Africa hidden secrets: the forgotten Datooga

Datooga Mother and son

It isn’t easy to get in touch with the Datooga, a pastoralist Nilotic population of Tanzania.

Their huts are made of a framework of branches covered in mud with thatched roofs. And they are well camouflaged with the surrounding savannah.

The hut and the Mbulu Highlands

The Datooga blend in with their environment: their dress are the color of the reddish brown soil. Only on closer inspection they appear more colorful: reddish, patched leather dresses, bead work, and brass bracelets and necklaces.


The origins of Datooga are thought to be in the Southern Sudan or western Ethiopia highlands, around 3000 years ago.

A gradual southward migration of their ancestral people resulted in a settlement of the highland areas of Kenya and Tanzania by about AD 1500.

They were once nomadic. Nowadays many farm a plot.

They live in a stretch of arid hills and savannah, in Northern Tanzania, beteween Manyara and Eyasi lakes. This is a sort of buffer area between the hunters-gatherers Hadzabe and the onion farmers of Mango’la.

And while the latter push to expand their crops, Hadzabe sometimes come in their territory following a prey.

Datooga keep goats, sheep, donkeys.  And cattle, that are by far the most important domestic animal.

It’s not an easy living. They  tryi to find pastures and water in a harsh and arid land where water is hard to get and often unclean. Good hygiene standards are difficult to obtain, the infant mortality is high.

Men work as blacksmiths, tend the cattle and work in the fields.

Datooga blacksmith

Blacksmiths burn coke on open air and keep it hot with bellows made of leather to get the desired temperature to forge iron.

The women look after children, cook, and carry the water and firewood home each day.

Their dwellings are internally divided in several small rooms, with a largest one used for day-to-day life and for cooking.

Once a woman marries she wears a decorated fringed leather skirt for the rest of her life as a symbol of her status.

Their huts villages have no school. The literacy rate is only about 1%. The children are usually busy with survival tasks or can’t afford the long way to the nearest town with a school.

Young Datooga girl

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