Tanzania is a kaleidoscope of cultures: approximately 100 tribal groups, most of Bantu origin, live here. The most numerous groups are the Sukuma of Lake Victoria, Chaaga of Mount Kilimanjaro, Nyamwenzi of Tabora, Hehe of Iringa, and the Gogo of Dodoma.
In Zanzibar, Arab and Persian influences are strong. The blend of Arab and Bantu cultures resulted in the Swahili language, which is now widely spoken throughout eastern and central Africa. Though Swahili is the common language of Tanzania, English is widely understood, especially in urban areas.
Tanzanian cuisine, especially the traditional fare of Zanzibar, is delicious. The coast favours seafood and rice-based dishes, while mainland Tanzania offers traditional African grains and meats. The country is famous for its music, which is popular throughout eastern Africa.
The National Psyche
Partly as a result of the large number of smaller tribes in Tanzania, and partly as a result of the ujamaa (familyhood) ideals of Julius Nyerere, which still permeate society, tribal rivalries are almost nonexistent. Religious frictions are also minimal, with Christians and Muslims living side by side in a relatively easy coexistence. Although political differences flare, especially on the Zanzibar Archipelago, they rarely come to the forefront in interpersonal dealings.
Tanzanians place a premium on politeness and courtesy. Greetings are essential, and you’ll probably be given a gentle reminder should you forget this and launch straight into a question without first inquiring as to the well-being of your listener and their family. Tanzanian children are trained to greet their elders with a respectful shikamoo (literally, ‘I hold your feet’), often accompanied in rural areas by a slight curtsy, and strangers are frequently addressed as dada (sister) or mama, in the case of an older woman; kaka (brother); or ndugu (relative or comrade).
Tanzanians are conservative, and while they are likely to be too polite to tell you so directly, they’ll be privately shaking their head about travellers doing things such as not wearing enough clothing, sporting tatty clothes, or indulging in public displays of affection. Especially along the Muslim coast, cover up the shoulders and legs, and avoid plunging necklines, skin-tight fits and the like.
Another thing to remember is the great importance placed on greetings and pleasantries. Even if just asking directions, Tanzanians always take time to greet the other person and inquire about their well-being and that of their families, and they expect visitors to do the same. Tanzanians often continue to hold hands for several minutes after meeting, or even throughout an entire conversation. Especially in the south, a handshake may be accompanied by touching the left hand to the right elbow as a sign of respect.