Tanzanian Safaris Beginnings
The history of Tanzania Safari dates back to the early to mid 1800s; this is the western understanding of what a safari is, what we know as safari has radically changed over the last hundred years or so.
Safari is a word that finds its origins in many languages. Arabic, Urdu and Hindi, all contain similar words safar or safariya from which the word safari has been derived. The word safari was adopted into the KiSwahili language and means ‘to travel’
The word safari as we now know it was coined by Sir Richard Burton who was a 19th century English linguist and explorer who along with John Hanning Speke were the first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile. He left Zanzibar and took over 2 year to cross what is now Tanzania, read more about his exploration here.
The Original Safari
The original safaris were taken by both Africans and Arabs. They would travel long distances through arid and semi-arid lands to get to the sea ports, rivers and early cities. The entire purpose of traveling long distances was primarily trade. Adventure was never on anyone’s mind. There were trading ports along the east coast of Africa including the famous Kilwa Kisiwani . The Arabs traveled west across Persia and modern day Saudi Arabia while Africans traveled across the whole African continent.
The Hunters’ Safari
The concept of a safari in the 19th century and early 20th century was primarily a series of hunting expeditions. Men with guns, primarily British and Americans and their large retinues would embark on adventures across the wild lands of the continent; many people consider this the true beginning of the safari.
One of the most popular early books in America was the account of former President Theodore Roosevelt and his exploits across east Africa on his hunting safaris.
Today very few people remember William John Burchell, Frederik Selous and Thomas Ayres, the great explorers and naturalists who explored much of Africa and paved the way for these early hunting expeditions. Frederik Selous was a British explorer, officer, professional hunter, and conservationist, famous for his exploits in Southeast Africa and passed away in the Selous Game Reserve – giving it its name today.
The Modern Traveler on Safari
This is the safari you will be on. Much like the safaris of old it involves covering large distances in Tanzania, often with adventures and with plenty of wildlife to see.
Gazing at wildlife, treasuring the sights, enjoying exotic food and drinks and relaxing are more or less what comprises a modern day African safari. No guns, no running out of water and food or being helplessly faced with a herd of five thousand buffalo knowing for certain that the death knell has been rung.
“Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.”
“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.”
Fossils found in Tanzania by the world famous Leakey family have indicated that some of the world’s earliest humans lived in Tanzania. But little else is known of the people who populated the region until the Massai, a fierce warrior people, moved in from the north and claimed what is now northern Tanzania. The coastal regions including the important settlement of Kilwa had long witnessed maritime squabbles between Portuguese and Arabic traders, it wasn’t until the middle of the 18th century that Arab traders and slaves dared venture into Masai territory in the country’s wild interior.
Tanzania became an important arrival point in to the African interior for many 19th century explorers, the most famous being Stanley and Livingstone. The phrase “Dr Livingstone, I presume” stems from the duo’s meeting at Ujiji on Lake Malawi.
Tanganyika, as the mainland was then known, was colonized by Germany in the 1880s. When Germany lost the first World War, the territory was mandated to Britain by the League of Nations to rule as a protectorate. Britain never expected to stay long and, consequently, did little to improve the country’s infrastructure. The British also took control of the offshore island of Zanzibar, which for centuries had been the domain of Arab traders.
Tanganyika was granted independence in 1961, followed by the island nation of Zanzibar two years later. In 1964 the two countries merged as the United Republic of Tanzania. Tanzania’s independence was due to the work of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and it’s leader Julius Nyerere, who became the first president.
Nyerere adopted a policy of radical socialism to develop his country. Its goals included decent health care, the establishment of Swahili as a national language (important in a nation of 120 ethnic groupings), increasing international prestige and universal literacy. He improved health conditions somewhat and expanded the usage of Swahili, but his economic policies proved to be a failure.
The early 1960s saw Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda linked in an unlikely economic threesome, sharing a common airline, telecommunication facilities, transportation and customs. Their currencies became freely convertible and there was free and easy movement across borders. But political differences brought this to a halt in 1977, leaving the Tanzanians worse off than ever.
Despite his unsuccessful reforms, Nyerere was beloved for his earnest ideals and regarded as one of Africa’s greatest leaders. He retired from politics in 1985 and died in late 1999. His funeral was attended by more than 3 million mourners.
Tanzania is now escaping the shadow of its northern neighbour, Kenya, and emerging as a prime tourist destination. With friendly people and amazing natural beauty, Tanzania is at the crossroads of a new beginning where the historical past blends with the new, and where eco-tourism is being given the full support of the government.