The peoples of East Africa are warm, friendly and colourful yet are not all from the same tribe which may not be obvious at first glance. There are over 40 recognised tribal groups in Kenya and over 140 in Tanzania. Whilst this may seem a lot (and it is) all these tribes of East Africa can be classified according to their ancestry, race and language. Although East Africa is known as the Birthplace of Humanity most of the races have migrated over the past few thousand years. The groupings are the Bantu, Nilotic, Cushitic and Swahili. The first three groupings are geographic and relate to where the ancestors come from and the fourth is a lingual grouping.
The earliest of these to migrate is the Cushitic grouping. These people are believed to have migrated from Ethiopia anywhere from 9000BC to 1000BC. The most recent migration was in the 1900s with the influx of Somalis in the north. People in the Borana, Rendile and Somali tribes belong to this grouping. They are to be found in the arid regions of northern Kenya although assimilation is occurring with neighbouring tribes.
Next came the early Nilotic tribes some arriving as early as 500BC although the majority arrived only 500 years ago. These people originated in the Nile Valley in southern Sudan moving southwards through the Rift Valley. Many of these tribes have cultures based on and surrounding the herding of cattle. The famous Maasai, Samburu and Turkana are well known for their nomadic lifestyles and to this day remain so. These are proud tribes with highly specialised rituals and a penchant for cattle raiding and warfare. Other Nilotes such as the Luo have settled down to an agricultural life and this has lead to them becoming the second biggest tribal group in Kenya.
The Bantu-speakers are the most recent to arrive and numerous within East Africa. Essentially West African in origin, although many migrated from southern areas first, they are believed to have arrived within the last four thousand years. The vast majority are agricultural in lifestyle although the peoples living on the lakes also fish for a livelihood. People such as the Kikuyu in Kenya and the Wachugga in Tanzania are very involved in the business and politics of modern East Africa.
The Swahili are a wonderfully diverse group of people living on the East African Coast. Their origin is essentially African with influences from many different parts of the world. Their assimilation with peoples such as the Persians, Arabs and Portuguese to name a few is a result of the long history of trade along the East African coast. The language Kiswahili is the official language in Tanzania and Kenya and is also spoken in Uganda.
While on safari in East Africa you will come into contact with many different tribes and with a little time and willingness to learn you will understand the differences in each culture and appreciate the meaning in their lives.