“You are bad at climbing trees,” was said on a laugh to the Fall 2016 KSP by the program driver Njau as he left us in Tanzania. We laughed and went along with his joke, but the reality set in while we climbed a massive Baobab Tree in Tanzania.
Our week in Tanzania was spent camping, hiking, hunting and spending quality time with the Hadzabe doing various activities. We use Dorobo Safaris, which is an ecotourism company that works alongside the Hadzabe to provide both genuine and education experiences to visiting groups, as well as support the Hadza’s movement to resolve land ownership issues through a variety of tactics. Dorobo practices a style of tourism that is structured but unplanned, allowing our group to engage in the Hadza’s lifestyle and culture, not just looking at it from the outside. There were also multiple chances to have different conversations about various topics with members of the Hadza, such as: education, culture, and the role tourism plays in their everyday lives.
Living in the Yaeda Valley region, the Hadza is one of the last hunter-gatherer groups in the world. Despite many preconceived notions, the Hadzabe are not cavemen left in the dark, but people who consciously choose to keep to their traditional way of life. Even after being exposed to other lifestyles through tourism and educations, they prefer their self-sufficient and egalitarian culture. The Hadza are linked to some of the oldest human remains in the world, but today there are only about 1,300 members who are left. While many of the younger generations speak Swahili, the Hadza have their own oral language which contains three different types of clicks, and has recently become a written language.
We quickly learned the difference between a hike and a walk, as well as the difference between close and far. On the first day we started off the morning with an early rise and a “simple” hike up the Rift Valley Wall. It took us two hours of about a 90-degree angle to complete, before continuing our journey to our first campsite in the Yaeda Valley.
After a long day of hiking and driving on a bumpy road to get to our campsite, we were all excited to pick up three hitch-hikers, Hadza who were heading to a neighboring camp. They joined other individuals that would be part of the group that would spend the week with us. With a long day in the car behind us, we had dinner with our guides during which we discussed the different things we all had noticed on the way to the campsite. Crossing the green ridges of the rift valley and the dry semi-arid plains in between, we all saw a variety of vegetation and wildlife. There were flocks of pelicans spiraling in the air, small antelopes called dik-diks, and countless baobab trees spotted along the way to our destination.
The next morning, we went to visit one Hadzabe village which was about a forty-five-minute walk away from our campsite. This walk easily fit into our description of an easy walk, though not quick one. Once arriving at the camp, we met the members living there and had the chance to look around their village. We were excited to touch the lung of a zebra that had been recently shot and sit inside the home of a man who was sporting a really cool baboon-skin hat. These structures are made of wood and covered with leaves and grass, and are primarily used during the cold and rainy months. During the warm months they sleep outside under the stars, which our group chose to try out on the big rocks at our campsite that same night.
Soon after we headed out with the women to start gathering food, specifically //ekaw tubers a great source of fiber and protein (// is a way to write a click in the Hadzabe language). To collect the tubers, we used sticks to dig the dirt out from around the tubers, and finally will a lot of effort and time, pulled them out of the ground. When eating them you simply peel off the bark and cut into pieces or roast them to get a sweeter taste. Similar to sugar cane, you don’t swallow the tubers, you just chew on it until there is no juice left and spit it out. The Hadza survive entirely on gathering food from the land such as berries, tubers, and fruit from the baobab tree. Their favorite thing to eat is meat, specifically Baboon meat, therefore they often consider themselves hunters, despite their dependence on gathered food as a source of nutrition.
When we finished gathering tubers, during the hottest part of the day, we walked back to our camp and took a small siesta. Siestas are a common practice during the hot afternoons to rest and then go back out when it cools back down. We did our best to relax out of the intense sun in Tanzania with minimal shade options.
After our siestas we spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening making arrows by hand, the same way the Hadza would make them for hunting. The wood used to make the arrows is often from the same tree where the //ekwa tubers are found. First, sticks are roasted in order to peel and remove the bark. Then the arrows are whittled at one end into a point of some sort. There are different types of arrows and what they are used for based on the shape of the arrowhead and material. A simple pointed arrowhead is common and used for many different animals. An arrow that doesn’t have a point or has some sort blunt object on the end (like a corn cob) is used to stun small animals because an arrow would completely ruin the kill, preventing the hunter from getting any meat. One of the other types of arrows utilizes a flattened nail to make a pointed metal spear and can have a poisonous paste substance along the shaft of the arrow, which is used primarily to kill larger animals. Feathers are attached to the arrow using animal tendons, and a designed is carved along the shaft to make it individualized and easy to distinguish from another hunter’s. Even with the one-on-one help of the Hadza hunters our arrows took us over an hour to complete — they can make a more sophisticated arrow in 20 minutes or less.
The next day was the day we moved from our first campsite to another by hiking 7 miles through and a good 5-hour hike. Two Hadzabe men led us through the wilderness periodically trying to hunt. They showed us where to find and collect honey as well as how to distinguish the different hives of stingless and stinging bees. When collecting honey from stingless bees they look for a little cone like tube sticking out of the tree, hack at the tree with an axe to get to hive, and extract the honey by hand. Stinger bees are a little more difficult because they must be smoked out in order to gather the honey. The smoke masks the pheromone a bee emits after stinging! We arrived at our second campsite in the late afternoon, took a siesta until the weather cooled down, and finally got a chance to shoot arrows. Everyone got the chance to shoot at a target with the same bows and arrows the Hadza use when they are hunting. Although we were not very good, we had a great time practicing and definitely saw improvement in our skills throughout.
Our next morning had an early start as we broke off into hunting groups of two, with one SLU KSP student and one Hadza. There was no standard or expectation of having to catch anything but experiencing Hadza hunting techniques was a glimpse into the reality of what can happen on a hunt – sometimes there is a catch and sometimes there isn’t, it all has to do with luck. While our hunt lengths ranged from two hours to seven hours, some people brought back meat and others returned empty handed. The end of the day our tally was: 2 guinea fowl, a bush baby, “vermin,” and a dik-dik (a full size dik-dik is essentially the size of a baby deer). The group collectively saw even more wildlife including hylax (a large guinea pig-like animal), antelope, squirrels, and a variety of birds!
Later that afternoon we had the chance to climb one of the massive Baobab Trees, we couldn’t wait any longer since we had been anticipating this since we first saw one. Two Hadza men easily and quickly scaled the tree, putting in fresh pegs for us to use to climb. As we climbed Njau’s words came back to us, and boy were they true! Even some of the of Hadza men laughed at us and our poor climbing.
After our time climbing we went up onto the rocks near the campsite and had a long talk with the Hadzabe. Our guides translated our questions concerning land, tourism, and education we well as the Hadza’s responses. While the Hadzabe have no use for a formal education in their opinion, Tanzanian law requires all children to be enrolled in primary school. During our visits to the villages we noticed that there were no children over the age of five because they were all at boarding school. Many members of the Hadza don’t continue on through school and chose to return to their traditional lifestyle, however some members seek higher education so that they can become better spokespeople of their community for land rights.
Unlike some other tourism companies Dorobo has set up a partnership with the Hadzabe, and they do their best to create an educational and authentic experience. The Hadzabe are paid a portion of money per person that is divided up into various accounts such as: education, medical, and an emergency fund for food and other essentials that may be needed during a food shortage. Another important aspect of this type of cultural tourism is Dorobo has made it clear that the Hadza will never be asked to do something special for entertainment. Dorobo practices a tourism that is structured but unplanned, allowing for a more authentic experience, rather than what the tourist may want to see. For example, if we go out on a hunt there is no expectation for them to catch anything.
After dinner on our last night the Hazabe started playing a guitar like instrument and we got to learn some of their dances and songs. We returned the thought with singing the “Cotton-Eyed Joe” complete with un-synced line dancing and later an impromptu “Don’t Stop Believing.” Our week spent with the Hadza has not only give us insight into what a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is like, but has changed our perspectives of what issues and pressures this unique ethnic group is currently tackling as the world continues to change.