Sonjo people

Sonjo - Temi

Sonjo / Batemi / Temi

The Sonjo (native name Batemi) are an ethnic and lingusitic group inhabiting living some 30–40 mi (48–64 km) west of Lake Natron in Arusha Region, Tanzania.

The term Sonjo is the name given to the people by the Maasai. Group members prefer to call themselves the Batemi people.

Sonjo People

The Batemi or Sonjo of Tanzania, are numbering 52,500 (Peoplegrouos, 2023). They are part of the Bantu, Central-Lakes people cluster within the Sub-Saharan African affinity bloc

This people group is only found in Tanzania.

Their primary language is Temi. The primary religion practiced by the Batemi is animism, a religious worldview that natural physical entities--including animals, plants, and even inanimate objects--possess a spiritual essence.

The Sonjo people speak Sonjo, a Bantu language. They refer to it as Kitemi or Gitemi.

Like the Maasai, the Sonjo continue to hold on to traditional beliefs, customs, and lifestyle.

They still build their round one-room houses of sticks with thatch roofs. The people continue to wear "shukas," colored cloth worn in a toga style, much like the Maasai.

They maintain a warrior class consisting of young men who have gone through the rites of passage. In the past the Sonjo people have been known for their conflict with the Maasai, though at present there appears to be peace. Some villages, nevertheless, still boast an impressive gate which previously connected a protective wall around the inner village to protect them from the Maasai.

Like the Cushitic-speaking Iraqw, the Sonjo are known for their use of irrigation systems in agriculture. They have consequently been linked by some historians with the Engaruka complex, situated some 60 miles to the southeast. The Sonjo also maintain terraced village sites, albeit of considerably more rudimentary form than what is found at Engaruka.


History, Location, and Economic Way of Life

The Sanjo are a Bantu people. About 30,000 Sanjo live in northern Tanzania in the Ngorongoro district about 30-40 miles west of Lake Natron. They have lived there for centuries isolated within Maasai territory. Their origins are in central Africa and are believed to have migrated to East Africa over 4,000 years ago. The reason for their migration which took place gradually over hundreds and thousands of years is believed to have been the result of an expansion of their agricultural way of life which required fertile and well-watered land to cultivate their crops. As a result, they influenced the people’s around them and assimilated the customs of their neighbors. Sonjo’s primary way of life is based on herding and agriculture. when farming they use of a traditional irrigation system.


Gender Roles

Women play the primary role in farming while men focus on herding livestock. Men are polygamists and their social system is mainly paternalistic. Marriage is the Sonjo’s most significant life cycle event that is celebrated. The Sonjo wear minimal clothing and have a variety of distinctive customs based on gender and eating. Boys and men are often seen holding hands in public as a sign of friendship.
 It is prohibited for women to smoke, cross their legs while standing or sitting, or talk in a raised voice. Customs related to marriage and gender relations are currently debated within the community.


The Role of Music in the Sonjo Culture

Music plays a prominent role in the Sonjo culture and is a widely practiced art in the community. Music shapes and permeates the entire Sonjo way of life. Music plays a functional role. It is used for various ritual purposes to cleanse the community of evil spirits, for rainmaking ceremonies, and chanted during divination and healing ceremonies. It expresses pain and agony so music is performed during funerals, used to console mourners, and praise the dead. It is also used for joyful occasions such as ceremonies to welcome back warriors from battles, beer parties, wrestling matches, and courtship ceremonies. Music functions as work songs when building, weeding, and doing other forms of communal labor. Sonjo music is distinctive and different than the music of other communities.

This distinctiveness is expressed through sight and sound, felt through melodies, rhythms, and dance styles. Sonjo melodies are lyrical and involve a lot of vocal ornamentation. Songs are usually presented in a call-response style. Its most common forms of expression are through solo performances and chants.


Sonjo Clothing

The Sonjo wear minimal clothing. Animal hides cover the private parts of their bodies but there is no shame associated with nudity. Clothing is used to identify social class. In rural areas, Sonjo dress is based on ones work. Women wear loose fitting dresses with solid or printed cotton fabric while farming or when in the market. Sonjo wear sandals or walk barefoot , depending on their work.