il'dorobo (anglicized "Dorobo") is the Maasai word used to describe several different Nilotic groups of hunter-gatherers who have been incorporated into the Maasai people group. The name is derived from the fact that as hunter-gatherers these people do not own cattle, a particularly notable trait amongst the pastoral Maasai.
In the development of East Africa over the last century or so, it has been noted that pastoral groups tend to be left behind, as they are historically nomadic and require relatively large areas to graze their cattle throughout the year. This has made them particularly vulnerable to agricultural groups who, as populations grow, move into more marginally arable uncultivated rangelands further limited the areas of forage available to gatherers like the Dorobo and pastoral groups like the Maasai.
This is one of several factors that have influenced a livelihood change in the Maasai of northern Tanzania. This area is notorious for conflicts between pastoralists, agriculture (both subsistence and corporate), commercial hunters, and conservation ventures. Pastoral families have become more sedentary and adopted agriculture as a secondary livelihood in order to claim territory as well as to supplement their diets as culture changes.
The Dorobo who live in and amongst the Maasai and are already essentially assimilated into Maasai society, have had an even more challenging transition. Toroye, a Dorobo man who lived in and around the kopjies of Soit Orgoss near Loliondo village in the Ngorongoro District of Arusha Region, knows of only one other living Dorobo. All have married into other ethnic groups (including Toroye), moved into villages, and are no longer practicing their traditional livelihoods.
However Toroye still walks the bush, practicing the skills he learned as a young man like digging tubers and searching for honey. I've had the opportunity to visit with Toroye with a group of students from Penn State University twice in the last 3 years. The family-run outfit Dorobo Safaris have known him for decades and been working in this area since the late 1980's. They are well-respected there. Toroye and these Maasai live in the middle of the vast Serengeti-Mara ecosystem on village lands. This area adjoins the Serengeti National Park to the west, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the south, Lake Natron Game Controlled Area to the east and the Loita Hills of Kenya to the north.
Stories Around the Campfire
When we visited Soit Orgoss in June of this year, Toroya guided us through the kopjies, noting which shrubs had medicinal properties, which plants could be refined into poison for hunting, and which tubers could be dug up and made into glue to fletch arrows. On our last night, Toroya sat with us on a chilly evening next to the campfire and told stories of his youth, while Joshua Peterson and Douglas Duncan translated for the group. These stories are shared via SoundCloud and can also be heard using the embedded playlist.