Travel Guide | Tanzania's People, History, Goegraphy and Climate

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Dar Es Salaam. The Capital

Little more than a century old, Dar Es Salaam is a relatively modern city that has an old world charm. It shows none of the overwhelming bustle that capital cities often possess, and the name that the founding Sultan of Zanzibar gave it in 1857 still applies: 'Haven of Peace.' One of the most attractive features of Dar Es Salaam is its harbor.

The crescent bay is fringed with palm trees, and gorgeously wrought sailing craft often waft into port. From December to March, Asian bateels and badane set sail from India, Arabia, and the Persian Gulf, their holds bursting with carpets, silver, and brass to trade at the Indian bazaar. Johazi and Mashua, Dar Es Salaam's traditional small sailboats, come and go all day from Mafia Islands and Lamu.

Another facinating attraction of the city is its National Museum. Some of Dr. Leakey's first finds can be found in the musuem, including Nut-cracker Man and Zinjanthropus Bosei, proto-humans who roamed the Rift Valley over a million years ago. There are also detailed displays that track humanity's evolution over the eons.


Tanzania is bordered on the south by Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia; on the west by Zaire, Burundi, and Rwanda; on the north by Uganda and Kenya; and on the east by the Indian Ocean. Tanzania is the largest of the East African nations, and it possesses a geography as mythic as it is spectacular.

In the northeast of Tanzania is a mountainous region that includes Mt. Meru (4 566 metres) and Mount Kilimanjaro (5 895 metres) which is the highest point in Africa and possibly the most breathtaking mountain imaginable. West of these peaks is Serengeti National Park, which has the greatest concentration of migratory game animals in the world (200 000 Zebra, for example).

Within the Serengeti is Olduvai Gorge, the site of the famous discoveries by the Leakeys of fossil fragments of the very earliest ancestors of Homo sapiens. The Serengeti also contains the marvelous Eden of Ngorongoro, a 20-mile-wide volcanic crater that is home to an extraordinary concentration and diversity of wildlife.

History & People

The history of human habitation in Tanzania goes back almost 2 million years, and the fossils found at Olduvai Gorge by Louis and Mary Leakey now stand among the most important artifacts of the origins of our species. Artifacts of later Paleolithic cultures have also been found in Tanzania. The unearthing by Louis Leakey of 'Nutcracker Man', indicates that Tanzania has been the scene of human habitation since the dawn of mankind. This discovery at Olduvai Gorge is amongst the oldest human fossils ever found.

More recently during the 1st millennium AD, Bantu immigrants from the north brought with them iron workings and pottery making skills. Active colonisation began in the 8th century in Kilwa and Zanzibar with Arabs from Oman. Two centuries later Persians arrived on the coast and built prosperous stone cities of which remnants are still visible. In Tanzania's interior, at about the same time, the cattle-grazing Maasai migrated south from Kenya into central Tanzania.

There is evidence that communities along the Tanzanian coast were engaging in overseas trade by the beginning of the first millennium AD. By 900 AD those communities had attracted immigrants from India as well as from southwest Asia, and direct trade extended as far as China. The 11th and 12th centuries saw the evolution of the Swahili language from the intermarriage of Africans, Arabs, and Persians. Trade quickly developed in ivory, Rhino horn and coconut oil. Trading flourished in the 19th century with copper and gold from the interior and the notorious slave trade.

When the Portuguese arrived at the end of the 15th century, they found a major trade center at Kilwa Kisiwani, which they promptly subjugated and then sacked. The Portuguese were expelled from the region in 1698, after Kilwa enlisted the help of Omani Arabs. The Omani dynasty of the Bu Said replaced the region's Yarubi leaders in 1741, and they proceeded to further develop trade. It was during this time that Zanzibar gained its legendary status as a center for the ivory and slave trade, becoming in 1841 the capital city of the sultan of Oman.

Reports from early European explorers and missionaries led to the Sultan Baighash of Zanzibar being forced to outlaw slavery in 1873. Along the coastal regions, however, it continued illegally until colonial times. Soon afterward the great age of European exploration of the African continent began, and with it came colonial domination.

In 1886 the mainland was declared a protectorate of German East Africa and Zanzibar became a British protectorate. After World War I, the Germans were expelled and East Africa came under a League of Nations Mandate to the British, who renamed it Tanganyika. After gaining independence in 1961, Tanganyika was proclaimed a Republic within the British Commonwealth the following year.

Tanganyika and Zanzibar united in 1964 to become the United Republic of Tanzania. (Present day Tanzania is the result of a merger between the mainland, Tanganyika, and Zanzibar after both had gained independence). Tanzania has like many African nations experienced considerable strife since independence, and its economy is extremely weak. However, political stability does appear to have been established in recent years.

Chagga - The Chagga live on and around Mount Kilimanjaro. The Chagga are expert farmers, and coffee growers. Indeed, this valuable export crop has become the main source of their wealth. One of the most fascinating aspects of traditional Chagga life is the use of water resources for irrigation. Kilimanjaro is the source of many rivers and the Chagga long ago developed a system of furrows to draw off water at high levels and divert it over long distances. The irrigation system makes the Chagga homestead a lush garden. Seventeen varieties of banana grow on Kilimanjaro and these provide the staple element of the Chagga diet.

Swahili - is the name given not only to East Africa's widespread language but also to some of the people living along the coast. They form a collection of tribes who share a common culture and language, but the boundaries between the Swahili and their neighbours are never definitely clear. The Swahili do not stand alone as a distinct ethnic or tribal entity but form an element in a wider mixed coastal society.

Little is known of the groups who were among their ancestors - the Diba, Debuli, and others from Persia and India. The Swahili emerged as distinct people with their own way of life by the 12th century at the latest. They have always produced millet and rice for their own consumption, as well as coconut products and fruit.