Tonga people of Malawi

Tonga people of Malawi

:"For the related ethnic group, see Tonga people of Zambia and Zimbabwe. For the Pacific island kingdom, see Tonga. For other uses see Tonga (disambiguation)".

The Tonga (also called "Batonga, Lake Shore Tonga" or "Nyasa Tonga") are an ethnic group living in northern Malawi. A related ethnic group also called the Tonga are found in Zambia and Zimbabwe, with some in Mozambique.


Tradition says the Tonga came from the north, perhaps from the Maravi people or the Tumbuka. Their claim to be a separate tribe rests only on their acceptance of a common name, the Tonga. Until the coming of the Ngoni in 1855, they had been a matralineal people and had never possessed a centralized government.

Defeated by the Ngoni, older inhabitants remained on the land while the young were incorporated into the Ngoni fighting regiments. In 1876, the Tonga revolted against the Ngoni and lost. Survivors lived in villages on piles in Lake Nyasa or stockades on the lakeshore. As of 1993, about a quarter of a million people were Tongas.


The Tonga were primarily a fishing people with cassava as their staple food. Through mission education, they were able to earn higher wages during colonial times and worked primarily as porters, skilled or semi-skilled workers, and armed auxiliaries during the attack on Kimaurunga.

The Tonga had adopted the Ngoni custom of marriage payment of cattle, with kin liable for further payments if a child or wife fell ill. Males could not divorce their wives without a hearing of public repudiation, while she and her family, however, could dismiss him without formality, unless he had a wealthy or otherwise powerful family. The kin of a woman dying away from home could also demand burial permission and heavy payment from the husband.


The Tonga believed in a supreme God who remained vague and almost forgotten, for the Bantu had primarily a religion of the dead. They worshipped ancestral spirits, believed in consulting diviners, spirit-possession, and sought out those who predicted the future and were supposed to receive messages from ancestors. Spirits of the dead were recognized, honored, and propitiated. The Atonga of Lake Nyasa say that by taking certain medicines, a person can ensure his changing after death into which ever animal he wishes.

Tonga languages

There are about 170,000 speakers of the Tonga language. [Ibid, [ Ethnologue report for language code: tog] . URL accessed on 2006-05-08.]

The Tonga language in Zambia is classified in a different zone of the Bantu language family.

In both variants the language is called "chiTonga". The 'chi' means 'the language of the', like 'ki' in kiSwahili or 'se' in seTswana.


*Bauer, Andreus. "Raising the Flag of War".
*Davidson, Basil. "African Kingdoms".
*Tew, Mary. "People of the Lake Nyasa Region".

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