TANZANIA (Swahili, Wanguru, Turu, Kwere, Shambala, Ngindo, Chagga, Bena, Nyamwezi, Luguru, Kaguru, Sukuma, Subiya, Ngulu, Hehe, Barabaig, Nyakyusa, Gogo, Baraguyu, Hadza, Datoga;®Kuria, ®Masai)


IndexAfrica→ Tanzania


«Till the late 1950s, in many parts of the country special traditional sexual health training was given to boys and girls at age 13, openly discussing sexual and reproductive issues. Girls were taught how to become good mothers (unyago) and boys were taught how to become good fathers (jando). New socio-economic patterns, urban-to-rural migration and formal education systems have led almost all 120 ethnic groups in Tanzania to abandon this traditional sex education »  (Mzinga, 2002)[1].


« To some the initiation (kishuaheli jando) means the traditional circumcision ritual conducted in the bush, in which boys are circumcised but also given information about sex and sexual practices. To others it refers to a medical procedure, involving cutting off the penis foreskin at a modern health care facility, without any instructional services. Traditionally jando used to be carried out at the onset of puberty (age of spermarche), however nowadays parents often send children to the bush prior to enrolment in primary schools to avoid conflicts with the school system. The cutting of the foreskin is then done later during school holidays» (Görgen, 2002) [2]


Formerly, women were married at or near the age of puberty, or three years before reproductive age (Geiger, 1987:p14)[3]. In the highlands of Buha (Tanzania), virginity is highly appreciated, and girls were well guarded by parents (Scherer, 1965:p41)[4]. Boys secretly have coitus with widows, divorcees, and even married women, no excluding the wives of brothers and fathers. Although girls do not marry until puberty, menarche is not the main indicator for nuptial status: the appearance of breasts and the competence in household duties are. Giving in marriage of an immature girl (ukwenzeraza) is considered a sign of extreme poverty and does not add to one’s status in the community. Immature girls could also be betrothed, but infant betrothal occurred only in mock fashion. The marriage of an immature boy (barely ten) to a grown woman was considered as a sign of prosperity, and occurred not seldom- especially in former days- and was said to “make the boy grow up quickly”.

In a study on medical students, covering 15 ethnic groups, Swift and Pendaeli (1974)[5] noted that formal instruction in sexual matters was reportedly uncommon for males, with most of the information learned from peers or older siblings. Girls were more likely to receive some formal teaching from older adult women, often as part of a puberty ritual.

Traditional Tanzanian sex education was reserved for the somo, ceremonial leader, during the Unyago ritual (Fuglesang, 1997:p1248-9/1999)[6]. It is observed within three ethnic groups in Tanzania (Wapare, Wamera, Wakaguru) and was said to include instruction of sexual, maternal and reproductive matters.

This takes place at puberty, but the customary three-month duration would not be compatible with scholastic regulations and thus lead to prepubertal scheduling of the rite (age 7-8), at least in one Town (Lindi). “What impact this may have is unclear, but it is obvious that the girls are too young to comprehend much of the meaning of initiation, and it may prematurely encourage them to take an interest in sexual activity”. Where the rites have withered away, “girls do not receive any systematic instruction from reliable adult”, although incidental initiatives are noted. A detailed analysis of Tanzanian traditional sex education is offered by Allen (2000)[7], additional to a survey of rites de passage by Swantz (1966 [1969])[8].

Teachings would include the idea that female sexual pleasure is something that is given to males, in return for which she should be paid something, so that young girls extramaritally exchanging sexual services for a wage traditionally fell outside the locus of patriarchal control (Mbilinyi, 1985:p115-6) [9].


“Some respondents said that the initiation [unjago, unyago] rite is too much centred around sex and that girls are encouraged to have sexual relationships as soon as possible after the unyago. Adolescent girls in Kisarawe said that when a girl goes through unyago, it is as if she has been given the ticket to go around with men because the initiation teacher tells the girl that she should not be stupid and depend on only one man. She should have at least three stoves “so that she does not have to have beans everyday”. This was also said in Masasi by female artists and they expressed that they do not like that the girls are taught “mambo ya malaya” (prostitution behaviours)”.[10]


Vriesendorp (1980)[11] noted that, through foreign institutions, “[f]amily life suddenly became some sort of holy institution in which reproduction was to take place in the strict intimacy of the conjugal bed, not to be discussed outside the bed. [...] A distance was being created between parents and children based on the philosophy that children are innocent creatures not to be spoiled by the knowledge of the “facts of life” and who should certainly not to be bothered with the hard realities and responsibilities of married life before it was considered their time. [...] Family life education (including sex education) gradually disappearing from the scene as something unnatural and unnecessary”, a void not initially filled by school education (Batwa, 1986)[12].


Children play sex games, kombolela, a game similar to hide and seek, and kimama-mama na kibaba-baba (playing house or playing mummy and daddy) (Family Care International/Tanzania, 2005, pp. 32-35)[13].



Ikamba and Ouedraogo (2003)[14]:


“In most of Tanga Communities young girls just before puberty at the age of 10 – 12 years are put together to undergo training of how to become a woman. Parents decide on when to conduct the ritual, which is usually during the school holidays. The initiators are old women from the same village. Among other things, the girls are taught about hygiene, how to behave in bed, what to do to make a man satisfied during sexual intercourse and that it is her responsibility to see that the man is satisfied sexually to the maximum. After this one month training period, the girls feel that they know everything about sex and they are pressured to put their knowledge into practice without knowing that HIV/AIDS exists and that they do not have enough information on HIV/AIDS prevention. ‘’I wish they could also be taught on how to prevent AIDS’’, commented one of the girls. ‘’Men, on the other hand, feel that they now have a ticket to have sex with the young girls. Particularly the elder men would talk on how eager they are waiting for the initiation period to be over”, said another girl”.



Rajani and Kudrati (1994, 1996)[15] found that at Kuleana Tanzania street adolescents experienced very low percentage of overt prostitution. Less than five percent, six cases, are reported to have agreed to have sex with an adult with whom they were staying the night. The children placed rape amongst manifestations of violence like beatings, fights, being locked-up, and “never in the same cluster as expressions of wanted sex”. Anal sex, kunyenga, among boys was often practised as an “initiation rite” (cf. Lockhart, 2002)[16]. Anal sex also took place with younger boys to relieve “sexual tensions” by playing with each other at night. Older boys, 14 - 17, engaged in vaginal sex with street girls, this often represented power or being a “real man”.

Median age at first sexual intercourse for men aged 25-49 is 17.5; for females it is 16.8 (Klitsch, 1994)[17].

Silberschmidt and Rasch (2001)[18] observed that older adolescent girls are normally seen as victims and easy preys of (often older and married) men’s sexual exploitation. However, the article was to suggest that these girls are “not only victims but also willing preys and active social agents engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour” with old males (relationships called mpenzi).

In a study on 657 Tanzanian students, one out of every four girls conceptualised menarche as a sign of injury or disease while 10% of boys had similar feelings about spermarche[19].

As reviewed by Msuya et al. (2002)[20]:


“The age at which girls undergo FGC varies among ethnic groups, but according to the Bureau of Statistics (1997), nearly 70% are cut by the age of 15. The typical reasons for supporting FGC are numerous, including tradition and custom, religious requirement, rite of passage, cleanliness, better marriage prospects, prevention of promiscuity, preservation of virginity and increased sexual pleasure for men (Bureau of Statistics 1997; Chugulu 1998)”.


Klouman, Manongi and Klepp (2005)[21] found that at a mean age of 9.6 years, 45.2% of participants aged 15-44 years reported being circumcised. In the age-group 15-44 years, 65.5% reported being cut, while FGC was observed in 72.5% and categorized as clitoridectomy or excision. The strongest predictors of FGC were ethnicity and religion, i.e. being a Protestant or a Muslim.


In Islamic Pangani District, there is no courting of unmarried women, and premarital sexuality is entirely banned (Tanner, 1962)[22].






Kashamura (1973)[23] on the peoples of the Grand Lacs: The kukuna represents the initiation into sexual life for both sexes. By mutual manipulation of the labia pudenda and vagina, the sexual apparatus is prepared for coitus. Progress is checked digitally on a routine basis by the initiatrix. The custom, along with sexological discussions is performed in the night, in the bios sacré. “Les garçons très jeunes, qui n’ont pas encore de sperme, sont encouvertement admis au bois sacré: ils participent aux excercices des filles, à la fois comme partenaires et comme élèves. Le plus souvent, c’est aupres de sa grande sœur qu’un jeune garçon fait son apprentissage, ou avec l’amie de celle-ci. Le principe de cette coéducation est excellent non seulement pour le jeune garçon, mais aussi pour la fille, qui, s’exerçant à faire l’amour avec un garçon impubère, ne court pas le risque de se trouver enceinte. Quand un garçon prend de plus en plus conscience de sa maturité sexuelle, il se voit exclu du groupe des adolescents admis à suivre les filles dans le bios sacré” (p81-4).





Wembah-Rashid (1994)[24] states that mothers were encouraged to carry babies on their back to feel its erection when he needed to urinate.


“As boys and girls develop and manifest sexual growth, parents and society show appreciation of such developments because they point to sexual potency, hence fertility. Grandparents often examine boys’ and girls’ sexual parts without necessarily directly showing that they are ascertaining fertility characteristics. A grandparent can handle a boy’s genitals pretending “to seek snuff” from the phallus or wanting to use the whole apparatus as “bellows” (the testicles) and “tuyere” (the phallus). If fact, he or she want to establish the reaction of the boy: whether the testicles are developing, whether pubic hair is growing, or whether the grandparent can trigger an erection. Grandparents would do the same for girls. When a grandmother would go so far as to check on the genitals, a grandfather would only play with breasts. He would teasingly demand to suckle from the girl” (p51-2).


Dolls and playing marriage were encouraged as “fecundity-generating” activities. Boys receive sex instruction on the day they moved into circumcision camp prior to entering it (sexual function, female genitalia, incest and menstruation taboos). “Sex outside appropriate circumstances was seen as a resulting in, among other things, impotency, i.e., the loss of fertility”. Clitoris and labia were manipulated. After seclusion, they were brought to a secret place for a rite called nkmango (Wamakonde), nkamako (Wamakua), or nkooli (Rufiji-Pangani languages), where the focus is on coitus:


“The message is that sexual congress within its appropriate context is a healthy act and therefore desirable. A copy of the male organ carved from wood or moulded in clay is produced for the initiates to see, handle and feel. They are also shown where in their own body it should go and how. As at this stage they would have reached puberty, they would be told that they were physically capable of accommodating any male organ, whatever the size” (p52-3).


Conform Arab-Persian custom, the mentor would be present at the consummation of marriage.



Further: Swahili, Wanguru, Turu, Kwere, Shambala, Ngindo, Chagga, Bena, Nyamwezi, Luguru, Kaguru, Sukuma, Subiya, Ngulu, Hehe, Barabaig, Nyakyusa, Gogo, Baraguyu, Hadza;®Kuria, ®Masai



Further reading Tanzania:


  • CRLP (2001) Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives: Anglophone Africa. Progress Report, p113-29
  • Green, M. (2003) Priests, Witches, and Power. Popular Christianity after Mission in Southern Tanzania. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [notes on Unyago]
  • Haren. J. van (Aug., 1999) Pamenzi na Pesa. Girls in search for love, sex and money. A Study on adolescent sexuality in an urban Tanzanian neighbourhood.  Nijmegen University Occasional paper
  • http://www.interpol.int/Public/Children/SexualAbuse/NationalLaws/csaTanzania.asp
  • Breaking Silence: Gendered and Sexual Identities and HIV/AIDS and Education, UNICEF 2003 [http://www.unicef.org/lifeskills/files/BreakingSilence.gender.HIV.RegionalFinal040703.doc]
  • Katabaro J. K. (1997) The AIDS Crisis and Socialisation Process in Tanzania: The case of the Haya Community, in Okuni, A. & Tembe, J. (Eds.) Capacity Building in Educational Research in East Africa: Empirical Insights into Qualitative Research Methodology. Bonn, Germany: Deutsche Stiftung für Internationale Entwicklung, p143-52

§         Lalor, Kevin (August 2004) Child sexual abuse in Tanzania and Kenya, Child Abuse & Neglect 28,8:833-44

§         Leshabari, M. T., Kaaya, S. F. & Kawau, F. (1997) Reproductive Health Knowledge, Premarital Sex and Other Problem Behaviour Among School Youth in Rombo District, Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania. Research report submitted to the Ford Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya

  • Lugoe et al. (1996)[25]
  • Matashaet al. (1998)[26]
  • Sam, Katapa Rosalia (1999) Teenage Reproductive Health Needs in Tanzania: Evidence from Demographic and Health Surveys. 7th International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women, Tromsø, Norway, 20-26 June  [http://www.skk.uit.no/WW99/papers/Katapa_Rosalia_S.pdf]

§         Silberschmidt, M. (nd) Adolescent girls and illegal abortions: Risky sexual behaviour in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. L'Association Internationale des Démographes de Langue Française[http://www-aidelf.ined.fr/colloques/seance5/t_silberschmidt.pdf]




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

Last revised: Sept 2005



[1]Mzinga, J. (2002) Changing gender roles in Tanzania, Sexual Health Exchange 4:3-5 [http://www.kit.nl/ils/exchange_content/assets/images/Exchange_2002-4_eng.pdf]

[2]Görgen, R. (2002) Hands On! A Manual for Working with Youth on SRH, GTZ, p29

[3] Geiger, S. (1987) Women in Nationalist Struggle: Tanu Activists in Dar es Salaam, Int J Afr Hist Stud 20,1:1-26

[4] Scherer, J. H. (1965) Marriage and Bride-Wealth in the Highlands Buha (Tanganyika). Groningen [Holland]: R. V. B. Kleine

[5] Swift & Pendaeli (1974) Child rearing practices in Tanzania, East Afr J Med Res 1,1:24-34

[6] Fuglesang, M. (1997) Lessons for life - Past and present modes of sexuality education in Tanzanian society, Soc Sci & Med 44,8:1245-54. Reprinted in Rivers, K. & P. Aggleton (Eds., 1999) Adolescent Sexuality, Gender and the HIV Epidemic. New York: UNDP HIV & Development Programme

[7] Allen, D. R. (2000) Learning the Facts of Life: Past and Present Experiences in a Rural Tanzanian Community, Africa Today 47,3-4:3-27

[8] Swantz, M. (1966 [1969]) The Religious and Magical Rites Connected with the Life Cycle of the Woman in Some Bantu Ethnic Groups of Tanzania. M. A. Thesis, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

[9] Mbilinyi, M. (1985) Struggles concerning sexuality among female youth, J East Afr Res & Developm 15::111-23

[10] (E)Quality, Girls’ And Boys’ Basic Education In Masasi And Kisarawe Districts. Research Report by a Joint TeamFrom Ministry of Education and Culture kuleana centre for children’s rights, UNICEF Tanzania. Dar es Salaam, July 2001, p48-52 [http://www.unicef.org/evaldatabase/TNZ_01-029.pdf]

[11] Vriesedorp, S. (1980) Family Life Education in Africa, in Population Education and Curriculum Changes, Dar es Salaam.

[12] Batwa, Y. D. M. (1986) The role of parents in family and sex education for development: with a special reference to Tanzania, Utafiti 8,1:13-26

[13]Ubora wa Afya kwa Familia Duniani (Family Care International/Tanzania) Identifying Strategies for Working with theYoungest Adolescents and Pre-Teens:A Qualitative Research Study in Tanzania. Prepared For the Tanzanian German Programme to Support Health (TGPSH) Reproductive Health Component. March 2005 [http://www.familycareintl.org/countries/PDF/yasReport_March22.pdf]

[14] Ikamba, L. M. & Ouedraogo, B. (2003) High-Risk Sexual Behaviour: Knowledge, Attitudes And Practice Among Youths At Kichangani Ward, Tanga, Tanzania. Action Research e-Reports [http://www2.fhs.usyd.edu.au/arow/arer/018.htm]

[15]Rajani, R. & Kudrati, M. (1996) The varieties of sexual experience of the street children of Mwanza, Tanzania, in Zeidenstein, S. & Moore, K. (Eds.) Learning about Sexuality: A Practical Beginning. New York: International Women’s Health Coalition, p301-23. Based on the authors’ (1994) The Variety of Sexual Experience of Street Children in Mwanza and their Implications on Sex Education/HIV Prevention Programs, Mwanza: Kuleana Center for Children’s Rights. Also cited by Joe L. P. Lugalla & Jesse Kazeni Mbwambo (June 1999) Street Children and Street Life in Urban Tanzania: The Culture of Surviving and its Implications for Children's Health, Int J Urban & Regional Research 23,2:329 et seq.         

[16] Lockhart, C. (2002) Kunyenga, “real sex”, and survival: Assessing the risk of HIV infection among urban street boys in Tanzania, Med Anthropol Quart 16,3:294-311. Also cited in Brody, S. & Potterat, J. J. (2003) Assessing the role of anal intercourse in the epidemiology of AIDS in Africa, Int J STD & AIDS 14:431-6, at p432, and in Garbus, L. (July 2004) HIV/AIDS in Tanzania. AIDS Policy Research Center, University of California San Francisco, p48

[17] Klitsch, M. (1994) In Tanzania, Women’s Fertility, Ideal Family Size Both Surpass Six Births, Int Fam Plann Perspect 20,1:38-9

[18]Silberschmidt, M. & Rasch, V. (2001) Adolescent girls, illegal abortions and “sugar-daddies” in Dar es Salaam: vulnerable victims and active social agents, Soc Sci Med 52,12:1815-26 [http://www.aims.ac.za/~kgross/discussion/silberschmidt2001.pdf]

[19] Leshabari, M.T. (1988) Adolescent Fertility in Tanzania - A Case Study of Dar es Salaam Region. Earlier

spermarche was associated with earlier age at dating women, more girlfriends, more likelihood of having had

intercourse, and more intercourse partners. See Kim, K. Smith, P.K. & Palermiti, A.L. (1997) Conflict in

childhood and reproductive development, Evol & Hum Behav 18,2:109-42

[20] Msuya, S.E. et al. (February 2002) Female genital mutilation in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania: changing attitudes? Tropical Medicine & Intl Health 7,2:159–65

[21] Klouman, E., Manongi, R. & Klepp, K. I. (2005) Self-reported and observed female genital cutting in rural Tanzania: associated demographic factors, HIV and sexually transmitted infections, Trop Med Int Health 10,1:105-15

[22] Tanner, R. E. S. (1962) The relationship between the sexes in a coastal Islamic society: Pangani District, Tanganyika, Afr Stud 21,2:70-82

[23] Kashamura, A. (1973) Famille, Sexualité et Culture. Paris: Payot

[24] Wembah-Rashid (1994) Traditional fertility regulation and child-spacing practices: a Tanzanian matrilineal tradition of child spacing, Afr Anthropol 1,1/2:49-58

[25] Lugoe, W., Klepp, K. & Skutle, A. (1996) Sexual debut and predictors of condom use among secondary students in Arusha, Tanzania, AIDS Care 8,4:443-52

[26] Matasha, E. et al. (1998) Sexual and reproductive health among primary and secondary school pupils in Mwanza, Tanzania: need for prevention, AIDS Care 10,5:571-82