Iraqw people

The Iraqw People (Wairak or Wambulu in Swahili) are the Cushitic-speaking ethnic group inhabiting the northern Tanzanian regions. They are a significant group in originating in southwestern Arusha and Manyara regions of Tanzania, near the Rift Valley. The Iraqw people settled in the southeast of Ngorongoro Crater in northern Karatu District, Arusha Region, where they remain the majority ethnic group. In Manyara region, the Iraqw are a major ethnic group in Mbulu District, Babati District and Hanang District.

Wa Iraqw
Iraqw Flag.png
Flag of Iraqw People
Iraqw Man.jpg
An Iraqw man from Karatu District
Total population
c. 603,000 (2009)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly Christianity; minority Islam
Related ethnic groups
Burunge, Kw'adza, Alagwa, Gorowa[2]


Kerio Valley, KenyaEdit

The Iraqw have traditionally been viewed as remnants of Afro-Asiatic peoples who practiced agriculture and animal husbandry in the Great Lakes region[3] — a succession of societies collectively known as the Stone Bowl cultural complex.[4] Most of these early northern migrants are believed to have been absorbed by later movements of Nilotic and Bantu peoples. In the Kerio Valley of Kenya, among other neighboring areas, there are vestiges of the Neolithic tillers' civilization in the form of elaborate irrigation systems. Although these particular structures are today maintained by the Marakwet subgroup of the Nandi Kalenjin Nilotes, the latter aver that they were the work of a northern people of peculiar language called the Sirikwa, who were later decimated by pestilence. According to the Marakwet, the Sirikwa "built the furrows, but they did not teach us how to build them; we only know how to keep them as they are."[3]

Engaruka, Monduli DistrictEdit

Additionally, the Iraqw's ancestors are often credited with having constructed the sprawling Engaruka complex in Monduli District, Arusha Region, Tanzania. The modern Iraqw practice an intensive form of self-contained agriculture that bears a remarkable similarity to the ruins of stone-walled canals, dams and furrows that are found at Engaruka. Iraqw historical traditions likewise relate that their last significant migration to their present area of inhabitation occurred about two or three centuries ago after conflicts with the Barbaig sub-group of the Datog Nilotes, herders who are known to have occupied the Crater Highlands above Engaruka prior to the arrival of the Maasai. This population movement is reportedly consistent with the date of the Engaruka site's desertion, which is estimated at somewhere between 1700 and 1750. It also roughly coincides with the start of the diminishment of the Engaruka River's flow as well as those of other streams descending from the Ngorongoro highlands; water sources around which Engaruka's irrigation practices were centered.[5]

According to the Maasai Nilotes, who are the present-day occupants of Engaruka, the Iraqw also already inhabited the site when their own ancestors first entered the region during the 18th century.[3]


Iraqw homestead.

In 2001, the Iraqw population was estimated to number around 462,000 individuals.[6] Current estimates suggest the population of Iraqw people to the region of 1,000,000.

Their core area of inhabitation is Iraqw’ar Da/aw (or Mama Issara) in the Mbulu Highlands in northern Manyara Region. It has long been known for its intensive cultivation, and referred to as an "island" within a matrix of less intensive cultivation.[7]

The areas surrounding Karatu town in the Arusha region are also predominantly settled by the Iraqw.


Several PhD studies [8] and books[9] have been written about Iraqw culture. A large number of scientific articles on Iraqw culture can be found in a bibliography that has been compiled on the Mbulu area of Tanzania and some of their traditions are similar to those of jews.[10]

Comprehensive anthropological analyses of the ethnic Iraqw by Ikeda et al. (1982) suggests that they share significant affinities with other Cushitic-speaking populations generally. However, due to intermarriage with the surrounding Tanzanian populations, the Iraqw also have some morphological ties with local Bantu groups.[11]


The Iraqw speak the Iraqw language as mother tongue, which belongs to the South Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. Iraqw speakers also speak Swahili, the national language of Tanzania.


Recent advances in genetic analyses have helped shed some light on the ethnogenesis of the Iraqw people. Genetic genealogy, although a novel tool that uses the genes of modern populations to trace their ethnic and geographic origins, has also helped clarify the possible background of the modern Iraqw.


A Y-chromosome study by Wood et al. (2005) tested various populations in Africa for paternal lineages, including 9 Iraqw males from Tanzania. The authors observed the E1b1b haplogroup in 56% of the studied Iraqw, which is typical of Afro-Asiatic males from North and Northeast Africa, who possess the haplogroup at high frequencies.[12] The second most frequent paternal lineage among the Iraqw was Haplogroup B, which is commonly found in Nilotic populations;[12][13] it was observed in 22% of Iraqw males. The third most frequently observed paternal DNA marker in the Iraqw was the E1b1a haplogroup (E-P1), which is now very common among Bantus; it was found in 11% of the Iraqw samples.[12] IN a larger sample haplogroup T y-dna was found in 11% of Iraqw.[Hirbo et al.]

Autosomal DNAEdit

The Iraqw's autosomal DNA has been examined in a comprehensive study by Tishkoff et al. (2009) on the genetic affiliations of various populations in Africa. According to Bayesian clustering analysis, the Iraqw generally grouped with other Afroasiatic-speaking populations inhabiting the Great Lakes region, with these lacustrine groups forming a cluster distinct from that of the Afroasiatic-speaking populations in the Horn of Africa, North Africa and the Sahara. This difference was attributed to marked genetic exchanges between the Iraqw and neighboring Nilo-Saharan and Bantu communities over the past 5,000 or so years.[2]


  1. ^ "Iraqw". Ethnologue. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
  2. ^ a b Sarah Tishkoff; et al. (2009). "The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans" (PDF). Science. 324 (5930): 1035–44. Bibcode:2009Sci...324.1035T. doi:10.1126/science.1172257. PMC 2947357. PMID 19407144. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-08-08. Retrieved 2017-12-07. We incorporated geographic data into a Bayesian clustering analysis, assuming no admixture (TESS software) (25) and distinguished six clusters within continental Africa (Fig. 5A).[...] Another geographically contiguous cluster extends across northern Africa (blue) into Mali (the Dogon), Ethiopia, and northern Kenya. With the exception of the Dogon, these populations speak an Afroasiaticlanguage[...] Nilo-Saharan and Cushitic speakers from the Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania, as well as some of the Bantu speakers from Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda (Hutu/Tutsi), constitute another cluster (purple), reflecting linguistic evidence for gene flow among these populations over the past ~5000 years (28, 29). Also see Supplementary Data.
  3. ^ a b c Matthiessen, Peter (2010). The Tree Where Man Was Born. Penguin Classics. pp. 275–276. ISBN 978-0143106241.
  4. ^ J.D. Fage, William Tordoff (2002). A History of Africa, Fourth Edition. Routledge. p. 29. ISBN 978-0415252485.
  5. ^ Finke, Jens (2003). The Rough Guide to Tanzania. Rough Guides. pp. 437–438. ISBN 978-1858287836.
  6. ^ Ethnologue - Tanzania
  7. ^ Börjeson, L. A History under Siege: Intensive Agriculture in the Mbulu Highlands, Tanzania, 19th Century to the Present. 2004, Stockholm University
  8. ^ Hagborg, L. (2001). Silence: Disputes on the ground and in the mind among the Iraqw in Karatu District, Tanzania. PhD thesis, Uppsala University, Uppsala. Lawi, Y. Q. (2000). May the spider web blind witches and wild animals: Local knowledge and the political ecology of natural resource use in the Iraqwland, Northern Tanzania, 1900-1985. PhD thesis, Boston University, Boston. Rekdal, O. B. (1999). The invention by tradition: Creativity and change among the Iraqw of northern Tanzania. PhD thesis, University of Bergen, Bergen. Snyder, K. A. (1993). "Like water and honey": Moral ideology and the construction of community among the Iraqw of northern Tanzania. PhD thesis, Yale University.
  9. ^ Snyder, K. A. (2005). The Iraqw of Tanzania. Negotiating rural development. New York: Westview Press. Thornton, R. J. (1980). Space, time and culture among the Iraqw of Tanzania. New York: Academic Press.
  10. ^ Rekdal, O. B. (2007). [1][permanent dead link]. Bergen: GeGCA-NUFU.
  11. ^ Ikeda, Jiro; Hayama, Sugio. "The Hadza and the Iraqw in northern Tanzania: Dermatographical, Anthropological, Odontometrical and Osteological Approaches" (PDF). Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  12. ^ a b c Elizabeth T Wood, Daryn A Stover, Christopher Ehret et al., "Contrasting patterns of Y chromosome and mtDNA variation in Africa: evidence for sex-biased demographic processes Archived 2010-12-27 at the Wayback Machine", European Journal of Human Genetics (2005) 13, 867–876. (cf. Appendix A: Y Chromosome Haplotype Frequencies)
  13. ^ Hassan (2008). "Y-chromosome variation among Sudanese: restricted gene flow, concordance with language, geography, and history". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 137 (3): 316–23. doi:10.1002/ajpa.20876. PMID 18618658.


  • Mous, Maarten. 1993. A Grammar of Iraqw. Hamburg: Buske.