Daasanach people

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A Daasanach woman
Total population
 Ethiopia 48,067 (2007 census)[1]
 Kenya 19,337 (2019 Census) [2]
Regions with significant populations
Ethiopia, Kenya
Traditional African religions and Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Nilotic peoples,[3][a] Aroid (South Omotic) peoples such as the Karo,[3] and Cushitic peoples (primarily of the Western Omo–Tana branch)[4]

The Daasanach (also known as the Marille or Geleba) are an ethnic group inhabiting parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan. Their main homeland is in the Debub Omo Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People's Region, adjacent to Lake Turkana. According to the 2007 national census, they number 48,067 people (or 0.07% of the total population of Ethiopia), of whom 1,481 are urban dwellers.[1]

A Daasanach man


The Daasanach are also called Marille especially by their neighbours, the Turkana of Kenya. The Daasanach are traditionally pastoralists, but in recent years have become primarily agropastoral. Having lost the majority of their lands over the past fifty years or so, primarily as a result from being excluded from their traditional Kenyan lands, including on both sides of Lake Turkana, and the 'Ilemi Triangle' of South Sudan, they have suffered a massive decrease in the numbers of cattle, goats and sheep. As a result, large numbers of them have moved to areas closer to the Omo River, where they attempt to grow enough crops to survive. There is much disease along the river (including tsetse, which has increased with forest and woodland development there), however, making this solution to their economic plight difficult. Like many pastoral peoples throughout this region of Africa, the Daasanach are a highly egalitarian society, with a social system involving age sets and clan lineages - both of which involve strong reciprocity relations.


The Daasanach today speak the Daasanach language. It belongs to the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. The language is notable for its large number of noun classes, irregular verb system, and implosive consonants. For instance, the initial D in Daasanach is implosive, sometimes written as <'D> or <Dh>.


Population genetic analyses of the Daasanach indicate that they are more closely related to Nilo-Saharan populations than they are to most Cushitic and Semitic Afro-Asiatic-speaking populations of Ethiopia. This suggests that the Daasanach were originally Nilo-Saharan speakers, sharing common origins with the Pokot. In the 19th century, the Nilotic ancestors of these two populations are believed to have begun separate migrations, with one group heading southwards into the African Great Lakes region and the other group settling in southern Ethiopia. There, the early Daasanach Nilotes would have come into contact with a Cushitic-speaking population, and eventually adopted this group's Afro-Asiatic language.[4]

A 2021 study comparing a variety of Ethiopian populations discovered that the Daasanach people cluster closer to the Nilotic Nyangatom and the Aroid (South Omotic) Karo peoples than they do to most other Cushitic populations of Ethiopia.[3]

Daily life[edit]

Daasanach boys

The Daasanach are a primarily agropastoral people; they grow sorghum, maize, pumpkins and beans when the Omo river and its delta floods. Otherwise the Daasanach rely on their goats and cattle which give them milk, and are slaughtered in the dry season for meat and hides. Sorghum is cooked with water into a porridge eaten with a stew. Corn is usually roasted, and sorghum is fermented into beer. The Daasanach who herd cattle live in dome-shaped houses made from a frame of branches, covered with hides and woven boxes (which are used to carry possessions on donkeys when the Daasanach migrate). The huts have a hearth, with mats covering the floor used for sleeping. The Dies, or lower class, are people who have lost their cattle and their way of living. They live on the shores of Lake Turkana hunting crocodiles and fishing. Although their status is low because of their lack of cattle, the Dies help the herders with crocodile meat and fish in return for meat.

Women are circumcised by removing the clitoris. Women who are not circumcised are called animals or boys and cannot get married or wear clothes. Women wear a pleated cowskin skirt and necklaces and bracelets, they are usually married off at 17 while men are at 20. Boys are circumcised. Men wear only a checkered cloth around their waist.

Media coverage[edit]

There are a number of variant spellings of Daasanach, including Dasenach and Dassanech (the latter used in an episode about them in the TV series Tribe). Daasanach is the primary name given in the Ethnologue language entry.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Daasanach along with the related Arbore form a branch with the Nyangatom (Teso-Turkanic) and the Karo (South Omotic) on the cladogram (a diagram used in cladistics) showing affinities between a wide sample of Ethiopian populations. See Supplementary Materials of López et al (2021), page 49."Evidence of the interplay of genetics and culture in Ethiopia". Retrieved 2024-04-09.

Further reading[edit]

  • Uri Almagor, "Institutionalizing a fringe periphery: Dassanetch-Amhara relations", pp. 96–115 in The Southern Marches of Imperial Ethiopia (ed. Donald L. Donham and Wendy James), Oxford: James Currey, 2002.
  • Claudia J. Carr, Pastoralism in Crisis: the Dassanetch of Southwest Ethiopia. University of Chicago. 1977.


  1. ^ a b "Census 2007" Archived February 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, first draft, Table 5. A further 1,469 are recorded as being "Murle".
  2. ^ "2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census Volume IV: Distribution of Population by Socio-Economic Characteristics" (PDF). Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b c López, Saioa; Tarekegn, Ayele; Band, Gavin; van Dorp, Lucy; Bird, Nancy; Morris, Sam; Oljira, Tamiru; Mekonnen, Ephrem; Bekele, Endashaw; Blench, Roger; Thomas, Mark G.; Bradman, Neil; Hellenthal, Garrett (2021-06-11). "Evidence of the interplay of genetics and culture in Ethiopia" (PDF). Nature Communications. 12 (1): 3581. Bibcode:2021NatCo..12.3581L. doi:10.1038/s41467-021-23712-w. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 8196081. PMID 34117245.
  4. ^ a b Estella S. Poloni; Yamama Naciri; Rute Bucho; Régine Niba; Barbara Kervaire; Laurent Excoffier; André Langaney; Alicia Sanchez-Mazas (November 2009). "Genetic Evidence for Complexity in Ethnic Differentiation and History in East Africa". Annals of Human Genetics. 73 (6): 582–600. doi:10.1111/j.1469-1809.2009.00541.x. PMID 19706029. S2CID 2488794.
  5. ^ Raymond G. Gordon Jr., ed. 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. 15th edition. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics. Ethnologue entry for Daasanach