This article will help you to know the culture of Tanzania people so you may learn to behave when you make a trip to Tanzania. Tanzania is a magical place with a lot to offer in terms of food, culture, customs, and traditions.
Are you unfamiliar with the culture of the Tanzanian people? Read on to get a quick primer so that you can appreciate the country more on your next visit (and stay out of trouble).
1. Culinary Customs
In Tanzania, all special events and occasions require the preparation of huge, family-sized platters of food, like pilau, which is a local dish made up of potatoes, meat, and spiced rice. The cooks for these meals always cook a ton of food since it’s considered very embarrassingly and shameful for guests to leave dinner hungry.
Alcohol is also an important—and oftentimes incredibly symbolic—part of these ceremonies. Local spirits and beers, derived from rice, corn, bananas sorghum, and honey are served along with these large meals. There are religions in Tanzania that forbid alcohol, however.
Konyagi, gin-like alcohol, is brewed at a commercial scale in Tanzania, as are a variety of local soft drinks and beers. Some beers produced in neighboring countries—like Burundi’s Primus beer, for example—are popular as well.
The staple starches for these big meals vary from region to region in Tanzania. The Northwest part of the country like plantains, the Southwest part of the country likes Ugali, and the folks on the coast prefer rice.
These staple carbs are unique to each part of the country and are accompanied by a beef, fish, chicken, goat, or mutton stew. Alternatively, you might also get fried chunks of meat alongside several different types of condiments and vegetables, like sukuma wiki pumpkin, sweet potatoes, or beans.
At the various markets and bazaars in Tanzania, all sorts of different delicacies get sold like sweet potatoes, fried plantains, roasted corn on the cob, pieces of fried or dried fish, mshikaki, meat skewers, chapatis, samosas, and many other foods that are easy to eat on the go.
It’s also easy to find local brews and spirits sold in local bars like the aforementioned Konyagi.
In Tanzania, people eat food from common plates with their fingers. You must wash your hands before and after meals, and you can only touch food with your right hand. For Tanzanians, the right is considered cleaner, and the left hand is dirty, symbolically.
Tanzanians also always eat as a family. The food gets served on small, low tables, and diners sit on mats on the floor, much like the Japanese.
Additionally, while you might be used to taking in the scent of a meal before dining, visibly smelling your food in Tanzania is an insult to the chef. Tanzanians typically only sniff their food when there is something wrong with the dish, so you want to be careful not to cause the chef any unwarranted embarrassment.
2. Festivals and Events
Festivals, parties, and other special events are popular all over the country, but Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam are the best spots for taking in these cultural traditions. Below, we’ve listed some of the biggest events that happen every year. On top of the festivals mentioned here, Christmas, Eid, and Easter are also important holidays in Tanzania.
This event happens every year on April 26th and it celebrates the unification of Zanzibar and Tanzania to form one great country.
Kiliman Adventure Challenge
This is a grueling triathlon that happens in February, which includes a hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro and then a bike ride around its circumference.
This athletic event also happens in February. It is a pure road race that takes place around Kilimanjaro.
Every January in Dar es Salaam, this celebration of local culture includes dance, music, food, and elaborate costumes.
Karibu Travel and Tourism Fair
Every May or June in Arusha, this expansive flea market sells local wares, like gemstone necklaces and safari gear, from local vendors.
Mzalendo Halisi Music Festival
Every May in Dar es Salaam, this music festival celebrates local musicians and African artists from all over the continent.
Mwaka Kogwa Festival
This is a 4-day event that happens in Zanzibar in July in which men hit each other with banana stalks to put arguments between each other in the last year to rest.
Festival of the Dhow Countries
This is a two-week film festival that happens in Zanzibar every July.
Serengeti Wildebeest Migration
If you’re looking to watch wild wildebeests herds do their annual migration, make sure to visit the country in December through February.
Bagamoyo Arts Festival
Between Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, a week-long music and dance festival in a town called Bagamoyo happens every year in September.
3. Ancestral Healing
Even though they’re all over Africa, traditional healers, shamans, and witch doctors are most common in Tanzania. There are 75,000 registered traditional healers in the country.
These are people who use plants and herbs for holistic, medical purposes. They strongly rely on their supernatural connection with their ancestors to cure the sick.
Over 80% of Tanzania’s population regularly uses traditional healers. If you want to see a shaman, make sure to find a genuine one. There are many fake healers out there trying to scam tourists.
4. Common Greetings
Tanzania has some unusual customs regarding handshakes from a Westerners point of view. Handshakes are a must, no matter how many people you’re greeting at once. Even if you enter a room with 50 people, you’re expected to greet each person individually.
In any situation, make sure to greet the most elderly first, and then go on until you greet the youngest people in the room. You must never rush this process, as it’s considered incredibly rude.
Also, Tanzanians often hold hands throughout their entire conversations. As with eating, make sure to offer your right hand first.
In general, you shouldn’t use your left hand for most things. When receiving gifts, use both of your hands, or with just your right hand while touching your left hand to your right elbow. This is a sign of courtesy and respect.
Also, people are usually recognized by their professional, academic or honorific title and then their last name. If you don’t know the person you’re addressing, then use honorifics like Mrs., Mr., or Dr., for example.
Tanzanians can be addressed as the mothers and fathers of their children, as well. For example, the father or mother of Jessica may be called “Mama Jessica” or “Baba Jessica,” for the father. This is a great sign of respect.
5. The Religions of the Tanzanian People
Islam and Christianity are the majority of religions in Tanzania, where 35% practice Islam and over 40% practice Christianity. Islam is particularly popular on the coast, but it’s also practiced on the interior of the country.
Of course, there are those that practice ancestral religions, and a small minority of Asians, like the Hindus, Ismailis, and Sikhs.
Religion is very important in Tanzania. Most Christian families go to church together and dress their best for the occasion. In these services, churchgoers dance and sing to celebrate the glory of God. The major Christian holidays, like Christmas and Easter, are observed faithfully in the country by going to church with their entire families and eating big meals together afterward.
Of course, Ramadhan is a month-long religious event that is celebrated by Muslims all over the country. During this time, Muslims fast from sun-up to sundown every day.
Then comes Eid, which is the exact opposite. During Eid, Muslims feast and celebrate together.
6. Modesty in Public
In Tanzania, you must dress modestly. Wearing revealing clothes is a sign of disrespect in this country.
Especially in Zanzibar, you have to dress modestly to respect the cultural beliefs of Muslims. To do this, women should be covered below the knees and above the elbow. Your midriff must not be showing.
Tanzania, and especially Zanzibar, are popular with newlyweds and honeymooners. But these people must be wary. While hugs and kisses are just fine in your hotel room, or even at your resort’s pool, PDA on sidewalks and public beaches are highly frowned upon.
Since many Tanzanians are Muslim, and they believe that affection between men and women should be in private, you should be keeping physical signs of public affection on the down-low.
Want to Visit Tanzania?
The culture of the Tanzanian people is wonderful and fascinating. They prioritize family and religion, and they foster a strong sense of community.
If you’re interested in visiting this wonderful country, be sure to check out our travel destinations throughout the country. We guarantee that this country will leave you awestruck.