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Culture & People
 
 
 

General

Tanzania is home to some of the most incredible tribal diversity in Africa. The country includes all of the major ethnic and linguistic groups on the continent. Home to approximately 120 tribal groups, most of these comprise small communities that are gradually being assimilated into the larger population due to changes in land use and the economic draw of city life. Tribal diversity is prized and far from being a source of division, Tanzanians place a high value on their country’s multicultural heritage. Over the past few years, cultural tourism has become an increasing attraction for visitors from around the world and visits to tribal villages are often a highlight of safari itineraries.

The Maasai are perhaps the most well known of Tanzania’s tribes and inhabit the northern regions of the country. Pastoralists who fiercely guard their culture and traditions, Maasai tribal life revolves around protecting and caring for their herds of cattle and finding ample grazing land in their region. The tribes live in circular enclosures called manyatas, where small mud huts surround a secure open circle where their cattle and other herd animals sleep protected during the night. Woven thorn bushes form a thick fence around the enclosure to protect the herds from attacks by lions and other predators. Because good grazing land fluctuates according to the seasons and yearly rains, Maasai settlements are temporary and easily relocated to where grazing and water access is best. Tribal tradition separates men and women into different age groups: the youngest herd sheep and goats while the young male warriors, or moran’s, job is to protect and care for their family’s cattle. Male elders hold a position of respect in Maasai society and once a warrior becomes an elder, he may marry to begin a family of his own.

The ‘Spice Islands’ of the Zanzibar Archipelago, Pemba, Mafia, and the entire Tanzanian coast is home to the Swahili people, a vibrant mix of Arab, Indian and Bantu origins who historically based their livelihoods around Indian Ocean trade. The Swahili Coast, as the region is called, is a predominantly Islamic region with old mosques and coral palaces found throughout the area. Swahili culture centres around the dhow, a wooden sailing boat powered by the seasonal wind. Historically, the boats connected the Swahili Coast with Arabia and India and allowed trade between the regions to flourish. Fishing remains a mainstay of coastal income in small villages throughout the area, and coconut and spice plantations continue to form an important source of export. These days, life on the Swahili coast is tranquil and even-paced. Women cloaked in long robes called bui bui walk through meandering streets to the local market, stopping to chat outside tall houses hewn from coral and limestone rock. In the villages, the call to prayer rings out clearly over the palm trees and once they have finished their religious duties, the men gather in the square to drink spiced coffee from brass braziers.

Of the unique ethic groups, are the almost extinct people of entral Tanzania. These are Sandawe (Ethiopian Cushitic related) whose neighbours are the Iraqw gorowa and burungi, and the Hadzapi also alternatively refer to as Tindiga Kindiga and Kangeju are Hottentot - Khoisan related people who speak click languages. The Ndorobo are also click speakers but they are more adaptive to external culture. These Tanzanians are nomads, gatherers, hunters, collectors; and fishers who live in the area surrounding lake Eyasi just a few Kilometres from the famous Ngorongoro crater. Today it is claimed that the number of these people is hardly 5,000 when it was over 30,000 in 1965. The challenge here is to help the government of Tanzania to save these people from the verge of extinction. In these respect, the areas around Lake Eyasi are ideal indeed for one to do scientific and anthropo-genealogic related researches for the future record. Implicitly then, one should reckon that an immediate touch is ideal now or never when those people will have become extinct.

Music

Taarab music is a fusion of pre-Islamic Swahili tunes sung in rhythmic poetic style spiced with general Islamic melodies. It is an extremely lively art form springing from a classical culture, still immensely popular with women, drawing all the time from old and new sources. Taarab forms a major part of the social life of the Swahili people along the coastal areas; especially Zanzibar, Tanga and even further in Mombasa and Malindi along the Kenya coast. Wherever the Swahili speaking people travelled, Tarabu culture moved with them. It has penetrated to as far as Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi in the interior of East Africa where taarab groups compete in popularity with other western-music inspired groups.

These days a taarab revolution is taking place and much heated debate continues about the music which has been changed drastically by the East African Melody phenomenon. Melody, as they are affectionately known by their mostly women fans, play modern taarab, which, for the first time, is 'taarab to dance to' and features direct lyrics, by- passing the unwritten laws of lyrical subtlety of the older groups such as Egyptian Musical Club and Al-Wattan Musical Club where meaning to their songs was only alluded to, and never directly inferred. Today, taarab songs are explicit - sometimes even graphic - in sexual connotation, and much of the music of groups like Melody and Muungano is composed and played on keyboards, increasing portability, hence the group is much smaller in number than 'real taarab' orchestras and therefore more readily available to tour and play shows throughout the region and beyond.

Mbaraka Mwinshehe was the most popular and original musician of Tanzania, also there is a greater influx of musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), who were entering the country as refugees and made residence in the country. But in recent years, mainly from the mid-nineties, new generation of musicians has emerged and are coming up with popular tunes which are Tanzanian in composition. Bands like Twanga Pepeta have managed to carve a new tune distinct from imported Zairean tunes, and are competing with Zairean bands in popularity and audience acceptance.

The Tanzanian artistes have devised a new style going by the name of "Bongo Flava", which is a blend of all sorts of melodies, beats, rhythms and sounds. The trend among the Tanzanian music consumers has started changing towards favouring products from their local artists who sing in Swahili, the national language.

The mushrooming of FM music stations and reasonable production studios has been a major boost to the music industry in the country. Contemporary artists like Juma Nature, Lady Jaydee, Mr. Nice, Mr. II, Sammy & The Passions, Cool James, Dully Sykes, Professor Jay and many others command a huge audience of followers in the country and neighbouring countries.

 

 
 

 



 


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