The Datoga people live in the vicinity of Lake Eyasi in northern Tanzania in the Rift Valley. They are skilled farmers and craftsman. There are limited sources of information about the Datoga.
History and Linguistics
The migration history of the Datoga people is based on comparative linguistics and the oral traditions of the Datoga. Linguistically, the Datoga are classified as Southern Nilotes whose origins 3,000 years ago are rooted in Southern Sudan or in the western Ethiopia highlands. They migrated southwards and settled in Kenya and Tanzania. They are traditional pastoralists but eventually became agriculturalists farming in the highlands of Kenta and Tanzania around 1500 CE. The pastoral Barabaig, who speak the Datoga language, are a well known sub-tribe of the Datoga peoples. They reside near Mount Hanang in the volcanic northern highlands of Tanzania. Mount Hanang is sacred mountain to the Barabaig and is the focus of many of its myths and songs.
Cultural Identity and Features
The Datoga are a proud people and have a reputation as being fierce warriors. Young Datoga men prove themselves by killing any human being who was not a Datoga and, therefore, considered an enemy. They also proved themselves by killing a dangerous wild animals, such as a buffalo, lion, or elephant. The Datoga adapt to their new environments and dress in reddish brown color of soil. The colorful reddish color clothing worn by Datoga women are patched leather dresses. They also wear bead work, brass bracelets, and necklaces. The Datoga are also distinguishable by their decorative tattooing in circular patterns around their eyes.
Way of Life
Cattle are the Datoga’s most important domestic animal. They also herd goats, donkeys, sheep, and raise chickens. Similar to the Maasai culture they eat meat, cow dung, hide fat, milk, horns, blood, tendons for either practical or ritual reasons. As former pastoral nomads, they depended on milk products and moved whenever their cattle needed to relocate for grazing purposes. They have now adapted to an agrarian lifestyle and farm plots of maize, beans, and millet. Living in semi-arid areas where water is scarce and often unclean, their lives are difficult. They are polygamous and their wives ranked in the order of their marriage. Marriage partners must be from outside the clan. Funeral ceremonies and mourning practices last up to a year. Leadership and authority rest with a council of elders. Though group pressure serves as the primary form of social control, elders can impose both fines and curses. Honey beer Is considered a sacred drink to men at ritual occasions.
An Isolated People
Tanzanians consider the Datoga a backward people. They resist formal education and only about 5% of the Datoga speak Swahili, the national language of Tanzania. Their literacy rate is only 1%. Their hygienic standards are low and they have high infant mortality rate. The Datoga bypassed modern political developments. They live within a small circle of contacts with neighboring peoples with whom they mostly have a conflictual relationship. These factors contribute to their isolation within Tanzania.