Hadzabe

Story

 

Location

Lying in the shadows of the Ngorongoro Crater, on the edge of the Rift Valley is Lake Eyasi, a seasonal shallow endorheic salt lake. It is a stop for migrating flamingos and occasionally attracts hippos from the Serengeti during particularly wet periods of the rainy season but most importantly home to the Hadzabe, a tribe of hunter-gatherers (the way humanity has existed for 90% of its time on earth). An estimated 1,200 remain and genetic research has found them living in this corner of the world for some 40,000 years, qualifying them as ‘original people’ and making their language one of the oldest still in existence.

 

 

Language

Hadzabe as a language resembles Khoisan (of the San people in Namibia, also hunter-gatherers) to a limited extent because of its use of clicks but stands alone from other languages in Tanzania. As a result it is only spoken by a small number of neighbours that the Hadzabe interact with and an even smaller number of anthropologists. They have no written record of their language so it takes years to learn but what is clear is that their vocabulary is based upon their natural environment, with an intricate vocabulary used to describe their world in a level of detail that does not exist in English. For example animals have different names according to their species, age, gender and condition.

 

 

Nomads

Life in the bush is dictated by the abundance of water and food. As a result the Hadzabe are nomadic, never staying in one place too long to damage the surrounding ecosystem beyond repair, moving on before resources become exhausted. When a camp moves (a decision made by the women of the group), the first priority is a water source because subsequently they can read the landscape like a book. What might appear to be a barren savannah to us is bountiful larder to a Hadza (singular of Hadzabe). After choosing a new location the women search for a large Acacia and set about clearing any vegetation beneath it. Once clear, this will serve as a communal area, sheltered from the sun and providing a space to socialise and cook.

 

In the following days the women begin to build huts for each individual family unit. They start by felling young saplings and placing them into holes in the earth they have dugout. No more than one or two branches are ever taken at a time, ensuring nothing is ever wasted. Once firmly in the ground the branches are bent over and lashed together using bark stripped from them to resemble a small dome. After that long grass is collected and interwoven to cover the shell. What you have at the end is a small hut built from natural materials that blends seamlessly into the landscape and disappears back into it once left behind.

 

Economy

The hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the Hadzabe can be classified as an immediate-return economy; they obtain direct returns from their labours and usually consume it in the moment of return (men hunt bushmeat and women collect edible plants). From as young as 7 or 8, children consume up to half of their daily calorie intake on their own because of the nature of their education. As babies they are strapped to their mother’s backs, constantly witness to which plants are safe to eat and how to find them and from the moment they are able to walk, the boys are given a bow and learn how to hunt reptiles, birds and rodents near camp.

 

Bows (ko’obi) are made from the fresh branches of the Mutateko tree. Once cut down, the branch has it’s bark stripped and is heated over the fire to make it supple for straightening (bows can have up to 45 kilos of force). The same process is used for making arrow shafts and is often done before or after hunting and becomes a communal event with the smallest boys joining in to learn. Using their teeth they straighten the branches into arrows. The bow strings are taken from the ligaments of large animals like giraffes (however increasingly manmade fibres like nylon are being used because there are fewer large kills). Finally feathers from birds they catch are used to make the fletching at the back of the arrow for stability and accuracy.

 

Hunting

Hunting can vary depending upon the time of year and the type of game. Usually on their own, they only hunt in larger numbers for large game like troops of baboons (their absolute favourite). For the majority of the year they trek for several hours a day (sometimes twice a day depending on how successful they are), covering large distances however during the dry season they may hunt from blinds near natural resources like water or Acacias (animals are attracted to it’s seed pods and flowers). If something small is caught like a bush baby or a hyrax then they will often make a fire where they are and eat straight away. If they are more successful then they bring their proceeds back to camp. Just about everything they can find in the bush represents a viable meal to the Hadzabe, the only things they avoid being elephants (because their hides are too think), amphibians and reptiles.

 

Honey

The other thing that the hunters are always on the search for is honey. It is one of their favourite food sources because it is so sweet. And it is because of its high sugar content that it is so important, providing an unequal mega boost of energy unlike any other in the bush (they also eat the larvae & pollen giving more complete nutrition). A Hadza is skilled enough to tell what the honey is going to taste like according to the flowers surrounding the hive and often has a favourite. They used to impose sanctions on honey collection during the dry season so that bees could store a surplus but this is now under pressure from outsiders who harvest the honey whenever they feel like it.

 

Gathering

While the tribe loves meat, fat and honey, their diet is mainly based upon the plants that women gather. Like the men they will go out at dawn or dusk to avoid the hottest part of the day because they are usually busy for 3-4 hours. However, unlike the men they work with the children in tow and it is a very sociable activity. The older girls usually take responsibility for the smaller children while the older and more experienced set about gathering.

 

Soon after moving into a new area, they locate the trees with ripe berries. There are many different types of edible berry but they all ripen at slightly different times of the year, the end result being that there are normally ripe berries for 9 months of the year (between October and March).


Searching for tubers (the swollen underground storage parts of a plant, designed to help it survive the dry season)is a different proposition. They search for vines hanging from trees and then form a circle to begin digging out the root system. Wild tubers provide a reliable food source all year round, rich in energy and nutrients and higher in carbohydrates and protein than domestic tubers like cassava and sweet potato.

 

Responsibilities

Within Hadzabe culture there are clearly defined gender roles however it can only be described as an egalitarian society and this is because of the nature of their lifestyle. A way of life large unchanged in millennia has taught them with certainty that each day provides food and therefore there is no need to store any. Juxtaposed with the fact that the women are responsible for the vast majority of the food supply, what has arisen is a culture based upon egality. To be Hadza means if someone asks, you have no choice but to share and likewise the accumulation of material wealth is considered a major character flaw.

 

The other factor to consider in their strong social dependency is a complete disengagement from material goods or property. While the tools they have (mainly bows for hunting and sharpened sticks for digging) require great skill in order to make, they do not entail a large investment in time or resources. Learnt at a very young age, these skills and the ability to use them have effectively rendered any social hierarchy barely visible. While there can be men or women who are widely respected or even referred to as an elder, the Hadzabe do not recognize any leaders or any person as having more power or influence than others. In fact, it is considered very bad if someone tries to control someone else. Elders take no greater part in the group’s decision-making than a child; everyone participates in decision-making.

 

The Future

However, it is this equality that now poses one of their biggest challenges in the face of an encroaching modern society. The Hadzabe never used to be able to see the outside world but now from the top of rocks the roofs of encroaching villages are evident. In the last few decades alone they have lost three quarters of their land. They have no problem with the people (largely pastoral farmers) but with the way they use the land unsustainably; cutting trees down, overgrazing, digging water holes that lower the water table beyond where wild animals can drink (the Hadzabe have never struggled in times of drought, a distinct difference between them and neighbouring pastoralists). The best course of action available is to gain land rights but in a society without leaders this is a formidable issue.

 

Traditionally the Hadzabe economy and lifestyle was misunderstood and they were treated as primitive and backward, the government embarrassed by their backward ways. There have been many attempts to initiate ‘development’ but the land is a dry and unpredictable environment, which made it unrealistic (unlike the former hunter-gathering Sandawe of Kondoa District who because of predictable climate successfully changed their lifestyle). Other major development efforts have failed because they focussed on services e.g. hospitals, schools, and water, at the expense of realistic economic options for the Hadzabe to make a living. The result was an influx of outsiders who wanted to take advantage, forcing the Hadzabe out.

 

Land Rights

Thankfully in the last decade huge steps have been made to ensure that the remaining Hadzabe lands are protected. Through the work of organisations like the Dorobo Fund and the Ujamaa Community Resource Team, the Commissioner for Lands travelled to Hadzaland in 2011 and presented the Hadzabe certificates of legal title to three pieces of land totalling 23,305 hectares. These certificates officially designate the land for conservation and traditional Hadzabe activities as well as placing restrictions on all other uses from neighbouring tribes.

How they see others

With other tribes impinge Hadzaland more and more each year, the Hadzabe inevitably are having more contact with outsiders than ever before and with this comes a growing awareness of the differences between them. However, they are fiercely proud of their traditions and culture and actively avoid other settlements, which they perceive as too busy and too noisy. They feel that the Iraqw and Datoga (the two neighbouring tribes) have lost their cultures; falling out of sync with the world they live in, trying to imitate foreign cultures (however this perception could just be because of a difference in cultures).

 

Socialising

The Hadzabe live in harmony with the environment because they depend upon it directly. They read its subtle signs and never stay somewhere too long for their presence to have a lasting impact. Akin to their reliance on the natural world, so too are they reliant upon each other. They have a deeply rich social culture based on equality and placing the interests of the group far above their own. Daily events are often immortalised through stories around the fire after dusk. Men, women and children stand in front of the group to tell energetic and animated tales of comical events, often interrupted by others correcting them or adding missed details. Their days are full of social moments like these and they need no excuse to burst into song and dance which is there other favourite past time.

 

While the majority of this information was collected first hand from the team’s trip to Tanzania, it would not have been possible to provide or verify this in detail without the help of Frank Marlowe and especially Daudi Peterson who’s years of work with the Hadzabe provide a unique and unparalleled insight into their lives. If you are interested in finding out more then both have published books on the topic which are fascinating in-depth reviews of this incredible tribe.

If you want to read more about the Hadzabe these books are amazing!

 

Are the Hadzabe spiritual?

Do they use poison?

How do they find honey?

What do they wear?

Is there body modification?

Want to know more about the Hadzabe ....?

Do they meet other Hadzabe clans?

Do marriage/divorce exist?

How do they date?

Why is everyone in the camp so young?

What do they die of? What do they do if someone dies?

Want to know more about the Datoga ....?

Hadzabe

Story

 

Location

Lying in the shadows of the Ngorongoro Crater, on the edge of the Rift Valley is Lake Eyasi, a seasonal shallow endorheic salt lake. It is a stop for migrating flamingos and occasionally attracts hippos from the Serengeti during particularly wet periods of the rainy season but most importantly home to the Hadzabe, a tribe of hunter-gatherers (the way humanity has existed for 90% of its time on earth). An estimated 1,200 remain and genetic research has found them living in this corner of the world for some 40,000 years, qualifying them as ‘original people’ and making their language one of the oldest still in existence.

 

 

Language

Hadzabe as a language resembles Khoisan (of the San people in Namibia, also hunter-gatherers) to a limited extent because of its use of clicks but stands alone from other languages in Tanzania. As a result it is only spoken by a small number of neighbours that the Hadzabe interact with and an even smaller number of anthropologists. They have no written record of their language so it takes years to learn but what is clear is that their vocabulary is based upon their natural environment, with an intricate vocabulary used to describe their world in a level of detail that does not exist in English. For example animals have different names according to their species, age, gender and condition.

 

 

Nomads

Life in the bush is dictated by the abundance of water and food. As a result the Hadzabe are nomadic, never staying in one place too long to damage the surrounding ecosystem beyond repair, moving on before resources become exhausted. When a camp moves (a decision made by the women of the group), the first priority is a water source because subsequently they can read the landscape like a book. What might appear to be a barren savannah to us is bountiful larder to a Hadza (singular of Hadzabe). After choosing a new location the women search for a large Acacia and set about clearing any vegetation beneath it. Once clear, this will serve as a communal area, sheltered from the sun and providing a space to socialise and cook.

 

In the following days the women begin to build huts for each individual family unit. They start by felling young saplings and placing them into holes in the earth they have dugout. No more than one or two branches are ever taken at a time, ensuring nothing is ever wasted. Once firmly in the ground the branches are bent over and lashed together using bark stripped from them to resemble a small dome. After that long grass is collected and interwoven to cover the shell. What you have at the end is a small hut built from natural materials that blends seamlessly into the landscape and disappears back into it once left behind.

 

Economy

The hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the Hadzabe can be classified as an immediate-return economy; they obtain direct returns from their labours and usually consume it in the moment of return (men hunt bushmeat and women collect edible plants). From as young as 7 or 8, children consume up to half of their daily calorie intake on their own because of the nature of their education. As babies they are strapped to their mother’s backs, constantly witness to which plants are safe to eat and how to find them and from the moment they are able to walk, the boys are given a bow and learn how to hunt reptiles, birds and rodents near camp.

 

Bows (ko’obi) are made from the fresh branches of the Mutateko tree. Once cut down, the branch has it’s bark stripped and is heated over the fire to make it supple for straightening (bows can have up to 45 kilos of force). The same process is used for making arrow shafts and is often done before or after hunting and becomes a communal event with the smallest boys joining in to learn. Using their teeth they straighten the branches into arrows. The bow strings are taken from the ligaments of large animals like giraffes (however increasingly manmade fibres like nylon are being used because there are fewer large kills). Finally feathers from birds they catch are used to make the fletching at the back of the arrow for stability and accuracy.

 

Hunting

Hunting can vary depending upon the time of year and the type of game. Usually on their own, they only hunt in larger numbers for large game like troops of baboons (their absolute favourite). For the majority of the year they trek for several hours a day (sometimes twice a day depending on how successful they are), covering large distances however during the dry season they may hunt from blinds near natural resources like water or Acacias (animals are attracted to it’s seed pods and flowers). If something small is caught like a bush baby or a hyrax then they will often make a fire where they are and eat straight away. If they are more successful then they bring their proceeds back to camp. Just about everything they can find in the bush represents a viable meal to the Hadzabe, the only things they avoid being elephants (because their hides are too think), amphibians and reptiles.

 

Honey

The other thing that the hunters are always on the search for is honey. It is one of their favourite food sources because it is so sweet. And it is because of its high sugar content that it is so important, providing an unequal mega boost of energy unlike any other in the bush (they also eat the larvae & pollen giving more complete nutrition). A Hadza is skilled enough to tell what the honey is going to taste like according to the flowers surrounding the hive and often has a favourite. They used to impose sanctions on honey collection during the dry season so that bees could store a surplus but this is now under pressure from outsiders who harvest the honey whenever they feel like it.

 

Gathering

While the tribe loves meat, fat and honey, their diet is mainly based upon the plants that women gather. Like the men they will go out at dawn or dusk to avoid the hottest part of the day because they are usually busy for 3-4 hours. However, unlike the men they work with the children in tow and it is a very sociable activity. The older girls usually take responsibility for the smaller children while the older and more experienced set about gathering.

 

Soon after moving into a new area, they locate the trees with ripe berries. There are many different types of edible berry but they all ripen at slightly different times of the year, the end result being that there are normally ripe berries for 9 months of the year (between October and March).


Searching for tubers (the swollen underground storage parts of a plant, designed to help it survive the dry season)is a different proposition. They search for vines hanging from trees and then form a circle to begin digging out the root system. Wild tubers provide a reliable food source all year round, rich in energy and nutrients and higher in carbohydrates and protein than domestic tubers like cassava and sweet potato.

 

Responsibilities

Within Hadzabe culture there are clearly defined gender roles however it can only be described as an egalitarian society and this is because of the nature of their lifestyle. A way of life large unchanged in millennia has taught them with certainty that each day provides food and therefore there is no need to store any. Juxtaposed with the fact that the women are responsible for the vast majority of the food supply, what has arisen is a culture based upon egality. To be Hadza means if someone asks, you have no choice but to share and likewise the accumulation of material wealth is considered a major character flaw.

 

The other factor to consider in their strong social dependency is a complete disengagement from material goods or property. While the tools they have (mainly bows for hunting and sharpened sticks for digging) require great skill in order to make, they do not entail a large investment in time or resources. Learnt at a very young age, these skills and the ability to use them have effectively rendered any social hierarchy barely visible. While there can be men or women who are widely respected or even referred to as an elder, the Hadzabe do not recognize any leaders or any person as having more power or influence than others. In fact, it is considered very bad if someone tries to control someone else. Elders take no greater part in the group’s decision-making than a child; everyone participates in decision-making.

 

The Future

However, it is this equality that now poses one of their biggest challenges in the face of an encroaching modern society. The Hadzabe never used to be able to see the outside world but now from the top of rocks the roofs of encroaching villages are evident. In the last few decades alone they have lost three quarters of their land. They have no problem with the people (largely pastoral farmers) but with the way they use the land unsustainably; cutting trees down, overgrazing, digging water holes that lower the water table beyond where wild animals can drink (the Hadzabe have never struggled in times of drought, a distinct difference between them and neighbouring pastoralists). The best course of action available is to gain land rights but in a society without leaders this is a formidable issue.

 

Traditionally the Hadzabe economy and lifestyle was misunderstood and they were treated as primitive and backward, the government embarrassed by their backward ways. There have been many attempts to initiate ‘development’ but the land is a dry and unpredictable environment, which made it unrealistic (unlike the former hunter-gathering Sandawe of Kondoa District who because of predictable climate successfully changed their lifestyle). Other major development efforts have failed because they focussed on services e.g. hospitals, schools, and water, at the expense of realistic economic options for the Hadzabe to make a living. The result was an influx of outsiders who wanted to take advantage, forcing the Hadzabe out.

 

Land Rights

Thankfully in the last decade huge steps have been made to ensure that the remaining Hadzabe lands are protected. Through the work of organisations like the Dorobo Fund and the Ujamaa Community Resource Team, the Commissioner for Lands travelled to Hadzaland in 2011 and presented the Hadzabe certificates of legal title to three pieces of land totalling 23,305 hectares. These certificates officially designate the land for conservation and traditional Hadzabe activities as well as placing restrictions on all other uses from neighbouring tribes.

How they see others

With other tribes impinge Hadzaland more and more each year, the Hadzabe inevitably are having more contact with outsiders than ever before and with this comes a growing awareness of the differences between them. However, they are fiercely proud of their traditions and culture and actively avoid other settlements, which they perceive as too busy and too noisy. They feel that the Iraqw and Datoga (the two neighbouring tribes) have lost their cultures; falling out of sync with the world they live in, trying to imitate foreign cultures (however this perception could just be because of a difference in cultures).

 

Socialising

The Hadzabe live in harmony with the environment because they depend upon it directly. They read its subtle signs and never stay somewhere too long for their presence to have a lasting impact. Akin to their reliance on the natural world, so too are they reliant upon each other. They have a deeply rich social culture based on equality and placing the interests of the group far above their own. Daily events are often immortalised through stories around the fire after dusk. Men, women and children stand in front of the group to tell energetic and animated tales of comical events, often interrupted by others correcting them or adding missed details. Their days are full of social moments like these and they need no excuse to burst into song and dance which is there other favourite past time.

 

While the majority of this information was collected first hand from the team’s trip to Tanzania, it would not have been possible to provide or verify this in detail without the help of Frank Marlowe and especially Daudi Peterson who’s years of work with the Hadzabe provide a unique and unparalleled insight into their lives. If you are interested in finding out more then both have published books on the topic which are fascinating in-depth reviews of this incredible tribe.

If you want to read more about the Hadzabe these books are amazing!

 

Are the Hadzabe spiritual?

Do they use poison?

How do they find honey?

What do they wear?

Is there body modification?

Want to know more about the Hadzabe ....?

Do they meet other Hadzabe clans?

Do marriage/divorce exist?

How do they date?

Why is everyone in the camp so young?

What do they die of? What do they do if someone dies?

Want to know more about the Datoga ....?

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stay in the know

 

Subscribe to the mailing list to keep up with updates from the Jimmy Nelson Foundation. And don’t worry... we don’t like spam either