Mbugwe People



The Mbugwe are a Bantu ethnic group based in the Babati District of Manyara Region and in south western Arusha Region of Tanzania. The Mbugwe are said to have originated from the Rangi and they speak a language that is related to Rangi. In 2023, the Mbugwe population was estimated to number 55,000 (Peoplegroups.org). They speak the Mbugwe language.

Mbugwe People

The Mbugwe are a prominent, Bantu speaking people who live in central Tanzania. They are surrounded by the Iraqws and live east and south of Lake Manyara.

The home for the Mbugwe lies in the grassy plains of north central Tanzania, at an elevation of approximately 1,200 meters. The terrain is marked with scattered hills and rock formations, and forests separate some of the Mbugwe villages. Since the area is adjacent to a game park, it is not uncommon to see wild game.

Until the early 1970s, most of the Mbugwes lived in isolated homestead settlements, but, in 1974, Tanzania officially launched its ujamaa program, gathering the Mbugwe into larger villages where education, commer- cial agriculture, and political control would be easier to implement.

Islam first reached the Mbugwe in the nineteenth century when slave traders carne into central Tanzania. Today, more than half of the Mbugwe identify themselves as Sunni Muslims of the Shafi school. But strong elements of their traditional animist faith—particularly worship at rain shrines—survive, and rel- atively few people conduct their daily Islamic prayers or observe Ramadan.

The Mbugwe, are distinguished by their pierced ears and facial markings.

The people were devastated by water-borne disease from 1940 until 1960. During that time, the government started programs that consequently reduced the effect of illness.


Political system

The Mbugwe political system revolves around independent councils of elders in each village or general set- tlement area.



The Mbugwe are principally farmers, though they do keep livestock as well. Their chief crops are rice, maize, and millet; sunflowers and cotton may also be found in the fields. The livestock, mostly cattle and goats, are kept close to the homes to guard against raiding. The homes are constructed with vertical sticks lashed together with rope or reeds. Though the houses are low, they may encompass a large area and be divided into smaller rooms.

Weaving is also an important activity of Mbugwe life; women use to weave wickers to cover the floor of their huts  as well as large baskets to store and preserve rice and maize; most Mbugwe keep practicing their original ancestral religion and using plants and bushes for healing.



The  neighbours of the Mbugwe are the Maasai and the Datoga, both of Nilotic origin, which contributed to put the Mbugwe in linguistic isolation, and even cause the disappearance of this  interesting language, and recent studies have focused on this language since the Mbugwe are the only people speaking a Bantu language in this area.

Two distinctive features characterize the Mbugwe: their pronounced pierced ears and facial markings, the latter being a trait inherited from the Datoga.



Mbugwe villages, embedded between the savannahs and the Rift Valley, consist of flat-roofed huts whose walls are built with tree trunks lashed together with branches that are hardened with mud and cow droppings to better resist the strong winds sweeping the planes, while the roof has a lighter structure made by intertwining millet stems.

The interior of the huts consists of several rooms, a kitchen, a sleeping area and sometimes a small stable for the livestock; farming is the staple activity to the Mbugwe and they mainly grow rice, maize, millet, sunflowers, peanuts, cotton and beans; they usually own some livestock, mostly cattle and goats that provide milk and meat; the livestock is kept close to the homes to be guarded against raiding by neighbouring populations; some huts, though mostly in the past, have a small room where animals are kept during the night.