Kwere of Kenya

My driver and tour guide picked me up at my hotel in Dar es Salaam early in the morning. Now we were approaching Tanzania’s oldest city, Bagamoyo, which means “lay down your heart” in Swahili. I sensed I was walking into history!

Bagamoyo was the major slave trading post in East Africa until the slave trade officially ended in 1873. The city is home to the oldest Roman Catholic Church in East Africa. In 1874, David Livingstone’s body was held at the Catholic mission before being sent to England for burial. More than 200 years later I was covering some of the same territory that Dr. Livingstone traversed on foot and by donkey.

We drove through Bagamoyo and traveled northwest to a village that had received David Livingstone on his second expedition.

It was a Kwere village, a place of great interest to me. On Africa’s Islamic Rim, the Kwere is the only people group with a Christian majority. Of its 167,000 people, 87 percent are Christian.

The tour guide located a woman who was a member of one of three Pentecostal churches in the village. Each church had fewer than 10 members. We asked to see her church—a grass-roofed shelter without walls. We learned that her pastor came on Sundays from Bagamoyo to conduct a service.

While the community was primarily Christian, priests and other resources were only available in Bagamoyo. Two mosques and a madrassa in the village were led by one imam, and about 30 Muslims attended the Friday prayer service. The imam explained that many Muslims had come from other regions of the country for business purposes and were not faithful in attending the mosques.

The chief graciously received us under a large shade tree in his yard. Sitting on a mat, he shared with us how he was born and raised in this village. His father was chief until Tanzania’s first president set aside chieftaincy rule in favor of an elected official to lead each village.

“Do the chiefs have any authority today?” I asked.

He replied, “The people obey the elected chairman, but they don’t really respect his leadership. Permission is given by the chairman, but blessing is given by the chief.”

The chief had three wives and 12 children. His children attended the local government primary school, which was free except for the cost of a school uniform. He explained that small villages sometimes united under one name in order to meet the basic population required by the government to qualify for a school and dispensary. As a result, this village spanned about five kilometers.

I presented a tube of antibiotic cream and a ball point pen as a gift and then asked, “What is the greatest need of your village?”

“Water,” he responded quickly. Currently water was being drawn from a river five kilometers away and then sold in the village for one cent per liter.

The time had come for pictures and farewell comments. It seemed that we had known one another for a long time. Certainly a relational bridge had been built. As we said good-bye to the chief and began our return trip to Dar es Salaam, I thought of the spiritual need of the Kwere. They are Christian in name, but little evidence of spiritual life exists and there seems to be little resistance to the gospel.

The Kwere are an example of a forgotten people whose spiritual condition must be addressed. May new messengers step forward with the spirit and commitment of David Livingstone to pioneer a new advance of the gospel among the Kwere! 



Introduction / History
The Kwere people group is a Bantu tribe who migrated from Mozambique to Tanzania's coastal area north of Dar es Salaam about AD 1000. They maintain trading relationships with their Bantu neighbors: the Zalamo to the south, the Zigula and Doe to the north. Their languages and cultures are similar making it easy for them to communicate. They are matrilineal societies and frequently intermarry.

Where are they located?
The Kwere homeland stretches from Bagamoyo to the Wami River on the north and westward to Msata which is on the main road connecting Dar es Salaam and Arusha.

What are their lives like?
The Kwere live in rural villages; the boundaries dictated by Tanzania government policy. Before a cluster of people can be called a village, they must meet a numerical standard. In order to do this, several small villages join together under one name and thus qualify for a village status. Consequently a village may span a three-mile area. 

The benefits of being a village are quite significant and worth the organizational effort:

  1. A primary school is built, maintained and staffed by the government with the only expense to the villagers being that of providing a school uniform for their child.
  2. A dispensary is built by the government and a doctor (registered nurse) provided. It serves the community with basic health needs, immunizations, pre- and post-natal care. 

The chieftaincy system continues to exist but the top leader is a village chairman who is an elected official. Then, there may be 4 to 6 villages in a ward with an elected ward counselor. The local people have a way of defining this structure by saying, "The people obey the village chairman but don't recognize him as their leader. 'Permission is given by the chairman but blessing is given by the chief.'" 

Farming is the main occupation of the Kwere. They are doing an excellent job at holding their youth in the village following graduation from primary or secondary school. Often the chief presents them with an attractive offer by giving them a two-acre plot of land to farm and on which to build their home.

Another dynamic concerning property is the number of people from Dar es Salaam who are coming into the area to buy plots on which to build a retirement home. This is changing the demographics of the society and pumping big money into rural villages.

What are their beliefs?
All of the people groups on Tanzania's coast are predominantly Islamic all but for the Kwere. The majority of their community is Christian, primarily Roman Catholic and Anglican. David Livingstone moved through their area on his second expedition. His visit impacted their world and continues until today. Each year a tour group from Great Britain, usually including descendants of David Livingstone, retraces his steps in the Kwere/Bagamoyo area.

Roman Catholic and Anglican Church services are available in Bagamoyo but seldom offered in the village setting. In one large Kwere village, there are three Pentecostal churches, each with less than ten members. A pastor from Bagamoyo comes each Sunday afternoon to conduct services at one of these churches. There are two mosques and one madrassa in the village with one imam, and for Friday prayers about 30 Muslims attend.

What are their needs?
It is apparent there are few, if any, strong Christian leaders in the Kwere villages. The greatest need is for Kwere believers to arise with a passion to proclaim the gospel to their own people. 

The Kwere are a Forgotten People. The evangelicals seemingly have ignored them because their people group bears the image of "Christian." They need someone to "see them" and respond with personnel to establish vibrant churches among them.

Clean drinking water is probably the greatest felt need in the Kwere villages. Many villagers travel 3 to 5 miles to obtain water to quench their thirst. To purchase water marketed in their village, the people pay about one cent per liter. They need deep wells to slake their physical thirst but they need living water to satisfy spiritual thirst.

Prayer Points

  • A revival to sweep across the Kwere nation. A move of the Holy Spirit to occur, resulting in each village and every individual sensing a deep conviction of sin, repenting and putting their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • The evangelicals in Tanzania to open their eyes and look at the fields! May they see the Kwere "ripe for harvest!" May they be stirred to action: praying, researching and determining by God's grace, the Kwere will no longer be forgotten!
  • Pray for completion of Bible translation in this people group's primary language.
  • Pray for the availability of the Jesus Film in the primary language of this people.
  • Pray for Gospel messages to become available in audio format for this people group.

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