Location: East central Tanzania near the coast, Africa.
Language: Kikwere (eastern Bantu)
Neighbouring Peoples: Zaramo, Doë, Zigua, Luguru, Swahili
Types of Art: The Kwere tribe produce various wood sculptures, the best known of which are small doll-like figurines (mwana hiti).
History: The ancestors of Kwere peoples migrated into what is now Tanzania around 1000 A.D. from the south in the area of northern Mozambique. They moved into the area with their contemporary Bantu neighbours and gradually displaced the San hunters who had previously inhabited the grasslands. Nearing the coast, they encountered the ancestors of the Islamized Swahili peoples.
They settled just inland from the coast and maintained close trading ties with their neighbours, including Zaramo, Zigua, Luguru, and Swahili peoples. The differences between the histories and social practices of the matrilineal Bantu peoples that inhabit this region are minimal, and in fact, strict boundaries were only drawn by British colonial administrators.
Economy: Kwere are hoe cultivators, raising maize, rice, and millet as staples. Goats, sheep, chickens, and guinea fowl are also raised. Some cattle are now kept, although this was impossible earlier in their history, since the tsetse fly was once endemic. Some fishing is practiced, though for the most part Kwere farmers trade with Swahili fishermen.
Near the coast the climate is tropical, and there are plenty of fruit trees and coconut trees which provide ample food sources. Tobacco, cotton, and sisal were raised for purposes of trade. At one time, Tanzania was the largest exporter of sisal, and this commodity, which is used to make ropes, was the greatest contributor to the Tanzanian economy. As synthetic alternatives have become less expensive, however, Tanzania has seen the bottom drop out of the sisal market.
Political Systems: Kwere did not have centralized political systems. Their social organization was based on small-scale, self-governing matrilineal kin groups. Lineage heads were chosen by community leaders. These leaders held the land rights of the lineage. Landownership was determined by the original members who inhabited it. The leader was responsible for distributing the land and maintaining lineage rituals. Most of the leaders in Kwere communities were men, but on occasion they could be women. They settled disputes between family members and were often attributed with spiritual powers, such as the ability to make rain or to communicate with the spirit world.
Religion: Most Kwere believed in a supreme god (Mulungu), who was associated with rainfall. Most prayers were directed to familial spirits. Religion among the Kwere was a household affair. Every family was responsible for appeasing its ancestral spirits. Shrines were built to the spirits on the ancestral homeland, and members of the family were expected to journey to these sites to make the proper offerings.
Kwere believed that major disasters and illnesses were sent by Mulungu, but appeals and prayers must be made to the ancestral spirits who served as a liason between living men and the god. In order to determine the proper course of action necessary to appease an offended spirit, a spirit medium (mganga) would be consulted. Through various divination techniques the mganga would communicate with the spirits and then prescribe treatment for an illness or social imbalance.