The Ha, also called Waha in Swahili or Abaha, are a Bantu ethnic group found in Kigoma Region in northwestern Tanzania bordering Lake Tanganyika. In 2001, the Ha population was estimated to number between 1 and 1.5 million, making them one of the largest ethnic groups in ethnically diverse Tanzania.
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.
Their country, which they call Buha, comprises grasslands and open woodlands. 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. 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 reside in dispersed homesteads, normally as an extended family with a few generations of related males at its core. 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.
The Ha (and Tutsi) recognize Imana as their supreme being and emphasize the creative power of this deity. The spirits of ancestors influence the fortunes of the Ha, and thus ancestral shrines and the ancestral cult are important. Nature spirits are thought to dwell in the fields and other parts of the countryside. Christian missionary activity among the Ha has included that of Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Pentecostals, and Seventh Day Adventists.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In later years, many men from the Ha people have gone to the Tanzanian coast to work at sisal plantations there.