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Tanzania: The facts.






Tribes and languages in Tanzania


There are more than 130 African tribes making up the majority of the population. Interestingly, whilst all these tribes speak their own distinctive languages, Tanzania is uniquely unified by a common language as practically everybody in the country is bilingual, speaking Swahili (Kiswahili) as well. Swahili is the official national language and the medium of instruction in primary school and for adult education. In fact, for most young people in urban areas in Tanzania, Swahili is the primary language as they cannot speak the language of their parents.


Whilst most of the dialects spoken are Bantu, there are significant populations of Nilotic origins including the Maasai and Luo. Both these tribes are found in Northern Tanzania as well as in the Southern parts of neighbouring Kenya. One notable personality whose father was a Luo is US President Barak Obama.


The Iraqw people who are found in Mbulu district in central Tanzania trace their origin from Southern Ethiopia and speak a distinctive Cushitic language.


Another distinct group are the Sandawe located in the Rift Valley area of central Tanzania. This ethnic group belong to the Khoesan people, the largest ethnic group of whom are the Nama people of the Kalahari Desert in Namibia. They are also called ‘Bushmen’. They are distinguished by the ‘click’ languages they speak, something that is unique to them.


Tanzania also has a substantial Asian population, almost all found in the large urban areas and remaining largely distinctive. Many of these are third or fourth generation and they trace their ancestry to India. There is also a fair sized Arabic population in many parts of the country. Arabs, in contrast, have been largely assimilated.


Tanzania is host to hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries mainly to the west. Most of these have been integrated into the local population. Refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo speak their indigenous languages as well as French.





Zanzibar, which is the smaller of the two states whose union formed the United Republic of Tanzania, is also populated by mostly African Bantu people whose ancestors moved to the islands from the mainland.

However, the population has a significant minority of Shirazi people who trace their ancestors from the gulf in the Middle East. Since these people formed the ruling class in the 19th century, they have had a huge influence on the culture and way of life of all Zanzibaris. Whilst about a third of the population of people on mainland Tanzania are Muslims, in Zanzibar, Muslims comprise 99% of the population.







Official languages


Swahili (or Kiswahili) is the official language and the medium of instruction in Primary schools in Tanzania. English is the language used in secondary schools and higher education. It is also the language of commerce. For the people of Zanzibar, Swahili is their first language and there the language is called ‘Kiunguja’.



Stone Town - Zanzibar

Stone Town, Zanzibar: The Middle eastern influence is seen everywhere in Zanzibar, from the architecture to culture in general