What are the Zigua people like?

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Jeremy & Leah Krahn are preparing to lead a Training in Ministry Outreach (TIMO) team among the Zigua. They are already living in Tanzania, learning the Zigua language and culture ahead of the rest of the team arriving in late 2017. Here they share something of what it’s like for children and young people to grow up among the Zigua culture.

Like most Tanzanians, the Zigua are a warm and hospitable people. Their predominant language is Kizigua, though most are fully bilingual and speak Kiswahili as well. The Zigua number over 600,000 and live on the east coast, usually in mud and stick houses with thatch roofs in small villages. They are typically subsistence farmers or fishermen, with many also keeping some livestock. Life ebbs and flows with the seasonal rain and the rhythm of the harvest. The main crops in the area are maize and sesame, and at one time the sisal industry thrived in the region.

“We pray that they will receive the good news of the gospel…”

Raised into Islam and witchcraft

The Zigua are deeply religious people. Most people pray several times a day and children attend the local Madrassa for religious classes in addition to government school. The main religion is Islam, though traditional witchcraft is also practised and the two have become deeply intertwined. Most people, including many Imams, don’t know where Islam ends and traditional witchcraft begins. People are often held hostage by their own beliefs. For instance, we were introduced to several women who had not been outside their home for more than two years because of the belief that they are unable to conceive children because they have been cursed.

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Daily life for a Zigua child

The sun shines bright and hot during the day so an early start is important if you want to get things done. Dishes from the night before need to be washed and hopefully a cup of uji, a porridge-like drink, will be cooking to start the day with. Children are off to school by 7.00am wearing their clean and pressed school uniforms. Carrying their small supply of study materials, they will often have to walk several kilometres to the nearest primary school. Classes are large, and sometimes 80 students crowd into a room where the teacher tries to control the class and lecture.

By the time school is out at 2.00pm the children are tired from the heat as well as the work, and are happy to start their walk back. At home there are chores to be done, washing uniforms and other clothes, sweeping the house and the yard, herding goats, tackling homework, and getting water. A good game of football, followed by a family meal brings the day to a close.

Schooling comes at a cost

Community concerns include access to water, healthcare, education and under-employment. Many youth do not finish secondary or even primary school, and those who do often have limited prospects for employment. Reasons for not finishing are manifold but include financial considerations (primary school is free but there are expenses such as uniforms and supplies), the distance to walk to school, and the quality of teaching (often teachers are underqualified and consequently students fail their exams and need to repeat the grade year after year). Students who do not pass exams are expected to begin farming or fishing or, in the case of girls, get married and have children of their own. Those who do pass exams face the daunting challenge of paying for post-secondary education and then finding gainful employment afterwards. Under-employment has had not just social, but environmental consequences in the area too, as more and more trees are cut down to make charcoal which is one of the few ways of quickly generating some cash.

Generating excitement

The Zigua community we are engaging with is open to having foreign cross-cultural workers come to live with them and is excited about the school that is being built by the Africa Inland Church of Tanzania. We pray that they will receive the good news of the gospel with equal enthusiasm and warmth.

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