Over the course of our semester in Kenya we do various field components that give us a look into different cultures within eastern Africa. We spent this past week shadowing and learning from the Hadzabe people in the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania. The Hadzabe people are one of the last hunter-gatherer communities in the world. The Hadzabe live by a few set pillars that allow them to maintain their culture and lifestyle.
The first pillar of the Hadzabe community is a minimalist lifestyle. The Hadzabe do not have many personal possessions besides the clothes on their bodies, their shoes, the bow and arrows each man carries, knives and very rarely a cellphone. This allows them to move their communities at any point if there is a lack of water or food. The Hadzabe do not store food for future occasions and they do not grow any crops. When they get hungry the men will go out and hunt and the women will go out and collect various roots, fruits and vegetables from the surrounding bush.
The second pillar of the Hadzabe community is that they live by an egalitarian system. The third pillar of the Hadzabe community is that they always share within the community. Over our few days with the Hadzabe we learned that everything is shared amongst the community whether it be fruits and roots collected by the women or animals brought back by the men from the most recent hunt. This breeds a community that always supports one another.
One could argue that the Kenya Semester Program is defined by the various field components that make up the core course “Culture, Environment and Development in East Africa,” and this week in Tanzania was definitely a defining experience for all of the students. Before each field component us students wonder what we will be learning for each of these central themes. In this instance, we wondered how these themes intersect in Tanzania, specifically with the Hadzabe.
Come Saturday morning we woke up at 5:30, some grabbed breakfast, and the rest of us boarded the bus in a somewhat catatonic manner, ready for a bus ride of a few hours. Many of us fell asleep on the bus ride, maybe dreaming about the mountains of Kilimanjaro, the Great Rift Valley, Mango Juice Boxes or even a Lion candy bar. After passing through the border, we hopped back aboard our trusty bus and rumbled on towards “Arusha Town,” home of Dorobo Safaris. As we lumbered off the bus, a little stiff from the journey, we traded excited glances- our experience in Tanzania was about to begin!
We met our Tanazanian guides, Kisana and Mama Maggie, and readied ourselves for the Tanzanian adventures that would soon begin. During this week we would be traveling to the Yaeda Valley to see where the Hadzabe lived, hunted, gathered, sang and dance. Would we see first-hand a Hadza shoot a dik-dik? Would we be taught the words of a traditional Hadzabe song to be sung around the fire? Would we see how 1,000+ people survive off of land that seems as dry as a bone at first glance? We would soon find out.
Although to us, it did not seem like a typical week of school, we learned an immense amount through the experiences that we had with the Hadza, and more importantly our nightly discussions. These discussions were a good time to debrief on the activities that we had done the day before, and truly conceptualize all that we were learning.
Through previous readings, we had a basic knowledge of the Hadzabe tribe, and what they stood for. However, without actual exposure the reading would have been irrelevant. Many issues were expanded on by our local Tanzanian guide, Mama Maggie, who explained to us not only the history of the Hadza, but of Tanzania as a whole. This helped us understand where the Hadza fell in the long and complicated Tanzanian history, and why it was so unfair that their land was being taken from them.
This lead to the discussion of Dorobo Safaris, which as stated before, helps the Hadza with the Dorobo fund and exposing different cultures to one another. All of these discussion raised questions that we were then able to ask the Hadza, personally, which was a truly valuable learning experience. Not only where we learning about one of the last hunter and gatherer tribes, but we were able to live with them and experience life the way that they do.
The week of nightly discussion wrapped up with a larger group question and answer with the Hadzabe and St. Lawrence Students. We were able to ask final clarification questions that would help us in our group presentations, and they were able to ask us questions as well. It ended with a lot of laughter and a new understanding of each other’s cultures.
This made the final presentation a breeze, and as we sat in a circle at the Dorobo headquarters, the discussion was hard to stop. Throughout the week we had been able to learn so much through experience and discussion which was applied to the 4 group presentation topics of land loss, tourism, education, and the future of the Hadza. In such a short time, it is hard to connect deeply with others, but the Hadzabe made it particularly easy. They are a loving and generous people who accepted us into their community and allowed us to get a valuable and authentic education. Although we cannot possibly know every problem they are facing, we were able to formulate feasible solutions to share with them.
A Day in the Life of the Students:
Tuesday (The Journey Across the Rift)
Now we want to take you through a regular day that we had with the Hadza, step by step. Tuesday morning, we all woke up anxious and excited to walk across the Rift Valley. Where we were staying the night before was on the ridge just North of where we would be after our long journey. Many of the students were tired from the previous night of dancing, arrow making and even some improv, but we were excited to meet a new group of Hadza, although we knew we would miss the first group! Our day began with a great breakfast, cooked by the most incredible chef Peter. We then took down the tents, packed out lunches, loaded the car, and set off on what ended up being an 8 hour walk across the Rift Valley. I dont think a lot of people can say that they did that!
We started the hike at around 8:45 and were led by our fearless Dorobo Safari Guide, Mama Maggie, as well as two Hadza men by the names of Moshi and Gudo. We were told to be very quiet for the duration of the walk, because the whole time Moshi and Gudo where hunting. We did end up catching something, but it was nothing that any of us expected.
After taking multiple breaks to drink plenty of water and to despike our shoes, we just so happened to stumble upon a cute tortoise. To all of our surprise, the men picked up the little guy with a large grin on their face, and were preparing to cook it for lunch. As translated by Mama Maggie, Moshi was even chanting, “I love eggs, I love eggs, I am so excited to eat these eggs.” A few minutes after we picked up our new friend, we stopped under the shade of a Baobab tree where Moshi was also able to extract water from its trunk. Unclear as to how they were planning on eating it, before we knew it they had tossed our tortoise friend on the fire, alive.
As you can imagine the students were shocked. As Moshi and Gudo continued to pile on the branches on top of the turtle, we stood there aghast as the little guy started squirming in his shell. The rest… as you can imagine, was nothing less than brutal. Like one of the students said, “it was like watching a really really slow car accident!” When the shell was completely charred we didn’t know how they were planning on eating it, but they quickly showed us when they started bashing the shell on the ground, cracking it. Once it finally opened up the students all gasped when they saw what was inside. Some screamed, some even walked away, but all the while the Hadza were grinning from ear to ear and snickering. They must have been pretty excited for their lunch! When the process was over, some students ate the eggs, other the liver, and people even ate some intestine. To most of us, however, our smushed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches had never looked to good.
After the Hadza lunch break we continued on our way, passing through pastoralist lands and herds of cattle, which we knew from our reading were stolen from the Hadza. About 2 hours later we stopped for another long break, where Moshi climbed into the Acacia tree to retrieve 7 eggs from the nests, offering all of the students a sample. One of the most important thing we learned about the Hadza was the importance they put on sharing. There would be no food found that was not shared with everyone around.
The final stretch of the hike was about 2 hours, up the ridge adjacent to the one we had stayed the night before. Before we began our climb, we stopped at the Hadza camp where we were warmly greeting, and shared the remains of our tortoise friend. The views were incredible, and you could see across the entire Rift Valley. When we arrived at camp it was already starting to get dark. Some students climbed a top the large rock near our campsite and watched the most beautiful sunset, while others chatted around the fire. Dinner was a delicious serving of Mac and Cheese with a banana bread dessert and that certainly put us all to sleep. After all, we had a big day of hunting ahead of us!
Wednesday, Hunting in the Bush
The alarms from our small wrist watches beeped at a barely audible volume, but nevertheless, come 5:45 am we rolled over in our sleeping bags, yawned, and sat up-anxious for our day of hunting. The sun was not yet up, so with headlamps on our heads, and an extra flannel or fleece on for breakfast, we laced up our sneakers and headed out to the fire pit. As breakfast was laid out several students grabbed the chunky black kettle that sat nearly in the flames, put a strainer over their camping mugs, and poured out cups of rich black coffee. Breakfast was a spread of eggs, french toast sticks, mini sausages, fruit and granola- Peter, the chef, knew we needed sustenance for the day that was to come!
By 7 am we had settled into groups of three students each, and were paired with a Hadza man, or two, to be our hunting and walking guides in the bush. One group of three girls, Dana, Lindsay and Sarah (myself), were paired off with Bgayo and Bokin, and off we went into the bush at dusk. As we had learned the day before, this was not to be a chatty trip- at a moment’s notice our Hadza guides could see or hear an animal, and it was best to be silent for this to happen. In this specific hunting group, Bgayo took the lead while Bokin would venture out in front, returning to the group after a bit of time, searching the surrounding bush. Us three fell in line behind Bgayo, and tried to keep our eyes and ears sharp for surrounding life.
After about twenty minutes Bgayo motioned to a large boulder in front of us, and to our surprise, he spoke in English “We will head to the top of this rock to get a better view and see what is around us.” We were shocked! In our silent walking no one had realized how fluent in English our Hadza guide was. At the top of the rock Bgayo scanned the land, while we enjoyed the view- both appreciating what we saw. Bgayo and Bokin whistled to each other from separate rocks, until Bokin found his way to us, settled upon the rock, and sat to roll a cigarette for the two Hadza men.
For the next five hours this sequence repeated itself, we followed behind Bgayo, silently walking through the bush as Bokin would go off on his own to hunt, and then rejoin us. Many times Bgayo would stop in his tracks, draw out an arrow and shoot at whatever small animal he had keenly picked up on, although nothing was shot. “Hunting is a gamble” Bgayo said to us, not seeming upset that he had not caught something for the day. One of the pillars of the Hadzabe people is their sharing spirit, if you do not catch something one day it is okay because someone else will have. A highlight of our morning was when our two Hadza guides smoked some bees out of their hive and drew out honeycomb for us to try. This honey was the sweetest, best honey any of us had ever tried!
Our food was excellent all week, and dinner this day was no exception. All of us students found a spread that included a massive pot of bacon mac n cheese, coleslaw, and banana bread. Although we were all stuffed with mac n cheese, we found ourselves around the fire again that night for one last dance with the Hadzabe. Us students gave a bad rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the popular, “Stacy’s Mom.” The Hadzabe then shared with us the infamous “Frog Dance.” The Frog Dance starts out as the Hadza women sing a song with a relatively slow beat, all while two people crouch across from each other, each extending opposite legs to the beat. Once a rhythm is established, the song picks up, the beat becomes very fast, and the two dancers quickly stick out both legs, draw them back in, and pop up. The best visual I can paint for this would be a cross between the Rasputin dance, and a frog hopping up on its hind legs. The Frog Dance certainly tired everyone out, and we ended the night by falling asleep stargazing in our sleeping bags, atop what is certainly the best rock in Tanzania. Lala salama Yaeda Valley!