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VaDoma, the Zimbabwean ostrich tribe with rare ‘two-toed’ population

May 07, 2018 at 03:06 am | Culture

Ismail Akwei

Ismail Akwei | Head of Content

May 07, 2018 at 03:06 am | Culture

The ostrich-foot tribe in Zimbabwe

The vaDoma tribe, also known as Doma or Dema, is the only hunter-gatherer tribe in Zimbabwe living in the Kanyemba region around the basins of a tributary of the Zambezi River Valley.

They speak the Dema language and believe their ancestors emerged from a baobab tree and walked upright to hunt and gather fruits. The secluded tribe is Zimbabwe’s only non-agricultural society.

The tribe is rather famous for having the rare genetic condition known as Ectrodactyly or lobster claw syndrome. This is the absence of one or more fingers or toes at birth.

The inherited dominant genetic mutation affects only the feet of one in four children within the vaDoma population. Their middle three toes are absent and the two outer ones are turned in.

The condition resulted in the tribe being referred to as the “two-toed” or “ostrich-footed” tribe. It is against the tribal law for members to marry outside the group and as a result, the two-toed condition does not spread to other tribes.

Those with the condition are not considered disabled in the community and it is believed that their toes enable them to climb trees better.

The vaDoma people are reported to have resisted incorporation into the Korekore Shona kingdom of Mutapa prior to the European colonisation. This has cost them fertile land to grow crops.

They currently live their nomadic lifestyle in the Chewore Safari Area which has now become their mountain homeland. They are also facing threats from game rangers who are cracking down on poaching.

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