Visit East Africa

Cultural Encounters

The East African region has diverse cultures with various ethnic groups of people that offer great cultural encounters. Most of the cultural experiences are enjoyed while at the major wildlife destinations as a supplement to the wildlife itineraries. In-case you want only local East African cultural encounters then you can have a tailor made itinerary for that. Lets explore the most unique cultures of the people in the major East African countries.

A Hadzabe Hunter in Tanzania; Cultural Encounters
A Hadzabe Hunter. Courtesy Photo

The Hadzabe are a local ethnic group of people in north-central Tanzania around Lake Eyasi in the rift valley region. They were initially hunter gatherers and have  tried to retain their traditional cultures. This has however became a challenge as most areas are where they live were gazetted into wildlife reserves.

While in Tanzania, have a visit to the local community where you will get a chance to interact with them.  They showcase some of their unchanged bushmen skills, survival techniques and their major cultural traditions.

This tribe is among the remaining hunting and gathering tribes on the entire planet. The Hadzabe people are unique because they are an isolate tribe not related to any other tribe in the region.

They don’t have any formal religion with no places of worship but perform rituals that are significant to their culture. Most common is the Epeme ritual that features dancing and meat eating. This group of people is a must visit for those interested in indigenous East Africa’s cultural encounters and experiences.

Batwa in Uganda; East Africa's Cultural Encounters
Batwa in Uganda. Photo by Alize Jireh

The Batwa are an endangered group of pygmies living in southwestern Uganda and great part of East Africa’s Cultural Heritage. They were initially forest dwellers who survived on hunting and gathering in the tropical rain forests. 

They would use simple hand made tools like bows, arrows and spears to hunt. They would hunt small antelopes in the forest, bush pigs, monkeys and birds for food. Women would gather edible fruits, honey and some firewood for roasting the meat the men brought back from their hunts.

As Uganda’s population kept on increasing, there was encroachment on forests for land for settlement and agriculture. This forced the Batwa to move further deeper in the forest where they preferred to live.  The government of Uganda however in order to preserve these forests, it gazetted them into national parks. This saw the Batwa being evicted  to reduce on poaching and human encroachment on wildlife. Today the Batwa live at the forest edges and are rarely allowed into the forest.

The Batwa today offer great cultural encounters on the Batwa trail as they demonstrate hunting and gathering process. This is done on a four to five hours Batwa trail experience in Mgahinga national park. Here you interact with them as they also perform folk songs at the end of the trail at Garama Cave.

In Bwindi, you can also have a Batwa community visit and get to know more about their ways of life. These activities enable the Batwa to earn some money from tourism to enable them sustain their lives. A time spent with these local Ugandans is very fascinating and gives a different taste of culture that is memorable.

Turkana Woman wearing Ornaments (East Africa's Cultural Encounters)
Turkana Lady Wearing Ornaments in Northern Kenya. Photo by Olivier Ranrigo

Turkana people are a unique East African tribe living semi arid areas in northern Kenya near lake Turkana. They are pastoralists and move from one place to another seeking for fresh pastures for their animals. They have cultural diversity seen in traditional decorative dressing, jewelry, craftsmanship, folk performances and tales they tell once encountered.

Traditionally they used wear wraps made of woven materials and animal skins. With industrialization in Kenya, the Turkana people now wear wrap clothes around their waist covering part of the legs. For the upper body, they wear just a wrapper connected over the shoulder. Some men still carry small stools called Ekicholong that they sit on when they want to rest while grazing. Turkana women are true African beauties and wear a lot of beads and often have their hair completely shaved off.

Livestock among the Turkana is wealth as it provides Milk, meat, blood and also helps in paying bride price. The major livestock reared by the Turkana people include camels, goats, donkeys and cattle. The Turkana ensure to increase livestock numbers as with this a man can live a polygamous life with many wives.

The Turkana mainly feed on milk, meat, blood and wild edible fruits plus honey that is gathered mostly women. Surprisingly in Turkana land fishing is a taboo and clans don’t take fish much as they live near the lake.

There has been efforts from the Kenyan government to teach the Turkana fishing methods but this has yielded little success. While in Kenya and are interested in a unique local experience, a visit to the Turkana land is worth it.