People & Culture


Maasai women (ethnic group of a semi-nomadic warrior tribe inhabiting Northern Tanzania)

With a collection of over 120 ethnic groups among Tanzania’s population, its people display a remarkable sense of unitedness and brotherhood fostered by the nation’s father; Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere. While each ethnic group speaks its own local language, the majority are Bantu-speakers, fluent in the national language; Kiswahili (Swahili), a coastal Bantu language with strong Arab, Indian and European influence.

Through Nyerere’s leadership, the learning of Kiswahili was prioritized over other local languages, greatly benefiting and facilitating trade, information dissemination, nationalism and conflict resolution. The language is shared today with bordering countries: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. Additionally, the language is offered as a subject of study in prestigious universities such as; Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and many more. An estimation of close to a hundred institutions teach Swahili in the U.S. alone.

English, having started out used as the language of higher education, rapidly became the nation’s second official language, now taught in most schools and utilized in business as well as within the government. In Zanzibar and other predominantly Muslim areas, Arabic is also spoken. Serious friction between people of different groups or religions is rare, and as such, large communities of the country’s main religious groups; Christians and Muslims house a church and a mosque. Additionally, festivals/holidays of both religions are given equal recognition.

Music & Arts

“Mungu ibariki Afrika” (God bless Africa), originally assigned to composer Enoch Sontonga (of South Africa) and titled “Nkosi Sikelei iAfrika,” is Tanzania’s national anthem. It was first performed in Swahili at a ceremony following Tanganyika’s independence from the British Empire. While Tanzania was the first African nation to adopt the tune, it is shared today with South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Tinga Tinga painting
Tinga Tinga painting

Stretching from traditional African music to the string-based taarab, Tanzania’s music industry has seen various changes and advancements in the last ten years, due to a synthesis of local and foreign music traditions. Today, the country’s leading musical trend titled “Bongo Flava,” is a blend of various melodies, beats, rhythms and sounds, accompanied by local voices singing in Swahili. Recent years have seen a large number of Tanzanian musician’s grow towards international acclaim.

Stemming from the village of Ngapa, southern Tanzania, comes one of the most widely represented forms of tourist-oriented art: Tingatinga. The painting style was developed in the second half of the 20th century by the “Makua” tribe’s Edward Said Tingatinga. The paintings are traditionally made on masonite and get their highly saturated colors from the bicycle paints used. As they are more commonly made for tourists, the paintings are usually small for easy transportation and depict subjects geared to attract western travelers and highlight Tanzanian wildlife and culture.


Ugali, samaki na sukumawiki (Ugali, fish and collard greens)
Ugali, samaki na mboga za majani (Ugali, fish and spinach)

For most Tanzanians; living in both urban and rural areas, all meals must include a preferred essential carbohydrate – corn, rice, cassava, sorghum or plantains for example. Such staples must be accompanied by either fried pieces of meat or a fish, beef, goat, chicken or mutton stew, along with vegetables or condiments, commonly including beans, greens resembling spinach or sweet potatoes. While plantains are preferred further up in the north-western region and rice in the southern and coastal areas, ugali (a thick mash of corn and sorghum) is the more widespread dish common to the central and south-western territories.

It is customary and expected that all ceremonial occasions lead with the preparation of large platters of food, such as pilau (a spiced rice), potatoes and meat dishes. It is also a custom that no guest leaves hungry from a ceremonial meal, dinner party or even a home visit during a meal period. Except among religions that forbid it, alcohol is an essential; and in some cases highly symbolic addition to ceremonies. Local beers and spirits derived from bananas, corn, rice, honey or sorghum and manufactured alcoholic beverages are common to Tanzania. Konyagi, a ginlike spirit, brewed commercially in Tanzania, as well as various wines (such as Dodoma wine) as well as Kilimanjaro, Safari and Serengeti beers are the more popular staples among the country’s people.

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