There are several tribes in the region around Mt Kilimanjaro (the Kilimanjaro region). The Chagga people inhabited this region together with the Maasai, the Kwavi, and the Arusha tribes from earlier times. The Pare tribe settled on the nearby Pare mountains.
Close to Mt Kilimanjaro we also have Mt. Meru. This is situated in the Arumeru District, and the tribe who inhabited the slopes of Meru is called the Meru tribe.
The Kilimanjaro region historically consisted of these two districts, the Moshi district surrounding Moshi city, and the Para district. The Moshi district was formed by five Chagga settlements, and the the Para district consisted of two Pare settlements. This division into two districts, lasted from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, when a division into seven districts was carried out.
Later, other tribes also migrated to the area. Like in the rest of the world, the cities attract people and Moshi is no exception. Languages and traditions are breaking up as time passes and people move about.
Everybody is part of a tribe
In Tanzania there are more than 120 different tribes, (informations vary and some sources claim it is as many as 159) all with their own language and traditions. Tanzania has not been dominated by any one tribe, and there has not been any fighting between tribes since Tanganyika was formed in 1964. People here all view themselves as Tanzanians from a specific tribe, and not the other way around.
When they hear the word ‘tribe’, some Westerners may still think of people living in huts on the savannah, but the truth is, that very few tribes in Tanzania live like that.
Everyone you see as you travel around in Tanzania, is part of a tribe. Your tribe is where you come from, your cultural heritage, it gives you being and a way of knowing who you are. Just like western people might have problems understanding exactly what a tribe is, some Tanzanians have problems comprehending that western people do not have a tribe. How can you not have a tribe? To them it is a bit like saying you do not have any personality.
The common and official language of Tanzania is Swahili. It is the language used in all the schools. In some rural areas you find people who primarily speak their tribal language and whos Swahili is not all that good. In more urban areas you can find people who speak Swahili better than they speak their tribal language. If people from different tribes marries, they will often speak Swahili in their home, and their children will grow up with Swahili as their first language. The children of these children might even have problems understanding the tribal language.
But regardless of the language you know your tribe. If your parents are from different tribes, you may not know any of the languages, but you can still identify with your tribe. And for some, this could be both tribes.
Neema lives a bit south of Moshi with her four kids. She is in the beginning of her forties and after she had divorced her husband, she has singlehandedly and successfully provided for herself and her children. She is of the Chagga tribe.
Thomas is Sukuma and his spouse Veronika is half Ngoni and half Zigua. A DINK-couple (double income, no kids) in their thirties, sharing a 2-room flat in Moshi.
Robi from the city Arusha is half Chagga and half Ngoni. His wife Neema is of the Arusha tribe. Here they are, party dressed to celebrate the confirmation of their oldest son. They, too, are a double income family.
Here we have some of the Stella Track crew members. Most of them ordinary fathers with families to support and homes to maintain. They too are of different tribes. From the left; Nyamaisa of the Kurya tribe, Masu is of the Rangi tribe and Karume is of the Pare tribe. Robi as you know, is Ngoni and Chagga, Julius is Turu, and so is Fadhili. Yunusi is also of the Rangi tribe, Juma is Nyamwezi and our guide Adam, who is not in this picture, is of the Chagga tribe. Our Stella Track owner, Jacob, is Chagga and Ngoni just like his brother Robi.
Now, instead of trying to introduce you to over 123 tribes in Tanzania, we will tell you about the tribes we just listed. If you choose to come and climb with us, you might meet some of these people. Having a little knowledge about their tribes, could come in handy.
This tribe mostly lives in the Area around the city of Arusha. They are close to the more well-known Masai tribe, and their languages have many similarities. They were originally living in Arusha chine, but influenced by the Masais they moved to the Selian areas west of the Arusha city. The Arusha tribe early moved from pastoralism, herding livestock around open areas of land according to seasons and the changing availability of water, into agriculture.
The traditional food of the Arusha tribe is meat, milk, and loshoro. Loshoro is a mixture of maize and milk
The third biggest tribe in Tanzania and the one dominating the Moshi area. This is the tribe who lived on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and built large systems of water channels to water their crops. The historical fights between Masais and Chaggas are famous, and you can visit the caves in Kilimanjaro used by the Chaggas, to go underground during these wars.
The traditional Chagga dish is a stew made of meat and green bananas.
The Kurya tribe live in the border areas between Tanzania and Kenya. Traditionally they were a cattle herding tribe, like the more famous Masais. When the Serengeti plains were declared a protected area in 1952, the Kurya tribe changed their way of life and turned to farming instead. Historically their rich traditions were centered around a ritual cycle that everyone went through. Singing and dancing is still an important part of life, but now the background beat is mostly from the radio.
The Kuryas eat ugali and meat like many others in Tanzania. Ugali is a stiff porridge normally made of maizeflower, but instead of using maize the Kurya make their ugali of millet flour and sometimes they even add boiled casawa to their ugali.
This tribe lives in the border areas of Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. They originate from the famous Zulu-tribe of South Africa. They fought and conquered their way up north, until they reached their current areas and finally settled down.
The Ngoni eats fish with ugali and beans.
This tribe originally was farmers, but their compact village living has been changed over the years. They have long been travelers and workers outside their original homelands. They have close bonds to the Sukuma tribe, and the Nyamwezi is one of the tribes who allows multiple wifes, even though this isn’t practiced that often anymore.
A traditional dish of the Nyamwezi is matobolwa. It’s boiled sweet potatoes, put to dry in the sun before it is eaten.
This is the other big tribe in the area. Traditionally, five of the seven districts in the Kilimanjaro region have been settlements of the Chagga tribe. The other two have been Pare settlements. In 1946 the Pare tribe formed a union who began activism against the colonial power. It was one of the first ethnic-based nationalist movements in Tanzania to do so.
The traditional Pare dish is makande, a dish where beans, corn, carrots and some onion, and sometimes coconutmilk, are boiled for around 6 hours.
Mainly situated in Kondoa and Singida regions. As many other tribes their main occupation is farming, traditionally maize and millet. It is said it was the Rangi tribe who named the Tarangire river, who runs through the famous nationalpark Tarangire (Mtarangire – meandering river). They used to hunt for warthogs along this river until the 1950’s.
Their traditional food is mlenda and ugali. Mlenda is boiled pumpkin leaves.
The biggest tribe in Tanzania. They populated the northwest part of Tanzania at lake Victoria but were spread all the way to the Serengeti plain. They are farmers with cattle and, like the Chaggas, they have had their conflicts with the Masai tribe.
The food here is ugali and meat with milk.
These are farmers from the Singida region (north-central Tanzania). They mainly grow their crops for food and not for sale. They also have domestic animals like chicken, goats, sheep and sometimes cattle. They are believed to be one of the first Cushitic group to arrive in Tanzania.
A traditional Turu dish is ugali and mlenda like the Rangis.
This is a very small tribe situated in the southern parts of the Tanga area. They are originally a Bantu people, and they are thought to historically have moved to their current area from west, to avoid slave traders.
Their food is ugali and mlenda, but they mix the mlenda with a local vegetable called ngogwe.
A short explanation about the the prefix Wa- in the names of the tribes might be useful here as many prefer to use this prefix. In Swahili the names of the tribes start with Wa- Wachagga, Waarusha, Wameru and so on. Every language has its own words for nationalities and this is the way you say it in Swahili. Tanzanians are called Watanzania in Swahili, Americans are called Wamarekani. Just like a Swedish person is called Svensk, if you say it in Swedish.
Since this text is written in English and not Swahili, we use the English names of the tribes.
The same goes for the language being called Kiswahili. This is the Swahili word for it, just like the Swedish language is called svenska in Swedish and the language German is called Deutsch when speaking German. Since the texts on our webpage are written in English, we use the English word “Swahili” when we talk about this language.