The Doma tribe, also referred to as vaDoma, Dema, or Wadoma, constitutes the sole indigenous traditional hunter-gatherer community in Zimbabwe. Distinguished by a unique trait, they exhibit a relatively high occurrence of ectrodactyly – a rare genetic condition affecting the formation of fingers and toes.
This remarkable feature has led to their epithet as the “ostrich-footed people.” Their secluded lifestyle is characterized by nomadic existence in mountainous regions, where they engage in activities such as fishing, hunting, and gathering wild fruits and roots. The tribe’s language, Dema, is exclusive to their group, and they remain the only non-agricultural society in Zimbabwe.
According to Doma mythology, their forebears descended from a baobab tree, adopting an upright posture to pursue hunting and gather the produce of their surroundings. Despite their genetic distinction, the Doma community embraces their condition of ectrodactyly, also known as lobster claw syndrome.
This anomaly results in the absence of the middle three toes, with the two outer ones turned inward. Ectrodactyly stems from a single mutation on chromosome 7 and follows an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern, indicating a 50% likelihood of transmission if one parent carries the trait. This unique trait has led to the monikers “ostrich-footed” and “two-toed” people for the Doma.
Maintaining their genetic uniqueness is upheld through tribal law, which prohibits intermarriage outside the Doma group, ensuring the trait’s continuity within their community. However, the Doma perceive their two-toed feet not as a disability but rather as a natural characteristic. They are fully integrated within their society and proficiently perform a variety of tasks. Some even propose that their distinct trait offers them an advantage in tree climbing.