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 is based on comparative linguistics and the oral traditions. 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 Kenya and Tanzania around 1500 CE.
Cultural Identity and Features
The Datoga are a proud people and have a reputation as fierce warriors. Young Datoga men prove themselves by killing a Person who was not a Datoga. They can also prove themselves by killing a dangerous wild animal. The Datoga adapt to their new environments and dress in the reddish-brown color of soil. The colorful reddish color clothing worn by Datoga women are patched leather dresses. They also wear beadwork, brass bracelets, and necklaces. The Datoga are 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, they eat meat, cow dung; hide fat, milk, horns, blood, and tendons for either practical or ritual reasons. As former pastoral nomads, they depended on milk products and move whenever their cattle need to relocate for grazing purposes. They have adapted to an agrarian way of life 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 wives are 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 infant mortality rates are high. The Datoga have 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.