map of Zinza language area

Population: 100,000 – 300,000 (estimated)

Location: Mara Region, Geita District

Religion: Traditional Animism

Published Scripture:  Genesis, Luke

> Browse our Zinza project stories

The Zinza people live on the remote south-western shores and islands of Lake Victoria in north-west Tanzania. Many are fishermen, working at night and tending towards a semi-nomadic lifestyle. The remainder are agriculturalists growing a variety of crops such as millet, beans, plantains, and a wide range of tropical fruits. They also raise cattle, sheep, and goats. 

Although Swahili is used as the main language of communication between the different people groups, the Zinza are proud of their mother tongue and interested in learning to read and write in Echizinza (the language of the Zinza people).

Location: The Zinza live in Geita District, northwestern Tanzania, on the islands and on the southwestern shores of Lake Victoria. 

Geography and Climate: The land around Lake Victoria is semi-tropical scrubby forest. 

Population numbers are not exact due to the fact that some nearby peoples speak Zinza but call themselves Longo or Subi and not Zinza). There are about 30,000 Zinza living in urban areas. Zinza Population Centers: 

  • Kome Island – 80,000 
  • Juma Island – 2,000 – 3,000 
  • Maisome Island – 50,000 
  • Izumacheli Island – 10,000 
  • Kahunda town – 20,000 
  • Butundwe – 80,000 
  • Luhama – 10,000 

Cultural Information: Most of the Zinza are farmers and fishermen, producing cotton and bananas along with the fish they catch. Some are builders and gold miners. A schoolteacher or other government employee may make $200 – 250 a year. Fishermen make more than that. Those who own ferry boats or are shop owners can make much more. Those who are making a living by subsistence farming and selling their banana beer (traditional Zinza drink) may make under $50 a year. There is about one radio per household of 20 people.

Diet: Their basic diet is rice, fish, millet porridge, and bananas. They also grow cassava, corn, sweet potatoes and a variety of fruits. 

Health: The Zinza’s greatest health concerns are malaria, Bilharzia, and dysentery. They don’t worry about other sicknesses, like AIDS, because they assume that they will not live long enough to be affected by it. Most people see health problems as spiritual problems, after all, everybody gets mosquito bites, but not everybody gets sick. So whether or not a person gets sick is up to the gods. Health education is a great need as well as literacy work. 

Language Group Information: The Zinza language is a Bantu language as are its neighbors. Zinza is closely related to other Bantu peoples on the northern side of the lake in Uganda, specifically the Nyankore and Nyoro. Following the Bantu pattern, the Zinza consider their first language to be Kizinza, meaning “language of the Zinza.” 

Zinza is spoken at home, in Zinza villages and markets. They also speak Swahili, the national language, and they might speak Sukuma if they live near Sukuma people. Some of the older people speak English (due to the fact that they were educated during Colonial times). Wherever there is a mix of ethnic groups, Swahili is used. 

The Zinza people are very proud of their language, and they are also proud to learn their national language – Swahili. The Zinza are characterized by tradition. They value continuity through time. Their religion, stories, and songs are very important to them. Attitudes: The Zinza are not receptive to outside cultures and would say that they have not been influenced by them. They are afraid of losing their identity. Changing too much would be to renounce Zinza. The Zinza would like to see their language documented, preserved, and given some prestige.

Religion: Traditional Animism. The Zinza religion is secretive, so they would not invite an outsider into one of their religious ceremonies. The Zinza traditional religion is considered one of the strongest traditional religions in Africa. It is a very anthropologically developed religion. They worship and appease actual beings, and they acknowledge that these beings are demonic. Most of the people call themselves Catholics because they were baptized as Catholics, and they call themselves Zinza because they practice Zinza religion. Many of the Catholic Zinza do not attend church, they were just baptized as babies. 

The Africa Inland Church (AIC) has initiated an outreach program to reach the people along the shorelines and islands of the southeast region of Lake Victoria. A good many of these people are Zinza, who are receptive to the gospel. Active evangelism has been started on the large island of Maisome, and a small church planted. 

There has been some evangelization done previously by AIC, but most have not been reached for Christ. Many believers have backslidden. There is a team of 2-4 missionaries located in Kahunda, and they are making approaches to the people in the area as well as to those on the islands nearby.

Translation: Language and translation work has been very challenging. However, encouraging progress has been made with the recent completion of the book of Genesis. The next book to be translated will be the Gospel of Luke. 

Recently two Zinza men have joined full time in the task of translating God’s work into the language of their people. It’s as if two missionaries, already fluent in the Zinza language and fully adjusted to the culture, have just arrived at the scene to help Tim and Chris with this task. Pray that the Lord will bless Lukafuba and Barthazari in their efforts! 

Literacy: Minimal staff has made literacy efforts quite difficult. However with the production of annual calendars, story books and cultural booklets in recent years this is slowly changing.

History: After the government eradicated the tsetse fly in the 1940s, other peoples began to migrate into the lakeside area of the Zinza. Thus the Zinza now share their area with the Sukuma, Haya, Kerewe and Jita. 

The Zinza fought many battles with the neighboring ethnic groups, much like the wars of the Old Testament. Their biggest rival were the Sukuma, the largest ethnic group in Tanzania, who traditionally live south and east of the Zinza. 

During Tanzania’s colonization, European Catholic priests, mostly German, were sent to the Zinza area. The Zinza were assigned to the Catholics and the Sukuma people (the dominant tribe of northern Tanzania) were assigned to the African Inland Mission, now called the African Inland Church of Tanzania (AIC). 

In the 1920’s, the Catholics did some translation work with a mixed orthography (alphabet) they had developed. They produced some Biblical texts, and a catechism. These were not widely used since the orthography was not easily understandable, but they were filed in the Vatican archives. 

In the 1980’s, the African Inland Mission (previously assigned to work amongst the Sukuma people just south and east of the Zinza) invited us to help reach out to the Zinza and to do a Bible translation. In 1987, a sociolinguistic survey was conducted. The following conclusions were drawn from the survey data: 

  1. The Zinza could benefit greatly from having Scriptures available to them in their language. 
  2. This need cannot be adequately met by existing Scriptures in any of the related languages (i.e. Swahili) covered by this survey. 
  3. The fact that Zinza continues to be the language of preference of the people in their day-to-day living indicates that they would respond very positively to literacy programs in Zinza as well as in Swahili.

Two Wycliffe families were assigned to the task of beginning Bible translation work amongst the Zinza people. The project was started in 1991.

> Browse our Zinza project stories