Since Homo was created two million years ago, we’ve all lived as hunter-gatherers. Then plants and animals were domesticated, and life on earth changed completely. Food production brought a higher population density, which meant that farmers denied or destroyed hunter-gatherer groups. Villages, then cities, then nations arose. And in a relatively short time, the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers has almost expired. Today, only a handful of scattered people – some tribes in the Amazon, a few in the Arctic, a few in Papua New Guinea, and a small number of African – still lead the existence of hunter-gatherers. Among the few people who have led an unchanging lifestyle for hundreds of years is the population of Hadza.
Hadza is the last tribe of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. Also known as Hadzapi, Watindiga, or Kindiga, they themselves call themselves Hadzabe – with the suffix be – referring to “people” in their language, Hadzane (refers to “language”). Only Hadza speak Hadzane, which is why language is a valuable tip on who to classify as Hadza.
Hadzabe people live in isolation from the rest of the population. They don’t produce food, they don’t raise farm animals, they live without rules and calendars. They do not strive to possess material goods and social hierarchy, when necessary they wander in search of animals, tubers, and wild berries. Their number is currently less than 1500. Their existence is threatened due to the invasion of neighboring tribes of shepherds and farmers, as well as misunderstandings and discrimination from the outside world. Genetic tests indicate that Hadzabe is probably one of the main roots of the human family tree, more than 100,000 years old; like the Bushmen of southern Africa – they are one of the “oldest” families of humanity.
Hadzabe’s homeland is around Lake Eyasi, on the edge of the Serengeti plains, in the shadow of the Ngorongoro Crater. Hadzabe is the only people allowed to hunt in Serengeti because hunting is the only way they can get food. Hadzabe moves freely around the lake with a bow and arrow. They can be recognized by their naked figures barely covered with animal skin and colorful beads.
Hadzabe didn’t take part in wars. They have no sense of ownership. They live in small groups away from others, so they have never been seriously threatened by outbreaks. They do not know hunger; The Hadzbe diet is even more stable and diverse today than most people in the world. They enjoy an extraordinary amount of free time. They work looking for food four to six hours a day. And for all these thousands of years, they have left no trace on earth.
The main reason that Hadza maintained their lifestyle for so long is that their lands have never been a good place to grow – dry soil, not enough water. It seems that for tens of thousands of years no one else wanted to live here. They stayed alone. However, recently increasing population growth has caused an influx of people into the Hadza lands. The fact that Hadzabe did not change the places where they live meant that their region was generally perceived as empty and unused, a place requiring development. Hadzabe, who by nature are not fighting people, did not fight for their territory but withdrew. But now there is nowhere to retreat. Currently, on the Hadzabe territory are cattle breeders, goat breeders, onion, and corn crops, there are hunters for sport and poachers. Waterholes are contaminated with cow droppings. Vegetation is trampled under the hooves of cattle. Game animals migrate to national parks. The berry groves and trees that attract bees have been destroyed. Over the past century, Hadza has lost as much as 90 percent of their homeland.
None of the other ethnic groups living in the area – Datoga, Iraq, Isanzu, Sukuma, Iramba are hunter-gatherers. They live in mud huts, often surrounded by animal runs. Many of them look at Hadza – the untouchables in Tanzania – with pity and disgust.
Hadza lead a stress-free, simple life without worries. Unlike us, they are not interested in materialistic possessions. Traditional Hadzabe, they live almost completely without things. They have a cooking pot, a water container, an ax – all can be wrapped in a blanket and carried around the shoulder. They sleep when they want to. Some do not sleep most of the night and doze off in the heat of the day. Dawn and dusk are the best hunting times. When they do not hunt, men often spend time in the camp, straightening arrows, twisting arches, making chords from a giraffe or impala ligaments, hammering nails into the arrowheads. Even if they do not find food, they do not worry and remain patient with nature. They live for the moment and their only goal is survival. Maybe that’s why agriculture has never appealed to them – growing plants requires planning; the seeds are sown earlier to eat the crop in months. Domestic animals must be fed and protected long before they are ready for slaughter. It doesn’t make sense to Hadzabe. Why grow food or raise animals when it’s all ready in the bush? When they want berries, they look for a berry bush. When they want baobab fruit, they go to baobab trees. Honey is waiting for them in wild beehives. And meat, fresh, keep in the largest warehouse in the world – on their land. All you need is a moment of tracking and a well-fired arrow.
Hadza day begins early in the morning, people wake up slowly and chat at the morning bonfire. After a while, most adults leave the camp to gathering food. Women walk in groups, usually accompanied by one teenage boy who goes with them to protect them from possible violence of neighboring tribes.
Men usually linger alone or in pairs. The children remain in the camp; they play and collect food all day. Children’s games and activities often involve collecting and processing food. Children themselves collect a large percentage of their food and are also fed by family and friends. In the middle of the day, most of Hadza is resting. Regardless of whether they are in the camp or outside, they rest until the heat in the middle of the day calms down. Most camp members return before dark when evening dinner preparations begin. Preparation of a Hadzabe meal is simple – the meat is placed directly on the fire. No grill, no pan. Everyone sits densely around the fire and waits for the meat to be ready to eat. Then everyone grabs their piece of meat with their teeth and tries to cut the torn piece with a knife. The bones are crushed with stones and the marrow is sucked out. Fat is rubbed into the skin as a type of moisturizer.
Hadzabe’s bodies are often covered with dust because they rarely use baths. Hadzabe men say that they prefer their women not to take a bath – the more time between baths, the more attractive they are. Water is not considered necessary for survival and they are not looking for sources that could quench thirst or washing. A muddy, large puddle is all they need for a bath. A handful of mud is rubbed into the skin as an exfoliating agent.
Hadzabe are free people. Free of property, most social and family responsibilities. No religious restrictions. They live without a schedule, without money, without attachment to the workplace. However, their lives are extremely risky. No medical attention. Women give birth in the bush, squatting. About one-fifth of all children die in the first year of life, and almost half of all children fail to be 15 years old. They have to deal with extreme heat, frequent thirst and swarming tsetse flies and malaria-spreading mosquitoes.
Society is usually organized in camps. Hadzabe live in camps shared with relatives, in-laws, and friends. They are rather loose relations. Work and food are shared between related and unrelated camp members. Each camp has several main members, but most others come and go when they want. Children live mainly with parents and siblings, but they can often live with grandparents or aunts and uncles. Children are raised in a shared environment in which most aspects of everyday life take place in front of everyone in the camp. Usually, the camp is inhabited by no more than 30 people – this is the largest number for which two large animals are enough to satisfy hunger.
In the dry season, from May to October, Hadza sleeps in the open air by the fire. In the rainy season, they build small domed shelters made of interwoven twigs and long grasses: they basically look like inverted bird nests that take no more than an hour to build. They sleep on the skin of animals and cover her body, sometimes decorated with colorful beads. They change the place of the camp about once a month, when the berries run out, hunting becomes difficult, or a serious illness or death occurs.
The camps are traditionally named after the eldest man, but this honor does not give any special rights. Hadzabe do not recognize official leaders. No adult Hadzabe has power over another.
Hadzabe has little social responsibilities – no birthdays, no religious holidays, no anniversaries. They are not aware of time and dates. There are no wedding ceremonies. A couple who sleep for the same time for some time may eventually be called a marriage; exchanging partners is not unusual for Hadzabe. They may seem to lack IQ, but their survival skills are impressive.
The population of Hadzabe has not evolved and is not identified with modern man. Their expressions are limited to the unique language of clicks, understood only by their groups. It may seem strange how click sounds allow them to communicate clearly and precisely. Their expressions and interactions focus on their simplified lifestyle – what to eat, how to hunt, and how to survive. They share intimacy on special nights when men try to impress women, but they don’t have daily ties or relationships. Hi Hadzabe, she learned Swahili to communicate with other groups.
The roles of men and women are different, but there is no forced servitude of women as in many other cultures. Hadzabe women have a lot of autonomy and participate equally in making decisions with men. It is Hadza women who often initiate a break with a man. Women collect baobab berries and fruits and dig edible tubers or roots for medicine. They also make porcupine thorns beads and jewelry. Jewelry gives their chosen ones.
Men collect honey and hunt. They usually hunt solo. The only exception is the baboon searching at night, group hunting, carried out only a few times a year. They eat almost anything they can kill, from birds to wildebeest to zebras and buffaloes; the exception is the snake. Hadzabe hate snakes. They love the baboon for it. Hadzabe say that the man Hadza cannot marry until he has killed five baboons. Hunters can track down almost any animal, and use special poisoned arrows made of tree bark to kill. The poison that men smear on the arrowheads, made from boiled desert rose juice, is strong enough to knock down a giraffe. But he can’t kill an adult elephant. If hunters come across a dead elephant, crawl inside, cut out meat, organs, and fat and cook them on fire. Hadzabe are resistant to poisons and what may seem harmful to modern man. Sometimes, instead of pulling a large animal back to the camp, the whole camp moves to the carcass. As usual, Hadzabe, the hunter who killed, does not show off. Hunting is a lot of luck, and even the best archers sometimes experience dry periods. That is why Hadzabe share their meat.
In the life of the tribe, there is not much place for mysticism, for ghosts, for considering the unknown. There is no specific faith in the afterlife – Hadzabe, they do not think about what will happen after death. Hadza are not sentimental. When one of them dies, there is not much confusion. They dig a hole and put the body inside. Once they didn’t even do it – they just left the body on the ground. There is still no grave mark, no funeral. Even if the person they have lived with all their lives dies, they just throw a few dry branches on the grave and walk away.
Although Hadzabe does not profess religion, they have their vision of the universe and the history of creation. Hadza cosmology includes the sun, moon, stars, and their ancestors. Their creation story tells how Hadza came to populate the earth – he came down either from a baobab tree or from a giraffe’s neck.
Hadzabe has no shamans, priests, or doctors. They do not practice witchcraft, but they believe that other tribes have witchcraft and can effectively curse Hadza. The strongest taboos and rituals surround the epheme – a kind of dance that takes place on moonless nights (the moon lies between earth and sun, and the unlit part faces the earth). Hadzabe perform their ritual epic dance only under the cover of darkness. Men dress up and dance for women and children as an embodiment of their ancestors. Other evening dances may include members of both sexes dancing together. Women sing, and men individually put on a feathered hat, tie bells around their ankles, and circle women, stamping their right foot to the rhythm of singing. Apparently, on such nights the ancestors emerge from the darkness and join the dance.
In the last century, there have been several attempts to force Hadzabe to move to settlements. The British twice tried to force the population of Hadzabe to start farming in 1927 and again in 1939 – both attempts failed. The third attempt by the Tanzanian government in 1965 consisted of “escorting” Hadzi by armed guards to a village settlement where missionaries built a school and a clinic. Many Hadza died shortly after settling down due to diseases, especially respiratory infections, and measles. The rest left the settlement shortly thereafter. The final attempt, in vain, was made in the mid-1970s. After a short time, Hadzabe returned to the bush anyway to continue their own lifestyle.
Although the people of Hadzabe show no interest in the outside world, this world reaches them. Currently, more and more Hadza children attend school and stay in it for longer; earlier, most of Hadzabe’s children fled back to the bush. While some Hadza value formal education for their children, others say learning to read and write English and Swahili is of little or no value to Hadza children who are still living in the bush. Most students (including other tribes) who have completed rural primary and secondary education do not continue working in the city. Therefore, according to some Hadza, sending children to school will only be harmful to their “Hadza education” where they learn their own language, culture, and survival skills.
Some Hadzabe living on the edge of the bush in exchange for money show tourists their hunting skills. Hadzabe noticed that their culture is very interesting for bystanders and can be a source of income. However, among Hadza who abandon the traditional way of life, alcoholism, TB and worrying increases in domestic violence are very common.
It seems that the era of the hunter-gatherer, after two million years is coming to an end. Hadzabe becomes an extinct tribe. It is only a matter of time before Hadzabe’s presence becomes history. Take the chance to spend time with this mysterious tribe before there is no more traditional Hadzi climbing the hills with bows and arrows, looking for baboons.
Spend the day with the Hadzabe people who live near the soda Lake Eyasi and observe their unchanged, traditional way of life and harmony with nature. Accompanied by the guard of Hello Tanzania, you have the opportunity to make contact with tribe members and learn all about their lives, hunting, preparing meals, and cultural norms. It’s a real journey through time to the roots of humanity.
Write to us and we will plan for you a special trip to Hadzabe during a safari in the Northern Circuit.