Datoga primarily live in the arid areas of Singida and Manyara regions of north central Tanzania near Mt. Hanang, Lake Basotu, and Lake Eyasi. Ethno linguistic, 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. Borger off 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, and 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 agro pastoral 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 permanent as the embodiment of violence occurring in many other places.
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.
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, and 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 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 under nutrition 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 under nutrition 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.