The Nyiha are an ethnic and linguistic group based in southwestern Tanzania and northeastern Zambia. In 1993 the Nyiha population was estimated to number 626,000, of which 306,000 were in Tanzania and 320,000 were in Zambia.
The Nyika were, and still are, scattered widely through East Africa but are found mostly in clusters near the corridor of land between lakes Nyasa, Rukwa, and Tanganyika, particularly around Mbozi and the general area of the Lyagalile district of Ufipa.
In 1915 they consisted of fewer than 10,000 people from differing backgrounds, while in 1957 they were listed at over 55,000 people. They were divided into eleven or twelve unrelated chiefdoms, the chiefs being being referred to as Mwene and were centered on very heavily stockaded villages as described by Safari Conductor Andreas Bauer and Lt. Prince. During the nineteenth century their power structure remained confused, their culture and language closely related to the Safwa, with whom the Sangu had administratively joined them.
The Sangu raided them after the 1850s for slaves to sell to the Arabs, killing many people, burning fields, plundering the tembes, and generally devastating the area. It was then that the Nyika began using ivory to obtain guns, build heavely fortified bomas, and concentrated their people. With all of these problems, however, the people still fought for themselves, without co-ordination. The Nyika could long remember being cooped up for days in palisaded tembes as the Wasangu threantened them. It should be no wonder that many Nyika were willing to support Kimaurunga. It was only after the increase of German power suppressed Wasangu raiding that many Nyika were finally able to leave their Bomas.
As early as 1879 Joseph Thomson describe them:
"For boldness and impudence they do not have their equal in East-Central Africa....They do not scruple to defy the...white man".With Dr. Bumiller's attempt to defeat them at Sunda on behalf of the Anti-Slavery Society and Merere's Wasangu warriors, (the Germans never seemed to know whether the word 'Sunda' referred to the Boma or was a chief's name) demanding they recognize the German flag. Sunda only answered, "no, I am under my own flag I recognize neither the European's nor the Arab's flag", and then held out for thirteen more days against Wissmann, a cannon, a Maxim gun, and number of soldiers, and 500 hundred Wasangu warriors, before the Boma was burned down. The battle was so costly that Wissmann's plan to attack Kimauruga was given up and later assigned to Lt. Prince, Wynecken, and Safari Conductor Bauer. As Bauer understood it, "...When Wissmann was finished, the Sunda returned, rebuilt the ruins of their Boma, dug up the bodies of two of Wissmann's dead Askari and then place the Askari's heads on the newly rebuilt Boma." Weule claims, 'A youth was sent into the forest naked until he killed a man'. Obviously the Nyiha richly deserved their reputation.
The German considered the area of Sunda prosperous. Elephants wounded or otherwise dying were thought to end their day in the swamps of Lake Rukwa. Each year the people of Sunda would burn the lake's swamp grasses and then collect the ivory from dead elephants.
The Nyiha had reputations not only as warriors, but also as elephant hunters, and needed craftsmen for the heavy iron spears used. Ironsmiths, with considerable status, then also created hoes, axes, knives, and wire for jewelry and traps used in their economy; they also needed both iron and a great deal of wood for charcoal. The smiths lost their considerable prestige as iron from Germany became cheaper.
Cotton weaving was common, pottery making by women; mat and basket making, iron working by the men, and collecting salt from the Lake Rukwa area for barter, were all part of their ecoonomic lives, although they thought of themselves as being primarily communal hunters. With all this, however, their main means of livelihood was the agricultural cultivation of finger millet, using the slash and burn method.
When her father coonsidered the girl ready, the suitor took her away to another village, taking a male goat to her family. The same evening another male goat had to be sent from the groom's family to that of the bride, and then other items of bridewealth, such as clothes, hoes, or more goats and sheep. The bride then returned to her husband's village.
The full bridewealth is paid only after the marriage has been agreed upon. The suitor then takes his bride and lives with her for about a month and only then is the wedding held. The groom carries a bow and arrow in his left hand and a staff in his right hand, and the bride's father gives another arrow to his new son-in-law. Both bride and groom have an escort. The nyiha of Ufipa were noted for their monogamy. It was Kimauruna's attempt to have his warriors marry Nyiha women without paying bridewealth that led to a great deal of hostility in the area and helped lead to a war which lasted for years.