Barbaig Tribe in Tanzania

Counting almost 50 millions people, Tanzania has about 120 tribes. According to many locals, all of them live in peace due to the politics of the father of Tanzanian nation Julius Nyerere. In Katesh, we visited Barbaig, a seminomad pastoralist tribe of approximately 200000 people. Barbaigs still preserve rather traditional way of life with occasional and rather rare signs of modernity like cellphones or schools. Visiting Barbaig for us was a sort of compromise between uristified Masais and some unknown and hard-to-reach tribe.

How to get to Katesh and where to stay.

We reached Katesh from Dodoma through Singida (Dodoma-Singida bus at 14.45, about 3 hours; then there are many shared cars to Katesh, and the ride takes about 2 hours and 6000 Tanzanian shillings). The last part of our trip, the Singida – Katesh route, was not easy: at first the car we took was not leaving the bus station for a long time with the driver constantly promising that we were leaving “now“. We started only when it became dark, and in the middle of the road, in pitch darkness, the car broke. The engine was boiling, and it took a while to cool it down with the help of the car passengers and the dwellers of the nearby village. Then we started again and the road seemed to be never-ending. We were trying to ask how long it would take from other passengers, and got the answers “now“, “one more kilometer“, “three more kilometers“, but kept driving much longer. At around 10 pm we finally reached Katesh and found a “Pick’n’Pay“ guesthouse near the bus station with the rooms for 7, 15, and 20 thousand Tanzanian shillings. This is the room for 15 thousand:

Katesh has many other guesthouses of the same prices.

How to find a guide.

After getting a place to stay we went to the nearest place to eat – “café” Victoria, where we met Steve drinking cognac from the plastic bag (one-shot plastic bags of whisky, cognac, and vodka are sold everywhere in Tanzania). Steve said he was a professional guide, offered his service for free, and left his phone number (if somebody dares, 0788941110).
The next morning it was raining like hell, and around 10 o’clock we called to Thomas Safari, the only Katesh guide whose contacts can be found on the internet and in the guide books (+255 784 50 33 00,, By the way, Safari is not a pseudonym, but a real surname. He seems to be the only professional in Katesh, while Steve’s status of a guide is questionable.

We had to find a guide as we realized that without him we would not be able to reach Barbaig and without his translation we will not understand anything . The first two hours after we met we spend on bargaining (the initial price was insane, but then we agreed on 25 dollars); then it took a while for Thomas to go home and get his raincoat, while we were eating boiled bananas:


It also took a while for a car going through Barbaig village to get full, and after some pole-pole we finally started.

Barbaig village.

Reaching the Barbaig village, we were then waiting for the father of the family: women do not have a right to talk without his permission.


While waiting, we were enjoying the mount Hanang view and taking pictures of women and children secretly:




The curiosity of women was nevertheless taking over and they were coming up to us closer and closer:

Thomas advises to notify about your plans to visit Barbaig in advance, so that the tribe could get ready for your coming. Then you might see, for instance, males making aloe vera and honey beer or dancing traditional dances. As we did not notify them in advance, we only got acquainted with female activities and had a chance to talk with the female Barbaigs under the supervision of the father of the family, of course. As soon as the father came and we paid to him, the ice melted: we were officially allowed to take pictures and ask questions. Even in the very touristic places, one should not expect a traditional excursion in Africa: they never have a ready-made narrative retold to every tourist about this or that place. As soon as you pay, you are allowed to ask questions, and the narrative you get thus depends on what you ask.
Women were showing what they do every day and let us try to make flour out of maize:

Nastya was dressed in traditional clothes and decorations:


Then they taught us how to clean the goat skin in order to make a woman’s dress (which takes 3 months to make in total):

And how to cut the skin to make a fringe. Before marriage, girls only wear this fringe dress, but after getting married they start to wear something decent underneath too. Wearing something underneath is a sign of being married in the same way as wearing a ring for us.

Then the “activities” were over, and the guide again said, “Ask”. We were interested in the dialogue, seeing how curious Barbaigs were about us too. At first, they asked from which tribe we were coming, where our country is, and how large it is if compared to Tanzania. To answer the last two questions, we drew a map on the ground. Then the bravest woman asked Nastya, “Since your husband seems to be older, will you marry again when he dies?”
We were also quite direct in our questions, since the contact seemed to be firm enough. We figured out that the tribe practices polygamy, and the wives are not big friends with each other. When we told that in our country polygamy is punished with the prison term, the females got very excited and, as the guide translated, they made sure that the father of the family gets to know about this instructive fact. They also told that there is sex before marriage, but it is not widely approved and advertised. Earlier, parents arranged marriages, while nowadays the young people are free to choose a spouse. Moreover, the girls can now go to school, and, according to the father of the family, the tribe is happy about it, even though the girls now work less.
The holes in the ears are made at the age of about ten (for both male and female), although the holes and face tattoos are not obligatory any more: it is a matter of personal choice.

We also talked about funerals, and learned that the deceased get buried in the graves similar to ours. However, if a chief dies, a special round grave is constructed for him, and it takes several weeks to strengthen its walls with mud. As soon as the grave is ready, the chief is buried there in the sitting position. Making such a grave costs about 500 dollars. In this video, Barbaigs and Thomas explain more about funerals and tell about calabashes and why they would never carry presents in plastic bags:

Before leaving we made many more photos of the tribe, showing pictures to women and children. They were very much interested discussing their own pictures:



Meanwhile, a car to Katesh with other passengers was waiting for us for about an hour. However, neither of the passengers was indignant. We stuffed into the car and went back to Katesh.



By the way, our guide, Thomas, is originally from Iraq tribe, and as their villages are also near Katesh, he may bring you there too.

The evening of that wonderful day ended with a drink-and-dance party with Thomas and his friends, and the next morning one of them, Lawrence, drove us to another highlight of our African trip – Balangida lake.

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