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The Nsenga People of Mozambique

Religion:        Traditional Religion ("Ancestor Worship")
Population:     146,725 (, 2004)
Registry of Peoples code (Registry of Languages code): Nsenga  107484  (nse)


The Nsenga people of Mozambique are one of several groups of people called Nsenga (or Senga) in the region. Nsenga groups speaking the same Nsenga language are found in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The majority live in the Luangwa River Valley in southeastern Zambia, with a population of 427,000 (Johnstone, 1993).  The same source gives the population in Mozambique as only 141,000.  While the smallest number live in Zimbabwe, no updated population figures have been provided since the 1969 census report of 16,100.

Other Nsenga (or Senga) groups in Zambia speak a Senga dialect of the common Chewa (Nyanja) language spoken by their neighbouring ethnic groups or a dialect of the Tumbuka language.  There is insufficient information available to determine if any of the groups speaking Senga dialects of these languages still consider themselves related to the Nsenga.

There is limited information available on the Nsenga people and their history.  As a Bantu-speaking people, they do share the general history of migration from Central Africa, which began around the time of Christ.  They are part of the boader Luba group with origins likely in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The language of the Nsenga people is also called Nsenga (code nse).  Some Nsenga groups in Zambia speak forms of language which, even though they call it Nsenga, the speech is actually a dialect of Tumbuka (Zambia and Tanzania).

The Nsenga people in Mozambique are located in Western Mozambique along the border with Zambia, north of the Zambezi, and close to the Zambia-Zimbabwe line on the river.  They make up about 0.5% of the population of the country.

The language of the Nsenga is a Bantu language called by the same name.  The Ethnologue comments that the speech of the Nsenga differs from the Senga dialect of Tumbuka in Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania.

Political Situation:
The state of the Nsengas' relationships with the nearby peoples is not clear, but there are no current reports of obvious conflict.  Little information is available about the political status or involvement of the Nsenga as an ethnic group in political affairs.

The country is still recovering from the long civil war after independence in 1975, comlicated by a series of severe droughts.  No internal development was provided by the Portuguese, and little infrastructure in place in the huge geographical area of Mozambique.  Social integration is being pursued by the current government and educational opportunities are expanding.

Very little information is available about the culture and customs of the Nsenga. They depend largely on subsistence agriculture, similar to other peoples living along the Zambezi River.

The Nsenga follow a greeting custom similar to the Shona and other peoples in the region.  Rather than shaking hands, they place the open palms of the hands together, similar to a light, slow handclap.  This may be accompanied by a slight dip or curtsy similar to obeisance.

The Nsenga follow ancient practices of tribal religion.  Like other African "religions," this is not an institutional religion in the western academic sense.  Outsiders sometimes refer to it as Ancestor Worship, due to the veneration of deceased members of the community.  No information about their traditional practices are available.

Like most African peoples, the basic view of the world is a dynamic one, that has been characterized as religious.  Unlike the dualistic worldview as in the west, Traditional African peoples do not separate a secular sphere from unseen sphere of the spiritual realities.  The spirit world is seen as active and immediate.  There tends to be a sense of resignation in many traditional cultures.

A Creator God is thought to be far away and not involved in the direct affairs of humans and the daily activities of life.  Other spiritual entities, good and bad, are active in the life of the family and the individual.

Little information is available on the religious practices of the Nsenga.  They appear to primarily follow their traditional religion. indicates that only 0.02% of the Nsenga are evangelical Christians.  There is active church work being conducted among the Nsenga on the Mozambique side of the border, associated with Nsenga churches in Zambia.

Among the three countries where this people live, the Ethnologue reports that there are practices of both Christian faith and traditional religion.  In Zambia, the Ethnologue reports Christianity as primary and traditional secondary. In Mozambique, however, Traditional Religion is listed first. reports Ancestor Worship with a miniscule percentage of Christians at 0.02%.

Part of the Bible was published in the Nsenga language for the first time in 1919.  The complete Bible has not been published.  The New Testament was first published in 1923.  The most recent edition was published in 1996.

More on Nsenga
Ethnologueentries for Nsenga
Paulus Gerdes, Mozambican Ethnomathematics Research Centre, Maputo

Orville Boyd Jenkins
First written 23 February 2006
Revised and first posted on Thoughts and Resources 19 April 2006
Last edited 1 February 2008

Copyright 2006, 2008 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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