Hunting with the Hadzabe
one of the world’s last hunter-gatherer tribes
In an area around Lake Eyasi in the central Rift Valley of Tanzania lies the ancient homeland of the Hadzabe or Hadza – an indigenous group of hunter-gatherers that have lived here for millennia. Their lifestyle and culture, mostly unchanged for tens of thousands of years, provides a rare glimpse into how all humans have lived for at least 90 percent of our existence on Earth. We first met them in a cave in the early morning. The sun wasn’t up yet, and already they were preparing for a moring hunt – by smoking big pipes of weed.
The Hadza don’t grow food, and keep no livestock, but live off what nature provides in small and highly egalitarian groups. They have no leaders, the women are about as influential as men, and the social and economic equality is striking. Food and resources are shared and children are brought up by everyone, in a communal setting that is typical of hunter-gatherer societies. They also enjoy an amount of leisure time that most of us will never know. Once a successful hunt and a little foraging is over, their “work” is done for the day, and the rest of it can be spent socializing, making tools and weapons, rearing children and enjoying life. No jobs or bosses, no calendars or clocks, no laws, no taxes, no money. They actually have no word for “worry”.
This is the human lifestyle that endured for ages, but that all but disappeared when agriculture came along. With it came civilization, and great progress in many areas, but also the idea of private property, hoarding of resources, poverty and inequality – things the Hadza know very little about. Theirs is to some extent a care-free way of life, low in stress and high in social cohesion and independence. Though a lack of modern medicine has its consequences, most of them enjoy a healthy life span, and the old myth of the “short and brutish” life of the hunter-gatherer has little credibility. The greatest threat to the Hadza doesn’t come from their lack of modernity, or from the poisonous snakes and hungry lions surrounding them.
The greatest threat to this ancient culture is modernity itself, as it creeps ever closer. There are now only about a thousand Hadzabe left in Tanzania, and they are increasingly faced with encroachment from neighbouring peoples, farmers, cattle herders and government restrictions. Various governments have tried to settle them into society, and encouraged farming, but they have largely failed. In 2007, the local government controlling the Hadza lands adjacent to the Yaeda Valley leased the entire 6500 km2 land to a royal family of the United Arab Emirates, to be used as a “personal safari playground”, evicting everyone in the area. Happily, after protests and negative press coverage, the deal was rescinded. This time.
Our time with the Hadza was intense and magical. We followed three men hunting, using their hand made bows and arrows. We watched as they gutted their kill and barbecued it on an open fire, and were offered a taste. We joined two women with their children digging for roots, and after the foraging of the day was done we joined the rest in their camp, beading jewellery while listening to their banter and laughter as the other hunting parties returned home. They danced and sang, and seemed genuinely happy and content. Visiting the Hadza taught us a lot about life, and touched us forever. They haven’t changed their ways in thousands of years, but still it feels like we have more to learn from them than they have from us.