12Febrary 2019

Hadzabe

– project journal –

 

After rising at the crack of dawn, the half of the team travelling from Amsterdam assembled at Schipol, still sleepy but full of anticipation. Once through check-in it soon livened up over coffee and the conversation inevitably swung towards everything photography and what we hoped to capture in Tanzania.

 

After a comfortable 9 hour flight to Kilimanjaro, waiting in line for an hour to clear customs and then jumping in the car for an another hour, we finally arrived in Arusha. This was the last stepping stone before our final leg into the bush to Lake Eyasi.

 

13February 2019

Completing the Team

 

At breakfast the next day we finally got to meet Mike (who’s journey from Denver had been a lot longer than everyone else’s) as well as James, one of our fixers. The promised 3 hour journey turned into a 6 hour bone rattling ride through the beautiful Tanzanian interior. In the late afternoon we arrived on the edge of the lake at the tented camp where we would be staying for the duration of the trip. After months of planning we were finally there, off the grid and within touching distance of the Hadzabe. The excitement was palpable.

 

Clicking

 

The final member of the team joined us in the evening, Yusuph, our translator. Yusuph is Datoga, another tribe that live around the lake and the only ones that the Habzade have a relationship with. As a result he knows the Hadzabe well and can converse in their language of clicks. As our meeting goes on beyond sunset, Yusuph tries to teach us a few words and clicks. We all begin to realise how daunting it will be to try and communicate via language with the tribe.

14February 2019

The Wilderness

 

Tanzania sits just below the equator so daylight hours fluctuate little year round. Combine that with a sparsity of electricity in rural areas means that life there revolves around the rising and falling of the sun. Getting up at the crack of dawn is something we have to get used to. Still yawning, we drove along the floor of the Great Rift Valley watching the sun rise and people busy with their morning rituals.

 

An hour later, driving through thick bush, 3 boys appeared out of the blue. We found them or maybe more accurately they found us. They hopped on the back of the jeep and guided us to the village. Excitedly they jumped off and encouraged us to follow them. We look around and all we saw were rocks, trees and bushes. But we could not have been more wrong. Nestled amongst the trees and bushes are several huts made of branches and grass. They blend into the surroundings perfectly appearing to be just another bush.

 

Introductions

 

We were all a bit nervous about the first meeting, unsure of how they would react to our arrival? Slowly we followed the boys to a large tree and all of a sudden a large group of women and children appeared from it’s shadow to greet us, smiling and clicking. Their language involves clicking at the same time as speaking which is a difficult art to master so we soon fall back on communicating with hand signals and drawing in a book. We hide from the rising sun under the branches of the tree and joined their circle seated on the ground. As we began to introduce ourselves they told us their names in return, most are as long as Thai food is spicy.

After the exchange of names and some furtive glances to evaluate each other, the group relaxed and we felt comfortable enough to begin asking questions through Yusuph. We had done a lot of research so we had a basic understanding but delved deeper into their nomadic lifestyles and the survival skills upon which they rely to find food, water and shelter. In the frenzy that followed, the older children ended up taking us up to an outcrop of rocks where they shelter during the rainy season. On the way the girls showed us what berries were edible; red are a definite no no, orange you can eat but make your tongue numb and white are also ok but you have to remember to spit out the skin.

 

The boys also wanting to interact, began to show us their skill with a bow but with no game to shoot we challenged them to hit a notebook the size of a hand. They promptly obliterated it from 15m away. It quickly became clear that they learned these skills from an early age with some of the youngest boys also joining in. The girls meanwhile watched and laughed each time an arrow failed to hit its mark. Your ability to hunt dictates where you fall within their society with the chief being the best hunter.

 

Along the way we seemed to pick up a couple of extra cameramen. First James was given a camera to replace the phone he was busy snapping away on and then Angatley, one of the youngest boys in the tribe. We gave him a GoPro to film amongst the crags and he turned out to be a real Steven Spielberg. Within half an hour of getting his hands on the camera he was directing everyone to where they needed to stand and what they had to do.

 

The Datoga

 

In the afternoon, Yusuph took us to the Datoga, a tribe of blacksmiths that make arrowheads for the Hadzabe. They recycle all sorts of metal and on this occasion old rusty nails were used, the advantage of which is that they do not need to be heated in the forge. It was always the intention to see if we could purchase some arrowheads as a gift for the men and after 30 minutes of negotiating, we agreed on a price for 20 (and narrowly avoided a couple of marriage proposals).

15February 2019

Stuck in Hyena-land

 

It was 4.30am when the alarm sounded, time to join the men on their hunt. It was the first time we had met the men because the day before they’d been hunting far away but we arrived in the throngs of preparation, arrows being straightened and feathers applied, so any anxiety dissipated immediately.

 

There was no path through the bush. The men led at a ferocious pace, showing us how to jump from rock to rock and crawl through thickets of thorns. Almost all the vegetation seemed to be armed with rows of sharp spikes ready to impale us and seemingly impossible to avoid. As the men strode ahead at breakneck speed like it was any other weekday morning, we soon fell behind. After an hour or so we managed a couple of minutes rest and looked at each other and just laughed. Here we were stuck in Hyenaland, panting and sweating with nothing more than our cameras for protection.

 

The Kill

 

When we finally caught up with the hunters, the feeling of satisfaction evaporated quickly when noticed that they were just waiting for us. However, what we didn’t realise until we got closer was that they had their first catch of the day, a Pygmy Owl. Shot through its right wing, it stared at us helplessly. The hunters did not let the bird suffer for long though. Andake placed the head in between his teeth and with a swift bite and twist of the hand, broke its neck. After 5 hours of hunting, the fruits of the hunt were a bit of honey, an owl and a bush baby which doesn’t sound much but quite often it can be nothing at all. We on the other hand hand several hundred photographs, sweaty faces and bodies covered in bumps and scratches.

 

Back in the Village

 

We arrived back in the village and started where we had left off the day before. We were starting to feel comfortable around the tribe and the feeling seemed to be mutual. The kids climbed all over us, desperate to see the photographs we were taking and play with our foreign clothes and hair.

 

Nikon had sponsored us with two really cool cameras so that we could let the tribe use themselves to document their own lives. The kids were over the moon. Having been the subject of many photographs up until this point they were now capable of making and reviewing their own. Each one taking turns to use the camera and point it at what they found most interesting.

 

The biggest hit of the day however was something Kieke brought, The Yellow Balloon book. Each page is covered in illustrations of the world and hidden somewhere amongst it all is a yellow balloon to find. Everyone seemed to understand the game and enjoyed the challenge, even the adults joined forces to help. One of the girls, Susa, seemed particularly happy with this gift and gave Kieke a big hug to say thank you. She stole all of our hearts.

 

A New Home

 

Having spent the morning with the men showing us some of their prodigious bush skills, the women seemed equally interested in educating us in what they do, asking for our help in building a new hut. Within less than half an hour there was a frame constructed from branches that was as solid as a rock. The last touch was weaving long grass through the branches to complete the exterior shell. As a short people, having Estrella there proved very useful. She reached to the top to weave the last few blades of grass for the top of the roof. When done, the new homeowner proudly posed in front with her husband the chief and their 2 children for a photograph.

16February 2019

Their First Photograph

 

Pulling up at the village felt a bit different in the morning since we were one team member short. Ed had woken with a fever and stayed at camp to rest. Nevertheless we carried on seeking more contact with the tribe. The night before we had printed some photographs that we had made in the first two days and now handed them out. They had never seen themselves in print before and were extremely proud of their photographs.

 

Gathering

 

The morning activity focussed around the ladies gathering berries and tubers (the edible part of a roots). They gathered bucketfuls of orange and white berries, which they found easily. Like little monkeys, the women jumped gracefully from branch to branch, climbing to the top and helping bend the branches over so that the others could also reach them.

 

Digging out tubers took a bit more effort, but this meant there was also time for stories and gossip. For a moment it resembled a very familiar scene you could witness anywhere in the world and the irony made us laugh. After 2 hours we returned and found that apparently we were not finished for the day. Next on the schedule was collecting water, which meant walking 1.5 hours to the closest water source. In the rainy season it is a river but right then it was dry. The women walked along the riverbed, picked a seemingly inconspicuous spot and sat down to start digging. Almost 1,5 meters down they hit what they were looking for, groundwater.

 

Once everyone had washed and enough water for the village was collected, we started our walk back, their heads balancing full buckets as though it was nothing. And all this time, babies were strapped to the backs of the women, not hindering them in the slightest. Estrella wanted to see if it was as easy as they made it look so she hoisted a bucket upon her own head for the return journey. The answer is that it was not easy, not at all.

Building a bow

 

In the afternoon we went with the men to gather wood and branches to make new arrows for the arrowheads we had given them. As a group they have very few possessions, just one axe and two knives but what they had they shared freely. One of the most beautiful lessons the Hadzabe taught us during our time with them is their ability and willingness to share everything. Whether you’re a man, woman, child or even with a complete stranger, everyone is equal.

 

It was during the time we watched them crafting branches into arrow shafts that we were able to witness another part of their education system. Boys as young as 3 or 4 were given the knives to sharpen their own branches into  arrows. After they were finished they tested their handy work and their accuracy was mind blowing. It’s hard to imagine seeing children at the same age in our own culture being able or even allowed to do what we observed but this is the bush and you’re never too young to learn the lessons of survival.

 

By the time the sun set on the day, they had given us a lot of new experiences, deepening our understanding of their way of life. And then, just a few kilometers outside of their village, a hyena stroad casually across the road, lit up by the headlights of our jeep. We were silent, realising that despite the fun and games we had during the day, they really do live in the wild and it can be a dangerous place. This was their reality every day.

17February 2019

Under the Acacia

 

It was our last day and we still had so many questions. We decided to start by interviewing some of the members of the tribe underneath a big Acacia tree they use as a living space. The chief was first.

 

Shakwa looks like he is in his late 20s but his body language and his eyes tell a much older story. He sat down, his head adorned with a beaded headdress and his torso covered by an impala skin and he began to tell us the story of his tribe. He looked away for a moment and then continued talking about the daily demands of life in the bush and how proud he is of who they are. When asked about people from the village, he describes them as lost. He feels as though they given up on their culture, on their heritage.

 

Following the chief we interviewed Shumuyaa, N’Oye (N [click] Oye) and Haydi-e’ (Shakwa’s mother). They all glow with pride and excitement about their tribe, it’s culture and their lives. Asking if they had any dreams for the future, every single one of them started smiling and gave the same answer, ‘We live in the present and only worry about today and maybe tomorrow.’

 

A Little Rain

 

The afternoon offered our last chance to capture the uniqueness of their culture. We started by shooting a video where each individual member spoke into the camera, recording the beautiful distinctness of their names. After that everyone was eager to pose for our last photographs.

 

The one thing we had not had a chance to capture up until then was a group portrait. We had chosen to shoot atop the outcrop of rocks where we had climbed the first day. The contrast between the hunters in the foreground against the backdrop of Lake Eyasi and the Ngorongoro Crater in the background seemed like the only fitting way of portraying how beautifully harsh life is there.

 

Nevertheless it was quite a challenge. We had an hour of daylight left to juggle a team of 4 photographers, a group of men we wanted to position but who were standing on another rock entirely (as well as not speaking the same language) and doing battle with the natural elements. The first of these elements came when N’Oye had to kill a green mamba lying in the rocks next to him, something he proudly hung around his neck like a piece of jewelry, another reminder of the differences between our 2 walks of life.

 

The second was was the rain. With everyone balanced on the highest rock, busy trying to shoot one more group portrait, sheets of water started smashing against the rocks. Whilst the team became concerned about the equipment we had up there, it became apparent that the tribe were equally as worried about their poison arrows getting wet.

 

We followed the men, sliding back back down the now slippery rocks, until we reached a small cave they used for shelter during the rainy season. They were already under a shower of rainwater gushing from the rocks above. And then something incredible happened. First they started laughing, but this morphed into singing and dancing. We just stood there, silently witnessing something very special. Eventually our cameras fell by our sides, unable to watch through a lens any longer, entranced by the music.

 

Lullaby

 

After the rain subsided we climbed the rest of the way out of the outcrop. Back down with the rest of the tribe,the men made a fire so they could dry off. The women and the children joined and the tribe started to dance and sing together. Shakwa took the lead, like a conductor, directing them through each song and dance.

 

As night fell the song died away and it was replaced by stories around the fire. There were many stories. Some were about their ancestors, some were jokes but mostly they were about what had happened in the week.

 

Andak one of the eldest of the boys spoke of the time he and a friend went searching for honey only to be rewarded with a number of bee stung arms. It was fascinating to see that someone potentially seen as a junior in the group’s hierarchy was given the time and respect to recant his own story. But before he could finish Ed made his own story when he tried to feed the fire but ended up burning his hand instead. As he hopped around in pain everyone laughed, probably because this is a lesson every Hadza child must learn the hard way.

 

Just before it was time to leave, Shakwa, seen as the strongest in the group, began to sing a lullaby to the smallest children. And then it was time to head home, this time for the last time. We said our final goodbyes and it truly felt as though we have made friends for life.

18February 2019

Reflection

 

The alarm clock was given a break and we got a little lie in before starting the 6 hour journey back to Arusha. The atmosphere in the car was somewhat somber as we drove through along the dusty and bumpy road. Half way through the journey we could not help but reflect on the previous 4 days. The conversation inevitably turned to comparisons between the lives of the Hadzabe and our own, making us all feel rather emotional but maybe in slightly different ways. We were all ready for a few hours of relaxation when we got back to the accommodation in Arusha.
 
We split up for the first few hours which gave us the chance to call home and share of our experiences. It was the first time we had to tell the story and it turned out to be a challenge. Even writing this it is hard to find the words to paint a picture of the trip. And not only of our journey with the Hadzabe but also of our own personal journeys.

19February 2019

Arusha

 

Our last few hours in Tanzania are spent together pooling the last of our ideas of how best to tell the story of the Hadzabe. We share photographs and videos and enjoy the last few hours of warm sunlight before heading to the airport.

 

 

 

20February 2019

Back Home

The tazania team is working hard to process all the collected material from the Hadzabe.

 
More of the project is coming soon!