Diverse Peoples and Traditions
Tanzania is the largest country in East Africa, about 40% larger than Texas. In addition to diverse geography, this land is home to more than 61 million people and rich culture. There are more than 3,000 tribes on the African continent and more than 150 different tribes in Tanzania. As with any large country, there’s never just one kind of people. After all, in addition to indigenous people, the rock band Queen’s Freddie Mercury was born in Tanzania (in Zanzibar, an island off the coast).
It’s always helpful to understand the culture of any location before taking a trip there. It makes you an informed and safer traveler. Here’s some insight into the culture of Tanzania.
Language and religion
Kiswahili (also known as Swahili) and English are the official languages of Tanzania. Arabic is also spoken. The local people are known for being friendly and polite to visitors. Shaking hands and saying “jambo” (hello) are common greetings. When introduced to a group of people, take time to greet each person individually, starting with the eldest first.
Respect for elders is very important; it is believed that the older a person is, the more knowledgeable they are. It is common to say “shikamo” to anyone more senior than you. It means “I hold your feet.” In response, you’ll hear “marhaba,” which means “I accept your respect” or “you are welcome to do so.”
While 40 to 45% of the population are Christian, another 35 to 40% are Muslim. Some people practice Sikhism and Hinduism.
When meeting and spending time with the people of Tanzania, there are some customs and social etiquette to keep in mind.
Food is important. Tanzanian people put great importance on food, but the cooks who make it are even more valued. When presented with something to eat, it is crucial never to reject it and take a small portion even if you aren’t hungry. While the aromas may be different from anything you’ve encountered before, smelling food is considered extremely rude. Doing so suggests that food is bad and suggests that the cook is deficient.
Only use your right hand. It’s important to always wash your hands before eating and only your right hand to eat. Cultural belief considers the right hand to be clean and should only be used to accept items, pick up food, and eat. The left hand is deemed to be dirty and used solely for bathroom activities. If you are presented a gift, use your right hand while touching your left hand to your right elbow as a sign of respect.
Mind your clothing. Dressing casually is appropriate, but Zanzibar is a deeply conservative country. Stay away from revealing clothing; it’s considered disrespectful. Keep chest, midriff, and thighs covered, and don’t wear tight-fitting jeans. Never wear swimsuits anywhere but the beach.
Ask before your photograph. You’ll likely bring along your camera to capture the beauty of the landscape and numerous animals seen on safari. But taking a photo of a person without asking them first is considered very rude. Some ethnic groups believe a piece of their soul is stolen when a picture is taken of them. Even if you are granted permission, note that some locals expect a small tip in exchange.
Explore the culture
If you’re interested in diving deeper into the culture of Tanzania to learn about tribal traditions and practices, consider the Wanderful Tanzania 12-day Big 5 & Tribe Safari. Find an upcoming safari and book a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience today.