IndexAfricaTanzania→ Sukuma


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Tanner (1955a:p124)[1] remarks:


“In Sukuma life there is no clearly prescribed sexual role because children and young boys (bayanda) and girls (baniki) play together without restriction, in the course of which there is bound to be a increasing amount of sex play. Children thus behaving would get a sound beating from their parents or neighbours catching them, but nevertheless such play is universal and forms a gradual and informal education into life which is denied to more withdrawn communities. […] Both sexes from about the age of eight years until round about the time of puberty, play at building small houses and setting up families therein. This game (bulya) consists of cooking grain that they have gleaned away from the fields at harvest, the inevitable sexual play between the children acting as mother and father, and the caring for imitation cattle  […]. Thus from an early age both boys and girls are conditioned into their future roles as husbands and wives with their sexual activity taken for granted with the only restriction that it should be carried on discreetly so that the older generation should not notice and of course that unmarried girls should not bear children”.


In the maji (ibanza is the boy’s equivalent; cf. ®Nyamwezi), which is established in the house of an old married couple of the village and entered after menarche, or even before, no formal sex education takes place. However:


“The inhabitants of a maji are free to leave it at night, and not only the young men of the village, but married men also call at the house and frequently invite the young girls to dances (mbina). It is not good form for a man to enter the maji at night, but the evenings are spent in conversation and flirting […] The maji time, especially during the first few years, is a very happy phase, but sexual intercourse is in no way its sole purpose. In many cases the state of semi-virginity is retained for a long time. The behavior of the girls is not criticized by the community as long as they observe the conventions of their position which demand not chastity but discretion […] The ideal behavior for a girl while living in the maji is to have a few lovers, so as to gain sufficient experience for a good wife, and to marry at the age of about 18 to 20 years” (Cory, 1953 [1970:p39-40])[2].


In fact, “so long as no one sees, all the numberless devices of illicit love are used” (Tanner, p125).


Tanner (1955b:p239)[3]:


“There is no formal sexual instruction given to either sex prior to marriage probably owing to the absence of initiation rites, although a certain amount of general knowledge is picked up from their contemporaries in the dormitories and fields; however, mothers usually give some instruction on sexual techniques to daughters about to marry as a means to satisfying their husbands and thus preventing them from wandering off elsewhere to find pleasure, as well as in other aspects of married life”.


As in the Nyamwezi, it is stated that “elders considered it a necessary practice for a girl to have had sexual intercourse before her first menstruation” (Swantz, 1966:p118). However, Tanner (1955a:p127) argues that, although, as among the Haya, Bena, Nyakyusa, Nyamwezi and Zamaro, betrothal could take place at any time after age 5, and marriage is celebrated when the outward signs of puberty arise, “there seems to be a genuine and almost universal reluctance to have intercourse with immature girls for fear of damaging them for childbearing”. Lang and Lang (1973)[4] have noted that the influence of Christian missionaries led to the decline of the maji house in contemporary society.











Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Tanner, R. E. S. (1955a) Maturity and marriage among the Northern Basukuma of Tanganyika, Afr Stud 14,3:123-33; 159-70

[2] Cory, H. (1953 [1970]) Sukuma Law and Custom.Westport, Connecticut: Negro Universities Press

[3] Tanner, R. E. S. (1955b) The sexual mores of the Basukuma, Tanganyika, Int J Sexol 8:238–41

[4] Lang, G. O. & Lang, M. B. (1973) The Sukuma of Northern Tanzania, in Molnos, A. (Ed.) Cultural Source Materials for Population Planning in East Africa. Vol. 3. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House, p224-33