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Pimbwe (Upimbwe/Mpimbwe)

all pictures: © Monique Borgerhoff Mulder


  • Senior researcher: Monique Borgerhoff Mulder
  • Team members:
    • Ayubo Msago
    • Peter Mgawe
    • Emily Fitzherbert
    • Craig Hadley
    • Brian Paciotti
    • Chris Holmes
    • Peter Coppolillo
    • Sarah-Jane Seel
    • Tim Caro
  • Site founded: 1995

Site Details

The Bantu Pimbwe subsist primarily of horticulture in the Rukwa valley of western Tanzania, organized as a chiefdom until the early 20th century. As erstwhile residents of (what is now) Katavi National Park the Pimbwe have a history of extensive hunting, fishing and honey collection, activities that have become increasingly tenuous under 20th and 21st century conservation policies. Both men and women cultivate cassava, maize, and millet using hand-held hoes, but yields are highly unreliable due to unpredictable rainfall, soil depletion, numerous crop pests, theft and animal depredations, rendering engagement in off-farm activities (beer brewing, traditional medicine, tailoring, craft production, petty trade, etc.) valuable economic supplements for both men and women. Marriage is typically monogamous, with both sexes divorcing and remarrying over their lifetimes, and polygyny is becoming more prevalent. Until the completion of a road into the Rukwa valley (2015) the area had very limited infrastructural services, with respect to health care, power and market access. Mpimbwe has been heavily affected by immigrant Sukuma populations since the 1970s. Christianity, Islam, and traditional witchcraft beliefs are held.


Research focused primarily on demography and household productivity, with a longitudinal framework designed to determine marital and reproductive strategies in relation to changing economic fortunes. We have also looked at natural resource management, food security, child health, cooperation, family planning, maternal depression, and written a book about the history of the area. Currently all project activity focuses on applied conservation and development issues http://www.lcmo.or.tz/.

Selected Publications

Borgerhoff Mulder M, Beccaria S, Bwasama SS, Caro T, Fitzherbert E, Genda P, Kwiyega JL. (2019).  Using community action to halt illegal lion killing. BioScience.

Borgerhoff Mulder M, Ross CT. (2019). Unpacking Mating Success and Testing Bateman’s Principles in  a Human Population. Proc B. Lond. 286: 20191516.

Towner, M. C., Borgerhoff Mulder, M. and 16 more authors. Inferring sex-biased parental investment in  15 small-scale human populations. Phil. Trans. R. Soc Lond. B. 374:20180076.

Ross CT, Borgerhoff Mulder, M et al. (2018), Greater wealth inequality, less polygyny: Rethinking the   polygyny threshold model. Royal Society Interface.

Salerno, J., Mwalyoyo, J., Caro, T., Fitzherbert, E. and M. Borgerhoff Mulder (2017). The   consequences of internal migration in sub-Saharan Africa: A case study". BioScience 67: 664–671.

Seel S-J, Mgawe P, Borgerhoff Mulder M 2014. The History and Traditions of the Pimbwe. Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, Dar es Salaam.

Mgawe P, Borgerhoff Mulder M, Caro T, Seel SJ 2013. Historia ya Kabila la Wapimbwe. Mkuki na Nyota Publishers., Dar es Salaam.

Mgawe P, Borgerhoff Mulder M, Caro T, Martin A, Kiffner C. 2012. Factors affecting bushmeat consumption in the Katavi-Rukwa ecosystem of Tanzania. Tropical Conservation Science 5:446-462.

Borgerhoff Mulder M, Beheim BA. 2011. Understanding the nature of wealth and its effects on human fitness. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 366:344-356.

Borgerhoff Mulder M. 2009a. Serial monogamy as polygyny or polyandry? Marriage in the Tanzanian Pimbwe. Human Nature 20:130-150.

Borgerhoff Mulder M. 2009b. Tradeoffs and sexual conflict over women’s fertility preferences in Mpimbwe. American Journal of Human Biology 21:478-487.

Hadley C, Patil CL. 2008. Seasonal changes in household food insecurity and symptoms of anxiety and depression. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 135:225-232.

Hadley C, Borgerhoff Mulder M, Fitzherbert E. 2007. Seasonal food insecurity and perceived social support in rural Tanzania. Public Health Nutrition 10:544-551.

Borgerhoff Mulder M, Caro TM, Msago AO. 2007. The role of research in evaluating conservation strategies in Tanzania: the case of the Katavi-Rukwa ecosystem. Conservation Biology 21:647-658.

Hadley C, Patil CL. 2006. Food insecurity in rural Tanzania is associated with maternal anxiety and depression. American Journal of Human Biology 18:359-368.

Hadley C. 2004. The costs and benefits of kin: Kin networks and children's health among the Pimbwe of Tanzania. Human Nature 15:377-395.

Paciotti B, Hadley C. 2003. The Ultimatum game among sympatric ethnic groups in southwestern Tanzania: Ethnic variation and institutional scope. Current Anthropology 44:427-432.