Ethnic groups of Tanzania
In the 1950’s there was an estimated 120 tribes in Tanzania comprised of five ethnic groups: Bushmen, Nilotic, Hamitic, Nilo-Hamitic and Bantu. Physical characteristics, language structure, social organisation and mode of living define them. Today the number of tribes may be greatly reduced due to reasons such as encroachment onto their life sustaining land and intrusion of their beliefs.
Their short stature, aboriginal yellow colour, language containing a variety of clicks, and a hunting-gathering mode of life define this ethnic group. They are an early culture of Africa originating from the southern part of the continent. They are responsible for the ancient rock paintings found in the Kalahari and south. Rock paintings in Tanzania have been found where this ethnic group resides today. The Hadzabe also known as the Kindinga, or in literature the Tindiga and Karigeju, live around Lake Eyasi area in northern Tanzania, and are comprised of a few hundred people only. They live a nomadic hunting and gathering life. The Sandawe who are found a little further south around Kondoa, are similar in many characteristics except for their practice in agriculture and cattle keeping or agro-pastrolism. In the 1950’s there were scattered remnants in Northwest of another tribe belonging to this ethnic group known as the Iru or Twa. It will be interesting to find out about these people and their cultural status today.
Lake Nilotes or Nilotic Speaking
These are dark skinned people but distinguished by the length of their limbs. Their origin is of the upper Nile River and has a language with contrasting pronunciation. They have very few chiefships and are herdsmen and agriculturists with a minority practising pastoralism. The only tribe of this ethnic group in Tanzania may be the Luo or Jaluo on the east shore of Lake Victoria. These people are fishermen.
These are brown skinned, fine featured, slender people. The origin is of Pre-Dynastic Egypt, Abyssinians and the Galla of today. They lost their original language and have developed a Bantu language. Chiefship was to the highest development prior to the advent of Europeans. They imposed themselves as the rulers of the Bantu. Their greatest influence is in Rwanda and Burundi. The Tutsi originally being nomadic pastoralists would migrate into new areas and assume military power over other tribes, there has now been a long settled cattle-owning aristocracy.
The Nilots and Hamites blended in the Nile Valley, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia to form this distinct group. This ethnic group occurs in two clusters, the Plain Nilotes and the Highland Nilotes. The Plain Nilotes consist of the Masai who are separated into Masai, Baraguyu, Waarusha, sections of the Dorobo (hunters in Masai-land), and Ngassi (who were in scatted traces in the Chagga of Kilimanjaro in the 1050’s). The Highland Nilotes consist of the Tatoga cluster (originally twelve tribes), Nandi (and other Kalenjin speakers), Barabaig, Kismanjeng (who almost died out), the latter two reside in the Mbulu area, Hanang, Morogoro, Iringa, Mbeya, and Rukwa.. The Taturu had small groups to the West and were nearing extinction nearly 50 years ago. The Tatoga cluster migrated into Kenya and Tanzania much before the Masai.
The Bantu people comprise of at least 95% of the population and ethnically are a mix of Hamatic and Black skinned peoples. Bantu is a linguistic term, however, hard to define, an example of its definition is having five genders of classes. They mostly practise agro-pastrolistism. Some examples and locations of the Bantu tribes are as follows: Chagga on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Gogo living south-west of the Masai Steppe near Dodoma, Hehe living in central Tanzania in the Iringa district, Makonde famous for their wood carving and living in the south-east end of Tanzania, Sukuma are Tanzania’s largest tribal group and live just south of Lake Victoria, Nyamwezi living south of the Sukuma tribe, Haya living along the shores of Lake Victoria, and the Ha living in tsetse infested forest and bush along the Burundi border between Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. The Sonjo people who are now increasing in number, are a tribe who speak a Bantu language, but live a similar life style to the Masai who are the Nilo-hamatic ethnic group.
Previously regarded as Hamatic, however, their language does not fit Hamites or any other African language. They were also thought to perhaps be the sole survivors of the Neo-Lithic group. They are now known to be Cushitic, from the Horn of Africa. With a unique origin they are therefore not included in the five ethnic groups of Tanzania. They migrated into Tanzania before the Masai and have mixed with Bantu but kept their language. The Iraqw have expanded rapidly and are agriculturists and pastoralists. They are possibly similar to the Galla people.