Tanzania Blog Post: A week with the Hadzabe, Hunters and Gatherers
By: Christine Corcoran, Stod Rowley, Matt Boscow
The Hadzabe are one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer communities in the world. They hunt and gather based on their hunger, so whenever their stomach starts rumbling, the men will go hunt and the women will gather various roots and fruits from the surrounding bush. The Hadzabe do not have much in possessions besides the clothes on their body, their shoes, the bow and arrows each man carries, and the occasional cell phone.
Their minimalist lifestyle stands as one of the pillars that keep the Hadzabe community intact and focused on a similar goal. Their pillars consist of their egalitarian system, sharing of all things not personally owned, minimalist lifestyle, living one day at a time and love for one another within the community. These are just a few that our group saw as vital to why the Hadzabe people stick to their community.
The children are required to attend school through primary education, which is similar to completing school through 8th grade in the States. While in school, children are exposed to other cultures and are taught various lessons that are seen as important and necessary for a young girl or boy to be successful. Through all of the exposure they endure away from their culture, they always want to return home. These pillars provide roots of which no education can cut. Although there have been a few Hadzabe students that continued on into higher education, they have always come back home to their people in the bush.
We were able to have the amazing experiences with the Hadzabe in Tanzania due to Dorobo safaris. Dorobo was founded in the 1980s by three brothers based in Arusha, Tanzania. Dorobo works directly with the Hadzabe and other cultural groups, educating them on their rights as landowners and preventing a situation in which the Tanzanian government or other organizations attempt to take land away. One of the organizations created by Dorobo to help the Hadzabe is the Ujamaa Community Resource Trust (UCRT). The UCRT helped the Hadzabe claim rights to their land to ensure they would become legal owners of their land. This was imperative as the Hadzabe have already lost 90% of their original land from the encroachment of an ever growing population outside of their community.
A good portion of the money spent to go on a Dorobo safari with the Hadzabe goes directly to their community, helping fund education, healthcare and women empowerment. Dorobo also does various things to prevent disturbing with their everyday life such as setting up camp far enough away from their camp, as well as providing nails as gifts to make arrow heads.
Tanzania Component Overview
Saturday we arrived at the Dorobo camp in Arusha in the early afternoon after a long eight-hour bus ride with Njau the magical bus driver. When we arrived at camp we ate lunch and met our guides for the week, Mama Maggie, Allen and Daudie. Soon after we departed for our first overnight camp on the western rim of the Great Rift Valley. When we got to camp we dragged our packs to our respective tents and then headed over to the campfire for our first hot meal of the trip. Post dinner we were given our itinerary for the next day before retreating to our steamy tents to rest up for the day ahead.
We woke up Sunday morning to eggs and bacon being cooked by everyone’s favorite bush cook, James. Post breakfast everyone helped each other apply sunscreen to any skin showing before we embarked on a three km hike up the western escarpments of the Great Rift Valley. From the summit we could see for kilometers in every direction, from saline lakes to the rift valley itself. We then proceeded to walk down to the safari all terrain vehicles where we finally departed for camp in the Hadza land. When we arrived at our second camp we were met by approximately a dozen Hadza men and women who were eager to greet us. Once everyone was introduced to each Hadza at the camp we indulged in another hot meal accompanied by a roasted goat leg for Lydia’s twenty first birthday, candles and all! After the tasty goat we slept on a large rock overlooking the Hadza land.
Monday morning was finally the day where we got to see the Hadza camp that was situated about a kilometer away from our own. When we arrived at the Hadza camp we were shown their grass-roofed homes where they cook and sleep. We then proceeded to go gather with the women of tinhe community. They went around looking for vines, which are attached to roots in the ground that are rich in carbohydrates. While we were eating these roots, which were plentiful, Moshi, one of the Hadza men came over with a severed monkey head that was swiftly thrown directly into the fire after a few photos were captured. Monkey brains are an acquired taste but I can speak for everyone in saying that they do not regret their decision of indulging themselves in a Hadza favorite. We headed back to camp soon after the monkey head was consumed to rest up for our 20km great migration across the Hadza land to our next camp on the distant ridge. That evening we were taught by the Hadza men to make arrows out of sticks native to the area. The process was actually fairly basic but fine-tuning the arrow to be completely straight and sharp takes a trained hand. After we all completed an arrow we went to practice shooting arrows at a cardboard box. It proved to be less difficult than many expected, regardless no one hit the box.
(Day 2: Visiting the community)
Tuesday morning, large quantities of food were consumed knowing that the great migration would be quite tiresome. The sixteen of us, as well as two Hadza and one of our guides, Mama Maggie set out on our journey around 7:30 A.M. The two Hadza men were constantly hunting throughout our trek across the valley. Although we sounded like a herd of elephants walking through the bush we still managed to catch a glimpse of a few dik diks and a herd of gazelles. The highlight of the great migration was easily when two bush babies were spotted in an acacia tree and taken by bow and arrow as a mid trek snack. When we finally made it to our third and final campsite on the adjacent ridge, water and a few soda pops were shared amongst the herd of us students. After rehydrating on a massive rock of metamorphic origin overlooking the valley that we had just migrated across, we were summoned to follow a few Hadza men to climb a nearby baobab tree. New climbing pegs were put in by Moshi for us to safely ascend into the canopy as the sun slowly dipped below the rocky knolls in the distance. Yet again most of the group slept under the stars on the large rock where the steady breeze wooed us to sleep.
We woke up before the sun rose on Wednesday morning to join the Hadza men on a hunt through the bush they know so well. Our large group split up into groups of three, each with a Hadza as a guide to follow into the bush. Each group set off around 6:30 A.M. in different directions with instructions to be back around noon. We spent hours trudging through the Hadza land looking for basically any moving target, again we saw a few dik dik but were unable to get a clear shot. After about four hours in the bush our Hadza guides had managed to kill a few small rabbit like rodents for our lunch that afternoon. Much rest was had when everyone had returned from his or her respective hunting trips in preparation for the final night with the Hadza. That night we sang and danced with the Hadza. I have never seen such athletic dance moves on any dance floor I have ever stepped foot on. The Hadza men and woman were so welcoming to us by pulling us into their dance circles and what seemed like a dance battle. It was truly a special night that I am sure none of us will ever forget.
(Learning about hunting)
Thursday had come too quickly but it was time to leave the Hadza and head back to the Dorobo camp in Arusha. The trip with the Hadza had gone by to quick but a lot was learned and both parties made lasting memories.
The whole time in Tanzania we learned so much, from every interaction, every activity, and just learning how to be a passive listener. It is hard to pick out the specific different academic activities, for it feels like the whole week was an academic, personal, and somewhat spiritual journey.
However, for time sake, I am going to stick to the specifically academic activities, that were structured to debrief some of the non academic activates. Every night we would have a debrief around the campfire after a scrumptious dinner, led by our very outgoing, spunky, strong and fun guide “Mama” Maggie. These discussions would be based not only off of our experiences of that day, but also off some journals that we read before each discussion. These discussions would range from topics about the Dorobos history of involvement with local tribes, with Hadzabe and their land loss struggles, their education struggles, their conflict of interests with the government, other tribes, tourisms and NGOs. It was a very educational experience, and it gave us all quite a lot to think about, and altered lots of pre-existing beliefs and stereotypes.
All of these four discussions led up to the last final discussion on the last night with the Hadzabe. We had organized into our groups for a presentation on the Hadzabe that would occur the next day back at Dorobo’s headquarters. The groups were divided into four main topics: Land loss in the Hadzabe community, formal education, Tourism, and the future of the Hadzabe. This was a very exciting and once in a lifetime opportunity. It was a very mind-opening experience to have a discussion with a group of people whose life, values and interests are seemingly so different than ours yet at the base of it all, we are all human and we all share similar needs. What was also extremely interesting was how positive they were throughout the discussion, we as students kept asking questions that were seemingly negative about the future to come, yet the Hadzabe responses were mostly positive to all the questions.
Then they had time to ask us questions. It is two cultures trying to understand one another, and it was a very interesting and fun interaction. The questions they asked us were more directed towards the women, asking the women what they looked for in men, what the marriage traditions were like, etc. They were able to lighten up the mood quite a bit, by the end of the discussion we were all laughing merrily together.
The next day, after we left the Yedaa valley, our last day in Tanzania, we held our final group presentations to wrap up a marvelous, experiential past week. We had great discussions about land loss, education, tourism, and what the future holds for the Hadzabe. It was a long, but thoughtful discussion, and an excellent way to process together everything that we absorbed over the past week.
Personal reflection / Conclusion
Spending a week with the Hadzabe was such an incredible experience. Their views on life and community will stick with us for the rest of our lives. No day goes by being taken for granted by the Hadzabe. They take life one day at a time, knowing that whatever comes tomorrow will come, and they will deal with it when necessary. The Hadzabe are some of the nicest people we have ever met. They welcomed us into their communities and treated us as they treat one another, with love, respect and care.