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The Tonga People of Mozambique

Religion:        Traditional Religion ("Ancestor Worship")
                        0.72% Evangelical Christian (, 2004)
Population:     237,780 (, 2001)
Registry of Peoples code (Registry of Language code): Tonga  110153  (toh)


The Tonga people live in the Inhambane Province of southeast Mozambique, from Inhambane south to Morrumbane.

Apparently no oral traditions have been recorded for the Inhambane Tonga.  As a Bantu-speaking people, they do share the general history of migration from Central Europe, which began around the time of Christ.

Other, larger Tonga peoples in Zambia and Zimbabwe apparently do not even retain any traditions of origin or migration, which is unusual for the Bantu-speaking groups in general.

This Tonga people are related distantly to other groups in the region called Tonga.  Speaking this language of Tonga (code toh) are also referred to by the name Tonga Inhambane, based on the region of Mozambique where they live.  Their name is sometimes spelled Thonga.

Some other names they are also known by are Shengwe, Bitonga and simply Inhambane.  Dialect names associated with smaller divisions of this people are Nyambe and Sewi.

The various peoples called Tonga were originally part of the same group, but as they have migrated over the centuries their languages changed, the various groups lost contact and their culture changed.  As they lost contact and moved to different locations, they have come to speak different forms of language and no longer consider themselves the same entity.

Some Tonga groups speak forms of language which, even thought they still call it Tonga, the speech is actually now a dialect of another languages, such as Ndau in Mozambique and Tumbuka (Zambia and Tanzania).

This Tonga people are located only within the borders of Mozambique.  They make up about 1.1% of the population of the country.

To distinguish this Tonga language from others, the Ethnologue lists this language as Gitonga, the name of the language in their language.  The Ethnologue reports 223,971 speakers of this language, but this is an old figure from the 1980 census.  The figure for the ethnic population is only slightly larger, at 237,780.

The Ethnologue comments that the speech of the Tonga Inhambane differs from the language Chitonga of Malawi, Chitonga of Zambia and Zimbabwe, or Tonga dialect of Ndau.

Political Situation:
The Tonga are neighbours to the Tsonga, also called Shangaan.  The state of their relationships with these and other nearby peoples is not clear, but there appears to be no conflict.  Little information is available about the political status or involvement of the Tonga as an ethnic group.

The country is still recovering from the long civil war after independence in 1975, comlicated by a series of severe droughts.  No internal development was provided by the Portuguese, and little infrastructure in place in the huge geographical area of Mozambique.  Social integration is being pursued by the current government and educational opportunities are expanding.

It seems very little information has been recorded about the culture and customs of the Tonga.  They are famous, however, for their woven baskets.  There is a world trade and technical study of the patterns used by the Tonga in these baskets, now also fashioned and exported as handbags.

These baskets have become a great attraction partloy due to the great variety of design in the creative, attractive strip patterns of colors, called gipatsi (sipatsi plural).  So far, artisan scholars have discovered 494 unique sipatsi patterns!

The Tonga follow ancient practices of tribal religion.  Like other African "religions," this is not an institutional religion in the western academic sense.  It is sometimes referred to by outsiders as Ancestor Worship, due to the veneration of deceased members of the community.  No information about their traditional practices are available.

Like most African peoples, the basic view of the world is a dynamic one, that has been characterized as religious.  Unlike the dualistic worldview as in the west, Traditional African peoples do not separate a secular sphere from unseen sphere of the spiritual realities.  The spirit world is seen as active and immediate.  There tends to be a sense of resignation in many traditional cultures.

A Creator God is thought to be far away and not involved in the direct affairs of humans and the daily activities of life.  Other spiritual entities, good and bad, are active in the life of the family and the individual.

Christianity: indicates that only 0.72% of the Inhambane Tonga are evangelical Christians.  Only 1680 individuals out of the ethnic population of about 235,000.

Indications are that there is no active Christian work going on.  However, the New Testament does exist in the language of the Tonga.  Translations were produced in 1890 and 1996.

The Jesus Film is available in Gitonga, the language of the Mozambique Tonga.  See information online at

For More on the Tonga
Mozambique Profile (Université Laval, Québec)
Tonga (Inhembane) language (Ethnologue)
Tonga (
Tonga Weaving Art
      Paulus Gerdes, Mozambican Ethnomathematics Research Centre, Maputo
Tonga Weaving Art, More

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
Prepared 22 February 2006
First posted on Thoughts and Resources 23 November 2007

Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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