EBONY TALES - Meet The Datoga Blacksmiths

Lake Eyasi - July 2015

We left Arusha at six in the morning and drove through the Great Rift Valley catching the sunrise over Lake Manyara. Passing baboons along winding mountain roads we arrived at Lake Eyasi- a seasonal shallow salt lake on the floor of the Great Rift Valley at the base of the Serengeti Plateau- which is home to two unique tribes, the Datoga and the Hadzabe tribe which I’ll cover in my next post. Around this area there are only about hundred Traditional Datoga blacksmiths families remaining. I have been visiting the Ginyanyi Datoga family for a couple of years now. When I enter the Boma they welcome me as their daughter. Father Ginyanyi, informed of my imminent arrival the previous day, was waiting proudly. Daily tasks have been abandoned to make place for greetings. As I had done previously, I brought along recycled car radiators which the Datoga treat and use in their metalwork. The men have quickly placed the radiators in the fire and began preparation for treating the metal.

It's in Bomas like these where my Datoga bracelets are created by using ancient techniques that these traditional blacksmiths have been refining for centuries. It takes up to a week to create one bracelet as each brass clipping is hand cut, decorated and hammered onto the leather straps individually which is all executed with simply a hammer and a chisel. 

From cows stomach they have constructed a billow which creates a heat that melts down the solid brass they recycle from padlocks and water taps. The melting point for brass is around 930 degrees Celsius !! It’s hard to imagine how they can reach this high temperature so easily but its only a matter of seconds when they have the charcoal ready.

The climate in this region is generally harsh but this year was especially bad as there was no rainfall during the rainy season. It’s dusty and extremely hot by the time we reach midday. However we continue to work, tell stories, laugh and enjoy each other’s company. By nightfall we are still in the workshop but work has stopped. When the sun has set its time to eat and sit by the campfire. Temperatures have dropped and a breeze is making the evening cool. I have put up my tent in their Boma and such as previous visits I will spend the night under the stars with them. It’s amazing to see how little they need to survive and be happy with life. Some neighbouring Datoga kids join us by the fire later that night. By 9pm we are all tired and I crawl in to my tent while the kids crawl under the cow skins laid out around the fire and find their bed. In the background I can hear hyenas howling and I see the Milky Way and a million stars lighting the sky above me. I can’t be happier at this point and I fall a sleep instantly.

Night night,