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Tanzanias History

Zanzibar ruinsThe history of the country now known as Tanzania actually began some 3.6 million years ago, when our ancient ancestors walked across the Olduvai Gorge Plains and left their footprints for Mary Leakey to discover a mere 40 years ago.

Human life in Tanzania has been affected by waves of migration – of nomadic people, of settlers, of rock painters, hunter-gatherers and cattle herders. The majority of modern-day Tanzanians are descendents of Bantu-speaking settlers who arrived in East Africa some time during the 1st century AD.

It was around this time that the first Arabic explorers arrived in Tanzania, leaving with ivory and slaves. The Islamic religion took a hold along the coast between the 8th and 10th centuries AD, and the coast flourished, with palaces, mosques and slave markets.

A brief period of European settlement came with Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama, who arrived in 1498 during his search for the Far East. Portuguese sailors resided on the coast for some two centuries before being driven out by Omani Arabs. After setting up a stronghold in Zanzibar and depositing governors on the coast and in the mainland, coastal traders brought their wares to the Great Lakes and sold slavers and ivory in exchange for cloth and weapons.

The late nineteenth century saw the start of European rule in earnest. After Chancellor Bismarck gave his approval of Carl Peter’s (a young German adventurer) de facto acquisition of African territory, the British, who had had their eye on certain areas of East Africa for some time, began to get a little restless. In 1886, the British and the Germans reached an agreement (consulting no African leaders at any point in the process), in which East Africa was divided. After a period of German rule, the country then known as Tanganyika entered British control after the first world war.

By 1953, the movement of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) was fully underway, lead by one Julius Nyerere, a young teacher. Tanganyika and Zanzibar became officially independent on 9th December 1961 and 10th December 1963 respectively, after the British decamped primarily for financial reasons. In April 1964, during a difficult period of souring relations between the newly independent country and it’s expected donors (Britain, the United States and West Germany), the country of Tanzania was born out of the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar.