husband, she will be joining two different kinds of semen which is called Ephome in Emakhua language to mean blood in this context. Therefore joining two kinds of “Iphome” (bloods) may lead to an abortion because every man has his own kind of ephome(blood) and the iphome (bloods) should not be mixed in one woman or else the woman can have an abortion.
2. She must not drink water given by another woman that is in her menstrual period:
Culturally when a woman is in her menstrual period is on one hand considered to be impure that she can not serve food or other things to her husband, on the other hand being in menstrual period means that what would be pregnancy is destroyed. So giving water to a pregnant woman is to pass on her bad luck which may lead to an abortion.
3. She must not participate funerals:
Culturally when somebody dies, it is the saddest time for the family as well as the community. So, to show profound sorrow and solidarity anyone in the community does something to comfort the mourning family. Be it by offering food, firewood, water etc; or by preparing the body for burial and participating all ceremonial activities. But again a pregnant woman is prohibited to participate the ceremony directly for fear that the same supernatural power that caused the ‘person’ to die will easily affect the baby that she carries in her womb, once among the participants the baby is the weakest.
4. The pregnant woman’s husband is prohibited to dig a grave:
If her husband participates a funeral ceremony, he should not dig the grave. If he does so, the baby will never come as dead people never come out of the grave where they are buried. The idea here is, if the father digs the grave in which the body will be buried, and once the body will never come out, the same way the baby that is being expected will never come.
5. She should not announce her pregnancy progress:
During pregnancy the woman is advised to avoid telling anybody about her pregnancy progress. She can not announce the state of her pregnancy. For example when she feels that the baby is fine or is not, she is prohibited to reveal it because It can give an opportunity for witches to attack the baby. Also she can not announce when and where the childbirth labor is going to to take place. If jealous people are aware of that they will easily kill the baby during the labor through curse or witchcraft.
Every village in Makua had "specialists" or medicine-men whose main job was to administer oaths. When disputes of conflicts reached a stage where they could not be solved the people locked into such dispute and after careful analysis of the situation at hand and on seeing that it an solvable Mwene would order that the people concerned be sent to the people administrator of oaths commonly known as "MWAAVI"
After consultation with the administrator of oaths, a day will be fixed when Mwaavi is to be taken. The whole local population of the village will be informed.
The Mwaavi administrator will instruct the plaintiff and the defendant about a number of things that they have to fulfil before taking Mwaavi.
On the appointed day those supposed to take the oath (Mwaavi) are expected to report to mwaavi administrator before sunrise and will be ready waiting for them. People will flocked to capacity eagerly for the administration of Mwaavi. The people waiting to take Mwaavi or the oath must come accompanied with their relatives. The oaths specialist will hand over a pot to all of the people assembled to witness the oath taking. He will further order that all them our water into the pot which must be half full. . The pot will be put on the fire until the water boils. After uttering few words in a low voice he will put few object into the boiling pot and immediately order the plaintiff to soak his hand in the boiling pot. If his claims were merely lies or baseless he will be hurt if he was fighting for his right and that he is not a cheater the boiling water won't hurt him.
Alternatively the oaths administrator depending on the severity of the conflict may order the plaintiff and defendant to drink medicine specially prepared for Mwaavi. After drinking the medicine they will shake hands and proceed to their homes. Any of them who has told lies will die instantly before taking a step.
Makua claim that courts of law may at times error in the dispensation of justice but cases or conflicts settled by Mwaavi are impartial.
Makua value and uphold principles of communal work practically. There are many areas in which they do their work communally. Communal project or self-help schemes were done even before and still known until today as "Ichiyao".
Any makua wanting a project done which can't be successfully accomplished by a family will instruct his wife to prepare the local brew "Utheka". What is normally done is that the family wishing there project done will inform their neighbours of the project and the day when "Ichiyao" will take place. On the appointed day people will flock to the house where "Utheka" is brewed and the head of the family will show them the site where the job is to be done . It could be tilling the land or building a new house for the family. "Ichiyao" normally start at 7.00 a.m and the people will labour until they complete the assignment.
After doing the job to the satisfaction of the family the people now return for a drinking spree. As rule they must have enough drinks. Those who cannot afford to prepare the local brew may prepare food commonly known as "Ishima" and is known "Ichiyao yo Shima". In this way many project were successfully accomplished. There rare instance where Makua families prepare and distil the local gin "Nipa" for ichiyao projects.. Such were some of the methods adapted in doing self-help scheme.
They play a version of mancala with pebbles and holes dug in the dirt, traditional weaving is common amongst men and women, men make mats to sit on instead of dirt floors, and women weave baskets as well as mats.
The culture has a rich musical tradition that includes accapella as well as traditional percussion and instrumentation. Dancing is a large part of celebrations and religious ceremonies.
Makua men dance on two-foot-tall stilts, hopping around the village for hours, bedecked in colorful outfits and masks. Story-telling is another traditional art form as much of the area maintains a low literacy rate.