People of Tanzania(Origin)

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  • Tanzania on the east coast of Africa is known for its tropical beaches,spectacular wildlife sanctuary, great lakes and the majestic Kilimanjaro. Tanzanian people are friendly and hospitable.

    Almost each of the tribe have their own cuisine and drink types.Thousands of years of migrations,wanderings and intermingling of peoples across the continent of Africa have left Tanzania a country of extreme ethnic diversity,from the northern plains of nomadic cattle tribes to the southern highlands of settled agrarian communities, and from the ares of matrilineal societies in the east to the communal hunter-gatherers in the interior- a mosaic of different peoples and cultures.

    In fact, Tanzania has more than 120 tribes, each with its own language and mode of life.It is possibly the only country on the continent containing members from all African ethnic groups.

    The earliest people to live on the continent were the ancestors of the present-day Khoisan people, sometimes also called the Bushmen,after their way of life.

    They are an ethnic group who live by hunting, gathering and fishing.They speak archaic languages characterised by click sounds.Though they are the earliest people to live in eastern and southern Africa, it is not known where they came from, but it is assumed that they evolved from Neolithic people. During the immigration and expansion of more advanced ethnic groups in the last 3000 years, the Khoisan stock was pushed further and further south, with the result that today the bulk of them are in south-western Africa.

    Some were absorbed by the more powerful groups, and today they are remembered in the traditions of the Bantu tribes as diminutive hunters. They also left behind the rock paintings of wild animals across central Tanzania. Today, the Hadzabe(Tindiga) and the Sandawe are the only Khoisans of Tanzania.

    The first immigrants into East Africa were the negroid-caucasoid type of people, today popularly referred to as Cushites. They are said to resemble the Ethiopians or early Egyptians, and the early historians termed them Hamites.

    Some books today describe them as people of Afro-Asiatic origin. The Cushites began expanding into East Africa from the Ethiopian Highlands some hundreds of years before the first millennium in a quest for new fields for crops and livestock.Thus they are noted to have introduced animal husbandry and crop cultivation to East Africa.

    By AD1000 the Cushites had developed a complex civilization in East Africa that included irrigation farming. Nevertheless, later immigrants of negroid stock, the Bantu and Nilotes, reduced the Cushites to only a few pockets. In Tanzania, the largest Cushitic group is the Iraqw. Others are the Burungi, Gorowa and Mbugu.

    The Bantu are negroid people who speak languages traced back to the same parental stock. Their dispersal probably began in an area between the Niger and Congo rivers about 2000 years ago and they came to Tanzania from all directions. As cultivators, the first arrivals opened up farms in land that had been barely used by the early hunter-gatherers, and they tended to stay in small, organized chieftainships.

    The development of smelting iron ore and iron working enabled them to make implements and to improve their farming methods, and thus speeded up their population growth. The arrival of the Ngoni from the south in the nineteenth century marks the last of Bantu migrations into Tanzania Most Tanzanians today belong to this Bantu stock.

    The Meru,Chagga,Pare and Shambaa of the northern highlands, the Hehe, Bena and Nyakyusa of the southern highlands, the Sukuma, Haya and Kuria of the interlacustrine area, the Zaramo and Kwere from the coast are some examples of Bantu people.

    The Swahili language is also a Bantu tongue. The Nilotes are mainly pastoralists, more often leading semi nomadic lives. Their area of origin is the flat of Sudan and so they are at times referred to as Sudanic peoples. They are militaristic in attitude and their life is based on age-set organisation.

    Their movement from the north into Tanzania was swift and violent and cannot be compared with the gentle penetration of the Bantu. Nevertheless, like the Bantu, at one point during their immigration the Nilotes assimilated the earlier Cushites of East Africa, and so some of them like the Barbaig Maasai have been termed Nilo-Hamites.

    The Nilotes are divided into the highland Nilotes, the plains Nilotes and the river-lake Nilotes. The Highland Nilotes came to East Africa around AD1000 and settled in the are around Mount Elgon. Sometimes later, the Tatoga sub-tribes moved further south, as far as the surroundings of Mount Hanang.The Barbaig, who mainly live in Hanang and Babati Districts, are the largest of these Tatoga sub-tribes. The Maasai are well known group of the plains Nilotes.

    They are believed to have arrived in East Africa in about 1700, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century were a dominant tribe in East Africa.The river-lake Nilotes occupy the interlacustrine area. While movements and intermingling of peoples on the mainland have contributed a great deal to the types of tribes we have today in Tanzania, exploration of the history of these people is not complete without mentioning movement along the East African coast.

    The coast of Tanzania, as with the rest of East Africa,received visitors from outside, right from the first millenium.However, the first real settlers were the Portuguese who landed on the coast of East Africa at the end of the fifteenth century and made settlements that lasted for 200 years.

    The main contribution of the Portuguese to the farming communities of the interior was the introduction of new crops such as maize and cassava; these have become staple foods for nearly all the tribes. Nevertheless, the Arabs from the Persian Gulf are credited with making a greater impact on the tribes of Tanzania.

    As well as establishing settlements at the coast, they also established trading routes into the interior which introduced to the people new commodities such as bead ornaments and cotton cloth. However, as such trading unfortunately involved buying and selling slaves, the quiet growth of tribes in Tanzania was disrupted.

    The mainland was subjected to more migration of peoples, wars and the growth of centralised states. New ideas, new implements and indeed new faith for the first time influenced the indigenous way of life. The last group of people to arrive in the interior of Tanzania were the Europeans, who colonised the tribes and oxposed them to western ideas, religion and formal education.

    They also welcomed Indians from Asia to boost commerce in East Africa. By the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, large political states had been established by Europeans right across the continent. From that time, the migration and free wandering of peoples across large areas of the continent ceased. And this is how Tanzania came to be what it is today.