Country Guide

People and Culture

This cosmopolitan country has descendants from all over the world and the continent...

Strangely enough, the one trait of Tanzania that has been its greatest asset is that it does not really have any tribal divisions within its people. This was created by the amalgamation of the population by Julius Nyerere in the 60s, bringing the rural communities into centralised areas. This is not to say, however, that there are not some very interesting populations and tribes that are worth visiting. A handful of the more interesting traditions and famous tribes are outlined below:


Swahili, or KiSwahili as the dialect is known, has been one of the major uniting factors in Tanzania. Meaning "of the coast" the language has its roots in the Bantu dialects of Southern Africa and also strong influences from Arabic.

Developed as the lingua franca of East Africa, it meant that trading throughout the region became that much easier and, today, it is the main language throughout Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and in many of the northern parts of Mozambique.

While not strictly and "people" or a "culture" the formation of the words and the influences of the Arab traders do offer a bit of a glimpse into the countries rich trading past and also the reason it has managed to remain fairly peaceful throughout the years.

The Kanga

The variety and array of different colours and meanings for the Kanga is absolutely astounding and well worth mentioning in this section as this simple garment plays such an important role in the everyday life of the Tanzanian.

Throughout the world it is possible to see cultures and communities that are located close to water wearing this type of wrap around is simply much more practical. Tanzanians have, however, used these pieces of cloth as a way to communicate as well and so, to understand a little about the symbolism behind them when travelling through Tanzania can also help (especially if you are male!)

Usually very colourful in their design and patterning, the Kanga quite often has a message or some form of symbolism around the borders. These messages (for example: "Majivuno hayafai" — Greed is never useful) can be proverbs that are useful warnings for everyday life. The other use is to reflect mood. When an angry Tanzanian woman gets out of bed in the morning, she may well put on a certain type of Kanga, to display to those around her that she is not to be messed with on that day. In this way village communities can interact without having to actually interact!

Tingatinga painting

When you visit the coastal towns and islands of Tanzania you will notice the highly decorative and caricature styled paintings, known as "Tingatinga". Originally conceived in the 1960s by Edward Tingatinga, this paintwork became hugely popular due both its subject matter (usually animals), and its use of colours and vibrancy.

It is worth bearing in mind that this has never been seen as a "high art" style of painting, but there is no doubting that these works are really interesting and are totally unique to Tanzania.

The Hadza/Hadzabe Tribe

This ancient tribe of bushmen and women, numbering at around 2,000 these days, are located up in the region around Lake Eyasi, to the south of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

The tribe, and their language, Hadzame, are thought to be one of the last existing Khoisan tribes left in Africa. Like the San Bushmen of the Kalahari, the tribe is a lose collection of small communities that communicate through the use of a "click" dialect, and who wander without apparent boundary or distinction, eating what they can to survive.

At one time, the government of Tanzania tried to assimilate the tribe into "modern" society by encouraging them to have a permanent base and to start farming...but the tribe rejected this and have, ever since, remained as subsistence hunter the credit of the government, they have been left alone since.

To visit this fascinating window into the history of, not only Tanzania, but the whole of Africa and of humans themselves, is a real privilege and is certainly something that we recommend highly.

The Maasai

Descended from the Nilotic tribes of Northern Africa, the Maasai have developed a fearsome reputation over their history for being string warriors and ardent pastoralists. Today, the same is very much the case and, even with the reduction of the overall territory (through the creation of reserves and cyclical droughts), they are given a great deal of respect.

It is very easy to recognise a Maasai warrior as you drive through the northern parks of Tanzania as they are always dressed in a collection of brightly coloured, red shawls and carry a spear. These two items are the stock in trade of the Maasai, one to protect against the changing weather (especially around the Ngorongoro Crater) and the other to protect their cattle from predators....there is nothing more important to a Maasai than their cattle who provide them with meat, milk and companionship throughout their lives.

Roughly speaking, the Maasai of Tanzania have right to graze their cattle throughout the northern parts of Tanzania and they are found in most abundance in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, to the East of the Serengeti.