Sebei people



The Sena people are an ethnic group, with origins in northwestern region of Mozambique in Tete Province, Manica Province, Sofala Province and Zambezia Province. They are also found in Malawi and Zimbabwe near their respective borders with Mozambique.

Demographics and language

The Sena people's total population is around 2 million. It is estimated to be about 1.4 million in Mozambique, and about 0.5 million in Malawi. The Sena people in Malawi and Zimbabwe arrived from Mozambique and settled there in early 20th century as migrant laborers.

They speak the Sena Language, also called Chisena or Cisena, which is part of the Bantu language family. The Sena language has many dialects.

Historically the autocephalous Sena people were those between the two large cultures of Shona people – a major ethnic group of Zimbabwe, and the Nyanja-Chewa people – a major ethnic group of Malawi and Mozambique. The Sena people have lived mainly in the Zambezi River Valley. According to Isaacman, the Sena represent an admix of people, exhibiting "most, though not all, of the characteristics of Shona cultural groups".

Sena old picture


In their tradition they perform many cultural dances such as Nyau Dance, Nyanu Dance is performed by wearing few clothing during performance during the Sena Chinamwali Intiation Ceremony which is similar to the Chewa, Ngoni, Venda, Tonga and Tambuka intiation even women have their own bag of tricks to choose from depending on their ages and cultural influence from their own families or men that they might marry, young girls are mentored into womanhood.

The intiated go into a camp, away from the villages; both parents and other relatives socially are not permitted to dicuss matters such as Sexual matters with the intiates and they are trained by their elder women on their sexuality and how to please their husband to be.

The Sena tribe performs great in terms of art and craft. Well known for their famous stool-making, mats, and masks.

In this tribe, they believe that when a married man dies, the wife can either marry one of the deceased husband’s brothers or marry outside. Their initiation ceremony – the Sena Chinamwali; is similar to that of the Chewa, Tumbuka, Ngoni, and other ethnic groups.

It is during the initiation ceremony that the young girls coming up in age are being given their bag of tricks to choose depending on the cultural influence of her family, or from the family of the man that would marry her.

After the initiation, the girls are taken to a camp outside the village and be trained on their sexuality which includes how to please the man to marry them.
Traditionally, Sena women don’t cover their breasts. Culturally, it’s not right for a Sena man nor woman to expose their legs. The Sena people although were mainly traditionalists. They have
Mbona as their god.

They also acknowledge ancestral worships but have given in most, to Christianity since the Portuguese traders and missionaries that came to Mozambique brought along Christianity with them. They also operate a polygamous system although a Sena man can still marry one wife.


Society and culture

Sena people have been geographically distributed in a hot humid region. The heat means they traditionally wore few clothes, the women were bare-breasted and wore nsalu or chitenje cloth, which is a wrap around. Showing bare legs has been culturally considered as immodest, and both men and women try to keep it covered. During community dances, such as the Nyau dance, however, they wear very few clothing.

Sena people converted to Catholicism in bulk during the colonial era under the influence of Portuguese Christian missionaries, but some of the Sena people of Mozambique have held on to traditional beliefs in polygamy, child marriage and witchcraft. Their occupations have included farming, fishing and migrant labor. The Churches operating among the Sena people use Africanized version of the Bible, and they ignore the other versions. The version of Bible used by the Sena people, states Rhodian G. Munyenyembe, is the Buku Lopatulika, an old Chichewa version of the Bible. Traditionally, death rituals have been burials. Similar to neighboring ethnic groups in Mozambique, wedding among Sena people of river valley region required a brideprice called lobolo which was a payment made to the family of the bride to compensate them for the loss of her work output in her birth home.



During the 19th century, the Sena people were mostly farmers, hunters, herdsmen, and fishermen. Among their major crops are; mango, cotton, maize. They have the biggest sugar factory in Chikwawa, Southern Malawi. They rear cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats which they sell or consume.

The arrival of Vasco Da Gama in Mozambique in the year 1498, other Portuguese having known of the gold wealth in Sofala – a commercial town in Mozambique, grew interests in colonizing the district. They built farm estates and had African laborers which the Sena people were among those that worked for them.