Tanzania is blessed with many great wonders, but one thing that makes it uniquely popular is its cultural diversity. The East African nation is estimated to have 125 ethnic groups, each of which has its own distinct ways of life and it’s the most linguistically diverse country in the region with more than 100 different languages spoken. All four of Africa’s language families: Bantu, Cushitic, Nilotic, and Khoisan are spoken in Tanzania.
The country is home to three of Africa’s Great Lakes including the continent’s largest and deepest lakes, Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika which are known for their unique species of fish.
Out of the country’s 125 ethnic groups, 99 percent of them are of African descent, with small numbers of Arab, European, and Asian descendents.
Here are the top five largest tribes in Tanzania.
The Sukuma tribe is the largest tribe in Tanzania and is comprised of more than 5 million people, who are scattered across the country. While the majority of the Sukuma people live in rural areas, a significant number of them are found in major cities like Mwanza, Dar es Salaam, Simiyu, Geita, and Tabora.
The Sukuma people are mainly farmers, cultivating potatoes, maize, rice, and cotton, in addition to herding cattle. They mostly speak Sukuma, which means “north,” and Swahili. The majority of Sukuma people practice Christianity and have modernized their way of life over time.
Locally referred to as Wanyamwezi, the Nyamwezi tribe is one of the Bantu groups of southeast Africa and the second-largest ethnic group in Tanzania with more than 4 million people. The tribe’s ancestral homeland is in the Tabora, Singida, Shinyanga, and Katavi regions. Nyamwezi is a Swahili word for “people of the moon,” but many locals interpret it to mean “people of the west.”
The Nyamwezi people have close cultural links with the Sukuma people, as they share several cultural practices. Their main language is Kinyamwezi, but the majority of them also speak Swahili and English. Wanyamwezi are predominantly farmers and they mostly grow corn, sorghum, and millet.
A small percentage of them are artisans, mainly creating drums, stools, storage boxes, iron, and clothes.
Many have converted to Christianity and Islam, but the majority of them still practice the tribe’s traditional religion, which observes a powerful God called Likube.
The Chagga are a Bantu-speaking indigenous ethnic tribe and the third-largest tribe in Tanzania. They are predominantly found in the southern and eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, with an estimated population of more than 2 million people.
The Chagga people are mainly farmers and are considered the richest tribe in the country, largely due to the favorable climate of the area and their successful farming methods. They own extensive irrigation systems, where they cultivate various crops such as yams, maize, and beans.
Also known as Wachagga, the Chagga people are predominantly Christians and follow a patrilineal system of inheritance. They are also rumored to practice witchcraft. Over the years, they have embraced other tribes, even borrowing several cultural practices.
The Haya tribe is the fourth-largest ethnic group in Tanzania and is mainly scattered across the northwestern part of the country. They predominantly speak the Haya language and their population is estimated to be more than 1.2 million people.
The Haya people are said to be the earliest inhabitants of the Kagera Region in northwestern Tanzania. Traditionally, they are artisans, creating various metal works and pottery. They also grow plantain, coffee, beans, and maize.
They are said to value formal education and the majority of them are Roman Catholics. Singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments are integral parts of their everyday life.
The Makonde tribe is predominantly found in southeast Tanzania and is estimated to total more than 1 million people. They share the same origin with the Maconde people of Mozambique. The group speaks the Makonde language, locally referred to as ChiMakonde.
The Makonde people are traditionally a matrilineal society where children and inheritances belong to women. In their culture, husbands move to the village of their wives following marriage. Although many of them have converted to Islam, a significant number still practice their traditional animistic religion.
This tribe is known mainly for its unique wood carvings, primarily made of black wood. Traditionally, their carpenters carve household items, figures and masks. Since 1930s, Makonde art has been an important addition to the continent’s contemporary art scene.
BY FREDRICK NGUGI