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Tribes of Tanzania

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    When you visit Tanzania, there are a lot of things you will encounter and experience, such as meeting the tribes of Tanzania. 

    Noa, let’s give you a brief scenario of what can take place during your visit to Tanzania…

    You are walking through a Tanzanian marketplace bustling with colors and sounds. The sweet smell of cloves hits your nostrils just as several Maasai craftswomen wave you over to look at their intricate beading, art, and textiles. Never have you seen such beauty.

    You are awake before sunrise and arrive to a boulder outcropping near Lake Eyasi. Three Hadza Bushmen greet your arrival, all wearing baboon skins, and gripping bows and arrows. You are to join them for their morning hunt. Never have you been so excited.

    You are hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro, part of a weeklong trek along the Machame Route to Africa’s tallest peak. You strike up a conversation with a porter: he’s a young Chagga man who carries a large bag on his shoulders and smiles. Never have you been so humbled.

    Some say a journey to Tanzania is like going to the beginning, like traveling to ground zero. But what you’ll find here aren’t tribes stuck in the past. No, you’ll discover more than 120 different tribal groups living very much in the present, a human tapestry weaving traditional with modern, rural with urban. Nowhere else in Africa can you find this level of tribal diversity. In fact, Tanzania is the only African nation whose tribes represent all four of the continent’s major ethnolinguistic groups—Bantu, Cushitic, Nilotic, and Khoisan. How cool is that?

    Top 5 tribes of Tanzania

    Learning about all 120+ tribes would take a lifetime, so let’s cut to the chase. Here are five important and influential tribes you should know about, ones that you’ll most likely come into contact with during any adventure to Tanzania:

    1 . Sukuma​

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    • Estimated Population: 5.5 million
    • Location: North. Near Mwanza and Southern Lake Victoria
    • Language: Sukuma (Bantu – 95% are Tanzanians are of Bantu origin)

    “The wind does not break a tree that bends,” is a famous proverb of the Sukuma, Tanzania’s largest tribe. They are mainly rural-living and many today practice Christianity. Polygyny is standard practice with the Sukuma, too, yet they are predominately a matriarchal society. Like many tribes in East Africa, dance and singing are hallmark activities. The Sukuma economy is mixed—growing crops and raising livestock. The Nyamwezi tribe is another large tribe in the region, culturally and geographically similar to the Sukuma.

    Sources: (Source 1) (Source 2)

    2. Chagga

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    • Estimated Population: 2 million
    • Location: Southern and eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.
    • Language: Kichaga (Bantu)

    “He who leaves a child lives eternally,” is a Chagga proverb hinting at the tribe’s emphasis on living through descendants. As Tanzania’s third largest tribal group, most Chagga members are farmers (millet, bananas, coffee, etc.) and many also now practice Christianity and Islam. Chagga are known for their strong work ethic, so if you decide to climb Kilimanjaro, chances are you will encounter members of the Chagga on your approach or as porters and guides.

    3. Maasai

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    • Estimated Population: 800,000 (1+ million in Kenya/Tanzania)
    • Location: Southern and eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.
    • Language: Maa (Nilotic);

    Most speak Swahili or some English”If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” is a Maasai proverb. The Maasai might be the most famous tribe in Tanzania, known for their colorful attire and spirit. They are mainly pastoralist herders, cattle being a primary economic driver of exchange. The Maasai are patriarchal and monotheistic, and their traditional diet derives almost exclusively from cattle—meat, milk, and blood. They live in kraals, enclosed villages, and many are intricate beadworkers. Song and dance is, you guessed it, central to celebration and ceremony.

    4. Hadzabe (Hadza)

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    • Estimated Population: 1,200-1,300
    • Location: Simple dwellings and caves around Lake Eyasi.
    • Language: Their unique language, popular for its use of clicking sounds, is unrelated to any regional language.

    The Hadzabe are a small hunter-gatherer tribe, one the world’s last remaining of its kind. Without livestock or agriculture, most mornings start with hunting and foraging, adhering to a simple diet that many believe holds the key to health. (Source). Gender roles are distributed where men typically hunt on their own to bring home meat and honey, while women and children gather fruits, berries, and roots.

    5. Iraqw​

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    • Estimated Population: 350,000.
    • Location: North-Central. Arusha Province and Lake Manyara regions.
    • Language: Iraqw (Cushitic)

    Most of the Iraqw population is concentrated on the Mbulu Plateau, between Lake Manyara and Lake Eyasi. Many Easy Travel adventures travel through Iraqw territory. It is said that the Iraqw were the first tribe to settle the Ngorongoro Crater. (Source) The Iraqw tribe is known for their sharply defined features, blacksmithing (men) and pottery (women), and they often grow their own food and tend to cattle. (Source)

    Bottom line

    Any adventure to Tanzania can include world-class safaris, hiking, and beachcombing, but it also offers some of the most unique opportunities on the planet to learn about our shared human story, past and present. The diverse intersection of tribes, of languages, folktales, and music converges in Tanzania and invites you into its swirl of celebration. Are you in?

    Getting you there?

    Easy Travel includes cultural and tribal tours with most of their safaris and bookings. From attending traditional Maasai markets to getting up before sunrise for a walking safari with Hadzabe, contact us today.

    Musaddiq Gulamhussein - Owner - Easy Travel Tanzania

    About the author: Musaddiq

    Meet Musaddiq Gulamhussein, owner of Easy Travel Tanzania, a tour company creating life-changing safari experiences for over 35 years. Musaddiq has explored Tanzania, developing a deep understanding of the local cultures and traditions. Follow his journey and gain insights into the African Safari experience through Easy Travel's social media and blog.

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