Tribes in Tanzania

Tribes in Tanzania are many in number and one can explore a lot from the rich cultural backgrounds of the different tribes in Tanzania. One among the blessings that our nation Tanzania has been blessed with is cultural diversity. Tanzania is a home of around 120 different ethnic groups distributed well throughout the country. Each tribe speaks its unique language and has its own traditions and customs. Interestingly, Tanzania is the only African country whose tribes represent all four of the continents major ethnolinguistic groups namely Bantu, Cushitic, Nilotic and Khoisan. Most of Tanzania tribes practice agricultural activities, hunting, and gathering and are therefore located away from town or in the farmlands. In big cities, there are normally a mixed-up family of almost all tribes in Tanzania connected together through the national language Kiswahili.

Below is a brief introduction to a few of the commonest tribes located in different parts of the nation. The selection is based on the size and popularity of the tribe.

Maasai Tribe in Tanzania

Unsurprisingly Maasai tribe from Northern Tanzania comes first not by the size of its population but by how popular its culture is in many places around the world. Maasai is a Nilotic family group that sees most of its population in Northern Tanzania and some places in Kenya. Maasai tribe has an estimated population of 800,000 people in Tanzania and more than one million in both Tanzania and Kenya. Most of the Maasai are found around national parks like Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro National Park and their major economic activities are livestock keeping (cattle being the primary economic driver of exchange) and farming. Some Maasai communities live around kraals, an enclosed village, and they share grazing and water during dry seasons. Many Maasai welcome tourists into their kraals, meet them, expose their dances and songs and give the tourists a chance to buy their handcrafted jewelry which is an economic activity commonly done by the women in their societies. One of the famous Maasai proverbs states, “If you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far go together.”

The Sukuma Tribe in Tanzania

The Sukuma tribe is the largest ethnic group among the tribes in Tanzania. Sukuma means “people of the north”. Sukuma tribe sees a population of around 5.5 million. Sukuma tribe, unlikely Nilotic Maasai is of Bantu origin. They are found in the Mwanza region and around Lake Victoria southern shores. The Sukuma language has Niger-Congo roots. They are mainly of rural living and many today practice Christianity. Polygamy is a common practice amongst the Sukuma people, yet they are a predominantly matriarchal society.  They are closely related to the country’s second-largest tribe the Nyamwezi, and they are mostly millet and sweet potato farmers and cattle herders. The main languages spoken by Sukuma tribesmen are Sukuma and Swahili. A common proverb found among the Sukuma says “the wind does not break a tree that bends”

Hadzabe Tribe

Another of the unique tribes in Tanzania is the Hadzabe tribe. This is the tribe that resembles most to the Bushmen from Kalahari. The tribe has a population of about 1200-1300 found in the simple dwellings and caves around Lake Eyasi. The Hadzabe live a nomadic decentralized existence around the Yaeda valley and nearby rocky scrub hills, in northern Tanzania. Some of the tribesmen interact with the travelers so there is a chance of seeing them in their hunting action or in their daily cultural activities. Their unique language, popular for their clicking sound is unrelated to any other language around the country. Their major economic activities are hunting and gathering and they live in complete seclusion from the rest of the human population, and probably one of the African tribes that are still very similar to their ancestors in terms of their current way of living.

Chagga Tribe

It is hard to speak of tribes in Tanzania without mentioning the Chagga. The Chagga is the third largest ethnic group in Tanzania. They have an estimated population of around 2 million tribesmen. The tribe is found at the southern and eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro near Moshi in the Kilimanjaro region. It is very easy to see the Chagga as you climb Mount Kilimanjaro or visits the Mount Kilimanjaro national park and due to their good working spirit, it is also common to find them as guides in Kilimanjaro national park or escorting visitors climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. The Chagga are well known for their fantastic work ethic. Chagga owing to their modern methods of irrigation and farming is relatively a well to do tribe in Tanzania. They are one of the tribes that modernized earlier than most tribes in Tanzania a factor that gives them credit in many modern economic activities in the country. Most of them depart their homes to the towns in search of business opportunities the Chagga major in agriculture and they mostly plant coffee and banana. They are interestingly known as well for the production of local alcohol of different types, most famously “Mbege” mainly made from fermented banana. There are no centralized villages in Chagga culture; each family lives in their own coffee and banana plantation which creates a conducive and wonderful patchwork effect across the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Other Tribes in Tanzania

The Nyamwezi tribe is the second-largest tribe in Tanzania is another massive and unique ethnic group in the country. They have a population of about 1.5 million people and their name Nyamwezi is of Swahili origin meaning “people of the moon” or “people of the west”. They are an ethnic group speculated to have originated from central Africa.

Zaramo tribe is another tribe amongst the many found in Tanzania. They are mostly found at the coastal areas mostly in Dar es Salaam and Pwani region.  There are around 700,000 Zaramo in Tanzania and most of them practice Islam religion except very few who practice other religions. Their common language is Swahili which has its origin in the Arabic language. They have adopted the Swahili-Arab culture in terms of dressing and other traditions. The Zaramo practice mostly farming as well as fish and livestock keeping. They produce staple foods such as rice, millet, sorghum as well as cash crops such as coconuts and horticulture products such as peas. However, due to the modernization of the city of dar es salaam, most of them are small businessmen in the city center. 

It is very difficult to speak of every cultural heritage that the nation embraces in a single article. There are so many tribes in Tanzania including the Hehe, Haya, Digo, Ngoni, Meru, Iraqw, Mbulu, e.t.c. All 120 and more tribes speak a different language and have their own way of dealing with matters alongside with beliefs. This makes Tanzania have a number of native languages including Kihaya, Kimasai, Kichagga, Kipare, Kingoni and Kisukuma. Surprisingly enough there are some ethnic groups whose tribal languages are further subdivided into different languages which resemble just to some point, and it is common to ethnic groups with a large number of people. The Chagga for instance, they generally speak Kichagga which is further subdivided to different languages such as Kimachame, Kikibosho, Kirombo, and Kimarangu. These languages as spoken by various groups of Wachagga according to their geographical locations, and they have got many words in common. On the part of religious beliefs, we only have two major religions in Tanzania despite the one hundred and twenty tribes. These two religions are the Muslims and the Christians. However, some tribes still have their own local beliefs, something which is very common to the non-centralized tribes such as the Hadzabe, Maasai and Mangatu. You can simply imagine how beautiful and rich our nation is combining the natural resources that we have and the different cultures around the resources. The most stunning part of it is how the 120 groups which differ in almost all aspects starting from language differences up to their religious differences, and yet they still associate together peacefully with no any queries. To make matters simple, it can be clearly seen what a place to visit Tanzania is in terms of its cultural wealth.

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