LOCATION: Tanzania

POPULATION: 30.3 million

LANGUAGE: Swahili; English; Arabic; 130 indigenous languages

RELIGION: Islam; Christianity; indigenous beliefs


The United Republic of Tanzania, or Jamhuri ya Mwungano wa Tanzania, includes the mainland of Tanganyika, Zanzibar, and some offshore islands. Zanzibar and the coast have a long history of lucrative trading, which Arabs, Europeans, and Africans each have attempted to control. In 1840, the Sultan of Omani established his capital in Zanzibar. From there the caravan trade brought the Swahili language and Islam into the hinterlands as far as what is now the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1885, the Germans gained control of Tanzania. After World War I, Germany ceded control to the British, who ruled until 1946. The United Nations made Tanzania a trust territory under British rule after 1946.

Anti-colonial sentiment grew as the British administration favored white settlers and immigrant farmers. In 1929, Tanzanians formed the Tanganyika African Association. Julius Nyerere transformed it into the Tanganyika African National Union in 1954. Nyerere became prime minister in May 1961. On December 9, 1961, Tanzania gained full independence.

After independence, Tanzania embarked on an ambitious, large-scale project of national self-reliance. Led by Nyerere, the government promoted ujamaa (family villages), with the goal of bringing scattered families together in cooperatives. Although ujamaa made it easier to organize rural development, it did not achieve the lofty economic goals envisioned. Indeed, the World Bank classifies Tanzania as the second poorest country in the world, after Mozambique.


Tanzania is about twice the size of the state of California. The mainland includes 854 miles (1,374 kilometers) of coastline on the Indian Ocean. Tanzania's climate and topography are varied. The highest point in Africa is at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, and the lowest point is at the floor of Lake Tanganyika. Temperatures range from tropical to temperate. Sporadic rainfall makes agricultural and livestock production unpredictable.

Tanzania's physical and climatic variation is rivaled by its ethnic and cultural diversity. Its peoples belong to more than 120 ethnic groups. Tanzania is one of Africa's most populous countries. Most of the population is rural.


Each of the ethnic groups has its own language, giving Tanzania over 130 living languages. Unlike most African countries, Tanzania successfully adopted a single African language for purposes of national unity. Swahili (or KiSwahili) originated on the coast and became the lingua franca (common language) for much of East Africa. It is now the language of instruction in secondary education and in some universities. It is also used in literature, and as a second language by people in rural areas. The media use Swahili in television, radio, and newspapers. English is the official primary language of administration, commerce, and higher education. Arabic is widely spoken on Zanzibar Island.


No one is more highly revered than Tanzania's founder and first president (of independent Tanganyika) Julius Kambarage Nyerere (b.1922). However, ancient heroes were not necessarily chiefs and rulers. The experts in ceremonial rituals in the Maasai tribe, for example, believe themselves to be descended from a boy with magical powers. According to legend, Maasai warriors found the young child naked and seemingly abandoned on a mountaintop, and they decided to adopt him. They observed that he had the power to make springs gush forth, grass grow, and pools of water appear. Even in times of famine, his cattle were always well fed and fat.

In many Tanzanian ethnic groups, heroes are illustrious ancestors who distinguished themselves by their valor, intelligence, or generosity. Younger generations are expected to measure up to these role models.


Most Tanzanians profess Islam or Christianity. However, indigenous beliefs remain prevalent in custom and culture. The mainland is divided equally between Muslims, Christians, and those professing a form of indigenous belief (which usually includes the Muslim/Christian notion of a high god). Zanzibar is 99 percent Muslim.


Tanzanians remember President Ali Hassan Mwinyi (b.1925) for restoring several holidays in the country. Among the secular (nonreligious) holidays are Labor Day (May 1), Zanzibar Revolution Day (January 12); Nane Nane (formerly Saba Saba— Farmer's Day, in August); Independence Day (December 9); and Union Day (April 26), which commemorates the unification of Zanzibar and the mainland. Depending on their faith, Tanzanians also celebrate New Year's Day, Christmas, Easter, the prophet Muhammad's birthday, and the beginning and end of Ramadan. As a rule, Christian and Muslim friends invite each other to help celebrate their religious holidays.


Tanzanians of all ethnic backgrounds participate in rites of passage. The form and content of rites vary according to tribal group and religious faith. For example, to the Maasai, all of life is seen as a conquest. Young boys leave home early to watch the calves, then the cows and other cattle. Their mission is to learn to conquer fear. They soon are left on their own, protecting their herds from lions and other wild beasts.

Circumcision or excision (female circumcision) follows. (Female circumcision is often referred to by outsiders as "female genital mutilation" and has become an international human rights issue.) This most important rite decides the self-control and bravery of the child in becoming an adult. The successful male initiate receives gifts of cattle, and the female feels prepared to undergo whatever pain childbearing entails.


People place much importance on greetings because they denote politeness, respect, and relationship in Tanzania. The type of greeting offered may depend on someone's status. A generic but common Swahili greeting among friends is Ujambo, habari gani? (Good morning, what is your news?).

Dating and marriage in Tanzania differ considerably from European and American customs. Western-style dating is uncommon, especially in the rural areas. In the villages, young people choose their spouses, but their families help arrange the marriage.


Most Tanzanians have little discretionary income after purchasing necessities, and perhaps buying a couple of rounds at the local pub. Living conditions for rural people are rudimentary. Malnutrition and tropical diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis, and sleeping sickness are widespread. Open sewers, latrines, and uncovered garbage piles breed flies, which carry disease. In the villages, many people draw their water from contaminated streams, lakes, and pools. Electricity and running water exist in towns, but often houses are poorly ventilated and crowded.


Tanzanian women enjoy greater social freedom than in Muslim countries to the north. This is a direct result of government policies aimed at improving the status of women. Women vote, and many produce goods for market, engage in trade, and keep some of their earnings. A marriage law in the 1970s superseded customary and Islamic law, and gave women far more latitude in divorce, remarriage, and inheritance matters.

Women represent wealth to their families. In Tanzania the groom's family must reimburse the bride's family for the loss of the young woman. Compensation usually consists of giving gifts or a symbolic sum of money to her parents, grandparents, brothers-in-law, and cousins.


In rural regions, Muslim men usually wear a long embroidered cotton gown, called a kanzu, with a matching skull cap. Muslim women often wear a kanga consisting of brightly colored fabric wrapped around them and covering their head. On the island of Zanzibar and along the mainland coast, Muslim women wear buibui, a black veiled shawl, and chador (veils), which allow them to go out while avoiding male scrutiny of their physical beauty. Few women wear more jewelry than the Maasai, who adorn themselves with elaborate beaded earrings, necklace bands, rings, and headbands.

In urban areas, Western-style clothing is common. Shorts, miniskirts, and revealing clothing are considered indecent and are avoided.

12 • FOOD

The most popular rural staple is ugali, a stiff dough made of cassava flour, cornmeal, millet, or sorghum. The coastal people prefer rice as a staple, while plantains are consumed daily in the north. Ugali is eaten with a stew of fish, vegetables, or meat from a communal bowl. Tanzanians generally are fond of goat meat, chicken, and lamb. Pilau is a delicious dish of rice spiced with curry, cinnamon, cumin, hot peppers, and cloves.

Eating customs vary according to ethnic group and religious beliefs. Some groups have food taboos (prohibitions), while others have taboos regarding who may eat at the same table. The Maasai diet is unique in that it consists of only six foods: meat, milk, blood, animal fat, tree bark, and honey.


Tanzanian education received special emphasis under President Nyerere, an educator by profession. Self-reliance and ujamaa (family village) programs raised the literacy (ability to read and write) rate to over 80 percent. Literacy programs also aimed to raise consciousness about hygiene, agriculture, crafts, basic math, and personal achievement.

Children are required to attend primary school for seven years. In order to enter secondary school, students are required to pass an exam. In recent years literacy and schooling have suffered from budget cuts.


Tanzania has a rich oral and written literature in Swahili. Film is less developed, but filmmaker Flora M'mbugu-Schelling's prize-winning films in Swahili portray significant social issues facing Tanzanian women. Tanzania's major music contribution is its Swahili, Arab-influenced classical music tradition. Many fine composers and musicians produce this unique blend of African-Arab-Indian sound.

In art, Tanzanians produce many fine pieces of jewelry and carved ivory, some to be marketed to tourists. Artists excel most in refined wood sculpture. African art is preoccupied with the human figure and with humanity's moral and spiritual concerns.


Most Tanzanians (90 percent) make their living in agriculture, though only 5 percent of the land is arable (farmable). Many people cultivate small field plots with traditional African hoes and without the benefit of irrigation. In some areas, extremely fertile soils produce coffee, tea, and pyrethrum (used in making insecticides). Other cash crops include sisal, cotton, tobacco, cashews, fruits, and cloves. Industry is important, but employs few people. Industry mainly consists of the processing of sugar, beer, cigarettes, sisal twine, and light consumer goods. Some diamond and gold mining exists.

Many Tanzanians look for ways to augment their wages with income in the informal sector. For example, street vendors sell anything from watches to clothing.


In rural areas, sports may still be regarded as pastimes for foreigners and "lazy" urbanites. Hauling water, tending herds, gathering firewood, cooking meals, caring for children, and mending huts leave little time for leisure. This attitude is changing among young people. In the 1990s, Tanzania produced world-class runners. Soccer and boxing are popular as well. Big-game hunting is almost exclusively a sport for foreign tourists. The locals see it as a business and means of income.


Tanzanians love music and dancing, storytelling, and socializing at coffee houses and at home. Visiting friends is an important social custom. Young people with spare time enjoy checkers and cards. On the coast, people play mbao, a board game that uses small stones. Women dance the chakacha at celebrations and marriages. Tanzanians are fond of action-packed martial arts and kung fu films. Movies made in India are also popular.


Tanzanians produce many arts and crafts of high quality. The Zaramo on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam (in east Tanzania) produce conventional figures of Maasai warriors, elderly men, nude women, and carved walking sticks. They carve these using only hand tools. Meerschaum pipe-carving (pipes with heavily carved bowls) is also one of Tanzania's international trademarks. Besides the tourist market, the Nyamwezi in former times carved thrones for their chiefs. The Maasai make shields with intricate geometric designs. Zanzibar doorways, decorated with geometric patterns, offer a glimpse of the island's Arabic history and tradition.


Tanzania is one of the world's poorest countries. Consequently, people are left to solve their own social problems. In the 1980s and 1990s, government services were cut back, leading to a rise in illiteracy, health risks for rural mothers and children, and neglect of roads. Men now look for work in South Africa, leaving their wives as the sole family provider. Many girls leave school early to find work or help the family. As conditions deteriorate in rural areas, urbanization speeds up. Squatter villages surround Dar es Salaam, adding to water pollution and unsanitary conditions. Large influxes of Mozambican, Rwandan, and Burundian refugees have put added stress on Tanzania's natural and financial resources.


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