Tanzania – An amalgam of cultures and ethnic tribes

The first human habitation in Tanzania dates back 1.8 million years. The fossils were discovered in Olduvai Gorge.

Today’s Tanzanian culture is an amalgamation of nearly 120 cultures.

Some of the cultures are listed below.

Maasai: The Maasai are probably the most popular ethnic group in East Africa. They are renowned for their warlike and pastoral way of life and their cattle ranching. The number of cattle determines their social status. They inhabit northern Tanzania, near the Great Rift Valley and northern national parks. They wear bright red and blue clothes and pearl jewelry.

Chagga: The Chagga live on the slopes of Kilimanjaro north of the Masaai steppe. They cultivate the mountainside. Thanks to cooperative agriculture, they have achieved a fair standard of living.

Makonde: The Makondes are internationally known for their intricate wood (ebony) carvings. They live along the coast on the Makonde plateau.

Sukuma: The Sukuma are the largest group, living in the northwestern part of the country, south of Lake Victoria. Their cotton cultivation and cattle ranching lifestyle contributed to their prosperity.

The Hadzapi: They are nomadic tribes who survive on their hunting and food gathering skills. Only a few hundred Hadzapi remain, scattered in groups across the African continent. These bushmen have no permanent settlements and few possessions. They move around following the right opportunities for hunting, water and other necessities. Their language is unusual in that it uses clicking noises

Le Gogo (or Wagogo): They are a Bantu ethnic and linguistic group based in the Dodoma region of central Tanzania. They grew slowly due to the lack of water. They have a mixed economy of agriculture and livestock, but most heavily dependent on grain for agriculture. Gogo music has acquired an international reputation

Eh eh : The once-belligerent Hehe live in the tall grass of the Iringa district. They are Bantu speaking people and can be seen as typical of the military chiefdoms brought to East Africa by the Ngoni groups, who mainly live in the Iringa region.

Iraqw are a Cushitic people from the Arusha and Manyara regions of north-central Tanzania, near the Rift Valley Wall and south of the Ngorongoro Crater. They are known for their sculptural, motionless posture and sharply demarcated features. They grow their own food and take care of the livestock.

The Nyamwezi, (means “People of the Moon”) The Nyamwezi, now cultivators, were once great traders. Nineteenth-century European explorers considered them the most powerful group in the interior.

The Haya: They are located along the shores of Lake Victoria, northwest of Nyamwezi, cultivated and marketed coffee long before the arrival of Europeans and today have established tea and coffee processing factories. The Haya women produce excellent handicrafts.

Points to note:

1) None of the 120 cultures represents more than 10% of the population.

2) The current culture in urban areas is influenced by colonialism, Arab and Indian cultures.

3) Despite Tanzania’s cultural diversity, absolute peace and quiet reigns throughout the country. This is the result of the efforts of former president “JK Nyerere”. Its philosophy of common language has helped to link various cultures. 99% of Tanzanians speak ‘Swahili’, the national language.

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