Zaramo people


Zaramo / Dzalamo / Saramo

The Zaramo people, also referred to as Dzalamo or Saramo, are an East African ethnic group found along the coast of Tanzania, particularly in its Pwani Region. They are the largest ethnic group in and around Dar es Salaam, the former capital of Tanzania and the 7th largest city in Africa. Estimated to be about 0.7 million people, over 98% of them are Muslims, more specifically the Shafi'i school of Sunni Islam. Their culture and history have been shaped by their dwelling in both urban and rural landscapes.

Identification. "Wazaramo" is the preferred name for the people who live in the coastal area of Tanzania, in the vicinity of the capital city, Dar es Salaam. "Wazaramo" refers to the ethnic group, "Mzaramo" to an individual, and "Kizaramo" to the language.

Zaramo people map

Location. The Zaramo occupy the area roughly between 6°20′ S and 7°25′ S. The area extends from Kisiju to the northern coast along the Indian Ocean at the mouth of the Ruvu River near Bagamoyo and west from the irregular Indian Ocean coastline inland approximately 150 kilometers. The coastal area, 15 to 50 kilometers inland, and the Ruvu River Valley are low in elevation and flat. A series of rugged hills rising to a plateau begins near the coast and extends southwest to Pugu, Kisarawe, Maneromango, and Kisangire. These 100-kilometer ranges extend to a width of 65 kilometers and reach an elevation of 450 meters at Maneromango. Five major ethnic groups—the Kwere, Kutu, Kami, Ndengereko, and Rufiji—live in close proximity to the Zaramo today. Various small settlements of Doe, Kamba, and Kyamwezi also live within Zaramo country and are considered to be clans within the Zaramo ethnic group.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Zaramo as they are known today are made up of clans that migrated from the Kutu and the Luguru around 1700. The common ancestry with the Luguru is substantiated, in that they have the same common language with only slight dialectal variations. The language of the Zaramo is mutually intelligible with those of the Jutu, the Luguru, the Kwere, and the Kami. Most Zaramo, however, speak Swahili, which is the lingua franca of Tanzania.



When the first explorers came to Zaramo country, they found it sparsely populated. In some areas, villages were few, and there were vast open plains with abundant wildlife. Early explorers described the Zaramo houses as haycock shaped and made of grass. Today all houses are rectangular, made with a framework of poles tied into place and plastered over with mud. The roof is thatched with grass or reeds or woven from coconut-palm leaves. The more prosperous Zaramo today have concrete floors, plastered walls, and corrugated iron roofs. Where people live has always depended largely on the water supply; vast areas are uninhabited because of water scarcity. Zaramo villages are small and do not give the appearance of developing into towns.



Plant life has more central significance than animal life to the Zaramo, given that their food is obtained primarily from agricultural activities. The Zaramo cultivate more fruit trees than other inland tribes do, and they transport large quantities of oranges and mangoes to Dar es Salaam markets, which brings them a considerable cash income. Coconut trees also produce fruit that is both consumed and sold. After cashew-nut processing plants were built in Dar es Salaam, cashew-nut trees became of considerable value to the Zaramo economy. During the early days of British colonial administration, the Zaramo were encouraged to raise cotton as a cash crop. Agricultural officers failed to give good instructions, however, and cotton raising failed. Instead, the Zaramo began to grow rice, which became a successful crop that is now being sold to the city.

Early explorers passing through Zaramo country mentioned the fertility of the soil. Traveling through the Ruvu River Valley, they noticed that the land was well watered. Rice, tobacco, maize, beans, sweet potatoes, pineapples, jackfruits, plantains, limes, kapok, mangoes, sugarcane, cassava, curry spices, eggplants, and cucumbers were grown in the area. Tsetse flies were prevalent, and consequently the Zaramo did not have cattle. Nevertheless, they raised sheep, goats, and chickens.

The Zaramo were involved in long-distance trade and slave trade in the nineteenth century. They demanded payment from all caravans that passed through their land, and they were themselves expert slave hunters. The Zaramo leaders not only sold slaves to Arab and Swahili traders on the coast but also kept some slaves for their own use. They also traded in ivory, salt, fish, gum copal, and rhinoceros hides.



Kin Groups and Descent. The Zaramo lineage system is based on two principles. On the one hand, there is biological descent, following the line of the mother, and, on the other hand, there is spiritual descent, following the line of the father. The Zaramo are divided into several clans, which for them encompass the concepts of kinship, ancestry, and descent family. A Zaramo clan represents those people who acknowledge common descent, tracing their lineage through the female line. These individuals possess a common clan name, which they inherit matrilineally. The clan of the mother is also that of the children. The children always belong to their mother's clan, never to that of their father. The terms for the father's clan name ( mtala in Kizaramo and mtaa in Swahili) mean "a division of a town or district" and also "the residence of a wife in a polygamous household." The father's mtala derives from his mother's clan name. His children will never belong to his clan, for they can only belong to their mother's clan. The children will use their father's clan name, or mtala, only to show from which father they were born. For instance, when a child is born, he or she is given a personal name and also the father's mtala. The mother's clan name is always understood to be the child's clan name, but it is not used in a child's name. Thus, a child knows to which clan he or she belongs, that of the mother; however, he or she is called by a personal name plus the father's clan name.

Swantz found fifty-nine Zaramo clan names (L. W. Swantz 1965, 26-28). The clans are not totemic: the Zaramo do not observe common prohibitions or taboos. There are taboos and sacrifices, but these practices are transmitted through the father's line. There is no sign of common worship or sacrifice within the clan. Religion among the Zaramo has long been a family or household affair. No religious leader, chief, or headman could grow in importance or leadership because each family had different spirits, ways of sacrifice, and prohibitions.

The Zaramo lineage system may have stemmed from the time when there was clan land, when all from the same clan lived in close proximity to one another. Despite the fact that the children belonged to their mother's clan, they used their father's clan name. If all children from several sisters living in the same area used only their given names, plus their mothers' clan name, it would be very difficult to tell from which father they really were born. The mtala of the father was therefore used to make that distinction.


Marriage and Family

The traditional Zaramo marriage is exogamous, with preference given to cross cousins. Although this pattern is still recognized as the original ideal, it is no longer the preferred model. Zaramo marriage is also polygamous. Traditionally, all wives and children belonged to one man, but the mtala defined his various households. This system, however, is changing because of strong Muslim influence, which stresses the father's authority and patrilineal customs. The Zaramo allow cross-cousin marriages, providing that the spouses do not have the same taboos. This is possible because the taboos are not carried through the mother's clan, but through the father's line. For several reasons, marriages are not lasting. The marital situation is often irregular, and the children do not always live with their biological parents. Kin togetherness and support have always been characteristic of traditional Zaramo society. Even a distant kin member is part of the family and must thus be cared for.

The safe birth of a child is a great event for the family and clan concerned. The Zaramo consider it a special blessing if a girl is born because she will bring bride-wealth to the family and secure continuation of the line. The important phases of a child's life are the first cutting of hair, the giving of a name, and the appearance of the first teeth. The mother is expected to breast-feed her child for at least two years, and she is supposed to abstain from sexual intercourse for six months after the birth of the child. The Zaramo give their children the names of their grandparents. The firstborn girl is named after her grandmother, and the first boy is given the name of the grandfather, following the mother's line. This custom is not only a gesture of respect but also indicates that the newborn child somehow represents the grandparent. Bearing the grandparent's name will bestow that relative's qualities on the child.

Children in Zaramo society normally remain close to their mothers, accompanying them to communal events and festivals. This practice can be seen as a way of educating them on the matters of life around them. Girls, in particular, stay close to their mothers and to other women in the household and soon begin to imitate them. They follow their mothers to the well and balance small tins until they learn to carry large water pots on their heads. The girls learn cooking, start taking their share in hoeing, and try their skill in making hats and braiding their hair. A certain secrecy is maintained with regard to everyday realities, increasing the atmosphere of magic and belief in powers beyond the visible.


Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Zaramo, Luguru, and Kutu traditionally made pilgrimages to honor a spirit called Kolelo. When Sir Richard Burton passed through the Uluguru Mountains in 1857, he heard that the Zaramo came there to offer sacrifices to "Kurero or Bokero." According to Burton's account, the place was a cave where a spirit produced a terrible subterranean sound. Women came to bathe in a pool in this cave in order to obtain success in bearing children. The pilgrims had to dress in black, and what they offered had to be black—for instance, a black goat. The social use of black may have many connotations. Black is seen as the color of death, but death is seen as a way to another life. Black is also a color of blessing when associated with the rain and the spirits that are believed to bring rain, success, and fertility. In 1935 Herman Krelle wrote a detailed account on the Zaramo and mentioned a woman called Mlamlali as the priest of Kolelo, who performed sacrifices at the cave of Kolelo. There was also another woman called Kambangwa. She was Kolelo's servant, who made journeys to the cave to pray for rain.

After harvesting the crops, the Zaramo performed harvest purification to cleanse the food. Without this rite, it was believed that the people who ate the food would become ill. The Zaramo also had a special combination of medicines to protect the harvest from thieves. This powerful charm was capable of causing disease and even death.

Among the Zaramo, the number seven is sacred and plays a part in much of their religious and social life. For example, seven knots are pulled on a rope if there is sudden throat pain, a woman is confined for seven days after the delivery of a child, and the relatives of a dead person sleep for seven days on bare ground. It is widely believed that the Zaramo concept of the number seven was influenced by the Arabs, Indians, Persians, and Portuguese.

According to Zaramo conceptions, a gust of wind or the rustling of leaves indicates that the spirits are going past; an eclipse of the moon is a war between the sun and the moon. The Zaramo also once believed in magic water that was supposed to stop bullets; thus persuaded, they participated in the Maji Maji rising against the German colonial administration. The Zaramo fear poison and witchcraft, which they hold to be the cause of practically all deaths.

The medicine man, or mganga, in his role of diviner, has the authority and position to function as the preserver of the traditional Zaramo social and religious patterns. His diagnosis and practice uphold the concepts of spirit forces, witches, powers of sorcery, and clan taboos, and also the need to keep the traditional Zaramo rituals. No other public figure in Zaramo society today represents Zaramo traditional concepts and life as does the medicine man. Despite changes in their belief system, the Zaramo basically affirm the powers of sorcerers and spirits and thus continue to consult the mganga.

Before 1890, boys' circumcision—or jando, in Swahili—was not practiced among the Zaramo; however, the Zaramo used to put their young boys through an initiation period called kukula in Kizaramo. During this time, the boys were taught about the customs of the clan. Today, owing to Islamic influence, jando is also included in the boys' initiation rites. Following a period of seclusion and training, the boys return to their homes, and there is celebration and dancing (L. W. Swantz 1965, 39). The most significant celebrations, however, are held when the girls come out of the seclusion that accompanies their initiation into womanhood. The onset of menstruation is an important period in a Zaramo woman's life, entailing the transformation from girlhood to womanhood; she becomes a new member of society, one who can fully partake in its rites and ceremonies. While the girl is secluded, her father's sister brings the family heirlooms: a chain of pearl or iron, which is hung around the girl's neck, and a little wooden doll, called an mwananyang'hiti in Kizaramo, or a gourd doll, called an mwanasesere in Kizaramo. When not in use, these much-treasured dolls are kept in the father's family. The girl remains secluded in the house; she is not supposed to see the sun or to see any man, especially her father. She is allowed to do ordinary chores in the house. The two guardians chosen for the girl are called the kungwi and the nandi. The kungwi can be chosen from the mother's side, and the nandi comes from the father's side. Traditionally, the girl was given instruction under an mkole tree, a tree that bears small, red, edible fruits. A Zaramo girl's instructor would sing of it: "It is the tree from which you have gotten your growth." The girl then hugged the tree and was imbued with its powers of fertility (L. W. Swantz 1965, 46). Nowadays girls do not normally go to be instructed under the mkole tree. Instead, they are instructed near their homes, holding a branch of the mkole tree. At the end of the seclusion period, there is much celebration and dancing.

Today the Zaramo are predominantly Muslims, but they have not been Muslims for very long. In the period between 1857 and 1881, when explorers passed through Zaramo area, nowhere was it mentioned that the Zaramo were Muslims. Instead, they went to worship at the cave of Kolelo. The big movement toward Islam came during two periods, from around 1890 to 1900 and from 1910 to 1925. Islam accommodated itself very well to Zaramo traditional religious and social structure. Very little in the way of theology and practice had to be altered. In some respects, the Muslim teacher, called mwalimu in Swahili, simply took over the role of the mganga. Islamic amulets, medicines, and special charms took the place of the traditional ones without difficulty. Islamic magic, sorcery, power to curse, and divination all fell within traditional usage. Instead of the diviner, the Muslim teacher conducted the ordeals, using the traditional ones and introducing others. The traditional initiation rites for boys were accepted completely as they were, except for the addition of circumcision.

Although the Christian church has been established and at work among the Zaramo for the past century, its influence on and acceptance by the Zaramo have been limited.

In August 1863 Father Antoine Horner crossed over from Zanzibar to Bagamoyo with letters from the sultan giving him permission to erect a mission station there. The center was intended to be an orphanage and a settlement for former slaves that incorporated an agricultural training school. A community of over 1,000 Christians grew, mainly of former slaves. In 1888 the Benedictines of Saint Ottilien, Germany, started mission work at Pugu, 19 kilometers west of Dar es Salaam. They built the largest Catholic secondary school in the country. A congregation of the Zaramo, however, never developed as such. Through the school and through medical work, the Catholics established contact with the Zaramo, but the number of converts has been insignificant.

In 1887 a Lutheran missionary called Greiner arrived in Dar es Salaam to open a settlement for freed slaves. A 400hectare parcel of land in Magogoni, on the southeastern side of Dar es Salaam harbor, was set aside for the settlement. On the northern side of the harbor entrance, headquarters of the Lutheran Berlin Mission III and a hospital were built. In 1892 Greiner moved his work to Kisarawe, 32 kilometers inland, and in 1895 a church, a school, and a hospital were established at Maneromango, 80 kilometers inland, in the heart of Zaramo country. From three centers, about thirty-eight churches and preaching places were established, as well as two upper-primary schools, seven primary schools, and twelve bush schools. In spite of the good beginnings, the Lutheran church is comparatively weak among the Zaramo and is quite small compared to its presence in other areas of Tanzania. The Christian minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim community does not encounter enthusiastic hospitality, but Zaramo Muslims and Christians live and work together in relative peace.

There may be several factors that have contributed to the conversion of the Zaramo to Islam and not to Christianity; chief among them is the fact that Islam accommodated many of the traditional Zaramo practices whereas Christianity did not.



Initiation rituals are required for the youth of the Zaramo people to become full-fledged members of adult society. Theses rituals generally happen around puberty and the female's first menses.

Males. The male ceremony is termed as nhulu or "growth." The initiation process takes place during the dry season and about once every three years. Each novice, mwali, have a designated instructor, mhunga, who guides the youth through the circumcision process, teaches Zaramo sex lore and practice. Once the mwali are circumcised, they are brought to an initian hut, kumbi, where they are taught, and then are not permitted to bathe for two weeks. Once the mwali are allowed to bathe again, their mothers in the village hold a village dance, mbiga. After eight more days the mwali return to the village and their instructors burn the kumbi and anything else related to the initiation. The mwali are now men of society and celebrate with mlao, a dance of emergence.

Females. Female initiation begins with a girl's first menses. The rituals associated with female initiation are performed to protect and enrich a girl's female power and her fertility. A girl has a reproductive cycle within society-one that starts with her first menses, continues to her initiation, marriage, birth of her children, and finally ends with the puberty of her grandchildren, at which point her reproductive cycle is over. The girl novice, also called mwali, is secluded in her mother's house for anywhere between two weeks and one year. Earlier documentation states that this process in the past could have taken up to five years. The mwali's paternal aunt is usually assigned as her shangazi, or the one who takes over the mwali's teachings and ceremonies. The initiate is taught domestic responsibilities such as housekeeping, childcare, sexual and moral behavior, and mature interaction in society. During seclusion, the mwali is not allowed to speak, work, or go outside, to symbolize her death and put emphasis on her re-emergence as symbolic birth. She is then carried to a mkole tree where is circumcised as well by an operator, or mnhunga. She is then returned to her family and she is celebrated with an mbwelo dance.


Mwana Hiti Figures

Mwana Hiti figures may also be referred to as mwana nya kiti, mwana nya nhiti, or mwana mkongo. These names stem from mwana, meaning "child," and nya kiti and nya nhiti meaning "wood" and "chair." Mkongo refers to the mkongo tree, of which many mwana hiti are carved from. All of these names refer to the mwana hiti as a "child of wood." Mwana hiti may be represented in other forms besides figures such as walking sticks, staff, stool, musical instruments, and grave posts among others. Mwana hiti don't belong to individuals, but to families, and they are passed down generations, sometimes up to 40 or 50 years.

Appearance. Mwana hiti are usually made of wood, however some Zaramo traditions say they should be made of gourds as gourds are symbols of fertility. Sizes of the mwana hiti vary, the average being around 10 centimeters. They can be projections of a child, a woman with a child, or an mwali. Mwana hiti are cylindrical figures with depictions of a head and torso of relatively equal size and usually no arms, legs or genitalia. Breasts and a navel are often present as well as hair. Facial features are simple and abstract, occasionally not being present. These figures may be decorated with metal (if hair is present) or white beads as jewelry.

Function. Mwali hiti are meant to spark a "nurturing consciousness" within the mwali to instill a desire to have children. They also act as the main socializing for the mwali during her seclusion, measuring her skills as a future mother and teaching her the responsibilities of womanhood (i.e. taking care of oneself and children.)

Mwali must treat the mwana hiti as her child, bathing it, oiling it, dressing the hair (of which the mwali wears the same style,) and feeding it. If she fails to complete these motherly tasks she may be denied fertility in the future. Fertility is prized in Zaramo culture as children are seen as economic and cultural goals for prosperity and legacy.

If a woman encounters fertility after her initiation is over, she may choose to repeat seclusion and mwana hiti rites. This means the mwana hiti can also double as a tambiko, or "sacrifice," as a means to create stronger ties with the spiritual world.

Creating mwana hiti. Men are the carvers of mwana hiti, many creating reputations for their highly sought after figures. Mwana hiti are only commissioned, and there can't be more than one figure commissioned by a family at a time. Carvers also cannot create mwali hiti if a family already possesses one. The carver creates mwana hiti out of one piece of wood (or gourd) that he picks out, though any decorations for hair or jewelry must be provided by the family.



Zaramo people hold their dead with high respect and reverence. They believe that life is continued into death, in which the spirits of the dead, mizimu, only bring misfortune upon the living. Illness, death, infertility, and poor agriculture can all be attributed to the spitefulness of mizimu. Tambiko are funeral rites where the family clean the grave and offer food and drink to each other and the deceased. Sometimes a temporary hut is built around the grave to act as a shrine. After Tanzanian independence in the 1960s, an increasing number of Zaramo people have requested to be buried in their home villages on private land or on church grounds.


Grave Markers

The influence of Islam and the increase of urbanization and literacy have been marked as responsible for the decline in traditional Zaramo figure grave posts. The majority of contemporary grave markers are slab markers with written sentiments and notifiers. Decreasing land availability in Dar Es Salaam has led to an increase in unmarked grave sites holding multiple bodies, which has resulted in a higher importance being placed upon sufficient grave marking.

Traditional Zaramo grave figures have a variety of names: mwana hiti (no longer in contemporary use,) nguzo za makaburi (translated to "grave posts,") mashahidi wa makaburi (translated to "grave witness.") These figures are considered witnesses or representation of the deceased. Mwana hiti grave figures are separate from mwana hiti initiation figures, and were mainly used for headmen or chief graves. Sometimes grave markers are created as marionette-like, wooden puppets called motto wa bandia to become mnemonic honorary devices.


Prestige Staffs

Staffs, aside from their use as walking supports, are used as ritual aids, titular symbols, and representations of power. Specific staffs are usual signifiers of chiefs, diviners, and linguists.

Kifimbo Staffs. Literally translated to "small stick," kifimbo staffs are small staffs used mainly for military authority. It is either held in the hand or tucked between the upper arm and the torso. Kifimbo hold no functional use, and are considered purely symbolic.

Kome Staffs. Traditional kome staffs are tall staffs made from blackwood (mpingo) and are carved to possess animal and human (women) decoration. Mwana hiti were common top decorations before Tanzanian independence. Kome staffs are typically associated with chief power, and so their decreased presence is directly correlated to that of chiefs in Tanzania.



Usage. By early-mid 20th century, much of Zaramo pottery consisted of internal creations and imports from Europe, Japan, and India. Most of Zaramo pottery consists of ceramic water jars and earthenware cooking pots and dishes. Pottery is generally made for kitchen-use, thus resulting in two main types/uses: vessels for liquid (narrow-rimmed) and vessels for cooking and serving food (open and curved rims.)

Cooking dishes may range from 5-12 inches in diameter and 2-3 inches in height, usually topped with an open, flared rim. General cooking pots are called chungu, while dishes made specifically for the act of frying are called kaango or kikaango (depending on size), with smaller bowls being referred to as bakuli. Chetezo or Kitezo are shallow dishes made to be placed on shrine pedestals to hold incense offerings.

Mtungi are large pots, sometimes reaching 2 feet high, that are made particularly to hold water for bathing and drinking; a household generally has two of these vessels, one for each use. Sometimes mtungi are replaced with buckets or oil drums, the manufactured alternatives being more durable, though they keep the water less cool. Mtungi tend to have more fragile necks prone to cracking and chipping.

There is not much distinction between pottery for everyday use and pottery for rituals, such as ceremonial mwali bathing, healing rituals, and grave offerings.Everyday pottery may be used, though many ceremonies require the vessel to be new.

Process. The majority of potters in Zaramo culture are women, who are called fundi wa kufinyanga or "masters of making pottery." Pottery is seen as a job that complements the agricultural and domestic responsibilities assigned to women. Apart from most of Africa, Zaramo women do not sell their pottery in markets, instead operating on an order/commission system. While any women may choose to practice pottery, many women are taught by older relatives when they are mwali, a time when girls are secluded in the home and normally learn domestic skills. Pottery is a physically strenuous task, which is the main reason a woman may retire from the practice.

Good clay is the most essential part of Zaramo pottery, with many potters choosing to mix several types of clay to achieve maximum durability through the firing process. A pottery wheel is not used; instead, "pinch pot" techniques (generally for smaller vessels) and coiling methods (generally for larger vessels) are used. After being formed, the pottery are left to dry out for 2–7 days before being fired, not in a kiln, but a wood fire. The vessels are placed on top of a fire, and more wood and plant material are placed on top of the vessels. Firing lasts 2–3 hours. If the pottery is to be colored, they are colored directly after firing.

Finish and Ornamentation. The bodies of vessels are burnished using seeds, metal, stones or shells, while necks/rims are smoothed with leaves or paper. Color is added directly after firing and mostly consists of reds and blacks. Red pigment is made from either the boiling of the mzingifuri plant (where the vessel is dipped into the pigment) or from the heating of kitahoymse grass seeds (which are turned into a solid mass that is then rubbed onto a just-fired vessel to transfer pigment.) Black pigment is made from powdering tree bark (usually mango tree bark) and mixing it with water or citrus juice.

Ornamentation of pottery is appreciated in Zaramo culture, but is not integral. Decoration is either incised (using millet stalks, bamboo, or shells) or painted on. Lids, or funiko, aren't incised, only painted. Biiki are comb-like tools made to create incised parallel lines. All incised decorations are called marembo or mapambo, but there are specific names for other patterns such as huku na huku (zig-zag,) mistari (vertical lines,) and ukumbuo (horizontal lines).



Usage. Basketry is a very common practice in Zaramo and Tanzanian culture and can be broken down into several types.

Pakacha are baskets that are made for only a day or two's use. They are made of fresh palm leaves and are often used to transport small amounts of items/wares, whether for travel or for the marketplace. They are disposable and are made by common people, not specialists. Tenga are larger sturdier versions of pakacha. They are made to carry heavy loads and are, therefore, made with bamboo instead of palm leaves. Ungo (food and winnowing trays) and kikota (small beer vessels) also use bamboo, though it is more tightly woven. Kawa are decorated food covers made from wild date palms called mkindu. They are often decorated with Swahili proverbs, fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Similar to kawa are fans called vipepeo. Types of mats include mkeka (large rectangular mats for sitting,) msala (oval prayer mats,) jamvi (large, sturdy mats for porch covering,) vitanga (smaller, ovular versions of jamvi,) and kumba (matting for fences and walls.)

Process. Basketry is created using mainly bamboo, dwara palm leaves, and date palm leaves. The plant fibers are then put into plaits, of which there are many different types such as jicho la kuku for "eye of the chicken," pacha for "crossroads," and vinyota as "stars." Once the plant fibers are plaited into long strips, they are sewn together to create the desired basketry shape. Basketry used to be sewn together with coconut fibers, but today it is more common to use twine or plastic from bags. Many baskets are designated to be natural in color, though some are dyed. Dying of baskets, if done, is usually in black or red-orange made from roots of the mdaa plant or berries of the mzingefuri respectively. The only tools needed are a paring knife and a needle or an awl.

While anyone can learn to make basketry, it is usually taught through family. Basketry-makers are called fundi kusuka, "masters of plaiting." Basketry, like pottery, is considered a part-time job only. It is typical for men to handle weaving that uses bamboo and for women to do the weaving that uses palm leaves. Men usually perform the decorating.