Nyiha Survey – Week 4

First Posted 16/09/2004 - Last Updated 22/01/2005

Sunday: We arrive in Zambia after about 2 hours of driving and 4 hours of waiting at the border trying to get all the right papers. We’re staying in Isoka (Northern Province) in a government guesthouse which is fairly nice, although there’s no water so we have to rely on the guard bringing a few bucketfuls from the river. We have heard a bit about the Nyiha or Nyika here in Zambia today, who may even number as many as 100,000, which is a bit of a surprise since no-one in Tanzania seemed to have heard of them at all. Everybody here speaks English – very strange…

Monday: After visiting the district commissioner we are introduced to a man who knows the Nyika (as they are called in Zambia) area well and can take us there. We drive for about 2 hours and he introduces us to the chief. The chief seems a very nice man – he’s a Christian which is unusual for a chief, and he has refused to take part in all the normal rituals expected of a chief because he says that Jesus is his King! He tells us a bit about the Nyika there and that they came from Tanzania and he assures us that they speak the same language as the Nyiha of Tanzania.



He also tells us about the Nyika living just across the border in Malawi. We plan to come back tomorrow to talk to some more of the villagers and then pop across to Malawi for a few hours on Wednesday. Rain pours down while we’re inside even though it’s not supposed to start until next month. Get back to find that the abundance of water hasn’t reached the guest house – we’re still relying on bucketfuls from the river…

Tuesday: We travel back to the Nyika area and Anna takes a wordlist with some of the people. Louise and I try to do a group interview, which involves going to a wedding and sitting through 2 ½ hours of singing and dancing and then asking the 300 people questions about their language straight after the marriage ceremony as the bride and groom are sitting there! Very bizarre… We put up our tents in the garden of the chief’s palace because we plan to pop across the border to Malawi tomorrow to talk to Nyika speakers there.



Wednesday: Our “popping across the border” turns into a bit of an adventure – we get to the first town where they tell us the immigration official isn’t there so we have to go to the next town. Unfortunately this means we don’t have enough fuel to get back the way we came (due to the lack of diesel in northern Zambia and Malawi) so we get our passports stamped and then carry on to southern Tanzania to get fuel… Amazingly God has a plan in all this (as he usually does) and we end up meeting a Nyiha speaker from the far northwest of Malawi which we hadn’t realised was yet another variety of Nyika / Nyiha which is somehow between the Tanzanian variety and the other Zambian / Malawian variety. Confused? We were. Go to bed dreaming of bumpy roads and border crossings…



Alarm clock


Thursday: We go back to Malawi to finish off the work. The immigration official is wearing an Arsenal shirt which makes me think twice about entering the country. We talk to the Group Village Headman and end up quite confused about who is chief and where, until we find out that there are actually two conflicting groups who are arguing about the chiefdoms in the area. Suddenly all becomes clear as we see that all the people we have talked to belong to one group or the other and their opinions were affected accordingly! As we’re waiting for the customs official to let us back into Zambia I start playing football with some kids – never before have I miscontrolled the ball and had to fetch it from a different country…



Friday: After visiting the District Commisioner (who isn’t there) in Isoka (Zambia) we make one last trip into Malawi – this time to the far northwest to try and find the Nyiha speakers there. We end up talking to some of the men from the village who tell us all about the area and the languages that are spoken there. It turns out that the people have been using the (now out of print) New Testament from the Nyiha in Tanzania. There are very few copies left now and some people are even copying them by hand into notebooks. It’s very exciting to see a people group so hungry for the Bible in their language and so excited about the new translation project in Tanzania! And we may have never even known about these people had we not been low on fuel on Wednesday…

Saturday: After a week full of travelling and talking to lots of very interesting people we’re back in Mbeya, Tanzania, entering data into our computers and enjoying electricity, comfortable beds and toilet seats.

Quote of the week: “errrrr… ummm… I’m not sure - what time zone are we in here?” (Louise after being asked the time on our second day in Malawi)

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