The Sandawe are an indigenous hunter-gathering and click-speaking ethnic group of Southeast Africa, residing in the Kondoa district of Southeast Arusha in the Dodoma Region of north-central Tanzania. They have lived predominantly between the Bubu and Mponde rivers for eons before Europeans colonized Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Sandawe population is currently estimated to be 60,000.
Sandawe hunter with bow and arrow hunting a game at Kondoa, Tanzania. by andreasroksvaag.com
Scholars suggest that the ancestors of present day Hadza (another click-speaking hunter-gatherers) and Sandawe speakers resided in the region now known as Tanzania long before the arrival of neighboring agricultural and pastoral populations. It is also averred that the herding and cultivating Cushitic (Afro-Asiatic) speakers, who originated from Ethiopia, and first reached northern Tanzania roughly 4000 years ago, and were also followed by largely pastoral Nilotic (Nilo-Saharan) speakers, originating from southern Sudan (Newman 1995) came to meet Sandawe people. Anthropologist John A. Cavallo refer to them as the "bushman shamans and artists of the spirit world" as a result of their esoteric practices.
Sandawe elders in their Kandoa village, Tanzania
A highly ambitious genetic study of the origin of Sandawe conducted by American molecular biologist Sarah Tishkoff has shown that it is the Sandawe of central Tanzania who possess the oldest DNA lineages and who share a common ancestry with “the bushmen from the south of Africa and southern bushmen of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa... within about 35,000 years.” Tishkoff believes “the southern bushmen [and Sandawe] originated in East Africa [probably Ethiopia] and that both are remnants of a very old group of hunter-gatherers [called proto-Khoisan], perhaps the earliest ancestors of modern humans.” From the genetic data, she and her colleagues estimate that modern humans first emerged about 170,000 years ago.
They are reported to be one of the early settlers who artistically draw the rocks arts in Tanzania, especially Mongomi wa Kolo which comprises a complex of group of rocks known as the Basement rock system". Mongomi wa Kolo is part of the Kondoa rock art World Heritage Site, and is one of the richest areas with a high concentration of rock paintings in Tanzania. The sites cover an area of 2336 square kilometres including the village of Kolo, Kinyasi, Pahi, Kundusi, Chungai, Chora, Cheke, Kisese, Thlawi, Swera and Bubu River (Kondoa management plan 2004). The Kondoa rock paintings consist of three rock painting traditions: hunter-gatherer, pastoralist and Bantu language-speakers (Masao 1979; Leakey 1983; Anati 1986; Mturi 1998; Smith 1997), each tradition has a distinctive style and content, and sometimes these three traditions are found in the same shelter.Mary Leakey (1983) surveyed and documented the rock paintings of Kondoa and reported a wide range of animals depicted by hunter-gathers in rock shelters including giraffe, eland, elephants, antelopes, birds, dogs, rhinoceroses, reedbuck, zebra, kudu, hartebeest, pigs, snake, baboons, wildebeest, buffalo, hares, crocodiles, bat, oryx, tortoise and scorpion. Many of these animals were present around Kondoa in the early 1900s (Nash 1984).
The Sandawe people have long been considered expert survivalists during times of food shortages as a result of having a strong hunting and gathering tradition. By the time of the expeditions of European adventurers/explorers Charles Stokes and Emin Pasha, they had also become herders and agriculturalists, but still tended to be grouped with the Wagogo people. It was not until the travels of Lt. Prince in 1895 that the Sandawe were finally recognized by Europeans as a separate people maintaining their independence. Despite their technologically simple culture, European colonists considered them politically and militarily significant at least until the turn of the 20th century.
The Sandawe people believe in their traditions strongly and hardly depart from from their ancient culture and tradition. In their traditional religion: "The gods of the Sandawe are activated by an erotic dance, phek'umo, in which the act of love is mimicked in embrace by the dancers. The Moon is seen to be part of the cycle of fertility; in the cycle of months and in the menses of women...so people dance by moonlight and adopt stances and postures in the dance which represent the phases of the moon. This dance embeds the necessity for human and earth fertility in the body, mind, and spirit of the dancers as they work the fields or the banana in Tanzania."
The Sandawe were and remain an outgoing people, fond of singing, dancing, making music, and drinking beer, and have an enormous store of songs. All ceremonials and rituals differed from one another, such as those of harvest and courtship, as did those of the curing rituals with their trances, the circumcision festivals, and simba possession dances, in which dancers imitated lions in order to combat witchcraft. The Sandawe
still retain a strong oral tradition, loving to recount stories, which embody the collective wisdom of the group.
Many Sandawe are small, light-boned, and light brown-skinned, or as Lieutenant Tom von Prince of the German East Africa Company wrote, 'small and yellowish'; the are also noted for having thin lips, an epicanthic eye fold, and excessive wrinkling of the skin in old age. Some, particularly women, show signs of steatopygia, or accumulated fat in the buttocks and haunches.
The present-day Sandawe were forced to abandon their hunting and gathering way of life several decades ago and are now considered “an agricultural ethnic group” An estimated 50,000 of them still reside in the Kondoa District of the Dodoma Region in north-central Tanzania between the Maponde and Bubu rivers. Although some have been influenced by Christianity and Islam a majority are said to still practice their
animistic faith which includes, among many other commonalities, worship of the moon and harmony with nature, similar to that of the South African Bushmen.
The original vegetation of Kondoa consisted of savannah woodland with small pockets of montane forest and savannah grassland (Kessy 2005). The original vegetation has been subjected to many centuries of human activities such as cultivation, grazing, fire and wood harvesting. The programme Hifadhi Ardhi
Dodoma (HADO)2 intervened in 1980s and helped to regenerate natural vegetation. The natural vegetation of Kondoa supported a variety of wildlife that was exploited by hunter-gatherer societies.
The present day vegetation is dominated by savannah grassland, miombo woodland, scrub and, in a few areas, thickets. The common trees are Brachystegia sp., Pterocarpus sp., Angloensis sp., Dicanthium sp. and Baobab sp. In the valleys Acacia kirkii, Tortillis sp. and Delenix alata sp. are common trees (Aitken 1950). The ridge crests with their granite outcroppings and thin stony soil do not support much more than a handful of thorny shrubs of Preudo posoppis, Combretum, Burthia, Grewia and Bussia sp. (Aitken 1950).
Generally the climatic pattern in Central Tanzania is determined by the movement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) between the northern and the southern hemisphere (Christiansson 1981). On this basis Kondoa experiences a rainfall regime between 600mm and 800mm with an annual average of 640mm. The rainy season is between October/November and March/April with a short dry spell in between, in
January and February (Mung’ong’o 1999). The genuine dry season lasts between six to eight months from May to October. The small rivers, such as the river Kolo at Mongomi wa Kolo, are ephemeral, flowing during and after downpours. There were seasonal swamps but these have silted up due to deposition of eroded materials from recently cleared sections of highland. Mongomi wa Kolo therefore sits in a wooded
landscape with seasonal water.
According to Sandawe oral history "The Sandawe entered the country (Tanzania) which they now inhabit about a century ago, most of it being then unoccupied. They came from a region called Mambaka in south-western Usandawe near Ugogo, where a few still live. The original Sandawe were lighter in skin colour than are those of today. * They were at one time hunters, without stock or agriculture, but they collected and ate wild honey as well as edible roots. Some five hundred years ago they met Nyaturu and Tatogat with cattle (humbu, a corruption of the Nyaturu ng'ombe). These the Sandawe at first took to be wild beasts and wished to hunt but did not do so when it was seen that they were tended by humans. The Sandawe were taught stock-keeping by the Nyaturu and the Tatoga, from whom they acquired cattle,sheep and goats in exchange for their women.
The bridewealth was four cattle (five in the case of a virgin) and eight sheep or goats. A sheep or a goat was eaten at the marriage feast. The Nyaturu also instructed the Sandawe in husbandry, as the Tatoga were then purely pastoral. About four hundred and fifty years ago, after the Sandawe had almost abandoned hunting, there was a severe famine, caused by failure of the rains. Perhaps half the tribe, which was smaller than it is now, left Usandawe, never to be heard of again. Those remaining had their stock stolen by the Nyaturu and the Tatoga, and they began once more to hunt and to collect honey. The famine'lasted seven years, in the course of which some Sandawe became serfs to the Nyaturu. Others, at the end of it, returned to agriculture. There have been three subsequent famines, the first, due to locusts, fifty years ago, the second at the end of the 1914-1918 war, and the third in 1942-43. Over fifty Sandawe clans (boyo) exist, some of which take their names from nearby hills. In the early days there were not chiefs but only clan councils. The Alagwa clan of Tatoga origin were rainmakers. The Elewa were half Gogo. The Bisa are a Sandawe clan speaking a language allied to Ngomvia. It is not certain who made the rock-paintings in Usandawe but " people say the Portuguese." (http://in-africa.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Trevor-1947-JRAI-Sandawe.pdf)
About 60,000 population of Sandawe people speaks one of the Africa`s click language in the Dodoma region of Tanzania. African click languages have been classified into 5 groups: Ju, !Ui-Taa, Khoe, Sandawe, and Hadza (Ehret 2000; Güldemann and Vossen 2000). Linguists often group the Ju, Khoe, and !Ui-Taa languages into a southern African Khoisan (SAK) branch and consider the eastern African Hadza and Sandawe click languages to be more distantly related (Heine and Nurse 2000). However, recent investigations (Güldemann forthcoming) suggest that Sandawe may be related to the Khoe family regardless of the validity of Khoesan as a whole.
Language use is vigorous among both adults and children, with people in some areas monolingual. Sandawe had generally been classified as a member of the defunct Khoisan family since Albert Drexel in the 1920s, due to the presence of clicks in the language.
Sandawe has two main dialects, the differences between which are ‘slight and gradual’ (ten Raa 1970:147) and include speech speed and other pronunciation features, lexis, grammatical phenomena and the use of taboo language. Speakers of different dialects report no problems with mutual intelligibility. The two dialects are referred to here as western Sandawe and eastern Sandawe, corresponding to Dtelha (‘proper Sandawe’) and Bisa (‘uncouth Sandawe’) in ten Raa’s work (1970:131). Western Sandawe can be further divided into two sub-varieties, with one being labelled western and the other central. The differences between these two varieties are not as considerable as those which differentiate the western and eastern dialects.
Most Sandawe also speak Swahili to a level that allows basic conversation with neighbouring peoples. Swahili competency depends partly on geographical location, with the Sandawe living in more remote areas being less likely to know Swahili well, and partly on age and education level, with older and less educated Sandawe being less familiar with Swahili.(click here: http://www-01.sil.org/silepubs/Pubs/52718/52718_EatonH_Sandawe_Grammar.pdf)
The Sandawe today are considered descendants of an original Bushman-like people. They and may share a common ancestor with the Khoe speaking people of southern Africa. Sandawe people had lived in Tanzania for many years before the Iron-age Bantu people came to settle in East Africa.
Agricultural Bantu (Niger-Kordofanian) speakers, originating from West Africa, reached northwestern Tanzania ∼2,500 years ago (Newman 1995). According to Iliffe (1979), the linguistically and culturally divergent groups of Tanzania interacted extensively following their arrival in the region, and ethnic labels have been highly fluid, suggesting that there might be little genetic divergence among any of the Tanzanian populations.
The Sandawe, who currently live within 150 km of the Hadza, are the only other population in eastern Africa whose language has been classified as part of the Khoisan language family. Series of genetic research has been performed on both mtDNA and Y chromosome variation of the Sandawe, Hadza, and neighboring Tanzanian populations.
A new genetic data show that the Sandawe and southern African click speakers share rare mtDNA and Y chromosome haplogroups; however, common ancestry of the 2 populations dates back >35,000 years. These data also indicate that common ancestry of the Hadza and Sandawe populations dates back >15,000 years. These findings suggest that at the time of the spread of agriculture and pastoralism, the click-speaking populations were already isolated from one another and are consistent with relatively deep linguistic divergence among the respective click languages.
During the mid-19th century, when Germany began to colonize sub-Saharan Africa, some Sandawe clans used their prestige as rainmakers to lay claim to chiefly status, but were never really accepted as such. Others defied European rule and the mass migrations of arriving colonists around them. The Germans were told that a man named Mtoro wielded some authority. He was officially made headman or leader of the recently established Nyamwezi colony.
The Sandawe so hated Mtoro and the Nyamwezi settlers that they threw them out in 1902, seizing their cattle. Lieutenant Kohlerman was called to keep the peace and within three days killed 800 Sandawe men, reportedly without suffering a casualty, while a second expedition then came and captured 1,100 cattle. The district commander reported 'progress':
The rock-strewn land of Usandawe...is inhabited by a still thoroughly warlike, predatory, and unexplored mountain people whose members do not recognize German rule, live far apart and tolerate no headmen or superiors, and have hereto rid themselves in drastic fashion of those experimentally installed by the station. We now have the situation well in hand.
Encouraged, the German colony withdrew its military. But the Sandawe attacked as the soldiers left, announcing a willingness to confront a new expedition, and began harassing the Nyamwezi. In the end, the Sandawe were 'pacified', and 22 headmen were appointed chiefs, mainly from the traditional rainmaking clans. One of the headmen said, "If any one defies my order, I will appeal to the European Sergeant Linke. He is one who punishes with fetters and the whip....Therefore, my people see that you live in peace."
With the end of colonialism, however, the institution of chiefdom quickly crumbled and disappeared. In telling their stories, the Sandawe identify with small animals that use their cunning and intelligence to outwit their dangerous and more powerful enemies. As Tom von Prince understood it in his book Gegen Araber und Wahehe, "the deathly fear that must have existed to drive these people thousands of kilometers from their homes south of the equator, into the middle of countless strange tribes to find peace, can only be guessed at."
The Sandawe are hunter-gatherers. They cultivate the soil with a mattock, fertilize with manure, and keep cattle, sheep, and goats. The men clear the land, tend the animals, and hunt, while the women do the cultivation and food gathering.
The staple food is millet, supplemented with fat, milk, and butter, meat being rarely eaten.
Socio-political and Cultural practices
For some 30,000 years, archaeological evidence indicates they were the only human inhabitants of Tanzania along with Hazabes. They lived in small family groups of about 25 men, women and children. Households, each comprising a nuclear family, are organized into patrilineal exogamous clans that form the basis for autonomous local communities.
They hunted with bows and arrows tipped with deadly poison that enabled them to kill very large prey, such as giraffe and eland and even displace large carnivores from kills to scavenge flesh from the carcasses. Smaller game was caught in traps or snares. However, sixty to eighty percent of their diet consisted of a wide variety of seasonally available plant foods. Large animals required cooperative communal hunts. When one was killed, the hunter whose poisoned arrow penetrated deep enough to permit the poison to work, owned the kill. It was then his responsibility to oversee its distribution amongst the rest of the hunters and the community. Sharing and gift-giving were strongly emphasized.
Anthropologists classify them as a “band society” in which there are no elected leaders, chiefs, or spokespersons. Social determined by the general consensus of all adult or near-adult members, irrespective of sex. The status of women was relatively equal to that of men.
Many aspects of their culture show the influence of their Bantu neighbours. Their isolated wooden houses with roofs of clay are built in the lee of the wind. Their traditional clothes were of hika-grass, feathers, and hides, and the dominant cosmetic practices include shaving of hair, earlobe piercing, and face tattooing.
Marriage, which is monogamous and requires bridewealth, is forbidden with parallel cousins and preferred with the maternal uncle’s daughter. Residence is patrilocal, often after an initial period near the wife’s parents.
The Sandawe believe in a Supreme being and Creator God known as Warongwe, who was so abstract, distant, and unrelated to the well-being of normal life that it was rarely prayed to or given sacrifices. Their religion consisted of a long line of ancestors and a strongly-knit extended family system that mediated between living beings and a very remote all-powerful God.
Spirits are still believed to occupy rock shelters and shallow caves in the hills and are respected and even feared. So as not to disturb these spirits, the rock shelters were avoided by all but their shamans; no animals
were herded there, and no wood cut or twig broken. Once a year the Wasandawe would go to the caves to sacrifice in order to make sure the spirits would not be spiteful and interfere with the general well being. In the hills, groups of people would shout prayers to the spirits, assuring them that no one had come to disturb
them, but had come to pay their respects.
These prayers were shouted as loudly as possible, to make sure that the spirits could hear them.
The Sandawe show great reverence for bees, honey, and also respect for small cunning animals who outwitted larger enemies. Part human-part animal figures representing transformed shamans (called
“their anthropes”) are quite common in Kondoa.
A number of cultural attributes of the Sandawe are similar to those of the southern San. This included the Sandawe girl’s puberty ritual (the phek’umo) and the southern San eland bull dance. Both rituals involved women bending over and suggestively bearing their buttocks to attract the male dancers. According to anthropologist Eric ten Raa, what the Sandawe women were in fact doing in this ritual, was re-enacting “the role of the moon in the basic creation tradition, according to which, the moon entices the sun into the sky for
the first celestial copulation.
The whole rite is held under the aegis of the moon and has the explicit purpose of ‘making the country fertile.’’ It is also believed to control the fertility cycle in women. There are other Sandawe beliefs that venerate the stars and the seasons. Like the San, they also revered the praying mantis who was considered the divine messenger of god.
The Sandawe simbo rituals involves violent trance experience as well as certain beliefs and metaphors, like
transformation into a lion.” The majority of Sandawe shamans induced trance (also known as altered states of consciousness) through vigorous all-night ritual dancing, sometimes lasting up to twenty-four hours, accompanied by the singing and clapping of women. Eventually the dancers suffered the effects of this activity in the form of dehydration and hyperventilation that led to stiffening of the muscles and, finally, bodily
collapse. At that point, shamans are said to have left their bodies, transformed into animals and traveled to the spirit world that existed beneath and above the real world. This enabled them to acquire supernatural potency and negotiate with deities, their deceased ancestors and battle evil spirits for the benefit of their communities.
Returning to the material world with their newly acquired power, they were able to cure sickness, make rain, control the movements of game animals so their hunters could successfully ambush them, restore and maintain harmony in their communities, and perform other vital tasks. Upon recovering from trance, they painted their cosmological experiences on the walls of rock shelters.