The Sukuma Museum .


The Sukuma are the largest tribe in East Africa. The Sukuma people live in an area called Usukuma which is located to the west and south of Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world. The area is only a few hundred miles south of the equator where there is a year round temperature between 60-100 degrees Fahrenheit.

For many in Usukuma, farming is a family activity. The Sukuma are known as cattle herders and most people farm the land for rice, cassava, potatoes and corn. Some also grow cotton as a cash crop. In rural areas, the cultivation of the farm, or shamba in Kiswahili, is a necessary part of daily life. During the cultivation season, when the land is prepared for planting, the family works together to ensure that they will harvest enough food for the coming year.

The chiefdoms in Usukuma began to consolidate in the 16th century. Early on, the Sukuma culture traded with neighboring chiefdoms such as the Baganda, in modern day Uganda. They also began trading with Arabs of the coast and Zanzibar in the 1800s. The first European contact with Usukuma came in 1857 when John Hanning Speke traveled from England to Lake Victoria. He was followed in the 1870s by the explorer Sir Henry Livingston and later by the English Anglican Church Missionary Society and the French Catholic Missionaries of Africa. But, it was Carl Peters who opened the way for the German East African Company to colonize what was to become Tanganyika. He did this through treaties that were signed with leaders and chiefs in order to exploit them for economic gain. The German colonizers were authoritarian and forced unfair laws on the local people. They governed by military force and their rule was challenged by numerous insurrections. The Germans were eventually forced out after their defeat in World War I. In 1918, Tanganyika Territory was placed under the British government who had already colonized Uganda and Kenya to the north.

In Usukuma there is a diversity of religions. Many people practice traditional religion while others are Muslim and Christian. Before the arrival of Arab traders, Christian missionaries and colonial governments, the Sukuma had an organized form of religion which was practiced within the confines of the family compound. Those who practice traditional religion still worship god as the supreme being and creator of the universe. In Kisukuma there are several words for the creator god: Lyuba, Liwelelo, Lubangwe and Seba. Many of these names are associated with the sun. This does not mean that the Sukuma worship the sun, but rather that the creator god has attributes of the sun, such as shining over the earth and providing a life giving force. The practice of Sukuma traditional religion does not take place in a structure like a mosque or church. Instead prayers are said among the family in the compound and are directed to the creator god in hopes of good rainfall and prosperity.

Those practicing Sukuma traditional religion also honor the eternal spirit of deceased ancestors. When a person dies, many believe that their spirit continues on to live in another realm. The deceased person becomes an ancestor and the family remembers them through special prayers and offerings of millet beer and cow dung. Millet beer, a mixture of millet seed and water (called lwanga), represents the local brew of the ancestors. The cattle dung also recalls the ancestors through its reference to the wealth of a family with many cows and those ancestors who had cattle. When a family member dies, they are then in a position to watch over their descendants. It is believed that if the ancestor is not remembered through offerings, the family might encounter bad luck or even illness. For example, when a child is sick, the parents might consult a traditional doctor, or nfumu in Kisukuma. If the doctor attributes the cause of illness to angry or offended ancestors, the remedy might be for the family to give special offerings to appease the ancestor, or even to rename the child after the ancestor. Children in Usukuma are often renamed after ancestors during life-threatening illnesses. Another cure might be for the child to wear a necklace of beads with a central, triangular polished shell disk, called a lupingu, in honor of the child's ancestors. The belief in such remedies suggests that the ancestors or deceased relatives, have an ongoing relationship with their families.

In the 1870s Christian missionaries traveled from Europe to Tanzania. Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries, such as the Missionaries of Africa and Church Missionary Society, formed local missions in Usukuma. Church missions provided many services, such as primary schools for children, which attracted people to the religious communities where some converted to Christianity. Many of the early Protestant churches forbade the use of alcohol, tobacco and traditional practices such as dancing. The Catholic church did not prohibit the use of alcohol or tobacco and even permitted some traditional singing and dancing. Both churches forced people to renounce traditional religious beliefs as well as special objects associated with ancestor worship before conversion to Christianity. But today in Usukuma, local culture and songs are often used in the Christian religious services which occur on Sundays and sometimes daily. The Bujora Catholic Church represents one example of a church that is devoted to a mixture of Catholic religion and traditional Sukuma language, songs and dance.

The Bujora Church was founded in 1952 as a site where Sukuma traditions were used to teach the Catholic liturgy. The former Bishop of Mwanza, Josef Blomjous, selected the town of Kisesa for the experimental church. He sent the Canadian priest, Father David Clement, to learn about Sukuma culture and to teach Catholicism in a style that would be interesting to the Sukuma community. Father Clement, known as "Fumbuka Klementi" in Usukuma, formed a group of elders who called themselves Bana Sesilia (people of Sesilia, the Catholic patron saint of music) to conduct research on Sukuma traditions. They helped Father Clement to experience local culture and wrote many original Sukuma melodies with religious lyrics taken from the Bible. They also performed religious plays which taught large audiences about Christianity. Together the Bana Sesilia and Father Clement successfully integrated Sukuma music and dance into the Catholic ceremony

Bujora has also maintained practices of adaptation during religious festivals. In several Catholic parishes in Usukuma, priests attracted the unconverted public during the Feast of Corpus Christi, a Catholic ceremony to celebrate the Eucharist. In the ceremony, flowers are thrown at the "body" of Christ at intervals during a long processional walk. Today, the Feast of Corpus Christi ritual is called Bulabo in Kisukuma, which means "flowers." The ceremony coincides with the beginning of the Sukuma dance season, which takes place from June to August after the harvest of local crops. This mix of Christian religion and traditional ceremony attracted many Sukuma individuals to Catholicism. 

Staff at SECUCE will be glad to conduct you to a tour of Bujora and the Sukuma Museum.

Mrs Maggie Mlengeya (Managing Director)


Tel 255-27-253 7095 OR Cell 255-748-40 6996


Rafiki Africa, New Mwanza Hotel.

Tel 255-28- 49040 OR Cell 255-748- 32 1180



Kirstin Lightfoot,

567 SE Shoemaker Place, Pullman, WA 99163, USA.

Tel 509-339-24-9, Email:

Or Contact Your Travel Agent for details


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