Yao people (East Africa)

Last updated

Yao
Initiation ritual of boys in Malawi.jpg
9- to 10-year-old boys of the waYao tribe participating in circumcision and initiation rites (March 2005).
Total population
3 million+
Regions with significant populations
Flag of Malawi.svg Malawi2,321,763 (2018) [1]
Flag of Tanzania.svg Tanzania500,000 (2021) [2]
Flag of Mozambique.svg Mozambique450,000 (2021) [3]
Languages
Chiyao, Kiswahili
Religion
Islam
Person'Myao
PeopleWaYao
Language chiYao
CountryUyao [4]

The yao people, wayao, are a major Bantu ethnic and linguistic group based at the southern end of Lake Malawi, who played an important part in the history of Southeast Africa during the 19th century. The Yao are a predominantly Muslim people of about 2 million spread over three countries, Malawi, northern Mozambique, and in Ruvuma Region and Mtwara Region of Tanzania. The Yao people have a strong cultural identity, which transcends the national borders.

Contents

History

Yao dancing man, 1896 1896. Wa-Yao dancing man.jpg
Yao dancing man, 1896

The majority of Yao are subsistence farmers and fishermen. When Arabs arrived on the southeastern coast of Africa they began trading with the Yao people, mainly ivory and grains in exchange for clothes and guns. Because of their involvement in this coastal trade they became one of the richest and most influential tribes in Southern Africa. Large Yao kingdoms came into being as Yao chiefs took control of the Niassa province of Mozambique in the 19th century. During that time the Yao began to move from their traditional home to today's Malawi and Tanzania, which resulted in the Yao populations they now have. The most important result for the chiefdoms was the turning of the whole nation to Islam. In 1870, Makanjila III, one of the Mangochi Yao chiefs of the Nyasa area, adopted Islam as his personal and court religion. In their trade with the Arabs and Swahili, the Yao chiefs, who called themselves sultans, needed scribes who could read and write. Islamic teachers were employed, and in the Yao villages made a significant impact on the people, offering literacy, and the social, religious and economic influences of the Muslim coastal areas. [5] Furthermore, the Yao sultans strongly resisted Portuguese, British, and German colonial rule, which was viewed as a major cultural and economic threat to them. The British tried to stop the ivory and slave trade by attacking some of the Yao trade caravans near the coast. The Yao chief Mataka rejected Christianity, as Islam offered them a social system which would assimilate their traditional culture. Because of the political and ritual domination of the chiefs, their conversion to Islam caused their subjects to do likewise. The Folk Islam which the Yao people have embraced is syncretized with their traditional animistic belief system.

In Mozambique

The Yao originally lived in northern Mozambique (formerly Portuguese East Africa). A close look at the history of the Yao people of Mozambique as a whole shows that their ethno-geographic center was located in a small village called Chiconono, in the northwestern Mozambican province of Niassa. The majority of Yao were mainly subsistence farmers, but some were also active as ivory and slave traders. They faced social and political decline with the arrival in today's Niassa Province of the Portuguese, who established the Niassa Company, and settled in the region founding cities and towns, destroying the indigenous independent farm and trade economy and changing it to a plantation economy controlled by themselves. The expanding Portuguese Empire had established trading posts, forts and ports in East Africa since the 15th century, in direct competition with the diverse influential Muslim political forces: Somali, Swahili, Ottomans, Mughals and Yemeni Sufi orders to a limited extent, and increasingly Ibadi influences from independent Southeastern Arabia. The spice route and Christian evangelization were the main driving forces behind Portuguese expansion in the region. However, later in the 19th century, the Portuguese were also involved in a large slave trade that transported Bantu African slaves from Mozambique to Brazil. The Portuguese Empire was by then one of the greatest political and economic powers in the world. Portuguese-run agricultural plantations started to expand, offering paid labour to the tribal population. The Yao increasingly became poor plantation workers under Portuguese rule. However, they preserved their traditional culture and subsistency agriculture. As Muslims, the Yao could not stand domination by the Portuguese, who offered Christian education and taught the Portuguese language to the Muslim ethnic group.

At least 450,000 Yao people live in Mozambique. They largely occupy the eastern and northern part of Niassa province and form about 40% of the population of Lichinga, the province capital. They keep a number of traditions alive, including working with wild greater honeyguides to find honey. The Yao use tools like axes and smoke to harvest the honey and leave behind the wax for the honeyguides, which can digest it. A 2016 study of the Yao honey-hunters in northern Mozambique showed that the honeyguides responded to the traditional brrrr-hmm call of the honey-hunters. Hunters learn the call from their fathers and pass it to their sons. [6] The chances of finding a beehive were greatly increased when hunters used the traditional call. The study also mentions that the Yao consider adult and juvenile honeyguides separate species, and that honey hunters report that the former but not the latter responds to the specific honey-hunting call. [7]

Outside Mozambique

The Yao moved into what is now the eastern region of Malawi around the 1830s, [8] when they were active as farmers and traders. Rich in culture, tradition, and music, the Yao are primarily Muslim, and count among their famous progeny two former Presidents of the Republic of Malawi, Bakili Muluzi and Joyce Banda. The Yao had close ties with the Swahili on the coast during the late 19th century and adopted some parts of their culture, such as architecture and Islam, but still kept their own national identity. Their close cooperation with the Arabs gave them access to firearms, which gave them an advantage in their many wars against neighbouring peoples, such as the Ngoni and the Chewa. The Yao actively resisted the German forces that were colonizing Southeast Africa (roughly today's Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi). A particular example of Yao involvement in the resistance extended to the coastal areas of Kilwa Kivinje, Mikindani and Lindi on the southern coast of Tanzania in 1888, when the German East Africa Company officials attempted to take control of the coastal areas previously under the Sultan of Zanzibar. [9] The Yao continued to defend their lucrative trade route from the Makanjila domains in southern Nyasa to Kilwa Kivinje in the following years, leading to the execution of one of the more prominent raiders, Hassan bin Omari, an associate of the Makanjila, in Kilwa Kivinje in 1895. On the other hand, by 1893, Harry Johnston, with his British forces, was able to declare that he had practically conquered all the Makanjila territory on the shores of Lake Nyasa. [10] In 1890, King Machemba issued a declaration to Commander Hermann von Wissmann saying that he was open to trade but not willing to submit to his authority. After further engagements, however, the Yao ended up surrendering to German forces. In Zimbabwe the Yaos came as immigrants and have established a society in Mvurwi under the leadership of the Jalisi clan also known as Chiteleka or Jalasi. They were among the first to bring Islam to Zimbabwe on the great dyke mountains. The Yao also played a major role in the Maji Maji Rebellion in German East Africa.

Language

The Yao speak a Bantu language known as Chiyao (chi- being the class prefix for "language"), with an estimated 1,000,000 speakers in Malawi, 495,000 in Mozambique, and 492,000 in Tanzania. The nationality's traditional homeland is located between the Rovuma and the Lugenda Rivers in northern Mozambique. They also speak the official languages of the countries they inhabit, Swahili in Tanzania, Chichewa and Chitumbuka in Malawi, and Portuguese in Mozambique.

Health

Illnesses in Yao culture are believed to originate through physical reasons, curses or by breaking cultural taboos. In such situations where illness is believed to come from the latter two sources (folk illnesses), government health centers will rarely be consulted. Some folk illnesses known to the Yao include undubidwa (an illness affecting breastfeeding children due to jealousy from a sibling), and various "ndaka" illnesses that stem from contact that is made between those who are not sexually active with those who are (cold and hot). [11]

Notable people

See also

Related Research Articles

The History of Malawi covers the area of present-day Malawi. The region was once part of the Maravi Empire. In colonial times, the territory was ruled by the British, under whose control it was known first as British Central Africa and later Nyasaland. It became part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The country achieved full independence, as Malawi, in 1964. After independence, Malawi was ruled as a one-party state under Hastings Banda until 1994.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mozambique</span> Country in Southeastern Africa

Mozambique, officially the Republic of Mozambique, is a country located in southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi and Zambia to the northwest, Zimbabwe to the west, and Eswatini and South Africa to the southwest. The sovereign state is separated from the Comoros, Mayotte and Madagascar by the Mozambique Channel to the east. The capital and largest city is Maputo.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Swahili language</span> Bantu language spoken mainly in East Africa

Swahili, also known by its native name Kiswahili, is the native language of the Swahili people, who are found primarily in Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique. It is a Bantu language, though Swahili has borrowed a number of words from foreign languages, particularly Arabic, but also words from Portuguese, English and German. Around forty percent of Swahili vocabulary consists of Arabic loanwords, including the name of the language. The loanwords date from the era of contact between Arab slave traders and the Bantu inhabitants of the east coast of Africa, which was also the time period when Swahili emerged as a lingua franca in the region. The number of Swahili speakers, be they native or second-language speakers, is estimated to be approximately 200 million.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Portuguese Mozambique</span> 1498–1975 Portuguese possession in East Africa

Portuguese Mozambique or Portuguese East Africa were the common terms by which Mozambique was designated during the period in which it was a Portuguese colony. Portuguese Mozambique originally constituted a string of Portuguese possessions along the south-east African coast, and later became a unified colony, which now forms the Republic of Mozambique.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">East Africa</span> Eastern region of the African continent

East Africa, Eastern Africa, or East of Africa, is the eastern subregion of the African continent. In the United Nations Statistics Division scheme of geographic regions, 10-11-(16*) territories make up Eastern Africa:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tumbuka people</span> Ethnic group in Central South-East Africa

The Tumbuka is an ethnic group found in Northern Malawi, Eastern Zambia and Southern Tanzania. Tumbuka is classified as a part of the Bantu language family, and with origins in a geographic region between the Dwangwa River to the south, the North Rukuru River to the north, Lake Malawi to the east, and the Luangwa River. They are found in the valleys near the rivers, lake as well as the highlands of Nyika Plateau, where they are frequently referred to as Henga although this is strictly speaking the name of a subdivision.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Makua people</span> Bantu ethnic group of Mozambique and Tanzania

The Makua people, also known as Makhuwa, are a Bantu ethnic group found in northern Mozambique and the southern border provinces of Tanzania such as the Mtwara Region. They are the largest ethnic group in Mozambique, and primarily concentrated in a large region to the north of the Zambezi River.

The Swahili people comprise mainly Bantu, Afro-Arab and Comorian ethnic groups inhabiting the Swahili coast, an area encompassing the Zanzibar archipelago and mainland Tanzania's seaboard, littoral Kenya, northern Mozambique, the Comoros Islands, southwestern Somalia and Northwest Madagascar. The original Swahili distinguished themselves from other Bantu peoples by self-identifying as Waungwana. In certain regions, this differentiation is even more stratified in terms of societal grouping and dialect, hinting to the historical processes by which the Swahili have coalesced over time. More recently however, Swahili identity extends to any person of African descent who speaks Swahili as their first language, is Muslim and lives in a town on the main urban centres of most of modern-day Tanzania and coastal Kenya, northern Mozambique and the Comoros, through a process of swahilization.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zanj</span> Name used by medieval Muslim geographers to refer to a portion of Southeast Africa

Zanj was a name used by medieval Muslim geographers to refer to both a certain portion of Southeast Africa and to its Bantu inhabitants. This word is also the origin of the place-names Zanzibar and the Sea of Zanj.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maravi</span> Former kingdom which straddled the current borders of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia

Maravi was a kingdom which straddled the current borders of Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, in the 16th century. The present-day name "Maláŵi" is said to derive from the Chewa word "malaŵí", which means "flames".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kilwa District</span> District of Lindi Region, Tanzania

Kilwa District is one of six administrative districts of Lindi Region in Tanzania. The District covers an area of 15,000 km2 (5,800 sq mi). The district is comparable in size to the land area of the nation state of East Timor. Kilwa district is bordered to the north by Rufiji District in Pwani Region, to the east by the Indian Ocean, to the south by the Lindi District, Nachingwea District together with Ruangwa District, and to the west by the Liwale District. The district borders every other district in Lindi Region except Lindi Municipal District. The district seat (capital) is the town of Kilwa Masoko. The district is named after the medieval Swahili city state of Kilwa Kisiwani. According to the 2012 census, the district has a total population of 190,744.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Swahili culture</span> Culture of the Swahili people in Africa

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Islam in Malawi</span>

Islam is the second largest religion in Malawi behind Christianity. Nearly all of Malawi's Muslims adhere to Sunni Islam. Though difficult to assess, according to the CIA Factbook, in 2018 about 13.8% of the country's population was Muslim. Muslim organisations in the country claim a figure of 20-25%. According to the latest census (2018), Muslims make up 13.8% (2,426,754) of the country's population. According to the Malawi Religion Project run by the University of Pennsylvania, in 2010 approximately 25.6% of the population was Muslim, concentrated mostly in the Southern Region.

The Somali Bantus are a Bantu origin ethnic minority group in Somalia who primarily reside in the southern part of the country, primarily near the Jubba and Shabelle rivers. The Somali Bantus are descendants of enslaved peoples from various Bantu ethnic groups from Southeast Africa, particularly from Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania. The East African slave trade was not eliminated until the early parts of the 20th century.

Yao is a Bantu language in Africa with approximately two million speakers in Malawi, and half a million each in Tanzania and Mozambique. There are also some speakers in Zambia. In Malawi, the main dialect is Mangochi, mostly spoken around Lake Malawi. In Mozambique, the main dialects are Makale and Massaninga. The language has also gone by several other names in English, including chiYao or ciYao, Achawa, Adsawa, Adsoa, Ajawa, Ayawa, Ayo, Ayao, Djao, Haiao, Hiao, Hyao, Jao, Veiao, and waJao.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Swahili coast</span> Coastal area of the Indian Ocean in southeast Africa

The Swahili coast is a coastal area of the Indian Ocean in East Africa inhabited by the Swahili people. It includes Dar es Salaam; Sofala ; Mombasa, Gede, Pate Island, Lamu, and Malindi ; and Kilwa. In addition, several coastal islands are included in the Swahili coast such as Zanzibar and Comoros.

The Shirazi people, also known as Mbwera, are a Bantu ethnic group inhabiting the Swahili coast and the nearby Indian ocean islands. They are particularly concentrated on the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Comoros.

The Yao are a predominantly Muslim people group of about 2 million spread over three countries, Malawi, northern Mozambique, and in Ruvuma Region and Mtwara Region of Tanzania people, have numerous dances to enhance celebrations throughout the calendar year. The dances are often segregated based on gender. The majority of dances fall around the initiation times for boys and girls while others are seen during religious festivals such as the syala.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Indian Ocean slave trade</span>

The Indian Ocean slave trade, sometimes known as the East African slave trade or Arab slave trade, was multi-directional slave trade and has changed over time. Africans were sent as slaves to the Middle East, to Indian Ocean islands, to the Indian subcontinent, and later to the Americas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hassan bin Omari</span> Yao chief and caravan raider

Hassan bin Omari, also known as Makunganya, one of the Makanjila Yao people, was one of the most influential and successful Muslim ivory and slave traders and caravan raiders in present-day south-east Tanzania, and was a chief of the Mavuji. Having attacked the German occupying forces, he was eventually caught and hanged by German troops, along with his associates.

References

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