"The Ways of the Tribe" Book

Cover of the book

Jan 2011 - Book published and available

The Ways of the Tribe explores the diverse tribal cultures of Tanzania and examines how they contribute towards our modern identity and national development.

The book covers the tribes of north-eastern Tanzania scattered in the four regions of Tanga, Kilimanjaro, Arusha and Manyara. These regions form a vast area of the country, extending from the northern coast of Tanzania to the plains of Serengeti near Lake Victoria, stretching out from the slopes of the northern volcanoes to the floor of the Great Rift Valley. They contain the well-known landmarks of Mounts Kilimanjaro and Meru, the crater highlands of Ngorongoro and the ancient Eastern Arc Mountains of Usambara. This is also the location of the active volcano, Oldonyo Lengai, the extensive Maasai Steppes and the alkaline lakes of Manyara, Eyasi and Natron. About twenty tribal cultures have evolved in this part of the country, each with its unique language, mode of life and folklore.

The Ways of the Tribe is written for those who are interested in the interplay between the beauty of the land and the beauty of its people. And it is also written for native dwellers, whose culture has been inextricably linked to this magnificent area since the time of their ancestors. The Ways of the Tribe explores the indigenous tribes in the area and draws from them a cornucopia of African traditions, philosophies and humour in a manner that calls for a renaissance of African identity. The tribes are described in separate chapters, each of which divides into the same five headings covering tribal origins, history, community life, customs and national development.


Author: Gervase Tatah Mlola
Editor: Jill Watson
Designer: Dismas Luvena
Illustrations: Abdul Gugu and Bosco T. Mpitivyako
Cartography: C. P. Mahui of the University of Dar es Salaam
Photography: Colin Hastings and Briony Campbell of Majority World

The book is available in all the major bookshops of Arusha, Moshi, Dar es Salaam and Iringa. In the UK, it can be purchased from www.africanbookscollective.com for £20.95


Typical Pages

The book consists of 262 pages all full colour, size 210mm wide by 274mm high, with a soft cover binding


Review by Antony Shaw

Tanzania has a rich and diverse cultural landscape. The Ways of the Tribe is a compelling and authoritative reference work that makes a valuable contribution towards documenting the ancient heritage of the various tribes that populate this vast and beautiful land. Mlola’s first book offers readers a fabulous survey of fourteen tribes from the north-east of Tanzania. Whilst the Maasai may be familiar to readers worldwide, the book also chronicles less familiar peoples like the Barabaig of Hanang District and the Mbugu of the Usambara mountains. This account is the result of a decade of research arising from visits to the present-day tribal communities by the author – a respected travel writer and cultural expert.

The content of this book is arranged by tribe and within each chapter there are sections on origins, history, community life, and customs. The contribution of each tribe to the national life and development of the nation is also included with a range of fascinating stories, such as the heroic story of the Olympic runner John Stephen Akhwari of the Iraqw. The Ways of the Tribe is a lively and engaging chronicle packed with legends, humour, and colourful insights into everything from the naming of babies to the brewing of sugar cane beer. Each chapter also contains a very useful bibliographical section; the work would benefit further from the inclusion of an index. In addition to many striking images contributed by Colin Hastings (now a director at Majority World Photo Library) and photographer Briony Campbell, there are also illustrations by artists Abdul Gugu and Bosco Mpitivyako. Their work (together with a selection of maps) contributes to the bright and attractive appearance of this publication. Mlola’s scholarship has resulted in a very accurate historical account, but his work also provides another level of understanding beyond the factual. The author’s first-hand experiences, passion, and dedicated research also offer readers a valuable understanding of the interplay between the beauty of the land and the beauty of the people. In doing so he offers a unique insight into the essence of the identity and vibrancy of these peoples.

In addition, the author provides a description of the present-day circumstances and lifeways of these peoples. In doing so, we are reminded these tribes are real communities whose rich heritage is sadly threatened by a host of issues often faced by indigenous peoples around the globe who strive to retain their identities in a rapidly changing world. The final chapter on the “lost tribe” of Engaruka is a reminder of the fate of indigenous groups who are unable to withstand the social, economic and environmental pressures that may come to threaten their future.

The Ways of the Tribe is a well-presented and important reference work that will have widespread appeal. For students and scholars it is a valuable historical chronicle and present-day commentary on the tribes under discussion. The book should give Tanzanians a greater appreciation of their diverse and lively heritage. Tourists planning a visit to the region that is home to many worldfamous destinations will greatly benefit from understanding the peoples they may encounter on their holidays. And finally for the general reader, this lively reference work is a wonderful way to begin exploring the people, places and cultures of this fascinating part of Africa.

Anthony Shaw is Managing Director of Creo Communications, a Tanzania-based company offering communication consultancy and English language support services to individuals, organisations and businesses.

This review has appeared in Tantravel, the official travel magazine of Tanzania Tourist Board, and in Tanzanian Affairs

Forward by President Ali Hassan Mwinyi

Perhaps more than anywhere else in contemporary Africa, Tanzania has succeeded in building a harmonious nation that shares the cultural resources of its different tribes in a fulfilling way.

In “The Ways of the Tribe”, the author shows the importance of this rich cultural diversity in the development of our nation. Each tribal society is important to the others, sharing values, traits, skills and humour.

“The Ways of the Tribe” is also a very useful book for our school children and in towns where contact has been lost with tribal traditions. Nowadays, the strength of the extended family and the wisdom of traditional instruction are increasingly being influenced and undermined by modern lifestyles and foreign culture. How will the new generation identify itself in the next few years? The author has tried in this book to reconcile these different aspects.

To the outsider, “The Ways of the Tribe” is a souvenir, portraying our beautiful country with its beautiful people. It is a treasure that enables people from other cultures and lifestyles to experience our own traditional African life. Welcome to this remarkable work on our African heritage.

Ali Hassan Mwinyi

The Second President of The United Republic of Tanzania (1985 - 1995)

Introduction from the Book

The Ways of the Tribe is an attempt to explore the diverse tribal cultures of Tanzania and to examine how they contribute towards our modern identity and national development.

The book covers the tribes of north-eastern Tanzania scattered in the four regions of Tanga, Kilimanjaro, Arusha and Manyara. These regions form a vast area of the country, extending from the northern coast of Tanzania to the plains of Serengeti near Lake Victoria, bulging out from the slopes of the northern volcanoes to the floor of the Great Rift Valley. They include the well-known landmarks of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru, the crater highlands of Ngorongoro and the ancient eastern arc mountains of Usambara. This is also the location of the active volcano, Oldoinyo Lengai, the extensive Maasai Steppes and the alkaline Lakes of Manyara, Eyasi and Natron.

About 20 tribal cultures have evolved in this part of the country, each with its own unique language, mode of life and folklore. The Ways of the Tribe is written for those who are interested in the interplay between the beauty of the land and the beauty of its people. And it is also written for native dwellers, whose culture has been inextricably linked to this magnificent area since the time of their ancestors.

The Ways of the Tribe explores 14 indigenous tribes in the area and draws from them a cornucopia of African traditions, philosophies and humour in a manner that calls for a renaissance of African identity. The 14 tribes are described in separate chapters, each of which divides into the same five headings covering tribal origins, history, community life, customs and national development. This arrangement has been useful in compiling the book and will also, it is hoped, be of assistance to anyone wishing to make comparisons across the tribes.

In the modern world, African tribes and cultures face a challenge from increasing western influence. With this in mind, a cautionary chapter on the lost tribe of Engaruka has been included. This unfortunate tribe once prospered a great deal and then vanished about 300 years ago leaving a deserted settlement, still visible today – a matter of curiosity to contemporary historians. What happened to the tribe? Where did its people go? And will they return? The same thing could happen to us if we let go our traditional tribal values which connect us to our ancestors and origins. If this connection snaps, we will lose our identity and become wanderers in unfamiliar realms. This book, therefore, is both a warning against the intrusion of foreign values and an encouragement to hold fast to our roots.

Nobody really expects tribal societies of today to live the way they did 100, 50 or even 20 years ago. Personally, I agree with the transition from the wattle-and-mud traditional huts to more permanent and healthy structures. I agree with the present campaigns against tribal rites of passage involving genital mutilation of girls. And I certainly agree with regulations suppressing tribal military training that merely breeds cattle raiders rather than progressive citizens. But I will not trade the hectic Bantu drum dances, or the African rituals of naming babies or even the graceful conversational skills of tribesmen for anything else. So The Ways of the Tribe is for those who yearn to cherish good African values and pass them to the next generation.

It has taken seven years to write the book and within this period, I have made countless journeys to the abode of every tribe. My experience of teaching history in Tanzanian secondary schools for 15 years greatly assisted my approach to the work. However, in addition to the knowledge acquired from these long sojourns, much information has also been gathered from the publications of renowned anthropologists and historians who carried out detailed research on the tribes. These include the works of H.A. Fosbrooke, John Sutton, Steve Feierman and Isaria Kimambo, to mention but a few. More recently, Thomas Spear and Gregory Maddox have written more up-to-date books on traditional life. I am indebted to them all.

The long study of these peoples has raised interesting questions about how the tribes developed their own lifestyles, languages and traits. Why is every tribe where it is? How did the tribes’ myths of origin evolve? I hope to have thrown light on these questions in The Ways of the Tribe, which is my contribution to the rich cultural diversity in Tanzania.

Gervase Tatah Mlola

Contents of Book

The Origin of the People of Tanzania
The Sonjo
The Iraqw
The Mbugwe
The Arusa
The Meru
The Chagga
The Gorowa
The Maasai
The Pare
The Mbugu
The Shambaa
The Barabaig
The Hadzabe
The Lost Tribe of Engaruka

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