As we travelled from Arusha, Tanzania to where we would live for the next week, the Great Rift Valley came into view on the horizon. We would be camping on the edge of the Gregory Escarpment of the Great Rift Valley until the next morning before we ascended the Gregory escarpment, viewed the beauty of Lake Manyara, and drove to the Yaeda Valley where we would meet the Hadzabe in the shadow of the Serengeti Plateau. The Hadzabe are one of the few groups remaining in the world that still actively practice hunting and gathering as a lifestyle. They are also an egalitarian society, meaning that everyone is treated as equal and there is no hierarchy like there is in most of the westernized world. As a community they have been marginalized and had their land taken away from them at a rapid rate. Due to their hunter gatherer lifestyle they require a lot of land. They are a mobile people, who live in temporary huts until the area around them is depleted of its natural resources; they then simply move to the next location and continue this pattern. It’s important to note now that people have a very inaccurate stereotypical view of the hunter gatherer. It’s seen as being a daily struggle and is often put hand and hand with starvation. THIS IS NOT TRUE AT ALL. In fact, the Hadzabe are the only group in Tanzania to have never faced famine in all of their existence. There is plenty of resources for them to live on, and most of them work for only 2-3 hours a day! This sounds like a pretty relaxed lifestyle compared to our average 40 hour weeks and surprises many people.
Our entire trip was coordinated by the Dorobo safari company. First off, Dorobo is amazing! They set up camps, provide us will meals, and somehow became like family in the one week we spent with them. The Dorobo company was founded in the 80’s and focuses on providing a true cultural experience instead of your average tourist safari. They have also become close allies and friends of the Hadzabe people. In order to stop the Hadzabe from losing their cherished land, the owners of Dorobo created the Ujamaa Community Resource Trust (UCRT). The UCRT allowed the Hadzabe as a community to apply for a title deed and gain rights over their land. This was the first time a community had ever done this, but it went through and now the Hadzabe have the legal rights to the land that they deserve! Of course, this does not mean that the Hadzabe never have people trying to take their land. Luckily the local communities for the most part respect the agreement. However, when this isn’t the case the Hadzabe have game scouts that report trespassers to the village government who then comes and removes said trespassers. So far the Hadzabe seem to see it as a very effective system. The Hadzabe are extremely kind people though and hate to say no or turn people away. So, they struggle with turning people away and especially during times of droughts (which they are in right now) they allow pastoralists to graze their cattle on parts of their land. If you want to learn more about the Dorobo company of the UCRT you can check out their websites: http://www.dorobosafaris.com/ and http://www.dorobofund.org/ucrt . Now that you know some about the people we were staying with and the company we travelled with we can finally talk about all the amazing activities and adventures we embarked on in our short week.
Throughout the course of our week long excursion, we had ample time to indulge in many academic and personal activities. As soon as we arrived at our camp near the base of the Gregory Escarpment, we immediately scurried up the waterfall and rocks in the waterfall for a bit of fun and activity after a long day of travelling. The next day, we trekked up the Gregory Escarpment, which we were told was an “easy hike,” but it actually was a rather challenging hike that ended with a mild case of hiking-induced vomiting. We trekked across the Yaeda valley onto a ridge overlooking the Serengeti plateau, visited Hadzabe homes, had discussions with the Hadzabe about issues that they believe and we believe are pertinent to them, and worked and talked to different groups within the Hadzabe community (women, men, and children). We also were kindly and graciously instructed in the art of arrow making, hunting, and archery, climbed many baobab trees, and slept under the stars and moon during the night. Finally, the Hadzabe and our group joined together for a farewell shindig, where we danced and were merry around our campfire. I want to stress that all the activities we did were not solely done or performed due to our presence. These activities are integral parts of the Hadzabe’s lives and we did not engage in the cultural tourism that is common in many parts of the country.
During our time with the Hadzabe, we were really able to get a clearer picture of what it was like to live a very different lifestyle from our own. The experience of living in a consumer culture and then experiencing a hunter gatherer lifestyle is something that cannot be put into words and profoundly altered how we think and perceive our culture and lifestyle. The Hadzabe truly welcomed us with open arms into their community and they taught us a great lesson in what community is. Whatever one hunts or gathers, it is shared with the community and everyone indulges in the spoils of the day. Furthermore, the Hadzabe accept anyone into their community during times of drought and famine and share with them what the hunt or gather as well. We are eternally grateful for their kindness, hospitality, wisdom, and patience (especially when it came to our profound lack of hunting and gathering abilities) and would like to extend a sincere thanks to the Hadzabe. They profoundly touched our lives and we hope that what they taught us can be shared with other people in our lives. Their way of life is beautiful and we hope that they are able to continue living this way or at least be able to make the decision to change themselves.
Overall, we can all agree that our time with the Hadzabe in Tanzania was a life changing and eye opening experience. Over the course of the week we hiked, climbed trees, hunted animals, gathered honey and tubers, learned how to make a fire, made arrows and learned some traditional Hadzabe songs and dances in an attempt to fully immerse ourselves in the Hadza culture. In addition we were given the opportunity to have many intimate conversations with members of the Hadza, which allowed us to ask questions and in return share our own culture with them. Through these experiences we were able to be apart of a really unbelievable cultural exchange.
Over the course of the week we learned a lot about Hadza culture, history and current problems they are facing. Dorobo asked us to keep the question in mind “why have the Hadza never experienced famine while other tribes around them have?” At the end of the week, with the help of the Hadza we were able to attribute their lack of famine to mutual agreements to share, their egalitarian societal structure, diversity in food, taking good care of their land and their nomadic lifestyle.
Also, we were able to learn a lot about current ideas about education among the Hadza. Some of them mentioned their fear that education would inevitably lead to loss of culture and assimilation. In addition, they cited that in some circumstances education can create hierarchy, which would undermine some of the most important aspects of Hadza culture. Others however argued that education is necessary for this generation in particular to be able to defend the community legally. There was definitely a debate among the Hadza about how to balance maintaining their culture but also keeping up with the world around them. One possible solution that we thought of was to hire Hadza teachers to teach Hadza children.
Another topic we covered was the problem with uncontrolled and hunting tourism. The reason why Dorobo is a culturally sensitive and sustainable organization is because there is little to no impact on the Hadza during our visits. Instead of having them put on a show for us, we basically just shadowed them throughout their everyday lives. Other cultural safari organizations display unauthentic tribes or leave too much of an impact on the tribes upon visiting which erodes their culture.
Having the opportunity to live with the Hadzabe community for a week was a truly unforgettable experience. The Hadza were so kind and welcoming and Dorobo did an incredible job facilitating our interactions with them. The Hadza culture and what we experienced can essentially be summed up in one sentence that one of the Hadza women related to us on our very first day living with the tribe: “It’s all about love here.”