A trip to Africa conjures up vivid images of the exotic tribes that have inhabited areas of the continent for centuries. But there is such cultural diversity in Africa - both from country to country; and even within certain countries. It is important to understand how they differ and how you can experience them. Most people’s concept of culture on safari is probably derived from the Maasai, who live in close proximity to the main safari regions in Kenya and Tanzania. They have proudly kept their traditional wear of brightly coloured cloths, and their tall figures, set against the grassy plains, make a striking, memorable image. In addition to their high jumping dance performances, many are willing to show you their homes and lives and thus it is easy to incorporate a tribal/cultural experience on your safari.
Elsewhere it is not quite as obvious, easy or colourful. From East Africa down to South Africa, there are only a few remaining tribes that exist, who have maintained a traditional way of life, and of those only a few are encountered on traditional safari circuits. Millions of African people however, live simple, subsistence lives, with a few chicken, cattle, goats and crops, or fishing along one of the many rivers or coastlines – which is a fascinating contrast for many travellers who live in modern countries and cities.
Aside from tribal culture, there is also township and historic culture in South Africa – mostly associated with the Apartheid struggle. And then there is history and culture associated with Africa’s colonial past.
We do like for our clients to see how the ‘average’ person lives in any one country and to be exposed to life in that destination – even if it is only driving through and not a formal excursion...
THE MAASAI - TANZANIA & KENYA
Perhaps the most authentic ethnic tribe you can see in Africa, is the proud and regal Maasai of Tanzania and Kenya. Distinctive in their red sheets, (shuka), wrapped around the body and loads of beaded jewellery placed around the neck and arms, the Maasai still practice their unique and fascinating customs, such as the adumu, often called the “jumping dance,” a highly recognizable ritual of Maasai life. Despite education and Western influence, the Maasai people have maintained their traditional way of life, allowing us the opportunity to witness their long preserved and unique culture, in action.
Experience the Maasai's distinctive customs, dress style and history with any one of the East Africa safaris that we have curated for you. Here's a great example:
THE SAMBURU - KENYA
Family to the Maasais, the Samburu are also nomadic pastoralists, and move around Kenya, following patterns of rainfall in search of fresh pasture and water for their cattle, camels, goats and sheep.
The Samburus have also managed to maintain the authenticity of their culture and ancient traditions, defying modern trends. They're famous for the exquisite, brightly colored traditional shukas that both the men and women wear, as well as the beautiful, multi-beaded necklaces and other traditional jewelry. Samburu warriors, or morans, keep their long hair in braids and wear more colourful attire than the rest of the tribe, making this, and many of their traiditional customs and ceremonies fascinating for tourists to observe.
THE HIMBA - NAMIBIA
Another completely authentic cultural experience to add to your safari bucket list, is a visit to the Himba poeple, a semi-nomadic, pastoral tribe in north-western Namibia.
The Himba completely respect and live according to the traditions of their ancestors, instantly identifiable by the red ochre cream that covers their skin, and the women's Himba crown: the Erembe. Other than their unique dress and hairstyle, the social status and importance of an individual also rests upon the jewellery they flaunt.
THE BUSHMEN - BOTSWANA
About 100 000 Bushmen - also known as the San or Basarwa - remain in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Angola. The San are considered the "first people" and are definitely the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa. Investigators and visitors have looked to the Bushmen for clues into how humans may have lived in the Stone Age. Deeply spiritual, and living at one with the land and its wildlife, an opportunity to experience the San in their natural environment is a rare and very special treat. Sadly, after two millennia of interaction with Bantu populations, and now under heavy pressure from the modern world, the Bushmen no longer provide an adequate model for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that early modern humans practised for hundreds of thousands of years. But there are pockets such as the village of Molapo - a village of about 50 people - where the San can still be seen living traditionally: gathering wild berries, herbs and roots for nourishment as well as medicinal uses.
THE ZULU'S - SOUTH AFRICA
The iconic Zulu tribe that once dominated parts of South Africa, is still the largest ethnic group in the country, with the greatest number being in the province of KwaZulu Natal. The Zulu people refer to themselves as 'the people of the heavens' and are probably most recognised in history for the period in which the tribe merged into a great kingdom under the leadership of Shaka.
The Zulu traditions are both fascinating and beautiful, with different dress codes, dances and customs to celebrate various stages of life and ceremonies.
You will however, not find the Zulu people living authentically as they did historically. They are now very much a westernised tribe. You can however arrange excursions to visit traditionally constructed Zulu environments, where you can enjoy their traditions being enacted and learn more about this fascinating and epic African tribe.
Check out our CULTURAL SAFARIS page to get some safari ideas...