The history of the Mbulu, or Iraqw, people is shrouded in mystery, as it is not known when they first came to Tanzania. However, some clues, such as agricultural practices, suggest they came down from Northern Kenya, but this has not yet been proven; other important clues are their physical features, namely their thin and fine faces that differ from their neighbours and, not less important, their language, that suggests their origin is further Northwards, in Ethiopia.
The Iraqw ethnic group belongs to the Afro-Asiatic linguistic group that greatly differs from the Bantu; it is actually a principal linguistic family (and not a dialect) like Arabic and Hebrew, although it has been influenced by the Datoga language over the centuries; the Iraqw language is linked to the Southern Cushitic languages spoken in Ethiopia and Northern Kenya, that proves that their migration to the centre of Tanzania started from there.
As an ethnic group, the Iraqw might belong to the Afro-Asiatic Neolithic populations who settled in Northern Kenya and later moved South because of clashes with the Nilotic and Bantu peoples; this assumption has been confirmed by the remains found in the Kerio Valley in Kenya that testify the presence of Neolithic farmers who used complex irrigation systems akin to those still in use in the Iraqw fields; the area was subsequently abandoned due to an epidemic plague, that might have been the cause that forced the Mbulu to move South.
Other archaeological remains have been brought to light in the Engaruka site in Northern Tanzania, where the similarity of irrigation canals, dams and terraces attests the Iraqw presence in the area, from where they migrated Southwards due to clashes with the Maasai and the Barbaig.
The Mbulu settled in the region between the provinces of Arusha and Manyara around the year 1890, and here they came into contact with the Datoga of which they assimilated some words and the use of facial markings.
Life, tradition and culture of Mbulu or Iraqw people