Members of the Doma tribe, also known as the vaDoma or Bantwana tribe, are often dubbed the “Ostrich people” due to their deformed feet.
The tribe of the Kanyemba region of Zimbabwe are famous for the rare genetic condition many of its members carry – Ectrodactyly.
The genetic mutation, also known as lobster claw syndrome, refers to the absence of one or more fingers or toes at birth.
It is believed that the mutation presents in around one in every four children born into the Doma tribe.
Most members are missing their three middle toes and instead only have their two outer toes, which become turned in.
This is an autosomal dominant condition resulting from a single mutation on chromosome 7.
It is now against the tribunal law for members to marry outside the group as a result of the two-toed condition – to prevent the spread in other tribes.
Due to their laws and isolation, they have maintained the genetic mutation which occurs more than in any other population.
Despite the laws forbidding marrying outside of the tribe, the condition is present in other tributes including the Talaunda or Talaote Kalanga of the Kalahari Desert who are believed to share common ancestry with the VaDoma.
According to reports, the community does not consider the mutation to be a disability, despite it leaving many with difficulty walking and it is extremely difficult for them to run.
They also can’t wear shoes due to the mutation but many of the vaDoma are reluctant to wear fabrics of any kind.
Instead, the tribe believes it is a trait to be celebrated and allows them to climb trees faster.
Tree climbing is a useful skill for members of the community as they practice a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle – hunting, fishing, honey hunting, and gathering wild fruits and roots.
Reports added they are the only traditional hunter-gatherers indigenous to Zimbabwe, adding they also have little access to fertile land.
However, 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.
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