Tanzania and the Hadzabe: Moto Sana!
Hamjambo! Wanafunzi wa SLU walisafiri Tanzania… Our first field component brought us to Tanzania, where we spent one week living with the Hadzabe, a hunter-gatherer society living in and around the Yaeda Valley region. Currently, the Hadza population in Tanzania is around 1,000 people, making it one of the smallest ethnic groups in the country. Unfortunately, the Hadzabe are also one of the most marginalized peoples as the Tanzanian government, development agencies, and tourism companies have viewed their strong connection to their traditional lifestyle as stubbornness and refusal to incorporate modern “developed” ideals into their practices. For years now, the Hadzabe have been losing land to government sell-offs, tourism agencies, rich tycoons who use the area as hunting grounds, and encroaching tribes (who have, in most cases, lost their land as well). Land is very important to the Hadza because it is their home, food source, hospital, entertainment, traditions and culture. Among the many topics we discussed over the week, land loss as well as land conservation permeated many conversations because of its importance.
Our group of eighteen was led by four guides, Douglas, Hope, Sia, and Mama Maggie from Dorobo Safaris (check them out, they are incredible), who were extremely knowledgeable about Hadzabe culture and lifestyle. For over 30 years, Dorobo has created and maintained relations with indigenous people and have advocated for their needs and rights; one part of the mission is to bring interested visitors to meet with the Hadza and learn about their cultures directly from the people themselves, and not from misrepresenting rumors. We felt fortunate to have Dorobo leading us, and the week was equally challenging and rewarding as we experienced life “in the bush,” which is very different compared to our normal lives. We—Jenny, Jeff, Lindy and Megan—are happy to share our experience with you and feel it can be best described in the words of Moshi, one of the Hadza who stayed with us throughout the week, who we got to know very well. Moshi anasema: “Moto sana! Safi sana!”
Mtana! My name is Lindy, the resident #saintforasemester on the program, as I am the only one who does not actually attend St. Lawrence. Our week spent with the Hadzabe in Tanzania was easily one of the most incredible weeks of my entire life. With new adventures occurring morning, noon, and night, the moments that had the biggest influence on my experience were actually not as much the discussions and scheduled activities each day. Instead, it was the unplanned, unexpected events where I would find myself repeatedly thinking, “This cannot be real life,” and taking mental notes in an attempt to never, ever forget. That said, I will be bopping around throughout this entry to help put the craziness of the week in order a bit as we talk about the week’s adventures..
To start off, it was only a few short hours into the trip when I knew the week ahead would be one for the books. Njau told us before we arrived at the Tanzanian border that after getting our passports stamped, we would walk over and meet him on the other side. I couldn’t honestly tell if he was being serious or not, but a little while later I found myself checking another country off my “countries to visit” list as we literally walked across the border from Kenya into Tanzania (not figuratively literally either, but literally literally).
Jambo! Mimi ni Megan, and I am going to talk about our time spent at the Mongo wa Mono camp. While there are many remarkable things about Hadzabe culture, what struck me the most was how incredibly resourceful the Hadza people are. They know so much about their environment—which plants can be eaten or used in other ways, which animals produce the best meat, and also which types of foods can be found (and where) during the very different wet and dry seasons—and are completely self-sufficient because of their knowledge of the land. In Mongo wa Mono, we were fortunate enough to accompany some women on their daily gathering expedition, so we followed behind as they expertly spotted trees whose tubers (roots) were suitable for digging. Women usually gather tubers, nuts, fruits, and plants each day and bring them back for their family, while it’s the men’s duty to go out and hunt small game and wildlife. After each of the groups gathered a few tubers, we all gathered together and watched as the women built a fire and roasted the tubers for us to try. They tasted like warm, uncooked potatoes, but they were very filling and it was easy to see why the women value their fibrous nature so much.
In the afternoon, after a much needed and appreciated siesta, we gathered with some men and tried our best at making arrows. We were each given a stick which we heated in the fire—it’s easiest to peel the bark off that way—and then whittled down to a sharp point. Nowadays the Hadzabe use knives to carve their bows and arrows, but it was hard enough to get a point using a knife, so I can’t imagine using a stone tool to achieve the same effect! After the point was completed, we stuck the arrows back into the fire (so they were malleable) and then straightened the tools as best as we could; to do this, we used our teeth, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we all felt pretty badass doing so! Tying the guinea fowl feathers on to the end as the fletching would have been too difficult, so one of the Hadza men tied them for all of us using giraffe sinew! The final step was to carve designs into the shaft and rub it down with ash. We were all grateful that we were able to learn how the Hadzabe make the arrows they hunt with, as it was yet another example of how knowledgeable and resourceful these people are in a world where the majority of people wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves if organized food distribution, for whatever reason, failed. The Hadzabe truly live an impressive life!
Hamjambo! Ninaitwa Jenny. The morning of our big hike, we were anxious and excited for the long journey across the Rift Valley. Mama Maggie and some of our favorite Hadza men (including Moshi, of course) were to lead us the whole way. The beginning of the journey was spent walking quietly in a single file line, admiring the bush around us, while the Hadza took the opportunity to hunt. We stumbled upon a large cluster of prickly pear cactus and watched as the Hadza used their bows to grab and twist the fruit off the cactus. After some chatter, Maggie translated that immediately after our trip, the men planned to bring their wives there and stay there for three days to feast on the prickly pear and party. Eventually, we happened upon a tortoise walking along the path; while all us wazungu took pictures and oogled at it, the Hadza men saw the tortoise and began smiling from ear to ear. Yup, that tortoise was about to be lunch. It was our duty to carry the poor thing (or Janice, as we later named her) until the Hadza decided to eat her, which was definitely hard on some of our more sensitive souls.
Janice in hand, our next stop was a beautiful hollowed out baobab tree where one of the men found honey inside. The whole process took about an hour; the men made a small fire while one physically climbed up inside the tree and used the smoke to subdue the bees and gather the pure honey. We were all lucky enough to try some and it was delicious! At about that time a woman and her child walked up to us; when the woman saw the tortoise, she was very excited and expressed interest in eating it right away (traditionally, only women eat tortoise meat, not men0). So a fire was made and I handed Janice over and she was promptly set on top of the fire to literally be roasted alive. Once adequately cooked, some tortoise eggs, foot, and liver were passed around for us to try. I almost don’t want to admit it, but I thought tortoise egg and foot are pretty good. After this tasty snack we continued on the last leg of our journey. As we approached the other side of the valley, we were excited to see a big thunderstorm approaching…and quickly. Just as we finished the hike and reached another Hadza encampment at the edge of the valley, the rain caught us and we welcomed the free shower with a rain dance. A perfect way to celebrate our expedition across the Rift Valley!
Lindy here again…As Jenny mentioned, not five minutes after we finally reached the other side of the valley and stopped for lunch, the rain began to fall. Half the students packed themselves into the safari van along with some of the Hadza women who would be joining us. The rest of us were invited into one family’s hut to try and stay out of the rain. With about 15+ people squeezed tightly into this small hut, I broke the ice and introduced myself with my three weeks worth of broken Kiswahili. Everyone proceeded to introduce themselves and told their age, or tried….shout out to Jeff and Ashley who inevitably became amateur translators as they were the only two who are in a higher level than Swahili 101. Pretty soon the inviting sound of rain outside was too much and many people joined Jenny outside to dance in the rain. In the end, Megan and I were the lone KSP students in a hut filled with Hadza. As we sat on the ground we just kept looking around and then looking at each other, laughing as we tried to wrap our minds around what was happening. Rain trickling down our backs from the holes in the roof, we listened to women talk, hearing the click in every few words as they spoke their mother tongue, Hadzabe. We used what little Swahili we knew to speak with them and express our thanks for welcoming us into their home and out of the rain. Even with the language barrier it was clear that we were no longer strangers but friends, even if only for a short time…
On the last day we found a nice reminder of home: there was a guest book at one of the camping sites. We all loved reading through the pages, seeing the names of friends who had previously been on the program. Here is a picture of when my brother, Drew, and his friends signed during their semester in 2008. Hi Drew!
On what we deemed “lion pride rock,” situated above our third camp, we had the opportunity to sit with the Hadza and ask them some further questions while we waited for the rain to abate so we could go hunting. We all had groups based on various topics concerning Hadza culture and we formed our groups to ask some specific questions. We interviewed them on land loss, tourism, outside perceptions, and education. Though we learned a lot, certain things specifically stuck to us. When we asked them what they wanted us to take away from them and their culture they presented us with three things:
1. Recognize the importance of loving one another and loving your environment
2. When interacting with someone else, really connect face to face with that person and put yourself in their shoes
3. Understand that you are connected to everything around you; you are connected to the natural world and to all the inhabitants within it.
Quite a beautiful take home message.
After the rains subsided, around mid-afternoon the Hadza decided it would be a good time to go hunting. Gamba, Simon and I (Jeff) headed out to hunt. Gamba immediately set the pace, quick and direct, and showed us the Hadza paths, which we thought looked much like the rest of the bush. We climbed to the top of an escarpment that looked out over the land so that Gamba could see where to head next. We descended further down the valley stopping at various rock formations looking for rock hyrax. Gamba found honey nestled away in a tree, but decided tomorrow would be a better day to collect honey. After checking more rock outcrops, he told Simon and I to circle around and flank a deep crack in the rocks. Although I never saw any hyrax, I watched Gamba fire an arrow into the crack. Then a screaming rock hyrax came running out of the rock, an arrow puncturing through its back and out the stomach, and tried desperately to run away. But unfortunately for him, Gamba caught up with him and killed it quickly with his knife. After a brief rest and exchange of excitement, we continued onward, with Simon and I switching off carrying the hyrax.
We proceeded to a lower part of the valley, where the bush grew much higher. Then without warning, Gamba started sprinting alongside a rock formation. Simon and I followed as best we could, but he quickly told us to circle around. I turned around and ran in the other direction around the formation. About five seconds into my sprint, a huge warthog came sprinting past about 30 feet ahead of me from the other side of where Gamba was running. After the hog was out of sight and I started walking back; I was completely out of breath and I warned Gamba to not shoot because the warthog was gone. Now excited but also disappointed, Gamba and I exchanged a few words about how big the hog was and how cool it would be to bring it back to camp. After checking more rock formations without success, Gamba decided to head back. On the way back, he spotted a dik-dik, but it got away before he could fire a shot. We were the first group to make it back to camp with hyrax in hand. That night we tried some of the hyrax, which actually tasted pretty good!
One of the most memorable parts of our week with the Hadza was after the sun went down. Douglas made it very clear that a part of Dorobo’s agreement with the Hadzabe is that Dorobo never asks them to do anything special as entertainment for the guests, or to put on a show of any sort. If they like you and feel comfortable, they will invite you to join them in whatever they are doing, but it is all the choice of the Hadza men and women. That said, we were all pretty excited the night we arrived at our second campsite and were able to join the Hadza around the fire, listening to them play music and sing. In no time at all, we were dancing and singing together around the fire while Douglas helped translate the meaning of each song. We even sang a few songs of our own…we had a few Beatles and Disney songs up our sleeves and I must say our harmonizing was impressive. There’s a 99.999% none of them understood the lyrics, but at the end of each song, we were met with a loud applause and eruption of “Safi sana!” cheers…
The following night, at the next campsite, our fireside activities shifted from singing to dancing. We learned different traditional dances that accompanied each song and even had a few dance-offs! Sweaty, dancing, and smiling from ear to ear, we all kept promising ourselves, “Okay, we’ll go to bed after the next dance”. During these times spent gathered around the fire, I kept thinking that never in a million years would I ever have expected to be dancing around a fire with the Hadzabe in Tanzania. We all understood that it did not matter where or how we lived, or even that the majority of us could barely communicate in the same language to one another, we were still able to find other ways to communicate and have conversations, learn from each other, and become friends.
On the last day before we left to return to Arusha, the Hadza men took us to a nearby baobab tree to climb. These massive trees store water in their fat trunks, making the surface of the tree soft enough to pound in sharpened wooden stakes for climbing. Some Hadzabe gathered branches and sharpened them to a point with their axes and then nailed them into the tree with surprising ease. One by one, half of the students climbed the tree to the top, which was spacious enough for eight students and three Hadzabe. I climbed even further to the top and looked out over the Yaeda Valley. This tree provides so much for the Hadza lifestyle: it houses beehives, produces edible fruits, contains huge stores of water (even during the worst of droughts), and provides shelter for other animals, which can be hunted for food. No wonder they call it the “tree of life.” Baobobs are amazing!
On our last night of the trip, we returned to Dorobo headquarters, where we reunited with Sinnary. After some much needed showers, we sat down for dinner and it was then that Wei informed us that it was the Chinese New Year! After telling us all about her family’s New Year’s traditions, we all decided to celebrate Chinese New Year by doing a talent show. Imitations, singing, gymnastics moves, rapping “Grillz” by Nelly (we see you, Kiki and E.Adams), and teaching the stories of the constellations were just a few of the talents shared. It was the perfect end to an incredible week filled with sweat, laughter, and new memories… not to mention Wei said it was her favorite New Years ever, so I’d say that’s a win in our book.
During the week, we talked with Mamma Maggie and learned more about her passion for helping others through a foundation she created, Dare Women’s Foundation. The foundation focuses on providing opportunities for women to utilize global networking by “empowerment through building careers, conservation, and relationships in and out of Tanzania” (DWF). Two examples of DWF projects are: the Women’s Menstruation Project–helping provide education and supplies for girls in Tanzania in order to help support them staying in school–and Small and Medium Enterprises which provides training workshops on starting up and running successful local businesses. For more information please feel free to access the website at: http://www.darewomensfoundation.org/
Dorobo Safaris: http://www.dorobosafaris.com
Photo Credits: Megan Kloeckner, Jenny VanOoyen, Lindy Pynchon, Darcy Best, Simon Day-Roberts, Ashley McDuffee