Safari Blog

The History Of Tanzania

Unraveling the Rich Tapestry of Tanzania's History: From Ancient Civilizations to Modern Times
Blog Category: Archaeology

The History Of Tanzania

archaeology - header blog posts safari

Little information is available on the history of Tanganyika, as the mainland was named before the 1800s. Nevertheless a number of prehistoric sites have been found, including the remains of what may be the world’s oldest example of prehistoric life, dating over 1.8 million years old, leading to speculation within archaeological circles that East Africa may be the original birthplace of mankind.

From the 1800s there is evidence of the existence of the Maasai tribe in Tanganyika that thrived in the interior of the country away from the coastal regions. Evidence suggests that tribes of Bantu origin such as the Maasai gradually displaced earlier prehistoric ethnic groups.

Trading contacts between the East African coast and Arabia were established as early as the 1st Century AD and by the 8th Century they had developed a series of coastal towns and trading centres. In the 15th Century the Portuguese arrived and claimed control over the coastal regions of Tanganyika without ever settling or colonising the area (and were consequently driven out by the indigenous settlers with the help of the Arabs). Little attempt was made to penetrate the interior until the middle of the 18th Century when Arab traders began to explore this area as part of their constant search for slaves. European exploration began in the mid 19th Century and in 1866 David Livingstone established his last mission at Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika as part of his crusade against the slave trade.

At the end of the 19th Century, German colonization began to take root in Tanganyika as the Germans formed treaties with local tribal chiefs. During the German occupation there was a boom period in the development of roads, railroads and cash crops. By 1890 the Germans had drawn up an agreement with the British dividing up the East African territory between them.
In 1905 the Maji Maji Rebellion began and was to last for a further two years ending with the death of an estimated 120,000 Africans. Brutal colonial rule provoked this rebellion and a scorched earth policy was used to crush it. Many Tanzanians regard this as the first moment of a nationalistic movement. The Germans lost control of this territory after World War I to the British under the League of Nations agreement (the British had previously seized Zanzibar from the control of Arab traders).
After the end of World War II Julius Nyerere, a former schoolteacher founded the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) in 1954 and the real movement towards independence and self-government began. In 1961 independence became a reality and Nyerere became Tanganyika’s first president. Shortly afterwards the British deferred their control of Zanzibar back to the local Arab leaders. Shortly thereafter the country revolted and joined Tanganyika and the resulting union along with Pemba resulted in what we now know as Tanzania.

An economic union between Tanzania, Uganda & Kenya established at the beginning of the 1960s where common telecommunications systems, transportation and customs were created had faltered irrevocably by 1977. Today moves are underway to revive this union between the three countries and stimulate growth by slowly re-establishing regional co-operation in selected fields. To date the process appears to be having some success.

Julius Nyerere was the key guiding figure in the history of Tanzania right up into the 90’s and his influence is still strongly felt today. He was a great man much loved by the people but his socialist and self-reliance policies did not work and left the country in economic ruin with Tanzania being one of the world’s poorest countries. It is now beginning to emerge from this situation. It is to be hoped that the high ethics to which he aspired can be maintained in this era of economic growth.