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Datoga Tribe

Highlights

  • Observe the Datoga’s traditional way of life

About

Customs

The Datoga keep goats, sheep, donkeys and a few chickens, but cattle are by far the most important domestic animal. They resemble the Maasai in culture. The meat, fat, blood, milk, hide, horns, tendons and cow dung of every animal have either practical or ritual purposes. They were formerly nomadic, depending largely on milk products for their diet, and moving whenever the needs of their cattle dictated. Now, however, many farm a plot of maize and sometimes beans and millet. They live a very difficult life, in semi-arid areas, where water is hard to obtain and often unclean. The ideal family situation is polygamous, with wives ranked in order of marriage.  Marriage must be outside the clan. Funerals are extensive ceremonies, lasting up to a year.  Power centers in a neighborhood council of elders.  Group pressure is the primary social control, but elders can impose fines and curses.  Men drink honey beer as a sacred drink on ritual occasions.

Language

The Datooga language, with its dialects, is a Southern Nilote language, related distantly to the Kalenjin languages of Kenya.  About 20% also speak the language of their Southern Cushitic neighbors, Iraqw.  A language closely related to Datooga is Omotik, the speech of another small northern Tanzania people.

Only about 5% speak Swahili, the national language of Tanzania.  This further accentuates their isolation.  The Barabaig dialect is spoken by over half the Datooga.  Their literacy rate is only about 1% and there is very little available in their language.  Schools available are conducted in Swahili.

Identity

The Datooga themselves blend in with their environment, their dress being the color of the reddish brown soil.  Only on closer inspection will they appear colorful with their reddish, patched leather dresses, bead work, and brass bracelets and necklaces.  A prominent decoration is tatooing of circular patterns around the eyes.

This people are part of the broad Nilotic migration from the Sudan along the Nile River centuries ago.  They were cut off from other Highland Nilotes by later migrations of Bantu and Plains Nilotic peoples like the Maasai.  The Highland Nilotes are distantly related to the Plains Nilotes like the Samburu, Maasai and Karamajong-Turkana and the River Nilotes like the Luo.

They were herders, but have diversified to include agriculture in recent times.  The Datooga are proud people, with a reputation as fierce warriors.  Traditionally, young men had to prove themselves by killing an “enemy of the people,” defined as any human being not a Datooga, or one of the dangerous wild animals, such as elephant, lion or buffalo.

Other Tanzanians and outsiders consider the Datooga primitive, because they resist education and development.  They live in low standards of hygiene, and have high infant mortality.

Visit the Datoga tribal blacksmith who makes arrow tips, knives and tweezers for the neighbouring Hadzabe hunter-gatherers. Tweezers are used to remove acacia and other thorns. His younger son assists by working the bellows fashioned from goat hide to fan the charcoal. Implements are created from any metal the blacksmith can find including bits of machinery, cans and tins. The Datoga people live a very primitive life, resisting formal education and outside development. They also suffer high infant mortality rates due to their low standard of hygiene and the unclean conditions in which they live.

Where

The Datoga are found in the Lake Eyasi region of Tanzania.