Mwanza and the Museum of the Sukuma Tribe (Tanzania)

Mwanza is a city situated on the shores of Victoria lake; its name is translated from the Sukuma language as “lake”. Mwanza is one of the largest cities of Tanzania, famous for its rocky landscape, fish, and multiple tribes living together in peace.

We came to Mwanza from Singida by the terrible bus Mohammed Express (20000, departs at 9.30). As we have already written, encountering a good bus in Eastern Africa is rather a surprising case. In this one, four rows of seats are exchanged into five with different pieces of iron sticking out (Vitya tore his trousers). When it was raining, the water was getting inside through the windows. The bus drove as fast as 100 kilometres per hour (we checked on the GPS), and none of the multiple speed bumps disturbed the driver enough to slow down. Thus, we jumped up every ten minutes. Perhaps, that is why this was called the express.


When we reached the bus station, the colleague of our couchsurfer Dorocella, Mhina, came to pick us up. We lost the glasses in the bus, but unexpectedly found them even though the bus had gone to the garage. The dinner in Dorocella’s house became a prize for all the troubles.

The next day, we went out for a walk in Mwanza. From the very morning the city is very energetic: people make furniture, sell vegetables, and hurry to work.





We started sightseeing from the museum of Sukuma tribe, situated only 18 kilometres away from the city center (towards Kisesu). The entrance fee for the foreigners is 8000 for adults (and 4000 for kids); the traditional dance performance is 60000 for a group of 1-10.
Tanzania has 120 tribes and Sukuma is the largest of them – more than 5 mln people or 16% of Tanzanian population. The tribe is mostly known for its conflicts with Masai, ritual dances with python and hyena, and magic. The museum was founded by the Canadian missionary in 1968 (Tanzania became independent in 1961). Obviously, the missionary was dealing with this tribe not out of the ethnographic interest only, but to spread Catholicism among them. The museum holds the excursions we recommend to listen to. Visiting it is almost as interesting as visiting the tribes per se (e.g. Barbaigs).
At the museum, there is also an agricultural college and a Sunday school, that is why you can easily meet live Sukuma here, e.g. playing ikolo as these children. It is said that when the Sukuma territory was still an empire, Sukuma kings were solving their arguments about the land with the help of ikolo. That is why the tribe did not have wars. The game requires the knowledge or talent in math: the smartest won.

By the way, the clans of Sukuma people were named after the queen, not the king. Ba- was added at the beginning of her name to make plural out of it; thus, the kingdom of Bakamba, for instance, appeared. Every kingdom had its totem. The map of 52 former Sukuma kingdoms looks impressive.

The kingdoms were abolished in 1963, but the kings still exist, without any political power though. The Sukuma kings on the photos and imitated by our guide (the throne and crown are real):


The throne of the king is made from the ebonite wood, the sandals – from the lion skin, the crown – from the ostrich feathers. The history of one kingdom in its kings:

The guided tour starts from the excursion in the Sukuma traditional house, built from clay and wood. The shells on the roofs symbolize power and hospitality, but also defend from the evil spirits and black magic. Traditionally, the witchcraft is associated with hyenas and owls, so, according to the guide, the owl will not fly up to such a house, scared away by the reflection in the shell.


By the way, the healers living in such houses do not stay long on one place: they have to move around very often in search for the clients. One has to study a lot to become a healer, but also to have a gift for it; often, the healer gets the answers to his questions in the dreams. The healers help with the diseases, especially caused by the evil eye. A separate pavilion in the museum is dedicated to the witchcraft in the Sukuma tribe, the best healers, and their equipment. In case of ailment, the healers make a cut on the hand of the sick one and suck out the disease with the help of the horn. During this ritual, they sing and cover their faces with the mask. To understand who brought the disease and of what particular kind, a patient must sacrifice a white chicken. The most well-known healer Mwana Maluudi started to collect herbs when he was a child, and as if walked on water from the island of Zanzibar to the island of Mafia. According to the guide, the equipment of the healer does not have any power without its owner.

The spirits of ancestors are highly respected; people address them during the rituals to ask about what to do in the complicated situation or how to defeat the disease; they receive sacrifices. The father of the family is buried in his own yard, without any gravestones, at the cowshed. Thus, his spirit may look after his land, protect the cattle, and increase their quantity.
One more pavilion is dedicated to the drums, They are used during multiple ceremonies: crowning, wedding, burial, even during the fire or if someone’s cow is stolen. In different cases, different drums and sticks are used to produce different sound. The sound depends on the log and the type of the wood the drum and sticks are made from; also, on how tight the leather sits on the drum. The villagers easily detect what happened by the sound. Recently, the drums acquired the new function – to call for the villagers to read the Bible together. Very few people know how to make the drums and how to dance when the drums play. The professionals are invited for that.


The drums are mostly used at the weddings. The groom has to pay for the bride, the whiter her skin and the nobler she is – the more. These are the main criteria. For instance, to the west of the former Sukuma territory the women have lighter skin, which is why they are considered to be more precious. Usually, the price of the bride is about 50 cows, but one may also bargain. If the groom did not pay for the bride before the wedding, their children will belong only to her and her relatives. The brides-to-be are brought to the place like this so that they could show how well they learnt to grind the wheat or do the laundry, also – to sing. A young man interested in one of the girls brings his parents here, so that they could approve of his choice. It is his father to decide, and if the decision is positive, the son throws a bouquet to the girl’s feet. By the way, she does not necessarily have to accept it.

The dances with python and hyena (which receive some tranquilizers) traditionally take place during the harvesting festival Bulado. The dances include various elements, even healing – when the dancer has to show that he can cure the python’s bite. If you pay extra (and ask in advance), you may see the traditional dance in the museum. The guide demonstrated to us only a part of the dance, of course, without a python.

In general, snakes, including pythons, are very meaningful for the tribe: the spirits of ancestors may come in the form of the python, and his skin protects the house from witches. A python may eat a goat or a human baby, but will never touch a corpse. The digestion of a big piece takes about 7 days.

Another interesting fact about the Sukuma: to count different categories of people they use different words. On this photo, you may see which numbers are used to count boys, girls, men, women, and elderly men and women.

On the territory of the museum, there is also a church and a monastery. The representatives of other tribes come to pray here too. The Sukuma did not resist the Christianization, in general, they are known as very calm and polite. That is why the majority of them are Catholics, keeping the elements of their traditional beliefs though. Remarkably, the priests use the thrones of the kings.




The museum has a huge collection of equipment used by the Sukuma in everyday life, and the guide tells a lot about it.

For instance, this is a house for hens, defending them from other animals.

We really enjoyed the museum and were surprised to see that it has the 3.5 rating on Tripadvisor.
After the museum, we went to the Masai market. They do not allow making pictures, that is why there are not too many photos. You can mostly buy jewelry, herbs and medicines (e.g. lion’s fat for about 10000 for a small tube), and very cheap coins.


After having the lunch in Old Trafford, we went to see the most well-known landscape of Mwanza at Victoria lake and walk around the city center.





Here, you can see many garbage marabou birds.

In the evening the girls from Dorocella’s Foundation brought us to the so-called dancing rocks.


After having great conversations with them and famous konyagi without, we went to sleep to depart to Burundi the next day, at 4 AM.


  • Dorocella August 13, 2015 at 00:59

    Beautiful blog

    • Victor August 24, 2015 at 09:41

      Thank you, Dorocella. Hope everithing is going fine. Say “hello” to girls and Mr. Mhina.


Leave a Comment