Ethnic Groups: History of Haya People


If there is one thing about the African continent that is great, then it will be its diversity. Though it had adverse effects on the continent’s history, it allows Africa to portray itself as a unique region globally. Africa has several ethnic groups that are spread all over the continent in different states. This article will discuss the Haya people who were iron smelters of Africa.

Short Description of the Haya People

The Haya people are also called Bahaya people. They are a Bantu tribe based in the Kagera area, NW TZ, on Lake Victoria’s western part. With over a million people, an estimate shows that the Haya ethnic group constitutes about two percent of the TZ population. The Haya speak the Luhaya or Haya language. The Haya language is a Bantu language of the Niger-Congo family. According to history, the Haya people have had a complicated kingship-based political method or system. Agriculture, particularly the farming of bananas, is significant to the Haya ethnic group’s economic life.

The History and Kingdoms of the Haya

According to linguistic proof, the Haya people lived in the Kagera area during the Bantu expansion period. People believe them to be the earliest residents in the area or region to practice iron smelting technology and were part of the iron-making Urewe Ware pottery culture dating 500BC. Around 200BC is when the 1st proof of Early Iron period settlements formed along Lake Victoria in Buhaya. Iron equipment may have aided increase agricultural production in the area, which involved a mixture of cereal crop cultivation, root cropping, and the use of beans. Between 800 AD and 1500 AD, the Bantu peoples moving in from a region further north in the African Great Lakes area greatly influenced the lifeways of Bahaya. These peoples from the north, whose descendants established the empires of Bunyoro-Kitara and Buganda, brought with them new types of cattle as well as different types of bananas.

Before the formation of the Haya Kingdom, the clan controlled land tenure. Religion played a crucial role in pre-dynastic social structure and involved Bacwezi faiths that practitioners guided, able to interact with or communicate with ancient Bacwezi deities. Some of these practitioners are diviners, spirit mediums, priestesses, and priests.  According to oral history, some clans established Haya Empires starting around the 16th century, such as the Bakuma clan of the Kiziba Empire and the Bayango clan of the Kyamtwara Empire. The 3rd Haya Empire or Kingdom during this time was Ihangiro to the southern side of Kyamtwara. According to oral accounts, the Bahinda royal clan invaded Kyamtwara Empire during the 17th century, appointing the Bayango clan and forming their rule under a ruler known as Rugamora Mahe. The Bahinda clan, who controlled the Karagwe Empire to the western side, trace their roots or ancestry to the 1st ruler of Ankole, Ruhinda.

During the 18th century, the Kyamtwara Empire split because of rebellions. The aftermath of this split resulted in the establishment of the Empires of lesser Kyamtwara, Bukara, Kihanja, and Bugabo. The result of this breakup split the leadership of the four new Empires between the clan of Bahinda and the clan of Bakango.

The Bahinda clan controlled Bukara and Kihanja while the Bakango clan ruled Bugabo and lesser Kyamtwara. According to oral history, the Bakango took advantage of overthrowing the Bahinda, who relied on their power. When the German colonial authority formed its rule in Tanganyika in the 1890s, there were more than 5 Haya Empires. They were the Kiziba Empire, Ihangiro Empire, Kihanja Empire, the Bukara Empire, and Bugabo Empire. After the Anglo-German agreement of 1890, the Empire of Missenye added to the list making the total number of Haya Empires to be seven. In 1963, the government of TZ abolished all forms of customary kingship and chieftainship in the state. The new authority offered jobs to the rulers who had the necessary qualifications. Five Haya rulers took up the offer. The others continued to do their customary religious and ceremonial tasks.


Archaeological Findings and Iron Tech

Peter Schmidt, an archaeologist, found proof through a combination of oral traditions and archaeology that the Haya people had been smelting iron to produce carbon steel for around 2000 years. The finding happened when Peter was working in the rural village of Kataruka. Kataruka’s elders told Peter Schmidt that their ancestors had smelted iron under a holy shrine tree known as Kaiija. Kaiija means the place of the forge. Curious to confirm their history, the elders asked the archaeologist to conduct an excavation underneath the holy shrine tree. This dig or excavation outcome led to an iron furnace finding dated to the 1st century BC.

In the 1980s and 1970s, Peter documented a series of experimental smelts to comprehend earlier Haya iron production’s social and technological processes. The difficulty at the time is that the Haya had left iron smelting because of the initiation or introduction of cheap steel from foreign supplies. Researchers tasked Haya acquainted with iron smelting practices with remaking an iron furnace. This involved gathering and preparing essential items such as charcoal, iron ore, clay, and grasses. Haya involving themselves in these trials or experiments, could make a furnace and produce iron of the same quality as those at Iron Age sites in the area (KM2 and KM3).

Iron smelting accounted during these trials was similar to open-hearth furnace steelmaking in the European continent during the 19th century. These trials led Peter Schmidt to forward his preheating theory. This theory suggests that preheating was crucial to Early Iron Age techs in the area, permitting temps inside a furnace to reach between 1300-1400 degrees Celsius. During a 20th century (1976) trial smelt, archaeologists verified the preheating theory. David Killick criticized the theory. Peter Schmidt and Donald Avery, an archaeologist, defended the theory or hypothesis in response to David Killick’s critique in the late 20th century.

The Haya Culture (Mushonge, Health, and Medicine)

Customarily, the Haya people are a patrilineal society structured around a clan system with a common totem that all members identify with. Totems are animals, and each clan has prohibitions such as not feeding on their totem or causing it to harm or injure. The Haya people who continue to practice this tradition believe that anyone who eats or harms their totem will bring bad luck to themselves and their loved ones. Each male head of the house controls a shrine dedicated to his forefathers.

People regularly provide these family shrines with offerings. Some of these offerings are banana beer, dried coffee beans, and unripe bananas. The purpose of these offerings is to please the ancestral spirits.

The traditional Haya house is known as a mushonge. Made out of wooden poles, flexible reeds, grass, and banana fiber, people establish the mushonge from the top down and are circular with a conical top. The construction of a mushonge involves the performance of rituals and the use or consumption of alcohol during and after its end. According to history, the size of the mushonge reflected the social status of the village, with the chief’s being the biggest, followed by clan heads, sub-clan heads, and ordinary people. The Haya kings moved throughout their Empire and resided in a similar thing known as the nyaruju. The mushonge slowly moved to a mud-walled design known as kiteti and then to a mudbrick design called a banda. Most of the Haya people reside in square houses with a crenelated iron sheet roof in modern times. The shift from traditional architecture to present-day design varies and involves the matter of space as people divided the land further among families.

Under health and medicine, the Haya people have a wide range of traditional treatments for treating diseases and sicknesses. Research on the Haya ethnomedicine accounts for many plant varieties’ employment for treating a range of health matters from malaria, infections, wounds to gynecological issues. In the present-day, it’s not uncommon for a Haya to look for the services of a traditional specialist as well as for a professional and trained medical doctor working at clinics, hospitals, or dispensaries.

The Haya Kingship

The Haya rulers or kings, the bakama, had absolute power over their area or territory and assigned tasks and duties to specific clans. For example, in Kiziba Empire, the Batunda were royal guards, the Bashonde were noble brewers, and the Baihuzi were noble cooks. Other duties the king assigned to clans were providing wives for the ruler, suppressing rebellions or revolts, producing iron, and taking care of the noble herds of cattle. These assigned tasks sought to keep or maintain structure in the Empire. Every Empire’s administrative system was hierarchical, with the ruler, the mukama, at the top. The chief minister, the batongole or ministers, the council of advisers, Lukiiko, county chiefs, and the bakungu followed. According to history, the ruler would split the delegations between two categories of authority. That is the princes of noble descent and the ruler’s non-noble followers. During the British colonial rule, the Katikiro, a Ganda term, substituted the Haya term omukuru we kibuga.




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