Sandawe Tribe (People) – History, Culture, Language and More

Sandawe Tribe (People) – History, Culture, Language and More

The Sandawe are a Southeast African ethnic group that dwell in central Tanzania’s Dodoma Region’s Chemba District. In the year 2000, Sandawe was expected to have a population of 40,000 people.

The Sandawe language is a tonal language with click consonants, similar to the Khoe languages of southern Africa. There’s no further proof of a connection between the two.

History of the Sandawe People

The Beginning

The Khoisan were once considered the earliest human DNA lineages. However, the Sandawe DNA lines are older. Southern Khoisan is said to have originated in East Africa.

Unlike their contemporary neighbors, the Gogo, the Sandawe are descendants of an early Bushmen-like people. They dwell in the geographic center of ancient German East Africa, with the ‘Street of Caravans’ running parallel to their southern border.

The Khoe languages of southern Africa may have shared an ancestor with Sandawe language. Unfortunately, it contains clicks, making it difficult to learn for the Bantu people in the area. It is unrelated to the Bantu languages surrounding it; however, nearby Cushitic languages have been affected.

Emini Pasha
Emini Pasha

Because of their intense hunting and gathering heritage, the Sandawe have traditionally been regarded as skilled survivalists during times of food scarcity. They also become herders and agriculturalists during the time Charles Stokes and Emin Pasha’s had expeditions (the late 1880s to early 1890s). However, they continue to be identified as part of the Gogo people.

As a result, the Sandawe were not recognized as a separate people by Europeans until Lt. Prince’s travels in 1895, when they were eventually recognized as such. Despite their technologically primitive civilization, European colonists thought of them as politically and militarily crucial until the twentieth century.

The Sandawe learned agriculture from their Bantu neighbors, most likely the Gogo, and set up homesteads wherever reasonable ground for their primary food crops of millet, sorghum, and later maize could be found. However, they disliked and had little purpose for longterm village life. They mainly remained stateless, with no interest in ’empire-building.’ The Sandawe, on the other hand, had a long history of mutual collaboration in activities like hoeing and threshing, homebuilding, and organizing informal pig and elephant hunts.

They constructed their makeshift shelters far away from water sources and then went hunting in the nearby countryside. Thus, polygamy was probably not practiced until after they adopted agriculture.

During the Colonial Period

When Germany began colonizing Sub-Saharan Africa in the mid-nineteenth century, certain Sandawe clans exploited their reputation as rainmakers to claim the foremost rank, but they were never recognized. Others rejected European control as well as the enormous migrations of colonists arriving all around them. The Germans were told that Mtoro, a guy with some power, was in charge. He was named headman or commander of the Nyamwezi colony, which had just been formed.

Mtoro and Nyamwezi immigrants were despised by the Sandawe, who expelled them in 1902 and took their animals. According to reports, Lieutenant Kohlerman was dispatched to maintain the peace and killed 800 Sandawe warriors in three days without losing a single man. A second expedition arrived and took 1,100 cattle. ‘Progress,’ said the district commander:

The rock-strewn land of Usandawe…is home to a still warlike, predatory, and undiscovered mountain tribe whose members refuse to recognize the German government, live far apart, and allow no headmen or superiors, and thus have no headmen or superiors far ejected those experimentally implanted by the station. We’ve taken control of the issue.

The German colony was encouraged and withdrew its armed forces. As the troops left, the Sandawe attacked, proclaiming their preparedness to face a new expedition and tormenting the Nyamwezi. The Sandawe were eventually ‘pacified,’ and 22 were selected, mainly from the traditional rainmaking tribes. “One of the headmen stated,” said another, “If anyone refuses to obey my orders, I will file a complaint with European Sergeant Linke. He is the one who uses fetters and the whip to punish people… As a result, my people see that you live in harmony.”

Tom Von Prince and his wife Magdalene von Prince, prior year 1908
Tom Von Prince and his wife Magdalene von Prince, prior year 1908

The institution of the chiefdom, on the other hand, soon collapsed and vanished once colonization ended. In their tales, the Sandawe compare themselves to tiny creatures that utilize their cunning and intellect to overcome their more powerful and dangerous adversaries. “The deathly terror that must have existed to send these people hundreds of kilometers south of the equator, into the center of many foreign tribes to find peace, can only be guessed at,” Tom von Prince said in his book Gegen Araber und Wahehe.

Culture of the Sandawe Tanzania

The Sandawe have a secret and highly spiritual society based on animism. Caves in the mountains were revered and sometimes feared since they were thought to house ghosts. As a result, caves were avoided, no animals were herded there, no wood was chopped, or twigs were broken to avoid disturbing these ghosts. Instead, the Sandawe would go to the caves once a year to perform sacrificial rituals to ensure that the spirits would not be vengeful and disrupt the community‘s overall well-being.

People would travel to the hills’ caves in groups, chanting prayers to the ghosts and assuring them that they had not come to disturb them but to show their love. These prayers were screamed as loudly as possible to ensure that the spirits could hear them regardless of their location. The Sandawe believed in the moon, stars, seasons, and the mantis bug, among other things. The moon was seen as a symbol of life and fertility, bringing rain and regulating the cycle of fertility in women. The mantis was a heavenly messenger with a specific cause for arriving. The explanation was generally sought through a medium.

Warongwe, a god who was abstract, remote, and unrelated to the well-being of ordinary life, was rarely worshipped to or sacrificed to. Instead, in virtually every African region, religion was based on a lengthy line of ancestors and a close-knit extended family system that served as a conduit between living creatures and a distant all-powerful God.

The Sandawe were and continue to be extroverted people who like singing, dancing, producing music, and drinking beer. They have an extensive song library. Harvest and courting rituals, healing rituals with their trances, circumcision celebrations, and simba possession dances, in which dancers mimicked lions to resist witchcraft, were all distinct from one another. Nevertheless, the Sandawe still have a strong oral tradition, and they enjoy telling stories that represent the group’s accumulated knowledge.

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