A Cultural Tapestry

Tanzania is home to over 120 distinct ethnic groups, each with its own unique history and culture.

While the focus of a safari is often on the wildlife, Tanzania’s rich cultural history adds another dimension to your trip. You’ll have a chance to encounter this constantly evolving tapestry on a Thomson tour, on trips to traditional settlements, meeting with tribal elders and storytellers, and in unscripted encounters in markets, villages, and in camp.

Some of the most unique and recognizable cultures in Tanzania include the: 

Maasai

Members of this warrior tribe are a familiar sight on the plains of Northern Tanzania, often wearing the brightly colored shuka that they’re known for (and which regularly inspire fashion designers). Semi-nomadic pastoralists, the Maasai have traditionally been cattle herders, and their wealth and status in the community once related directly to the number of cattle they owned.

There are many Maasai working for Rick and Judi in Tanzania, including Emmanuel (pictured here), who has worked as a translator for guests on visits to traditional Maasai bomas (a group of circular mud-and-dung huts). Like so many Maasai, and Tanzanians in general, Emmanuel blends his cultural traditions with a more modern way of life. He recently graduated from wilderness school, and we at Thomson expect he’ll go on to great things!


Chagga

For centuries, the Chagga have lived on and around the slopes of Kilimanjaro, farming bananas and coffee in villages spread throughout the foothills. Historically the Chagga were organized into multiple clans, each led by its own chief. Occasionally these chiefs would form alliances, even small kingdoms, that bound many different clans together.

The Chagga value education, and are known in Tanzania for their shrewd intelligence. Many of the country’s leading politicians and businesspeople come from the Chagga tribe.

Unsurprisingly, since Kilimanjaro has traditionally been their home, many guides and porters on the mountain are of Chagga descent, like Pendaeli Lauwo, pictured here. Pendaeli has a particularly close tie to the mountain; his grandfather, Yohana Lauwo, served as guide on the first recorded summit of Kili, in 1889. Pendaeli is following in his grandfather’s footsteps (almost literally), leading Thomson trekkers to the top today!

Hadza

Most of the tribes living in Tanzania today have moved into the modern era, or, like many of the Maasai, are blending a deep respect for their heritage into a modern life. The Hadza, though, are a tribe with truly ancient traditions.

That’s because the Hadza are one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes still in existence. Just 1,000 members of the group remain, all of them in Tanzania, and between 300 and 400 of them live almost exactly as their ancestors have for thousands of years, hunting prey with bows and arrows, foraging for fruit, roots, and honey, and living in only the most rudimentary of shelters (or under the open sky during the dry season).

Though many attempts have been made to “settle” the Hadza, they generally return to their traditional way of life as soon as donations of food dry up.

 


This is just a taste of Tanzania’s incredible cultural diversity. There are dozens more tribes in Tanzania, each weaving the thread of its own rich traditions into the ever-changing tapestry of modern-day Tanzania. If you’re interested in learning more about Tanzania’s various tribes, let us know; we’d be happy to introduce you to more of the people that call Tanzania home!

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