Doe of Tanzania

The homeland of the Doe touches Tanzania’s coast a short distance above Dar es Salaam. While library research is a necessary step in getting acquainted with any people group, little information about the Doe is readily available. However, one passing comment appears in various research documents. In references to the slave trade along the coast, this statement often appears: “The Doe ate the excess slaves.”

This statement flashed through my mind as our driver’s expertise at the steering wheel was taxed to the limit. After driving 20 kilometers off the main road along the southern bank of the Wami River, we finally reached the targeted Doe village.

The entrance to the village is at the top of a hill. The primary school is located immediately on the left, and the road reflects the creativity and hard work of teachers and students. Trees planted on both sides of the road are linked together by beautiful flower beds. It seemed as if we were entering a small town. Civic pride was evident!

The houses were down the hill in the fertile Wami River valley. They were well constructed and the yards swept clean. These first impressions lifted our expectations about researching a Doe village.

After the vehicle was parked, the driver, tour guide and I walked into a small market with a large shade tree at the center. Several men and boys were gathered there, and they warmly received us. One young man bought oranges for us, and while we enjoyed the juicy fruit, they expressed an interest in knowing why we had come to their village.

After a brief exchange, a man offered to lead us to the village chairman who was currently in a meeting on the outskirts of the village. I was surprised to find a gathering of 75 village leaders under a large tree. The chairman left the meeting to welcome us. Hearing the intent of our visit, he asked me to greet the people.

What an honor to speak to such a distinguished group! I understood this to be another divine appointment. The tour guide introduced me and then interpreted my remarks into Swahili. I began by thanking them for allowing us to interrupt their business session. I taught them how to say my name and told of reading about them in books. They applauded my next remark: “Now I see your faces, which are much better than the pages of a book. You are beautiful people!”

My request for permission to walk through the village, talk to people and take a few pictures to show my wife and friends met with a positive response. I invited them to ask questions and they quickly responded: “The road into our village is very bad. Can you help us repair it?” 

“I’m neither a politician nor a wealthy man,” I answered, “but I will pray, asking God to help.”

A woman at the back of the group raised her hand. “I am a woman,” she said, “and as a woman I would like to see your wife.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “I have a beautiful wife, and I carry her right here in my heart!” The women cheered and clapped! I continued, “Also, I carry a picture of her in my pocket.” Taking the photograph out of my billfold, I handed it back through the crowd to the women. They swooned over the picture, agreeing with me that she is a beautiful woman.

We excused ourselves from the meeting and the original guide continued the tour. As we walked toward the river, he shared information concerning the origin of the Doe tribe. The Doe were “hunters and gatherers” in Kenya. Drought forced them south into the Kwere area of Tanzania where a major battle ensued. The Kwere chief’s son was killed, resulting in the Kwere hiring warriors from a neighboring tribe.

In a fierce battle, the Doe captured two alliance warriors. They killed one and ate his flesh; the other was allowed to escape. The warrior fled back to his camp, saying, “The Doe are hunters. They are killing us for food. We will never be able to defeat them.” So the alliance warriors turned back, and the Doe settled along the Wami River. 

Hearing this part of the story, it became clear why the Doe were known to eat excess slaves during the slave-trading era. I asked the guide if this report was really true. “Yes!” he said. “Some of the slaves were used to work our fields, and the extras were eaten.”

I further inquired if this act of cannibalism was still practiced today and assured him I was too fat to be tasty! We all laughed and he explained that the practice began to fade away with the coming of Roman Catholic missionaries. Cannibalism was totally abolished when the Doe adopted Islam as their religion.

The Doe have a fascinating history. The people group has demonstrated the ability to change. I believe a clear presentation of the gospel will be used by the Lord to produce change once again, resulting in a spiritual transformation that will prepare them for eternity and enhance their contribution to today’s world.