According to oral history, the Maasai people are a fusion of North Africans and Nilotic tribe originating from the northern part of Turkana lake in Kenya, which they left in the 15th century, then moving south and into present day Tanzania over 200 years ago, when they displaced other tribes in order to claim rich pastureland for their cattle. A race in which warriors were the highest class and their religion claimed all cattle as theirs by gift of God, they righteously annexed all the cows they encountered. A proud, charming, friendly and intelligent community, there are now a million Maasai living in the homelands of Tanzania and Kenya. Much of their tribal land has been absorbed into the National Parks in return for promises of cultural security and community wellbeing in surrounding reserves which have not always been kept. In accommodating the inevitable, some have embraced the Tanzanian tourist industry, becoming the guides, guards, staff and management of many of the new eco-tourist centers and cooperating in the conservation of the wildlife that attract their clientele. Some own the land, camps, and lodges whilst others initiate self-help projects to supply foodstuffs, furniture, curios and craft items in return for assistance with education, health and community development. They also present their cultural heritage as a valuable commodity. This can be done in a superficial way, as ethnic entertainment, presenting a popular tourist conception of red-robed Maasai warriors, leaping and drumming, singing and dancing as a touring concert party, or as a deeply felt collaborative project in which the past, present and future are confronted in an authentic setting by real people. AfricanMecca procures the latter experience at all times.
The Hadzabe are the original Tanzanian Bushmen with a Khoisan language of clicks. These primitive hunter-gatherers lived in valley caves of Lake Eyasi in harmony with nature for over 10,000 years. There are now just less than 1000 of them left. The advent of the neighboring Datoga tribe and the development of national government together with climate change, tourism and commercial hunting, has resulted in the gradual destruction of their environment and their way of life, but their isolation has protected them from many modern diseases. They usually get sick with malaria and yellow fever from mosquitoes or sleeping sickness from tsetse fly. They are a pride but also an embarrassment to a modern nation for its failure to progressively uplift the declining community from extinction, but out of respect for their chosen way of life, they are now the only people permitted to hunt with bows and arrows in the Lake Eyasi area. They live without a safety net, gathering the food they need day by day. They have no concept of religion or afterlife, nor of time beyond the phases of the moon. They live in collaborative groups with no social rules. Men hunt bushmeat while the women search for fruit, tubers and other wild food. They sleep in an organic mini-dome housing made of our natural branches while others prefer caves or lie head to tail around a campfire. Life is ephemeral. You need not hunt baboon or a dik dik, half naked with a bow and arrow to appreciate the Hadza way of life, but you can if you wish. Time spent “living in the now” on a Lake Eyasi cultural safari that confers calmness, centeredness and courage.
Like the Maasai, the Datoga were nomadic cattle herders but are now subsistence farmers, growing beans, maize and millet to augment their sheep, goats, cows and chickens rearing. Consequently, they are dependent on permanent water sources and are adversely affected by increasing drought. A Nilotic people, like the Maasai, their patched leather tunics blend with the landscape. They wear collars and bracelets of beads and brass and tattoo circles around their eyes. They are polygamous, ruled by a council of elders, and are aggressive, adversely affecting Hadzabe and Iraqw neighbors, and sometimes refuse to cooperate fully with the government. Their attitude deters sympathy for their plight. They live in mud huts in stockaded cattle enclosures. All parts of their animals are used, and they grow and kill only what they need, being reluctant to trade. Yet, like the Maasai, despite their fierce warrior reputation, they are paradoxically friendly, welcoming and happy to share their cultural traditions with guests on an East African safari. They look down on the Hadzabe, often preventing Hadza women from taking water at waterholes until the Datoga cattle have finished drinking. Like the Hadzabe, they claim to be the oldest Tanzanian people, with a 10,000-year old culture, but they came from Ethiopia about 3,000 years ago to settle around Lake Manyara and Eyasi. They resist development and education, have high infant mortality, and are seen by other tribes as primitive, disapproved and disenfranchised. Less than 7% speak the national language, Kiswahili.
The Sukuma people of the north are cattle herders and farmers. A Bantu people, originating in present day Uganda reaching north-western Tanzania via the Congo into Burundi and Rwanda, over 8 million Sukuma now comprise the largest ethnic group in Tanzania, forming a sixth of the total population. Most have become assimilated into the towns and cities, embracing Western dress and culture in place of traditional skins or the colorful Kanga cloths and Kitenge dresses they have adopted in more rural areas. All speak various Bantu dialects and Kiswahili. Some have converted to the Christian and Islamic faiths while the rest share many different traditional beliefs, often worshipping ancestors and sacrificing to them to ensure family health and prosperity. Although there is a folk museum (Bujora Cultural Center) in Mwanza, much of their traditional culture has been dwindling, except for the dance competitions which are held in villages throughout the months from May to September. Older people still believe in the power to talk to the ancestors and predict the future, which is held by clan chiefs and other wise men distinguished by ritual cicatrices on their arms. Both men and women now work in the towns and cities and in industry as doctors, lawyers, engineers, business people and miners, but women still maintain their family roles as homemakers. Villages were once efficiently run by chiefs and elders on communal lines with most families partaking in decision-making. Now they face increasing problems as their youth depart for the cities. They are struggling to preserve their cultural heritage and to ensure adequate education and health care for their children. Rural women still fetch water, tend gardens and cook for their families while rural men are farmers, vital to the economic wellbeing of the nation. Traditional dishes are still made from cornmeal ugali served with relish made from green vegetables from spinach, green peas to cabbage, or pumpkin leaves, making a cheap meal which is supplemented with fish, beef or goat meat on special occasions. There is yoghurt or fermented milk to drink, or beer, which is indispensable on social occasions.
The Iraqw migrated to Tanzania from Mesopotamia, via Palestine and Egypt, Ethiopia and Kenya. As they moved, they adapted to many different circumstances, finally being driven by the Datoga from northern Tanzania but still harassed by the Maasai as a result of which they resorted to living underground with their remaining herds. The Iraqw are a statuesque, immobile people, private and traditionalist, but they have also largely lost their songs and ceremonies. Cultural identity depends on reclaiming their music, dance and arts, and rebuilding their self-respect as valuable contributors to a multi-ethnic, multi-national cosmopolitan society in Tanzania. Social change is rapid and extreme with friction caused in family groups by differences in religious and cultural practices, often noticeable at weddings when a group of older women sing ritual blessings in Iraqw whilst a Christian church choir tries to drown them out with hymns in Swahili. One group of guests sits in the courtyard, drinking home brew, and eating maize and beans, whilst another clique dines in style indoors on processed meats and bottled alcohol. AfricanMecca Safaris are committed to the model of ethnic presentation as a self-financing tourist service which also meets the goals of a local community and is particularly suitable in circumstances like these. Older Iraqw are criticized as rigid traditionalists sticking to inter-generational taboos, whilst modern young people embrace cosmopolitan values. However, they are all becoming more involved in contemporary issues through their concern for maendeleo, or progress and advancement.
For over 2,000 years, the East African Coast has been the focus of trade and exchange of ideas and intermarriage between Africa and Arabia, which resulted in the formation of the Swahili culture, rich in art, commodities and architecture to produce the flamboyant, musical Shirazi who claim Persian origin. There was a vibrant city-based civilization taking inspiration from China, Persia, Greece and Rome before the Arabs brought Islam in the seventh century. The Kiswahili language was the primary language of trade. Now one of the top 10 international languages, it has been adopted as the Tanzanian national language in order to unite the many different ethnic groups who shared between them over 120 different tongues and dialects. Arab merchants married Bantu women, consolidating a bridge between disparate races, cultures and religions. The predominant religion is Islam, often combined with remnants of older cultural practices and superstitions. Historically, the Kiswahili language and culture demonstrates links back to the Sumerians of 8,000 years ago and the Assyrians 3,000 years later who developed such an advanced culture in the valley of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates that they are credited with the earliest use of writing. The Cushitic people who occupied the East African coast intermarried with the Bantu and later incomers, not only Arabs, but Indian, Portuguese and other Asian traders to give rise to a people combining the wisdom of Islam with the business acumen of the merchants and the zest for life of the indigenous Africans. For the Swahili people, an orthodox form of Islam rules their daily life in a good, peaceful way. Eid-al-Fitr at the end of the Ramadan fast is celebrated countrywide and also Eid-al-Adha where many Swahilis make pilgrimages to Mecca. They wear traditional garments such as the man´s long cotton throbe (khanzu) and the woman`s modesty hijab (bui bui) which covers the entire body except the face and hands. Divination and homeopathic medicine may be practiced by teachers of Islam through Qur’anic and Hadith readings that also feature in protective necklaces for children. Belief in jinn, supernatural creatures from an invisible parallel world who may interact with humans for good or ill, and angels, is also a strong feature in Swahili spiritual life. Today, the Swahili people are found throughout the mainland and coasts of Kenya and Tanzania as well as on Zanzibar, Lamu, Mombasa, Mafia, Pemba and other islands in the Indian Ocean.