Friday, April 12, 2013

Country Profile: Tanzania

I've been wanting to start writing a series of posts profiling the countries Compassion works in for some time. Being back at work, it's easier for me to have access to materials for this research. This is my firsts post in what I hope will be a continuing series about the countries where Compassion works. I know it's long, but I hope you enjoy it and find it educational and entertaining!

The flag of Tanzania. The flag was created by combining the flags of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. 

The Land:

Tanzania is slightly bigger than Venezuela, occupying 365,755 square miles of eastern Africa. The republic consists of the mainland and three islands: Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia. The combined size of the islands is about the size of Rhode Island, but the size of the mainland, Tanganyika, is comparable to the state of Texas. Tanzania touches or shares three of Africa’s great lakes (Tanganyika, Victoria, and Nyasa.) Most of the country is highland plateau, low coastal plain, or Serengeti plain. The highest point in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro, stands in Tanzania. Its summit is 19,340 feet above sea level. The lowest point in Africa is the floor of Lake Tanganyika, at 1,174 feet below sea level. Tanzania has an equatorial climate, which provides hot and humid weather, with temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit on the coast, but cooler temperatures can be found at higher elevations inland. Tanzania is home to many national parks and wildlife reserves, including Gombe national park, where naturalist Jane Goodall famously studied chimpanzees in the 1960s.

Mt. Kilimanjaro


Tanzania has a population of 46.91 million people, and the population is growing by 2% every year. About 27% of Tanzanians live in urban areas. The largest city is Dar es Salaam, and 3.2 million people live there. Almost half of all Tanzanians are under the age of 15. Almost all of the population is African, but merchants in Tanzania are dominated by people of Indian, Lebanese, and Palestinian origin. Some refugees occupy cities near the Tanzanian border. The African population of Tanzania is made up of about 130 ethnic groups, the largest of which is the Nyamwezi-Sukuma people.


Kiswahili, or Swahili, is the primary official language of Tanzania. It is used in schools, on radio and television, and in newspapers. Kiswahili is a mixture of various ethnic languages (primarily Bantu), Arabic, and English. Swahili spoken in Tanzania is slightly different than the version spoken in Kenya- it is actually more traditional. The purest form of the language is probably spoken on Zanzibar, and the locals there call it Kiunjuga. The second official language is English, and it is spoken in business, government, and people with a high level of education.  Over a hundred languages are spoken in Tanzania, but Swahili was made the official language when Tanzania gained independence, to foster a sense of unity. To help spread the use of the language, the president encouraged the Tanzanian people to buy radios, and then they started broadcasting in Swahili. They still teach Swahili on the radio.


The government doesn’t officially poll Tanzanians about religion, so there are no precise statistics about the number of people practicing different faiths. Most people figure that on the mainland, about a third of Tanzanians are Christian, a third are Muslims, and the remaining third practice indigenous beliefs.  However, many in this last group also mix in Christian practices, which would explain why the country is primarily Christian (probably over half of Tanzania.) Muslims and Christians in Tanzania coexist peacefully and may even celebrate each other’s holidays. Almost all the inhabitants of the island of Zanzibar are practicing Muslims. The government is religiously neutral.

A Tanzanian church

The People: 

Tanzanians are very polite and generous people. The belief that the needs of a group surpass the needs of the individual is strongly held, which explains why Tanzanians are so hospitable, warm, and courteous. It is considered impolite to pass someone without a sign of recognition (such as a smile.) Criticism and harsh words are highly offensive, especially in public, and reflect poorly on a person’s upbringing. Displays of negative emotion (except in the presence of family or very close friends) are taken as a sign of weakness, especially among men.
Tanzanians are very proud of the peace their country has maintained despite the many religion and ethnicities represented among its people. They are very friendly to foreigners, both from other parts of Africa and other continents. Appearing clean and well kept is very important to Tanzanians, and education and wealth are traits admired in other people. Respect for elders is particularly important- an elder Tanzanian may discipline a younger citizen even if they are not related.

Tanzanians living in urban areas dress conservatively, and frequently wear western-style clothing. Young people especially enjoy wearing jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes. Revealing clothing, such as shorts or short skirts, are considered inappropriate, unless they are worn in specific work or recreational situations (like wearing athletic shorts to play soccer.) Many villagers wear Western clothing imported secondhand from the US and Europe, and new clothes imported from India and China. Others may wear more traditional clothing, such as kitenge, rectangular pieces of colorful fabric worn as skirts, tops, or head coverings. A Tanzanian mother may also carry her baby in a katinge. Religion may also dictate how a Tanzanian dresses- Muslim men may wear a skull cap and a kanzu (a long, embroidered gown) when going to their mosque, and some Muslim women cover their heads, though they rarely cover their faces. Even people who do not have electricity are expected to iron their clothes- rumpled clothing signifies that one is rude, lazy, and poorly raised.

Tanzanians consider it very rude to show the soles of one’s feet to another person. Exclusively using your left hand is also considered improper. When summoning someone, the palm faces downward- an upward palm is considered to be rude. Visiting is a very important social custom. Tanzanians are enthusiastic hosts and try very hard to welcome their guests. Announcing your visit ahead of time is not always necessary- unexpected guests are frequent and warmly received. Almost any time of the day is good for visiting, except late in the evening. A host would probably not appreciate repeated visits at mealtimes, but refusing refreshments that are provided (such as tea, coffee, and maandazi- a kind of small doughnut) is considered very impolite. First-time visitors usually bring a small gift to their hosts. If you are visiting in Tanzania, though, don’t bring flowers as a host gift! Flowers are for expressing condolences. When guests leave the home, the hosts usually accompany them a short way to see them off (a hundred yards or so.)


Family is very important to Tanzanians. Aunts and uncles are referred to as fathers and mothers. Introducing a cousin as a cousin, instead of “brother” or “sister” is offensive. Rural households are quite large, and often include the father’s brothers and their families. Sometimes, but less often, the mother’s sisters and their families live nearby as well. Urban families are smaller and less close to each other. Around the country, the average number of children per family is 5. Rural and urban children often live quite different lives. In urban households, education is the focus of childhood. But in rural areas, chores such as raising livestock and farming are the primary focus. Children in Tanzania are expected to leave their parents as soon as they have finished enough education to be self-reliant. Unmarried young men are viewed as lazy if they hang around their parents’ house too long. Daughters usually stay with their parents until they are married, though urban young women may rent their own place if possible. Grown children are expected to help their family members out as much as needed. Elderly parents are cared for by their children- usually the oldest. While fathers are the breadwinners, disciplinarians and heads of the household, mothers are day-to-day managers of the family and have quite a bit of power in this position. They oversee the farming, cooking, and child-rearing. Rural women are rarely employed outside the home, but urban women may be involved in some informal jobs or may be formally employed. Unfortunately women’s rights are still an issue in some areas of Tanzania, but the government is working to improve those troublesome conditions. For example, schools for girls have been established in areas where educating girls was forbidden. The government also has a quota for female members of the legislature. Generally, though, throughout most of Tanzania, women are legally equal with men.


Most homes in Tanzania are rural mud-brick huts with grass thatch or tin roofs. Floors are mud or cement, depending on the economic status of the family. Few homes have running water or electricity. Some families may share a bed, but parents try to have a bed for themselves, one for their sons, and one for their daughters. Urban homes are usually very basic, and are very close together. Home ownership in urban areas is very difficult because of the high cost of land, so a lot of people rent. The high cost of living and unemployment rates in urban areas lead to a lot of homelessness.

Arranged marriages still exist in Tanzania. A lot of families allow for personal choice, but encourage marrying between cousins. Western-style dating is not really common. Marriage outside one’s ethnic group is now socially acceptable, but marrying outside one’s religious group is discouraged. Dating relationships progress to engagements rather quickly, but engagements may last a long time- up to five years. The average age of marriage is 25 for men and 18 for women, though legally girls as young as 15 can be married. Paying a bride-price to the bride’s family is very common, for two reasons. It thanks the bride’s family for raising their daughter, and it also helps compensate for the bride’s family’s loss of help. Since the bride-price can be expensive, extended family often helps out. The dowry can be cattle, cops, or money. Sometimes the groom may work for the bride’s family to pay the bride-price as well. In urban areas, western-style wedding attire (white dress for the bride, suit for the groom) is common. Other western wedding traditions, such as photographs, speeches, and dancing at rented halls may also be a part of the wedding. Rural couples are more likely to wear traditional clothes and participate in traditional dancing after the ceremony. Christian marriages are usually monogamous, but the law allows men of Muslim or traditional faiths to have as many as four wives. Polygamy is more common in rural areas. Divorce is generally frowned upon, but is becoming more common in urban areas. Divorced women have a difficult time finding new husbands because they are viewed as untrustworthy. A divorced woman is considered shameful to her family, and divorced women rarely remarry, but it is common for divorced men to remarry.

A wedding procession in Tanzania


Starchy foods such as bananas, rice, and ugali (stiff porridge made from cassava, maize, millet or sorghum) are a staple of the Tanzanian diet. The starchy base is usually served with a stew or sauce made of beans or leafy greens. Rice is the most common staple of the coastal area, and is often cooked with spices (including cloves, which were at one point the primary source of the Zanzibar economy.) When the spices are cooked directly into the water as the rice is cooking, this creates a dish called pilau. Cooked bananas are the primary staple throughout northern Tanzania, particularly near Mt. Kilimanjaro and Lake Victoria, and in the southwest near Lake Nyasa. Bananas may be fried, roasted, or made into a paste with meat and gravy. Guavas, mangoes, jackfruit, breadfruit, pineapples, and oranges are common fruits in Tanzania. Chicken, goat, and lamb are popular meats, for those who can afford to eat them.

Enjoying dinner in Tanzania

Tanzanians eat most meals with their hands, so washing before meals is very important. Even if your meal includes utensils, hand washing is still expected! Tanzanians usually only use the right hand when eating. The left hand is never used to take food from a communal bowl. Sharing food from a large bowl is common, especially when the dish is rice or ugali. Smelling food, or commenting on the way food smells, is considered rude. In some coastal towns (near the great lakes or along the coast of the Indian ocean), families sit on woven mats when they eat their meals. When guests are being served dinner, socialization is expected after the meal- to “eat and run” is to be very rude to one’s hosts!


Football (soccer) is by far the most popular sport in Tanzania, for both men and women. Tanzanians enjoy following professional soccer, especially European leagues and the World Cup. Residents of all ages also enjoy playing football. Unfortunately, a lack of facilities and equipment creates a challenges for people wishing to play for themselves, particularly in rural areas. Often children create toys and sports equipment from leftover material or trash bags. Tennis, volleyball, and netball are also played in Tanzania, though the latter is primarily enjoyed by women. Schools and companies may sponsor sports teams and competitions. Coca Cola recently made a large investment in football competitions in Tanzania. Other sponsored sports may include tennis, volleyball, basketball, and running competitions.

Playing football

Tanzanians love music and dance. Traditional ngoma music is one of the most popular styles. Xylophones, whistles, and drums all form the music, and dancers follow the rhythm. Tribes have their own traditional dances and perform them on special occasions. Folk arts include beautifully decorated baskets, ebony sculptures, Maasai beaded jewelry, and tingatinga art, paintings of nature scenes made from tiny dots.


Tanzania’s holidays include New Year’s Day, Zanzibar Revolution Day (January 12),  Union Day (April 26), Labor Day (May 1), Saba Saba (International Trade Day, July 7), Nane Nane (Farmer’s Day, August 8), and Independence Day (December 9). Christians also celebrate Easter and Christmas. Islamic holidays are based on the lunar calendar and fall on different days each year, but Muslim Tanzanians celebrate Ramadan, the Feast of the Sacrifice (honoring Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac) and the prophet Mohammad’s birthday.


Rural Tanzanians face numerous health issues, which include malaria, sleeping sickness, hepatitis B, intestinal parasites, and schistosomiasis. Good medical care is usually only available in well-populated urban areas. There are a few remote, well-run mission hospitals, however. Rural clinics do exist, but they often lack trained personnel and have insufficient supplies. On average, there is one doctor per 100,000 Tanzanians. Cholera epidemics can kill scores of people at a time, and really highlight the need for clean water, better medical care, and water education. Tanzanians are very dependent on their crops, and drought and other crop issues put people at risk for malnutrition. Almost 6% of the adult population (aged 15-49) has HIV/AIDS.


There is no mandatory starting age for children beginning kindergarten, but they may start as early as 4. Primary school lasts for 7 years. Students must pass the national exam for their grade level in order to progress to the next grade. Secondary school lasts for 6 years. Primary school and secondary school are mandatory. There are even laws in place to punish parents for keeping their children from receiving an education without a valid reason. Primary education is free, but many kids are unable to complete schooling. About 70% of school-aged children start primary school, but fewer than 10% of students move past the 7th grade. Secondary education is fee-based. Most schools are public, but there are some private schools in urban areas. Some families may not be able to send their children to school because going to school means time away from the fields. Agriculture and farming are absolutely crucial to Tanzanian individuals and to the economy at large. Boys are more likely than girls to receive more education, because girls’ domestic roles are important. There is a wide disparity in literacy rates between grown men and women for this reason. Illiteracy is also a bigger problem in rural areas, as access to school is more limited. In the public school system, the primary language is Swahili, but that changes to English in secondary school. Affluent parents may send their children to private school, as English is given a bigger focus. Then the child will be better prepared for secondary school. Tanzanian schools have a strong emphasis on science classes, as the country has a shortage of doctors, engineers, and pharmacists. Most secondary schools offer boarding because of distance issues. All Tanzanian students wear uniforms. Most Tanzanians are unable to enroll in the country’s universities and technical schools because of high tuition and fees.

Students working hard in school

Books to Read: 
Cooking the East African Way by Bertha Vining Montgomery

Bible Verse:
"Kwa maana Mungu aliupenda ulimwengu kiasi cha kumtoa Mwanae pekee, ili kila mtu amwaminiye asipotee, bali awe na uzima wa milele." Yohana 3:16 (via Bible Gateway)

From Compassion's website: 

"Compassion Tanzania began registering children into its centers in July 1999. Currently, more than 63,500 children are assisted at more than 230 church-based child development centers. Most of the centers are located in the area surrounding the city of Arusha, with the exception of a cluster of centers in Babati, a small town approximately 62 miles to the southeast. Compassion Tanzania is growing quickly to reach out to a constantly growing number of Tanzanian children living in poverty. We strive to illustrate God's love for them and provide them with numerous opportunities they might not have otherwise."

There are plenty of children in Tanzania who need sponsors! Here are just a few:


Faraja is 4 years old. Her birthday is July 14. She enjoys playing house and playing with dolls. To read more about Faraja, click here

Safari is 6 years old. His birthday is April 3. He enjoys football, singing, and playing with cars. To read more about Safari, click here

Beatrice is 18 years old. Her birthday is September 6. She enjoys singing, telling stories, and art. To read more about Beatrice, click here.

Lameck is 17 years old. His birthday is February 1. He enjoys football, telling stories, and art. To read more about Lameck, click here

All information came from CultureGrams. It's an excellent resource if you have access to it!


  1. I love your post!!! Thanks so much for doing all this research!!! I really enjoyed your sections on The People and Family and the info on weddings/dating, etc! That information was so neat to read. I look forward to reading more of these!!

    1. Thanks for reading it!! I felt weird posting something so long, but there is just so much cool information! The last book is a really cute picture book- when Juanito gets a little older, you might want to see if your local library has it and read it to him!


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