The Doma or vaDoma (singular muDoma), also known as Dema or Wadoma, are a tribe living in the Kanyemba region in the north of Zimbabwe, especially in the Hurungwe and Chipuriro districts around the basins of Mwazamutanda River, a tributary of the Zambezi River Valley. They are the only traditional hunter-gatherers indigenous to Zimbabwe and are famous for the inherited ectrodactyly existing among some vaDoma families at much higher rates than typical globally.
They are hunter gatherers who have little contact with other Zimbabweans. They live off the land by hunting, fishing, trapping, and by gathering honey, wild fruits, and roots. Zimbabwe's government has made efforts to assimilate the Doma people into the rest of Zimbabwe's society by providing health clinics and schools, but so far, the Doma have not been convinced that integration is in their best interest. A commonly used nickname for the Doma people is "two toed" or "ostrich foot." This is due to the physical condition many of them suffer from called ectrodactyly, which is where the middle three toes are absent, and the two outer toes are turned inward. This is because of a chromosome mutation, and it has affected the Doma people for many years. This is partly because of a tribal law that forbids the Doma to marry outside their group. These Doma with this condition are not looked down on and are accepted by other members of their community.
The vaDoma speak the Dema language, which is closely related to the dominant Shona language of Zimbabwe and largely comprehensible to those who speak the Korekore and Tande Shona dialects. Living alongside Shona and Kunda people in Kanyemba, they also speak Korekore Shona and Kunda.
They follow their ethnic religion though there are some who are Seventh Day Adventists. Ethnic religions put them at the mercy of the spirit world. In recent years, many religious groups have moved into Doma communities in order to proselytize, a process which threatens traditional Doma culture and practices.
The Vadoma people take great pride in who they are and think they are better than members of other tribes.
They are mostly nomads who hunt, fish, and fruit gathering and are well known for their physical oddities. However, more Vadoma tribespeople has decided to leave their hunter-gatherer way of life and move to the lowlands due to the crackdown on poaching and threats from game rangers.
Natives of the Vadoma tribe are not allowed to wed outside their group. This tribal rule was implemented to prevent the two-toed body feature from spreading to other tribes. The tribe's isolation has allowed them to maintain their distinctive characteristics among their natives. The rule may help to explain why their offspring frequently develop ostrich foot syndrome.
The Vadoma people can freely mix and interact with other community members despite the restrictive marriage culture. They can still be productive despite their condition, which is not regarded as a form of disability.
Their ancestors, according to Vadoma mythology, came from a Baobab tree. The Vadoma elders believe that their ancestors were like birds that appeared in the sky and settled among people. They claimed that their DNA was a combination of the earthly women's DNA and their bird-like ancestors' DNA. As a result, that unusual union gave birth to children who shared their ancestry and had the common ostrich foot syndrome. Additionally, they assert that Liitolafisi, the planet they hail from, is where their forefathers originated.
According to vaDoma mythology, their ancestors emerged from a baobab tree. Upon descending from it, they walked upright to hunt and gather the fruits of the land. The name vaDoma is also used in the Zambezi region for a semi-mythical people characterized as magical, capricious, hard to find, and living among the trees. This may refer to Khoisan hunter-gatherers who preceded the migration of the Bantu Shona into the Zambezi Valley, and the vaDoma are possibly related to this earlier population. Rumors also persist among nearby peoples that the vaDoma are capable of disappearing in the forest and performing magic.
Historically, the vaDoma chiefly dwelt in the mountains, living a largely nomadic lifestyle of hunting, fishing, trapping, honey hunting, and gathering wild fruits and roots. Prior to the European colonization of Africa, the vaDoma also resisted incorporation into the Korekore Shona kingdom of Mutapa, which resulted in little access to fertile land. Land reform after Zimbabwe's independence did not change this, despite pressure from the Mugabe government, and the vaDoma's continuing dispossession has made them Zimbabwe's only non-agricultural society, leading to stereotypes as "Stone Age cave-dwellers".
The mountain homeland of the vaDoma has now become the Chewore Safari Area. In recent years, vaDoma have been threatened by game rangers due to a crackdown on poaching. Many abandoned their hunter-gatherer lifestyle and moved to the lowlands. Today, though they have little contact with the majority populace, many vaDoma families live settled lives as semi-foragers, building houses on wooden platforms to avoid predators. During rainfall, they cover the shelters with thatching. vaDoma are also reluctant to wear textile fabrics.Recently, the Seventh-day Adventist Church built Mariga Primary School to educate vaDoma children.
A substantial minority of vaDoma has a condition known as ectrodactyly in which the middle three toes are absent and the two outer ones are turned in, resulting in the tribe being known as the "two-toed" or "ostrich-footed" tribe. This is an autosomal dominant condition resulting from a single mutation on chromosome 7. It is reported that those with the condition are not handicapped and are well integrated into the tribe. While possibly an aid in tree climbing, the condition prevails because of a small genetic pool among the vaDoma and is propagated by the tribal law that forbids members to marry outside the group.
Due to the vaDoma tribe's isolation, they have developed and maintained ectrodactyly, and their comparatively small gene pool has resulted in the condition being much more frequent than elsewhere. The Talaunda/Talaote Kalanga of the Kalahari Desert also have a number of members with ectrodactyly and may share common ancestry with the VaDoma.
Due to their geographical and social isolation, many Doma lack access to essential services such as water, sanitation and health facilities.
Legislation such as the Land Acquisition Act allows for the Zimbabwean government to expropriate any rural land that it wishes to use for other purposes. The government has seized land inhabited by Doma to establish the Chewore National Park and Dande Safari Area, prohibiting hunting in these areas. Doma communities rely heavily on hunting as a source of food and many in the area are at risk of starvation.