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People, Language & Religion


Mainland-native Africans constitute 99% of the total population. About 120 peoples have been categorized into 5 ethnic groups distinguishable by their physical characteristics and languages. Approximately 95% of Tanzanians may be roughly classified as Bantu, a comparatively recent blend mainly of Hamitic and Negroid stocks. Tribes range in membership from only a few thousand to the Sukuma tribe, which numbers more than 2 million. Other major tribes include the Nyamwezi, Makonde, Haya and Chagga. The Luo, east of Lake Victoria, are the only people of Nilotic origin; the Masai of the northern highlands are Nilo-Hamites. A very small number of Bushmen-like people are scattered throughout northern Tanzania, where small tribes of Cushitic origin also live. The inhabitants of Zanzibar and Pemba are chiefly descendants of mainland Africans or are of mixed African and Arab extraction. The remaining 1% of the populace is made up of non-Africans, including Arabs, Asians, and Europeans.


Most Tanzanians speak variations of Bantu languages and dialects. Various languages also have Hamitic or Nilotic origins. Swahili (or Kiswahili) is the official language, as well as the lingua franca, and is understood in most parts of the country, although its usefulness declines toward the west. English, also an official language, is the primary language of commerce, administration and higher education. Kiunguja, a form of Swahili, and Arabic, are widely spoken in Zanzibar. The first language of most people is one of the local languages.


Since religious demography has been removed from government censuses as of 1967, reliable statistics on religious affiliation are difficult to obtain. Sociologists and religious leaders estimate that between 30% and 40% of the total population are Christian and that about an equal percentage are Muslim. The Christian churches represented include Roman Catholic; Pentecostal, Protestant, Seventh-Day Adventist, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses. A majority of the Muslims are Sunni, while others belong to one of several Shi'a groups. On the island of Zanzibar, about 98% of the inhabitants are Muslim.

Though the constitution forbids religious discrimination, many Muslims believe that they are disadvantaged with less representation in civil service, government and other public institutions. Some Muslims also believe that Christian students are favoured over Muslims in the government-run schools. A number of fundamental Muslims argue that the government is attempting to institute a Christian state. Fundamental Muslim groups on Zanzibar have initiated highly confrontational, anti-Christian proselytizing campaigns, and Christian fundamentalists have responded by calling Muslims "servants of Satan." Tension also exists between fundamental and moderate Muslim groups, as the fundamentalists criticise secular Muslims who drink alcohol and marry Christian women. The growing tensions have not been addressed by the government.





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