The Block

An embroidered version of Tanzania’s Coat of Arms, superimposed on a piece of bark cloth, is the focal point of this block. The work was a collaborative effort by mother and daughter Martha Jane Makeja and Lillian Kwofie. The symbols featured on the central Warrior’s Shield, in the forefront of Mount Kilimanjaro, are the torch, representing freedom and light; the crossed axe and hoe, prominent tools used to develop the country; the spear, for the defence of freedom, and the wavy blue hands representing the nation’s land, sea, lakes and coastal lines.

On either side of the shield, an elephant tusk is supported by a man, on the left, and a woman, on the right. Bushes at their feet symbolize Tanzania’s agriculture. The circle of blue and white beads surrounding the bark cloth is typical of the skilfully created works of the Masai people that are used extensively for decoration and for ceremonial necklaces. The background fabric is a sample of kanga rectangular cloth, a pure cotton fabric, printed in bold designs and bright colours, and featuring a proverb in Swahili. Many Tanzanian women wear their kangas wrapped around their bodies and heads. Kangas are often worn in pairs, called a doti, and apart from clothing, are used in a variety of ways, including to carry a baby. The men will often wear the kikoi, a more toned down version of the kanga. The striped fabric is used as a wrap-around sarong.


A group of lions on the tree in the Serengeti prairies
Lions in the Serengeti National Park
Mount Kilimanjaro
Mount Kilimanjaro
Stone Town Door (7927089064)
A door in Stone Town, Zanzibar
Tingatinga painting
Maasai Tribe
Maasai in traditional costumes
Seaweed Collector, Zanzibar (8022825317)
Collecting seaweed in Zanzibar
Two women wearing Kangas
Two women wearing kangas

Cultural Profile

Tanzania lies on the east coast of central Africa. It was formed in 1964 by the federation of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, and now comprises a large mainland area and three principal islands––Pemba, Zanzibar and Mafia. There are many outstanding features to be found in Tanzania, including Mount Kilimanjaro, Africas highest peak, Lake Victoria, Africas largest lake, Lake Tanganyika, the worlds second deepest freshwater lake, and Serengeti National Park, home of the greatest concentration of migratory game animals in the world. It was at Ujiji, a village along the shore of Lake Tanganyika, that journalist Henry M. Stanley reportedly met missionary David Livingston, greeting him with the now-famous words, Dr. Livingstone, I presume. Olduvai Gorge, within the Serengeti, is the site of the discovery of human fossil remains dating back nearly two million years.

Tanzania’s population consists of more than 120 ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Sukuma and the Nyamwezi. The majority of Tanzanians make their living from the land and there are still groups of Hadzabe (hunter-gatherers who first settled parts of the country 40,000 years ago) living a nomadic lifestyle. While ther are over 100 African tongues spoken here, the official languages are Swahili, which is understood by 90% of the population, and English.

The country produces a variety of crops including tea, coffee, cotton, maize and cassava. Much of the world’s clove production comes from Zanzibar, and within the culture, it is customary to offer cloves to guests upon their arrival and have them chew them before dinner. The ‘Spice Island’ is also a major producer of vanilla, mace and nutmeg.

Tanzanian culture is a blend of African, Arab, European and Indian influences. Mainland Tanzania is deeply rooted in Sub-Saharan cultures, while Zanzibar, a large island off the coast, was once the capital of the Sultanate of Oman. Arab influences can therefore still be seen in people’s dress, in the architecture and in the cuisine of the island.

Family is central to social and recreational life, and oral storytelling customs and tribal dancing are important parts of the culture. Music includes such styles as ngoma, which means ‘drum’ and is often done during the harvest festival, kwaya, or choir singing, and mtindo, a dance. On Zanzibar, distinctive taarab, or sung poetry, is a very popular music style featuring zithers, ouds, accordions, violins and percussion owing to both Arabic and African traditions.

Tanzania is known the world over for its wood, ebony and ivory carvings and Zanzibar for its elaborately carved doors. The Makonde of Southern Tanzania are especially well-known for their Mapiko masks, used in coming-of-age rituals, while their chess sets are exported all over the world. Other national crafts include basket and mkeka mat weaving from sisal (a main crop), pottery, rope and twine mat-making, and instrument-making. The often humorous Tingatinga paintings, with their bright colours obtained by using bicycle paint, are also a favorite item. Maasai beaded jewellery is also an art that is known all over the world.

Tanzanians have been coming to Canada for many years, some to work and some to study. The 2011 census reports there are now over 4,000 people of Tanzanian origin living here.


Sponsor: The Snowbee Family | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons