The Doma – when permanent settlements become inevitable
For centuries, the Doma people in yonder north of Zimbabwe hunted and gathered along the mighty Zambezi and Mwanzamutanda Mountains, east of Chapoto communal lands in Kanyemba on the border with Zambia.
It’s their lifestyle and despite them now being pressed in one corner, with the dwindling space on one end and modernity on the other, there is only one option -to settle – but many are refusing to let go their way of life.
Many have continued to lead the nomadic life in the Mwanzamutanda Mountains but with the surrounding communal areas continuing to expand, their world is slowly caving in.
Theirs is a closed nomadic community which leaps from one place to the other in the wild and daily, they co-exist with elephant, lion, hyena, buffalo, warthog, impala and a wide range of other wildlife species – all competing prey and counter prey as the jungle life rolls on. For the Doma, one has to build a raised temporary structure or just perch one’s bedroom hut high up in a tree lest one becomes part of the lion or hyena’s supper.
In the eyes of this secluded community, life mustn’t be complicated. It must be very simple. Like birds of the air, there is no need to worry about tomorrow. One just wakes up armed with a bow and arrow, and set for the bush for a kill. Or just wake up to check if there is any catch from the snares set up the previous day in the thicket.
Here is a community where life is viewed in its simplest forms. A community where no one is more equal than the other, a community where they would rather live as a unit with only names for identification and no surnames.
This is a community where knowing your age or date of birth is pointless, let alone owning an identification document like a national identity card or a birth certificate.
They don’t care to go to the hospital to deliver. The Doma people deliver at home and their children are raised more like wild animals, feeding on wild fruits, wildlife meat and traditional herbs in times of illness. After all there are no hospitals nearby and a hospital itself is to them a scary structure run by scary people than a public health institution which saves lives.
In times of death, there is no need for the whole village to gather and mourn, one is just covered in a shallow grave by a few individuals and life goes on.
It is a closed community that treats everyone well-dressed with suspicion and they always try to keep a distance.
But with the shrinking space, to move from one place to the other is now difficult. The Doma people are now battling to survive.
With the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority having sealed off most areas that formed the Domas “world” and turning those areas into restricted conservancies in the form of Dande North Safari, Chewore National Park and Doma Safari, the Doma people are now pressed between a rock and a hard place.
Modernity is taking its toll on them too. Makosa and Kanyemba communal lands continue to expand, squashing them in a small swath of land, meaning the Doma people are now a condemned lot.
With virtually nowhere to go, some of the Doma people are now being incorporated into the villages and for heavens’ sake, they need help and reception from traditional leaders in Mbire is welcoming.
“We are now staying in the villages trying to live as everyone does. We try to farm but we don’t have the knowledge. We are being taught farming by traditional leaders and they are being helpful,” said Mutimuje, a Doma who now lives under Headman Chisunga in Masoka.
Mutimuje says they were struggling to adapt to the new life conceding that it would take years for them to get settled.
“We have never known farming, ours is hunting and gathering. We also used to fish but life has been so difficult for us. We no longer have space. Some still trespass into safari areas to hunt where others have been fatally shot by rangers as they are now regarded as poachers,” narrated Mutimuje.
Dambudzo says adapting to new life was difficult for the Doma women folk as they used to heavily rely on their husbands to hunt wildlife while they confine themselves to their makeshift homes.
“We would just go out to gather wild fruits and roots while waiting for our husbands to bring meat from their hunt in the bush. This is a new kind of life with rare demands and it’s very hard,” she said. Councillor Liziwe Jasi of Ward Eight in Angwa said she has a couple of Doma households under her jurisdiction who were now benefiting from the government’s food for work programme.
She said they were working hand-in-hand with the Doma people in her ward to try and incorporate them into farming and normal life.
“On food portions that we get from government, we normally contribute money to hire a lorry to bring it to our area. The challenge is that the Doma people never knew that there was money. Theirs was barter trading so I always pay for them and we are giving them food. They are also trying farming and we are helpful there,” she said.
For the Doma, life has not been the same but what can they do! All they need to do is to adapt but surely it would take years for them to appreciate that to earn a living, one needs to have at least some money in his or her pockets. While many Zimbabweans tend to fly abroad in search of greener pastures, the Doma would need to learn to board a bus or some mode of transport to and from town or the nearby Guruve Business Centre in search of greener pastures.
“I have a motorbike and during the first days I drove to the Doma villages, they would run away from me while some would climb up trees after being scared by the droning sound of the bike,” says Councillor Jasi.