Tribes and culture
Over 100 different languages are spoken in Tanzania, making it the most linguistically diverse country in East Africa. The most important national language is Swahili, which is used in parliamentary debates, in the lower courts and as the language of instruction in primary schools. English is used in foreign trade, diplomacy, higher courts and as a medium of instruction in secondary schools and universities. Only about 10 per cent of the population learn Swahili as a first language, but 90 per cent speak Swahili as a second language.
There are at least 125 different ethnic tribes in Tanzania. These ethnic groups are primarily Bantu descendants, with small Nilotic, indigenous and non-African minorities. The country lacks a clearly dominant ethnic majority: the largest ethnic group in Tanzania, the Sukuma, makes up only about 16 percent of the total population of the country, followed by the Nyamwezi and the Chagga. Here you can find a more detailed description of four important tribes:
The people of the Hadzabe tribe have lived for thousands of years as hunters and gatherers. With less than 1,500 tribal members, the Hadzabe live a nomadic, decentralized existence near Lake Eyasi. The Hadzabe hunt daily and feed on meat, honey and roots. They live in harmony with their ecosystem and refuse to hunt with dogs as this would disturb the balance. The existence of the tribe is threatened by the increasing private land ownership. Some of the tribes interact with travellers and, for a small donation, will gladly demonstrate their amazing hunting skills (especially the bow and arrow arts are really worth seeing). You have the chance to meet these ancient tribes with our 10 day Safari Complete Tour.
If you had to name a Tanzanian tribe, most people would probably answer with Massai. The territory of the Masai includes the well-known safari areas of Tanzania – the Serengeti, Ngorongoro and Lake Natron. They are a nomadic people known for their cattle breeding. Many Masai tribal communities live in Kraals, an enclosed village, and they share grazing land and water during the dry season. Like other tribes, the Masaai are rich in their individual culture. This includes handicrafts such as elaborate beadwork using local materials such as clay, seeds and bones, and a variety of hairstyles that express the position and stage of life of the wearer. Many Maasai earn an extra income by performing traditional dances and singing for tourists and selling handmade jewellery. If you go on safari with us, you can visit a traditional Masai village in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area or at Lake Natron. We do not recommend a visit to a Masai village near Arusha, because of the proximity of the town the Masai exchange jeans with the classic Masai Shukas 5 minutes before your visit.
The Chagga are the third largest ethnic group in Tanzania. If you are planning to climb Kilimanjaro, you will probably be guided by a Chagga guide. The slopes of Africa’s highest mountain and the nearby town of Moshi are mainly inhabited by this ethnic group. The Bantu-speaking Chagga are farmers who grow cereals such as yams, beans, corn and bananas. They are also known for their coffee. There are no centralized villages in the Chagga culture – each family lives in its own coffee and banana plantation. With our Marangu Village Culture Tour you can visit a Chagga shamba (farm) and learn more about the harvest from the bean to the finished cup of coffee.
The Sukuma (“people of the north”) are the largest ethnic group in Tanzania and live in the northwest. They are closely related to the second largest group in the country, the Nyamwezi, and are mainly farmers and cattle breeders. Millet and sweet potato farmers are the preferred crops of the Sukuma. This tribe has a complex hierarchy based on age groups. Meetings with people of the same age decide on relevant village matters. Although many Sukuma are Christians, superstition and animism, which attributes souls to all living beings and natural phenomena, are still very common. Visitors can meet the Sukuma mainly in Mwanza and near Lake Victoria.