Cultural Profile of the Datooga People of Tanzania
The Datooga of Tanzania
Status of Christianity: 1% Christian
Registry of Peoples codes
Registry of Languages code (Ethnologue)
The Datooga people live in Tanzania. The most general name for this widely-dispersed ethnic group is Datooga, though it is sometimes spelled Tatooga. In the outside world they are often known by the Sukuma name for them, Taturu. Very few sources have information about the Datooga people.
The best-known and most numerous sub-tribe of the Datooga peoples are the pastoral Barabaig, who reside chiefly in that part of the northern volcanic highlands dominated by Mount Hanang (3,418 metres). The sacred nature of this mountain makes it an important theme in Barabaig myth and song. In some people lists, the Barabaig are listed as a separate people, but as speaking the Datooga language.
There is little concrete history of the Datooga people. Their migration history has been reconstructed through comparative linguistics and study of oral traditions of the Datooga and their neighbors. The Datooga are linguistically and culturally classified as Highland (Southern) Nilotes.
Their origins are thought to be in the Southern Sudan or western Ethiopia highlands, probably 3000 years ago. A gradual southward migration of their ancestral people resulted in a settlement of the highland areas of Kenya and Tanzania by speakers of Nilotic languages, herding and ultimately farming in those rich highlands by about AD 1500.
These Highland Nilotes now fall into two groups, the Kalenjin cluster of peoples in Kenya, speaking several closely-related languages, and Datooga, whose language is more distantly related.
The Datooga themselves blend in with their environment, their dress being the color of the reddish brown soil. Only on closer inspection will they appear colorful with their reddish, patched leather dresses, bead work, and brass bracelets and necklaces. A prominent decoration is tatooing of circular patterns around the eyes.
This people are part of the broad Nilotic migration from the Sudan along the Nile River centuries ago. They were cut off from other Highland Nilotes by later migrations of Bantu and Plains Nilotic peoples like the Maasai. The Highland Nilotes are distantly related to the Plains Nilotes like the Samburu, Maasai and Karamajong-Turkana and the River Nilotes like the Luo.
They were herders, but have diversified to include agriculture in recent times. The Datooga are proud people, with a reputation as fierce warriors. Traditionally, young men had to prove themselves by killing an "enemy of the people," defined as any human being not a Datooga, or one of the dangerous wild animals, such as elephant, lion or buffalo.
Other Tanzanians and outsiders consider the Datooga primitive, because they resist education and development. They live in low standards of hygiene, and have high infant mortality.
The Datooga language, with its dialects, is a Southern Nilote language, related distantly to the Kalenjin languages of Kenya. About 20% also speak the language of their Southern Cushitic neighbors, Iraqw. A language closely related to Datooga is Omotik, the speech of another small northern Tanzania people.
The Omotik are close in cluture and language, related genetically and linguistically to the Datooga. More distantly related to the Kalenjin cluster of Nilotic peoples, the Omotik show clear signs of being linguistically influenced by Kalenjin languages in recent history. (The Omotik are one of the groups commonly called Dorobo.)
Only about 5% speak Swahili, the national language of Tanzania. This further accentuates their isolation. The Barabaig dialect is spoken by over half the Datooga. Their literacy rate is only about 1% and there is very little available in their language. Schools available are conducted in Swahili.
The Datooga have basically been bypassed in modern political developments. They were not active in the colonial period and have lived in the small circle of their contacts with neighboring peoples, mostly in a belligerent relationship.
The Datooga keep goats, sheep, donkeys and a few chickens, but cattle are by far the most important domestic animal. They resemble the Maasai in culture. The meat, fat, blood, milk, hide, horns, tendons and cow dung of every animal have either practical or ritual purposes.
They were formerly nomadic, depending largely on milk products for their diet, and moving whenever the needs of their cattle dictated. Now, however, many farm a plot of maize and sometimes beans and millet. They live a very difficult life, in semi-arid areas, where water is hard to obtain and often unclean.
The ideal family situation is polygamous, with wives ranked in order of marriage. Marriage must be outside the clan. Funerals are extensive ceremonies, lasting up to a year. Power centers in a neighborhood council of elders. Group pressure is the primary social control, but elders can impose fines and curses. Men drink honey beer as a sacred drink on ritual occasions.
They are resistant to cultural change, including belief in Christianity, maintaining a strong adherence to traditional animist beliefs and practices. The Datooga are animists who respect and fear their ancestors. They practice divination, rain-making, witchcraft and sorcery. They believe in one creator God, whom they call Aseeta. But they think of him as distant and impersonal. Spiritual help is found through communication with ancestors. Women play a big role in religious life, especially in singing and prayer.
Since most Datooga do not speak Swahili, the national language of Tanzania, and very few are literate, communication of the gospel must be in their own language, using traditional media of story-telling and songs. Like animists the world over, the good news of Jesus Christ is very relevant to their needs, once communication can be established. A translation team is working on a Datooga Bible.
The primary Christian influences have been mission schools and contacts with Christians of other Tanzanian peoples. The first Christian witness was a school and clinic near Katesh, started by the Lutheran Church in 1965. Christian Datooga are fewer than 1% of the people.
Since 2001 Mount Meru University (formerly Arusha Baptist Theological Seminary) has sent periodic pastor teams among the Barabaig for short visits to meet Datooga people and introduce more Datooga to the message of Jesus.
It has been reported that the Datooga are resistant to Christina faith, because the gospel is a foreign religion with foreign forms, communicated in a language, Swahili, foreign to the vast majority of the Datooga people. They might be more open if work could be done in their own language on the basis of a serious worldview investigation.
Related article: Barabaig and Datooga
DATOOGA STATUS QUESTIONNAIRE
1. HAVE THEY HEARD THE GOSPEL?
Ratio of pastors/evangelists to population:
1 pastor or evangelist for every 10,000 persons
(total pastors or evangelists--10)
Ratio of missionaries to population:
1 missionary for every 5,882 persons
Who is Jesus Christ to them?
1% Believe Jesus is the Son of God
99% Have never heard his name
2. HAVE THEY RESPONDED TO THE GOSPEL?
Ratio of believers to population:
1 believer for every 200 persons
(total believers = 500)
3. DO THEY HAVE A CHURCH?
Ratio of churches to population:
1 church for every 5,000 persons
(total churches = 20)
Total number of communities is unknown.
4. DO THEY HAVE THE BIBLE TRANSLATED INTO THEIR MOTHER TONGUE?
At the present time the Gosepl of Mark is all that is available in the Datooga language. A translation project begun in the mid-90s finished a translation of the New Testament in 2003, and a Gospel of Mark was printed by March 2004. The Old Testament is expected by 2011, according to the Translation Team Coordinator.
5. ANY HINDRANCES TO THE USE OF SCRIPTURE?
Literacy Rate: 1%
6. WHAT OTHER FORMS OF GOSPEL PRESENTATIONS ARE AVAILABLE?
There is an audio tape recorded in 1956 and a copy of Luther's catechism.
7. ARE THEY RECEPTIVE TO CHANGE AND TO CHRISTIANITY?
The gospel is a foreign religion with foreign forms, communicated in a language, Swahili, foreign to the vast majority of the Datooga people. They might be more open if work could be done in their own language on the basis of a serious worldview investigation.
8. DO THEY REQUIRE OUTSIDE (CROSS-CULTURAL) ASSISTANCE FROM MISSIONARIES?
Yes, to assist the church in developing forms of evangelism and development that will reach the Datooga for Jesus Christ. Despite over fifty years of Christian activity in the Datooga area, there are very few Datooga Christians.
Percent Christian: 48
Percent evangelical: 9
Population (year): 26,070,000 (1990)
Major religion: Christianity
Openness to missionaries: Open
DATOOGA PEOPLE BACKGROUND QUESTIONNAIRE
Total People (Year): 100,000 (1996)
In Tanzania: 100,000 (1996)
Urban Percent: ???
Location: Around Kondoa, Suna and Singida areas
Ecosystem type: Scrub Forest
Geological type: Plains
Climate: Semi arid country, rainfall seasonal (Dec-Apr), approx, 20" per annum
Primary Language: DATOOGA
Ethnologue Code: TCC
Alternate Names: Datoga, Datog, Tatoga, Tatog, Mang'ati, Taturu
Dialects: BARABAIG (largest subgrouping); BAJUTA; GISAMJANGA;
TSIMAJEEGA; ROOTIGAANGA; BURAADIIGA; BIANJIIDA
Attitude towards mother tongue: Somewhat Resistant
Second Languages: IRAQW - 20% SWAHILI - 5%
Linguistically related: SABAOT
Neighbor Languages: HATSA, IRAQW, NILAMBA, NYATURU
Adult Literacy: 2%
Literacy Attitude: Somewhat Resistant
Active Program: No
Subsistence type: Pastoralists
Average Annual Income:
Occupation: Herders of cattle, sheep, goats, and donkeys.
Income Sources: Selling cattle at cattle markets.
Products/Crafts: Beadwork; gourds; spears
Trade Partners: Trade cattle with surrounding peoples for maize
Modernization/Utilities: Some water boreholes by aid agencies for watering cattle.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT STATUS
Health Care: Poor
Health Care: Traditional healers; some church hospitals (good); the Tanzanian village health care infrastructure (drugs are scarce)
Balanced Diet: Fair
Diet/Food: Different forms of milk (their basic food), corn, beans, honey beer
Good Water: Poor
Water: Women often walk miles to get water. Natural water sources are dams, man-made wells, and rivers in rainy season. In all the these, water quality is poor.
Shelter: Houses low (4.5 feet), made of local materials (logs, sticks, grass, mud); rectangular shape, flat roof
Energy/Fuel: Wood and charcoal locally obtained.
Clothing: Men a red-ochre dyed "toga" wrapped around the body (like Maasai). Women leather tasseled skirt.
Transportation: mainly by foot, donkeys used for carrying goods.
Child Mortality Rate: high, percentage unknown
Life Expectancy Rate:
Leading Cause of Death:
Family Structures: Polygamy is the ideal, marriage exogamous to clan, wives ranked in order of marriage
Neighbor Relations: Datooga are generally feared, but have good relations with the Iraqw. The men still carry spears.
Authority/Rule: Power resides with the elders in the neighborhood council, which can impose fines and other sanctions (death curses). Group pressure is strong.
Social Habits/Groupings: Women play a big role in religious life, especially in singing and prayer. Funerals display the clan structures of Datooga life, as different sections of the clan participate in the funeral ceremonies, lasting up to a year.
Cultural Change Pace: Slow
Accult to Nat'l Society: Distant
Self Image: Threatened
Judicial/Punishment: Local councils of elders and women impose various sanctions on the people if tribal rules are broken.
Celebrations: Men drink honey beer, a sacred drink, on ritual occasions such as funerals and circumcisions.
Recreations: Young men and women dance on ritual occasions.
Art Forms: Tattooing of circular patterns around the eyes. Extensive beadwork on ceremonial dresses of women, girls; bangles on arms, brass coils around the neck. Warriors wear headdresses of animals they have killed.
Media: Access to films in village centres (Swahili), occasional evangelistic slide shows, tapes (1958, not in use currently). Nothing in their language.
Local Lang Broadcasting: None
Attitude to Changes: Resistant
Primary Schools: 20
School Enrollment: 500
% Eligible Enrolled:
Teacher to Pupil Ration: 50
Language of Instructions: ENGLISH, SWAHILI
Language of Textbooks: ENGLISH, SWAHILI
Unmixed Schools: (more than 90% homogeneous)
Labor/Tasks: Collecting firewood, fetching water, herding cattle, caring for younger brothers and sisters.
Problems: Tension between education and traditional ways of life. High infant mortality rate
Religions Adherents Active
ANIMISM 98% 90%
CHRISTIAN 1% 1%
Primary Religion: ANIMISM
Religious Practices/Ceremonies: Beliefs in witchcraft and sorcery, diviners are active, spirit mediums. Spirits of ancestors are alive and interact with living society. Protective charms are worn.
STATUS OF CHRISTIANITY
Reach Status: Selected
Total Believers: 500
Total Baptized: 400
Lay Leaders: 20
Churches: 20 (1996)
Missionaries: 17 (1996)
Bible Schools: 1 (1996)
Christian Clinics/Hospitals: 2 (1996)
HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN GROUP
Year Began: 1965
By Whom: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania
Significant Events: Founding of school and clinic at Balang'da Lealu near Katesh in 1965.
Translation Status: New Testameant Finished
Available Scripture: Gospel of Mark
Scripture Hindrances: Slow work of translation
Literature: Luther's catechism
Recordings: Gospel Recordings, 1 tape recorded 1956, in Barabaig
MISSIONS/CHURCHES WORKING AMONG
||Type of Ministry
|Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania from Tanzania
|| Church Planting
|Norwegian Lutheran Mission from Norway
| Roman Catholic Church
|| Church Planting
| Wycliffe Bible Translators
|| Bible Translation
Total of all groups: 5
Total expatriate missionaries: 17
Total national missionaries: 30
Attitude to Christianity: Somewhat Resistant
Attitude to Religious Change: Somewhat Resistant
Resistance/Receptivity: The Gospel is a foreign religion with foreign forms, communicated in a language, Swahili, foreign to the vast majority of the Datooga people.
RECOMMENDED APPROACHES OR SPECIFIC WAYS TO REACH GROUP
Evangelism must be in Datooga, within the Datooga communities (not based in churches). Try to use religious forms that are already familiar to Datooga--storytelling, religious singing, prayer forms. Oral communication is very important at first. Evangelism should respect authority patterns, aiming at elders of the community.
Relevant evangelism, including Scripture translation, security of land tenure, better medical care, good water facilities, literacy.
On the Internet:
Datooga Bible Translation Project
Datooga Mission Partners AIM
Klima. G. The Barabaig: East African Cattle Herders. Holt, 1970.
Ehret, Rinehart and Winston C. Southern Nilotic History. Northwestern Univ Press, 1971.
Isaack Malleyeck, Datooga Language Committee, Mbulu, Tanzania and Orville Boyd Jenkins
First written August 1996
Last updated 31 July 2008
Copyright © 2001, 2005 Orville Boyd
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.