Religious Celebrations in Tanzania
Post written by Tori, United Planet Tanzania Manager.
Tanzania, and especially the island of Zanzibar, is a country full of cultural diversity which plays out in a variety of religious celebrations, festivals and traditions. The beauty of this country is the peace enjoyed by all, no matter the faith. Christians, Hindus, Muslims and many others all coexist respectfully. Before the Colonial Era, traders from as far away as Persia, Arabia, India, Greece, and China all visited the East Coast of Tanzania and traded in goods (predominantly ivory, spices and slaves). Some, especially the Persians and Arabs, also established colonies.
‘Mwaka Kogwa’ is a traditional Shirazi (Persian) New Year’s celebration that takes place in Zanzibar. To bring good luck in the new year, a play fight takes place and all the men participating beat each other to vent their aggressions from the past year. As they do this, the village women dress up in their best clothes and sing traditional songs about family, love and joy. Then the mganga (traditional healer) lights a hut on fire and reads which way the smoke is burning to determine the village’s prosperity in the new year. As with all celebrations, there is a large feast at the end, which is a sign of happiness and prosperity.
With Muslims making up 35% of the population in Tanzania (mostly along the Swahili Coast and Zanzibar), Muslim holidays and celebrations are especially important. In all of Islam, Eid al-Fitr has to be the most important holiday/event. It signifies the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. After Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr marks four days of feasting and festivities, with family members and friends coming together to exchange gifts and alms for the poor. Festivities are usually accompanied by traditional Swahili taraab music and lots of dancing. All Muslim communities throughout Tanzania also celebrate Eid al-Haj, the three-day annual festival of the haj (pilgrimage) to Mecca. This festival honors the prophet Ibrahim and focuses on the themes of sacrifice and faith. Each family sacrifices a goat or sheep, with one third given to the poor, another third to family and friends, and the final third kept by the family for a lavish meal. Gifts are exchanged and sermons and prayers abound. Any family member who has made the trek to Mecca is warmly welcomed home.