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Tanzania - Culture

Tanzania Culture

Tanzania's 100 or more different tribal groups are mostly of Bantu origin. The Arab influence on Zanzibar and Pemba Islands is evident in the people, who are a mix of Shirazia (from Persia), Arabs, Comorians (from the Comoros Islands) and Bantu from the mainland, though the latter predominate. Asians are a significant minority especially in the towns and cities. Europeans (either by descent or expatriate) are a smaller minority. The major non-Bantu people on the mainland are the Maasai (Nilotic speakers) who inhabit the northeastern section of the country.

Swahili and English are the official languages, with English the principal language of commerce. There are also many local African tongues, reflecting the tribal diversity of the country. Outside the cities and towns, far fewer local people speak English than in comparable areas in Kenya. It's said that the Swahili spoken on Zanzibar is of a much purer form than elsewhere, and quite a few travellers head for the island to learn it.

The two main religions are Christianity and Islam, with Hindus making up about a quarter of the population. The majority of Muslims are concentrated along the coast and in the islands. Compared to Islam, Christianity took a long time to make an impact, and even then (during the 19th century) it was practiced mainly among tribes of the interior. There are still many tribes who follow neither of the big-name religions and instead worship the ancient spirit of their choice. Principal among them are the Maasai, who put their faith in the god Engai and his Messiah, Kindong'oi, from whom their priests are said to be descended. It's claimed that there is no religious bias present in the country's political and civil administration.

Tanzanian music and dance dominates much of East Africa. Strong in rhythm and renowned for hard-hitting lyrics, the country's Swahili-based sounds are kept very much alive by a thriving dance-band scene. Remmy Ongala is the country's best known export. Zanzibar is at the heart of the distinctive taraab, or sung poetry, tradition. The goddess of this haunting style is Siti bint Saad, the first East African singer to make commercial recordings, way back in 1928.

There's precious little difference between local food in Kenya and Tanzania - which is not great news for gourmets. As in Kenya, nyama choma (barbecued meat) has taken over in a big way, especially in restaurants with attached bars. But on the coast and in Zanzibar and Pemba Islands, there's a decent range of traditional Swahili dishes based on seafood. The national brew is Safari Lager and the local liquor is a lethal white-rum-style concoction called konyagi.

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