Datoga primarily live in the arid areas of Singida and Manyara regions of north central Tanzania near Mt. Hanang, Lake Basotu, and Lake Eyasi. Ethnolinguistic, historic, and archaeological evidence indicates that their origins are in the Southern Sudan or western Ethiopia highlands, probably 3000 years ago. They have occupied the area in the Mbulu highlands for at least the past 150 years, although they have migrated several times due to relations with the Maasai and other ethnic groups in the region. As land tenure disputes have increased, some semi-nomadic Datoga are now moving further south into Morogoro, Dodoma, and even Mbeya regions.
Collection of ethnographic/demographic information about Datoga can often be challenging since Datoga have a number of alternate names identified in the literature (Taturu (Sukuma term), Mangati (Maasai term), Tatog, Datooga, and Barabaig). ‘Barabaig’ is actually the name of one of the Datoga clans, however the name is commonly used because the Barabaig clan has the most members and is the most frequently represented.
The range of population estimates for Datoga living in Tanzania varies between 30-76,000. In the mid-1990s it was estimated that there were approximately 30,000 self-identified Datoga scattered across Tanzania and even some parts of Malawi.
Rates of fertility among Datoga are higher than among other pastoral populations, but tend to be lower than their agricultural neighbors. Borgerhoff Mulder (1989) identified seasonality in Datoga births that corresponds to rainfall, although this trend is more prevalent among semi-nomadic communities. General health is poor compared to other groups in the area, marked by a high rate of infant and young child mortality, poor growth and nutrition, and increased prevalence of infectious disease (Sellen 2000, 2003; Young 2008).
Datoga are not as well known as some of the other pastoral groups in Tanzania such as the Maasai, however their visibility has increased in recent years. Datoga have received local and international media attention, as well as increased visibility related to cultural tourism in northern Tanzania. As a result, it is now possible to find pictures of Datoga wearing traditional dress on YouTube, Flicker, as well as on many safari sites promoting trips to northern Tanzania. The impact of cultural tourism on Datoga communities is unclear at this point, however rates of alcoholism have increased in many areas where tourists are consistently present.
Datoga speak several dialects from the Southern Nilotic language family (similar to Kalenjin). Dialect diversity between certain subgroups is enough to make mutual intelligibility difficult. Dialects correspond to the seven Datoga clans, but the speech of the Gisamjanga and the Barabaig, are very close, and are often considered a single dialect. Other dialects/clans include: Bajuta, Tsimajeega, Rotigeenga, Buradiga, and Bianjida. Around 20% of Datoga also speak Iraqw, the southern Cushitic language of many of their Mbulu neighbors.
Household economy and subsistence
Datoga self-identify as pastoral and place incredible cultural meaning on cattle, however, like many other people they rely on a range of economic subsistence strategies including farming, market, and wage based labor. The extent to which Datoga rely on semi-nomadic herding strategies varies across the region, with some communities relying extensively on traditional practices and utilizing primarily a milk based diet, while other communities rely on intensive agriculture and intermarry with other ethnic groups (especially the Iraqw in Mbulu region) (Rekdal and Blystad 2000). Among pastoral Datoga, herds consist of goats, sheep, and donkeys, but cattle are by far the most important domestic animal (Sieff 1997).
Shifts to more wage and market based household economies have changed the composition of Datoga households and social networks over time. Traditionally patrilineal and polygynous, wealthy Datoga men would often marry multiple wives from outside their clan and maintain multiple households to access the widest diversity of agricultural and grazing lands. In fact, it was not uncommon for a Datoga man to marry at least one Iraqw woman to gain access to farm land as well as additional cattle. Families often had an elaborate kin and community network that they could rely on in times of scarcity. Wealthy households, commonly supported poorer households in the community through herd-sharing and other cooperative forms of resource distribution.
Now, Datoga households are becoming gradually smaller and more isolated from social networks. This is particularly true in areas where Datoga continue to rely significantly on pastoral activities. The identification of this shift is documented in work by Lane (1991, 1996), Sieff (1995, 1997, 1999), and Ndagala (1991), who expressed concern about the differential impact of land degradation and privatization on more marginal groups such as Datoga almost 2o years ago.
In part, the shift in household composition is due to changes in labor activities that rely more on male labor out migration, as well as larger structural adjustment policies that increase the cost of livestock, farming products (maize, beans, rice), education, and medical care. As a result, many family sizes are shrinking, with men generally only marrying one wife, and women often being left as defacto household heads when men migrate for labor.
It is not the changes in family size and shifts to different primary economic activities that has led to the increased marginalization of Datoga households, however. It is larger structural forces such as the neoliberal movement toward privatization of land, increased pressure from agriculture (both domestic and commercial), and a history of Machiavellian state policy towards the Barabaig, that has pushed many semi-nomadic Datoga into more marginal areas. Now semi-nomadic Datoga often occupy spaces with limited access to water and arable land, as well as restricted access to basic social services. This situation is exacerbated by the breakdown of traditional social support networks. While community networks may remain fairly intact, many long-distance relationships with kin have suffered, leaving many Datoga feeling more vulnerable and uncertain about the future (Blystad 2000; Lane 1991, Ndagala 1991; Sieff 1995; Young 2008).
Datoga marginalization, ethnic conflict, and state violence
Generally, Datoga have maintained a peaceful relationship with most of the other ethnic groups in the regions that they occupy. Maasai are considered traditional enemies, however there has been very little conflict between the two groups in recent years. While some cattle raiding does go on between Datoga and other agropastoral groups in the area (primarily Iraqw, Iramba, and Sukuma), these raids usually involve few cattle and very little violence, especially compared to cattle raiding in other parts of East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Nonetheless, a period of conflict spanning the late 1960s through the mid 1980s left a mark on the Datoga community that is as indelible as the embodiment of violence occurring in many other places.
Initiation of conflict
The period between the late 1960s and the late 1980s marked a dramatic shift from normally peaceful relations. Disparities between the Datoga and their neighbors had been increasing over time as a result of colonial policies which created differentials in power and wealth between various ethnic communities. The flash point occurred in 1968 with the failure of several of Nyerere’s Ujumaa villagization projects designed to provide increased social services to rural communities. Instead of improving all the services promised, the government only improved a small percentage–leaving most pastoralists in an even more marginal situation. The associated increase in population in areas with limited resources fueled mistrust and escalated violence between Datoga and their neighbors, while concurrently increasing tensions between Datoga and the government of Tanzania (Ngadala 1991).
The first death
One of the first publicized events during this time was the death of an Iramba school teacher in Hanang District in 1968. The killing was blamed on Datoga living in the area. As a result, government troops were sent into Datoga areas and ordered to arrest all Barabaig men. Reports from this time indicate that soldiers then proceeded to violently break into houses, rape household members, and steal cattle and other belongings. Nyerere eventually ordered the release of the arrested Datoga men, but no case was ever brought against Tanzanian soldiers (Blystad 2000, 2005).
Unfortunately, the conflict associated death of the Iramba school teacher further fueled state policies to deal with the “Barabaig problem” and led to the intensification of settlement programs including “Operation Barabaig,” a program designed to permanently settle Datoga herders. During this time, Datoga were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in permanent villages. While this was going on, land formerly used for herding was reclaimed for agriculture by other ethnic groups and national farming projects. It was the movement of increasing numbers of new groups into this recently reclaimed land that led to a second major event in 1976, the Kihonda murders (Ngadala 1991).
The Kihonda murders were preceded by the death of a young Barabaig woman as well as the murder of a number of other Datoga by Nyaturu men during the 1976 drought. The killings caused panic and anger among Datoga, which hit a flash point when a group of Datoga men visiting Kihonda found Nyaturu stealing food aid off a truck from Singida District. Enraged by both the stealing and the awareness that Nyaturu had been using food aid as a way to create wealth differentials between the two communities, Datoga men killed all the Nyaturu men that were raiding the truck. This led to a response from the Tanzanian government that involved the arrest of even more Barabaig men and the confiscation of hundreds more cattle (Blystad 2005, Ngadala 1991). The last of the men arrested for these murders were finally released in 1994 after 20 years in prison.
The Tanzania Canada Wheat Project (TCWP)
Another project sparked during Ujumaa and its push to intensify agriculture eventually led to a third major conflict, one of the most violent and egregious human rights violations of the state of Tanzania against Datoga. In 1970, the Tanzania Canada Wheat Project (TCWP) was allocated 100,000 acres of prime grazing land in the Mbulu highlands to begin farming wheat. Prior to the TCWP, these plains were the primary grazing land for Datoga, as well as an area where a number of Datoga were buried in sacred tombs (bungeida). While TWCP cleared areas for farming, they also razed a number of the tombs located in the area.
In 1973, several tombs at a burial site (Gidabuygweargwa) were destroyed on the same day that two Datoga women were raped by TCWP employees. The confluence of these events caused mass protest among Datoga involving hundreds of women. The Tanzanian government ordered the arrest of suspected ringleaders, and sent troops armed with tear gas and guns to confront protesters. Nonetheless, protests escalated until the entire work force of the Basotu farm was driven off. Unfortunately, when TWCP employees later returned to work the violation of Datoga resumed, continuing the pattern of violence, including the confiscation of cattle, destruction of homes, and seizure of land (Blystad 2005). Newly confiscated land was quickly taken over by Iraqw, Nyaturu, and Iramba immigrants.
Death of the Sukuma (1985)
According to Datoga, the first stage of the conflicts in the 1980s were seen as a basic set of cattle raids between Buradiga (Datoga) and Sukuma. The initial conflict escalated when Iramba and Nyaturu joined the Sukuma side and other clans including the Barabaig, joined the Datoga side. The fight was far from even, however. While Datoga continued to fight with spears and sticks, Sukuma and their allies enlisted people with advanced weaponry, including machine guns. Additionally, Sukuma allies began incorporating psychological warfare by desecrating women’s traditional Datoga skirts (hennewendig) during battle (Blystad 2005). On May 3rd, 1985, Datoga men responded to this escalating series of conflicts with Sukuma and their allies by attacking a homestead in Singida region. At that point, Datoga killed all 48 men in the compound. Media coverage of the event primarily focused on the Datoga, while underplaying the role of other groups in the conflict (Blystad 2005).
While the ethnic tensions and some of the conflict with the state have settled down since the 80s, Datoga still feel the effects of this turbulent time. Over the course of almost two decades of conflict, Datoga households in many areas of northern Tanzania lost thousands of cattle to raids, while houses were burned, crops destroyed, and people were killed and raped. The conflict also initiated a number of mass migrations among Datoga. During this time, some chose to give up pastoral subsistence entirely, while others simply fled as refugees from the area. The size of these migrations varied, but one of the largest included 349 people that moved to Mbulu District and 500 that moved to Manyoni District (Lane 1996; Ndagala 1991). Although ethnic tensions between Datoga, Iramba, and Sukuma have improved significantly, many elders today still remember and talk about the violence and loss of life that accompanied the conflicts in the 1980s. The loss of land, large numbers of cattle, the death of family members, and forced migration also meant the loss of subsistence strategies and social support and an impoverishment that continues to affect Datoga to this day.
Legal disputes about land seized during the 1970s-80s as part of the TCWP have continued–often while violating legal procedures for protecting the land where Datoga hold customary rights. For example, in 1989, the state eliminated customary land rights in the areas under the occupancy of the National Agricultural and Food Corporation (NAFCO). The retroactive nature of this legislation violated basic principles of human rights law, and enabled prosecution against Datoga for trespassing on the very land they used to inhabit (Lane 1991, 1996). Since 1989, a human rights commission and legal rulings have vindicated Datoga claims, but compensation from the Tanzanian government has been limited.
The primary concerns for Datoga in Tanzania continue to revolve around sociopolitical marginalization and the scarcity of resources associated with the loss of land and animals.
Resource scarcity: In 2005, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights adopted a report of the Working Group of Experts on Indigenous Populations/Communities. The report found that Datoga displacement has continued to various parts of Tanzania and Malawi. In 2007, Datoga protests to the lease of grazing land in Babati District led to the arrest of 14 alleged Datoga ‘ringleaders’ assumed to be undermining the district authorities encouraging foreign investment. Datoga protesters were released without charge but the situation has not been resolved and at least 45 families are still under threat of eviction (as of July 2009).
A June 2008 report from the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) revealed that between May 2006 and May 2007, large numbers of Sukuma and Datoga pastoralists were evicted from the Usangu Plains in Mbarali district. The IWGIA estimates that more than 400 families and 300,000 livestock were moved, and that a large number of livestock died or were lost in the process. The report describes a range of human rights abuses committed during the eviction including theft of livestock, imposition of unjustified fines, extortion, torture, forced separation of families, disruption of social networks and safety nets, and widespread hunger. These findings were presented to President Kikwete in June 2007, but the affected families have not been compensated and many are destitute (MRGI 2009). The Wildlife Conservation Society has begun working with these households as part of their wildlife management program in Ruaha.
The lack of infrastructure in many areas where semi-nomadic Datoga are living has also meant increased issues with resources that tie directly into health, such as food, water, medical, and veterinary care. This has had a significant impact on health through its effect on nutrition and infectious disease (both among human and livestock). Many Datoga living in rural areas still rely on hand dug wells for water and lack reasonable access to medical and veterinary services. For example, rates of vaccination among Datoga for both children and animals is low. Rather than a lack of concern about vaccination and health, low levels of clinic attendance represent the combined effects of geographic distance to services, negative interactions with clinic staff, as well as conflicts with household labor obligations.
Education and social services: Despite Nyerere’s initial push (as well as several recent attempts) to settle Datoga and improve rates of education, literacy among Datoga communities is only around 1%, and only around 5% speak Swahili. There is a higher prevalence of Swahili speaking among men, partially because of gender disparities in education, and also because men conduct most of the market activities (such as cattle sales) that require Swahili. While rates of education are increasing among Datoga children living in more populated areas, rates are still low among semi-nomadic Datoga. Part of the issue with education relates to Datoga distrust of the Tanzanian government as well as the the fact that many semi-nomadic Datoga still rely on younger children for herd labor and live in areas little infrastructural support and fewer schools.
Health disparities: There are marked health disparities between Datoga communities and many of their immediate neighbors. Datoga show higher rates of tuberculosis, brucellosis, and other infectious diseases (Mfinanga et al. 2005), as well as high rates of undernutrition and micronutrient deficits such as anemia (Hinderaker et al. 2001; Sellen 2000; Young 2008). Datoga also show a higher prevalence of anxiety and depression. The direct mechanisms behind differences in mental health are unclear, but recent research indicates that anxiety and distress are likely linked to issues of food insecurity, land scarcity, structural inequalities, as well as other significant aspects of abject poverty (Hadley and Patil 2006; Patil and Pike 2006).
The rate of HIV/AIDS is still fairly low among Datoga, but a number of cultural practices as well as recent changes in labor economies among Datoga communities could bring about rapid change (Yahya-Malima et al. 2007). Concern about the rapid spread of HIV in datoga communities has led to the development of a culture-specific film targeted towards improving understanding of HIV transmission within Datoga communities. The film, entitled “Eshageada UKIMWI Datoga!” (Datoga let’s beware of AIDS!) is available here.
Several non-profit organizations such as Farm Africa have recently initiated health and development projects in Manyara region to build reservoirs and train community health workers. This will help in the short term, but more work needs to be done that identifies and addresses the long-term effects of these projects and the larger structural issues that shape disparities in access to resources. For example, among Eyasi Datoga, food security is still an important issue for both livestock and people and rates of child undernutrition are high. Given the important links between nutrition and infectious disease, it is unlikely that we will see sustained health improvements in Datoga communities unless we begin to tackle the larger scale inequities that contribute to both of these issues.
Selected academic resources
Blystad, A.(2005) ‘Fertile Mortal Links: Reconsidering Barabaig Violence’. In, Violence and belonging, the quest for identity in post-colonial Africa. Edited by V. Broch-Due. Pp. 112-130.
———(2000) Precarious procreation: Datoga Pastoralists at the late 20th century. PhD Thesis, University of Bergen, Norway.
———(1999) “Dealing with men’s spears: Datooga pastoralists combating male intrusion on female fertility” In, Those Who Play with Fire: Gender, Fertility, and Transformation in East and Southern Africa. Edited by H. Moore, T. Sanders, and B. Kaare. London: Athlone Press. Pp.187-223.
———(1996) Do give us children: The problem of fertility among the pastoral Barbayiiga of Tanzania, In Managing Scarcity: Human Adaptation in East African Drylands. Edited by A. Ahmed and H. Abel. Addis Ababa: Commercial Printing Enterprise.
Blystad, A. and O.B. Rekdal (2006) Datoga. In, Encyclopedia of Medical Anthropology, Volume II. Edited by Ember, C.R. and M. Ember. Springer, US.
Blystad, A., O.B. Rekdal, and H. Malleyeck (2007) Seclusion, protection, and avoidance: Exploring the metida complex among the Datoga of northern Tanzania. Africa, 77: 331-350.
Borgerhoff Mulder, M. (1996) ‘Gitangda is great.’ In, I’ve been Gone Far Too Long: Field Study Fiascoes and Expedition Disasters. Edited by Borgerhoff-Mulder, M. and W. Logsdon. RDR Books.
——–(1992) Demography of Pastoralists: Preliminary data on the Datoga of Tanzania. Human Ecology, 20(4): 382-405.
——–(1991) Datoga pastoralists of Tanzania. National Geographic Research and Exploration, 7(2): 166-187.
Borgerhoff Mulder, M., D. Sieff, and M. Merus (1989) Disturbed Ancestors: Datoga history in Ngorongoro Crater. Swara, 12:32-35.
Klima, G.J. (1985) The Barabaig: East African Cattle Herders. Waveland Press.
Hadley, C. and C.L. Patil (2006) Food insecurity in rural Tanzania is associated with maternal anxiety and depression. American Journal of Human Biology, 18: 359-368.
Hinderaker, S.G., Olsen, B., Lie, P.B., Gasheka, R.T. and Kvale, G. (2001) Anemia in pregnancy in the highlands of Tanzania. Acta Obstetrica et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 80:18-26.
Lane, C. (1996) Pastures Lost: Barabaig economy, resource tenure, and the alienation of their land in Tanzania. Nairobi: Initiatives Publishers.
———-(1995) Update on the Barabaig Land Cases. Paper for presentation at the seminar “Land issues in Tanzania,” London, 13 May 1995.
———(1991) Alienation of Barabaig pasture land: Policy implications for pastoral development in Tanzania. PhD, IDS, University of Sussex.
Mfinanga SG, Morkve O, Sviland L, Kazwala RR, Chande H, and R. Nilsen (1995) Patient knowledge, practices and challenges to health care system in early diagnosis of mycobacterial adenitis. East African Medical Journal, (83)4: 173-180.
Ndagala, D.K. (1991) The unmaking of the Datoga: decreasing resources and increasing conflict in rural Tanzania. Rural Sociology, 28: 71-82.
Pike, I.L. and C. Patil (2006) Understanding women’s burdens: preliminary findings on psychosocial health among Datoga and Iraqw women of northern Tanzania. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 30: 299-330.
Rekdal, O.B. and A. Blystad (2000) “We are as sheep and goats: Iraqw and Datooga discourses on fortune, failure, and the future.” In, The Poor Are Not Us: Poverty and Pastoralism in Eastern Africa. Edited by D.M. Anderson and V. Broch-Due. pp. 125-146. Athens: Ohio University Press.
Sellen, D. (2003) Nutritional Consequences of Wealth Differentials in East African Pastoralists: The Case of the Datoga of Northern Tanzania. Human Ecology, (31)4: 529-570.
———-(2000) Seasonal ecology and nutritional status of women and children in a
Tanzanian pastoral community. American Journal of Human Biology, 12(6): 758-781.
———-(1999) Growth patterns among seminomadic pastoralists (Datoga) of Tanzania. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, (109)2: 187-209.
———-(1998) Infant and young child feeding practices among African pastoralists: The
Datoga of Tanzania. Journal of Biosocial Science, 30: 481-499.
———-(1995) The socioecology of young child growth among the Datoga pastoralists of northern Tanzania. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Califonia, Davis.
Sellen, D., D. Sieff, and M. Borgerhoff Mulder (1993) Human ecology, subsistence, and reproduction of pastoralists in the Lake Eyasi area of Arusha region, Tanzania. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Tanzania National Research Council.
Sieff, D. (1999) The effects of wealth on livestock dynamics among the Datoga pastoralists of Tanzania. Agricultural Systems, 59(1): 1-25.
———-(1997) Herding Strategies of the Datoga Pastoralists of Tanzania: Is Household Labor a Limiting Factor? Human Ecology, (25)4: 519-544.
———-(1995) The effects of resource availability on the subsistence strategies of Datoga pastoralists of northwest Tanzania. Ph.D. thesis, University of Oxford.
Tanaka, S. (1969) Natural environments of Mangola. Kyoto University African Studies, 3:1.
Tomikawa, M. (1979) The migrations and inter-tribal relations of the pastoral Datoga. Senri Ethnological Studies, 5: 1-46.
———-(1978) Family and daily life: An ethnography of the Datoga pastoralists in Mangola. Senri Ethnological Studies, 1:1-36.
———-(1972) Cattle brands of the Datoga-Human relations in the Datoga pastoral society in East Africa. Kyoto University African Studies, 7: 1-35.
———-(1970) The distributions and migrations of the Datoga tribe-The sociological distinction of the Datoga society in the Mangola area. Kyoto University African Studies, 7:1-35.
Yahya-Malima KI. Matee MI, Evjen-Olsen B, Fylkesnes KM. (2007) High potential of escalating HIV transmission in a low prevalence setting in rural Tanzania. BMC Public Health, 7: 103.
Young, A. (2008) Young child health among Eyasi Datoga: Socioeconomic marginalization, local biology, and infant resilience within the mother-infant dyad. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Arizona, Tucson.
When Rivers Run Dry (October 14, 2009) University Communications. University of Vermont.
Tanzania Blacksmith Can Forge Ahead (October 2, 2007) BBC News, Africa.
Researchers who have worked extensively with Datoga
Blystad, Astrid; Borgerhoff Mulder, Monique; Lane, Charles; Nyoni, Joyce; Patil, Crystal; Pike, Ivy; Rekdal, Ole Bjorn; Sellen, Dan; Sieff, Daniela; and Yahya-Malima, Khadija
Other research in the region that often involves Datoga as part of larger community projects can be found at Haydom Lutheran Hospital
This page is a work in progress. Please feel free to submit additional research/information about Datoga, and I will post it as quickly as possible.
This site as meant only as a source of general information about the Datoga living in Tanzania, and is created for educational purposes. The information provided in this page is compiled from my years as a medical anthropologist working with the Datoga, as well as ethnographic research conducted by many other individuals since the 1950’s.
Unless otherwise stated, all images on this site are copyright of the author. The individuals represented in these photos have all given consent to have their images used. Please do not use these photos without permission.
For questions/comments/ submissions contact Alyson Young.