IndexAfricaZambia → Tonga


Featured: Kaonde, Nkoya, Tonga, Ila, Bemba, Ndembu, Mambwe / Amambwe, Luvale, Lozi


Johnston (1897:p408, n1)[1], a medically trained missionary informing Johnston about the “depravity prevalent among the young boys in the Atonga tribe” rated their behaviour as defying description even in “obscure Latin”. As for the opposite sex, “scarcely any girl remains a virgin after about five years of age” in nearly the whole of British Central Africa (p409, n) “except perhaps among the A-nyanja” due to officious coitus after betrothal. Later, Roberts (1964)[2] would note that girls are considered marriageable after menarche, and marriage at 15-17 was common. Sexual instruction is part of the wedding night ceremonies. Among the GwembeValleyTonga, traditional “marriage was based on childhood betrothal. Since the outlawing of the practice by the colonial administration in the early 1950s (Keller, 1979: 576; Colson, 1980: 367)[3] most marriages are initiated through elopement, whereby the young Gwembe woman leaves her natal homestead and moves to that of her ‘husband’, ‘without prior negotiations between the two families concerned and without the knowledge or consent of the woman’s parents’ (Keller, 1979: 565)”[4].


Diseases caused by pollution include luvhumwe (which affects babies who come in contact with pregnant women) and impela (which affects immature children who have sex with adults)[5].











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]Johnston, H. H. (1897) British Central Africa. An Attempt to Give Some Account of a Portion of the Territories Under British Influence North of the Zambezi. London: Methuen & Co.; Benedict ([1948:p396]), op.cit.

[2] Roberts, S. (1964) A comparison of the family law and custom of two matrilineal systems in Nyasaland, Nyasaland J 17,1:24-41

[3] Under the betrothal system a marriage was created over an extended period of time, the girl taking up residence with her husband at puberty, and some years later, when bridewealth was fully paid, the marriage would be legal (Keller, 1979: 575; Colson, 1960: 211). Nowadays the ceremony on which the bride formally joins her husband's household (i.e. after agreement on the amount of the bridewealth) defines the transition from single to full married state [orig. footnote]

[4]  Price, N. & Thomas, N. (1999) Continuity and Change in the Gwembe Valley Tonga Family and their Relevance to Demography’s Nucleation Thesis (with N Thomas), Africa 69,4:510-34

[5]Gausset, Q. (1998) The changing meanings of disease among the Tonga of Zambia, Paideusis 1 []