Tanzania's widely publicized system of collective ujamaa villages is not popular among farmers in this remote and backward southwestern corner of the country.

"It was in 1974 that the soldiers came, knocked down our houses and burned the grass thatching," said a father of four. "They loaded us into trucks and said we couldn't go back to our old homes, but had to rebuild here, close together so there would be no room for private gardens around the houses."

There is so little enthusiasm for ujamaa in Ufipa District, in fact, that the residents of one village, Sofa, picked up and moved en masse across the Zambian border. After protests from Tanzanian officials, the Zambian authorities sent them back.

Many have quietly slipped back into Zambia, however, to join the hundreds, or perhaps thousands of Tanzanians of the border-straddling Lungu, Mambwe and Namwanga tribes who now cultivate their own plots or work for wages in small Zambian farms.

Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere has been promoting the concept of self-reliant ujamaa (Swahili for "familyhood") villages since the late 1960s. They were intended to eliminate capitalistic and individualistic tendencies and control the country's widely dispersed population.

The villages were also meant to be a practical way to provide schools, roads, health care and clean water to the country's rural majority.

In 1974, the pace of building ujamaas was so slow that armed soldiers were deployed to hasten progress. Here in Ufipa District and elsewhere, the process was executed so impetuously that there has been a decline in agricultural production and a rise in political alienation.

One peasant here is said to have gone int a rage and shot four soldiers dead after his wife and child, forced from their house, were mauled by a lion. The mention of the ideology behind ujamaa or even of the country's leaders often brings the reply, "We don't like politics."

When the villagers were warned that they were about to be moved into villages, rumors spread that their cattle would be taken from them to start collective herds.

"I have worked hard for my cattle," said Jacob Simwanza at the time, "so why should I share them with lazy who only drink beer."

Simwanza and many other cattle owners began slaughtering their herds. A good deal of meat was smuggled across the border into Zambia where prices are higher.

So far, livestock has not been seized and many of the new settlements have not even begun collective gardens, supposedly the backbone of ujamaa production.

In Kipande village, for instance, have been busy constructing houses. After they were moved, the villagers immediately had to build temporary dwellings and then make bricks for permanent houses which they put in neat rows staked out for them by government officials.

Last year, however, the same officials said that the houses were too close together and ordered that they be rebuilt on one-acre plots to allow space for private kitchen gardens.

Agriculture production is hampered because in many cases the fields are five or more miles form the houses. Rather than start ujamaa gardens, some villagers prefer to hike back to their own homesteads to raise their crops.

"We can't produce as much as in the old days," said one farmer, "because now it's against the law to sleep in the gardens and monkeys are free to help themselves at night."

Longtime European residents of the district say people were better off materially before ujamaa . One well-educated Tanzanian said, "Collectivization may work for its Chinese but every African wants something of his own."

Another observer said, "The government in Dar es Salaam knows that economically ujamaa is not working, but it has decided on a policy of socialism at any price. If it had built the schools, dispensaries and water systems first, and then encouraged the people to move together, it may have succeeded."

"But now," he added, "the people are in many cases forced from good land to bad and have only vague promises of increased services which were supposed to be a basic part of ujamaa."

Many villagers have, however, built schools which the government staffs, so that more children are being educated here now than ever before.

In neighboring Mbeya region, the industrious Nyakusa people around Tukuyu have refused to move into ujamaa villages. For the time being, the government has accepted their compromise of forming governing village councils, but staying on their family plots. One Nyakusa employed away from home said, "We already have productive farms, successful cooperatives, good schools and clean water.We don't needujamaa and if they try to force it on us we will fight."