Tribes and culture

The Tanzanian population includes more than 120 tribes, some are particularly numerous, others only include roughly hundreds of members, but all of them are deeply rooted in their land.

Sukuma tribe, with 3,2 million members, is the largest ethnic group: they live in Lake Victoria region and Mwanza is their main city. The history of this tribe is closely connected with farming and cattle, ancient traditions in general, especially music. They believe in a supreme God and have the greatest respect for the spirits of the ancestors. Healers belonging to the nfumucaste practise traditional medicine: they perform particular rites with amulets to cure diseases. An example of the connection between music and people is the dance that is still practised during the months of June and August; it is called Bugobogobo dance, a show with big python.

Another numerous and, to some extent, quite particular tribe is the Chagga, inhabiting the Kilimanjaro region.

They live in coffee and banana plantations from which they produce the distinguishing mbegebeer. Their traditional houses have no windows, a roof made of thick thatch and are divided into several spaces. Traditionally, they are farmers and cattle breeders, but they also became blacksmiths with the help of their neighbours, the Paretribe.

The Wazaramo tribe inhabits the area surrounding Dar es Salaam, while the coast and Zanzibar are home to Swahili people that also contributed to the development of the official language still spoken in Tanzania.

The Makondetribe, elegant sculptors of masks and figures traditionally carved out of the hard wood of ebony, has its origin in Mozambique and inhabits the south-eastern area of Tanzania.

Close to Lake Eyasi there are two tribes that are still following in their ancestors’ footsteps: the Datoga, blacksmiths able to forge jewels and arrow tips from scrap metal, and the Hadzabe, hunter-gatherer people proud of their tradition linked to their land.

However, the Tanzania’s most famous tribe is the Masai, or Maasai, a Nilotic ethnic group in comparison with roughly all the Tanzanian tribes which have bantuorigin.

Its core business is cattle and they mostly live in the north, their territory includes the Ngorongoro and Serengeti, even though they might be seen in other parts of Tanzania. Maasai society has a patriarchal nature, with elders and warriors taking the most important decisions. Young men must perform several rites of passage that will lead them to manhood becoming senior warriors. They live in huts made of mud and dung, the so-called manyatta, hierarchically divided depending on the sex and the tasks inside the tribe.

The Maasai have a polygamous society and marriages are arranged by the elders: a warrior usually gets married in his thirties or forties. They wear the typical Maasai sheets, whose colours change by the role. The spoken language is Maa, a Nilotic language, but they can also speak Swahili as they often come into contact with the rest of Tanzanian inhabitants: indeed, they work often in lodges, restaurants and tented camps as security guards.

They are reputed to be extremely brave. They do a curious dance characterized by spectacular jumps and create unique beaded and metal pieces of jewellery.

But these are only some of the Tanzanian tribes: each city, each region has its own tribes. Although it is impossible to list them all, you can learn more about this patchwork of different peoples simply by choosing a well-organized cultural holiday, where you will have the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting tribes.

Tanzania is a lively mixture of nature and culture: letting yourself get involved in such fascinating experiences means understanding every aspect of this extraordinary world that never repeats itself.