UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Tanzania - Tribes

Tanzania MapRoughly a dozen ethnic groups make up half of Tanzania's population, and none is large enough to he dominant. The largest, the Sukuma, constitutes nearly 13 percent of the population, the remaining large groups under 5 percent each. Ethnicity coincides substantially with locality. Some members of many groups have pushed outward from the core areas, however, and others have moved even further in search of opportunity.

In colonial times administrative subdivisions were often drawn along ethnic lines, and these have persisted into the modern period despite the government's desire to minimize ethnic considerations, largely because the boundaries of ethnic groups coincide with features of the terrain or with the boundaries of ecological zones. Terms for the loci of ethnic groups are in common use in historical source's and even in modern times in some contexts. For example, one may refer to Sukumaland. Gogoland. or Chagaland (in Swahili they become Fsnkuma, Ugogo. and l'ehaga).

About 95 percent of Tanzania's population is commonly referred to as Bantu or more accurately, as Bantu speaking — the term has no racial meaning. The most important Bantu language for interethnic communication is Swahili, the mother tongue of Zanzibaris, Pembans. and some coastal people. It became a lingua franca in some areas even before the colonial period, and its use was encouraged by both German and British colonial authorities. In 1963 it became Tanzania's national language.

Nilotic, including Parandotic, languages are spoken by about half a dozen groups. There has been a good deal of disagreement about the nature and degree of the relationship between the languages called Nilotic (represented in Tanzania by the tto) and those called Paranilotic (represented in Tanzania chiefly by the Masai). In 1966 a work on the non-Bantu languages of eastern Africa by Archibald N. Tucker and Margaret A. Bryan recognized the link between the two groups of languages but considered them sufficiently distinct to warrant the term Paranilotic (as opposed to their simple inclusion in Nilotic or their exclusion under the term Nilo-Hamitic). The term Paranilotic was adopted in 1973 for use in a survey of East African languages.

A few groups, of which the largest are the Iraqw, speak Southern Cushitic languages otherwise found chiefly in Ethiopia and Somalia. Two groups, the Sandawe and, less certainly, the Hadzapi (or Kindiga) speak Khoisan languages, related to those spoken by people in southern Africa who are commonly called Bushmen and Hottentot by Europeans.

The Sukuma (the name means "people to the north") living just south of Lake Victoria constitute by far the largest ethnic group in the country, hut their ethnic consciousness is relatively recent and by no means pervasive. Quite varied in origin, they were organized in a large number of small chiefdoms in the precolonial period. Although some chiefdoms were affected by nineteenth-century trade, they were strongly influenced by missionary activity, modern education, and cash cropping until well into the twentieth century. Most of them practice mixed agriculture—cultivation and cattle herding. Until the development of cotton cultivation the Sukuma engaged chiefly in subsistence cropping. although they produced a good many cattle for sale at a fairly early-period. Colonial efforts to change their agricultural techniques and to impose a consolidated form of chieftainship on them led to their substantial support for Nyerere's movement toward independence.

The Makonde, relatively isolated on the Makonde Plateau in the southeastern section of the mainland. are also represented in Mozambique where they constituted the major portion of the rank and file in the anti-Portuguese guerrilla forces. Of the five largest groups they had been perhaps least influenced by colonial and postcolonial developments, and they had a reputation for cultural conservatism and a willingness to defend their territory and way of life fiercely. That territory, in part dense jungle lowland. in part more densely populated escarpment and high plateau, penetrated only with the greatest difficulty.

Perhaps because of their isolation and resistance to outsiders the Makonde developed a substantial degree of ethnic consciousness. This has not been associated with a unified political system, however; their traditkmal political units encompass no more than a few villages. The Makonde are famous for their imaginative woodcarvings, which are sold internationally.

The Chaga, whose core area is the southern slope of Mount Kilimanjaro, constitute the third largest group. Benefiting from very fertile, well-watered soil and generally healthful conditions their population has grown to the point where it is one of the densest in the country. They have been forced to spill over into the land below the 1,000 meter (3,500 foot) mark. The Chaga were among the earliest groups affected by Roman Catholic and Lutheran missionary actisity, modern education, and cash cropping (chiefly coffee), and they achieved a comparatively substantial level of income through both their sales of coffee and their involvement in wage labor, much of it better compensated than that of other ethnic groups because of the Chaga's high level of education.

In the pre-colonial period the Chaga were divided into roughly thirty chiefdoms of varying size, influenced in part by competition for trade with the coast. Several chiefs sought to establish hegemony user larger areas, and some achieved a degree of temporary success. The process was interrupted by the arrival of the Germans, who, like the British after them, sought to consolidate these chiefdoms for administrative convenience.

Chaga involvment in relatively rapid social change led to substantial internal conflict and the emergence of local political activity, particularly after World War II. That actvity and the Chaga participation in a cooperative union in connection with coffee production generated a clear sense of ethnic identity arming them, although it has not precluded continuing internal conflict.

Like the Sukuma, their northern neighbors, the Nyamwezi are heterogeneous in origin and were formerly divided into a great many very small chiefdoms. In the mid-nineteenth century and later, however, several of their chiefs, stimulated by the trade route through the newly established town of Tabora in the heart of Nyamwezi territory, attempted to dominate larger areas. Although primarily cultivators (with some cattle) the Nyatnwezi early made a reputation as traders, and some are found in many parts of eastern and even central Africa. Nyamwezi {probably "people of the moon" that is, of the west) is a name given the people of the area by outsiders — the Swahili speakers of the coast — and their sense of ethnic identity is both recent and fragile.

Unlike most other Tanzanian ethnic groups, the Haya lying west of Lake Victoria were organized into a relatively small number of centralized states like their northern and western neighbors, the interlaeustrine Bantu, to whom they are culturally and linguistically related. Indeed in the eighteenth century the Haya kingdom of Karagwe was a dominant force in the area. The Haya grew coffee and used it in trade long before the Europeans came and created an outlet for it. Local coffee and tea processing plants now make it possible for the Haya, living 1,400 kilometers (400 miles) from the coast, to export their crops in powdered form. Like the Chaga and Nyakyusa in the Southern Highlands the Haya intercrop coffee and plantains in permanent settlements, in this case in very densely populated villages.

Again like the Chaga the Haya became vitally interested in education and support a relatively large number of secondary schools and a teachers' training college in their area. Since colonial times many Haya have gone elsewhere in Tanzania to take jobs for which their education qualifies them.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 20-05-2015 20:09:07 ZULU