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Who Are the Hadzabe Hunter-Gatherers in Lake Eyasi, Tanzania?

Updated: Jun 3



The stunning landscape of Lake Easi in northern Tanzania is an iconic African sight: towering Baobab and Acacia trees, the golden hues of the savanna, and an antelope leaping into the spiky bush on dry land. This African savanna is home to not only African wildlife but also the unique Hadzabe people, the world's last hunter-gatherers. In modern times, hunter-gatherers represent only a tiny minority of the world's population, but their existence is not just vital. It's urgent for humankind. In this article, we will explain why. Hadzabe Origins


The Hadzabe, also known as Hadza (singular) or Hadzabe (plural), are a unique indigenous group in northern Tanzania. With only about 1000 -1500 members remaining, their ancestral lands are spread across three administrative regions in northern Tanzania: Arusha, Shinyanga, and Singida. Unfortunately, they have lost much of these lands and are now living in Lake Eyasi, an area not conducive to farming due to its rocky and sandy terrain.The Hadzabe have a unique language that includes click sounds. This has led to the belief that they are distantly related to the southern African Khoisan languages. However, this language is exclusive to the Hadzabe and is spoken only in Lake Eyasi. 


Their culture can only exist in nature, as it provides them with all they need. For example, Hadzabe don't dig wells or water pumps. In their unique indigenous wisdom, they don't harm nature in any way. They use the same water sources as wild animals and drink from small springs and rivers. The proximity of these natural water sources is also the main factor for Hadza camp locations, emphasizing their harmonious relationship with the environment. 


The Hadzabe have lived around Lake Eyasi for thousands of years, leaving no marks on the land. When other populations invaded the area, they believed it was uninhabited. When Hadza builds a traditional house, they do so with a deep respect for their environment. They refrain from cutting trees, instead utilizing fallen branches and grass. These compact houses, ideally suited to their lifestyle, exemplify their sustainable building practices and commitment to preserving their natural surroundings. 


The Hadzabe have a unique relationship with trees. They see them as something other than a source of food or shelter. Trees have spiritual and cultural meanings that are as important as economic values. Trees are also important landmarks when navigating. The Hadza way of not destroying and cutting trees ensures that trees will be healthy and plentiful, an aspect that is more than relevant when we are witnessing the loss of the world's biodiversity.




The Hadza Culture The Hadzabe primarily eat a plant-based diet despite being hunters who enjoy consuming meat and fat. Hadza women are considered equal to men and both genders have important roles in providing food for their families.

The men go hunting early in the morning to hunt small game, such as birds, rats, bats, and baboons, using bows and arrows. The Hadza people do not hunt and eat every type of animal; there are certain creatures, like reptiles, that they choose not to hunt. The Hadzabe exclusively rely on bows and arrows for hunting, refusing to use snares or traps. This deliberate choice safeguards the wild animal populations from overhunting, demonstrating the Hadzabe's deep understanding of maintaining nature's delicate balance.


They use a specific poison obtained from two different plants for arrows when hunting giant game but hunt without poison for smaller prey. The poison is mixed with water, becomes like paste, and is put on the arrowhead shaft. The strength of the poison can differ significantly depending on the specific plant and the season.The Hadzabe never hunted elephants because their poison was not strong enough to kill them.


When Hadzabe men hunt small animals and birds, they make a fire and eat them immediately in the savanna. If they catch a bigger game, such as a baboon or antelope, they will carry it back to camp and share it with everyone. In Hadza culture, all food is shared, and no one can refuse to give food to someone asking for it when it is available, extending far beyond the confines of the camp.


The women gather plants and dig up edible roots and tubers, finding something to harvest from nature's table, as they say. Much of the food that Hadzabe women gather is drought-resistant, ensuring they have food sources during the dry season. Mothers make nutritious porridge for their children by mixing water with baobab tree fruits, rich in vitamins and considered superfoods in the West.

The Hadzabe has a deep appreciation for honey and skillfully harvest it from the hives of seven different wild bee species. Honey is a delightful treat for the Hadzabe and a valuable commodity for trade. What truly distinguishes the Hadzabe is their unique communication method with The Greater Honey Guide. They summon the bird with a distinct whistle or rattling call, and, in response, the bird leads them to the tree where they can harvest honey.


The Hadzabe people have a deep-rooted tradition of preserving honey by refraining from harvesting it during the rainy season, allowing bees to store a surplus. Following the rainy season, a group of Hadzabe is chosen to assess the honey supply, and then the elders determine the start of the honey-gathering season. Unfortunately, this tradition is at risk due to outsiders harvesting honey every season, posing a threat to the sustainability of honey collection. This interaction showcases the Hadzabe's deep understanding and respect for their natural environment.


Before the day gets too hot during the midday, everyone returns to the camp to relax and spend time in a shadow. Men can be seen meticulously fixing their hunting tools, the sound of their pipes filling the air. They share stories of their past hunts, their voices harmonizing with the wind. Conversely, women are busy crafting intricate jewelry, their fingers weaving colorful beads. They keep a watchful eye on the little ones, their laughter and chatter filling the camp. From an outsider's point of view, there is no hurry or stress for tomorrow because Hadzabe has always had enough to eat. 


Before the sun goes down, they can make another hunting or gathering trip. No food is stored; everything is provided at the very moment. This practice is not just a way of life for the Hadzabe; it also demonstrates their deep respect for the environment. They take only what they need, ensuring the sustainability of their resources and harmonious coexistence with nature.




What can we learn from the Hadzabe?



Contrary to popular belief, the Hadzabe people, often perceived as leading a challenging life as hunter-gatherers, actually enjoy a significant amount of leisure time. Their diet is diverse, including fruits, berries, nuts, tubers, honey, and animals, which ensures constant food availability and eliminates the need for storage. The Hadzabe, unlike their neighboring farmers or herders, have never experienced famine. This is due to their reliance on a wide range of food resources and their mobile lifestyle, which allows them to move freely.


Moreover, the Hadza culture is characterized by communal food sharing, enhancing its abundance and security. The Hadza spend only a few hours hunting or gathering once or twice daily, leaving ample time for rest, family bonding, leisure activities, storytelling, and singing. In many ways, the Hadzabe have already achieved a lifestyle many aspire to in our 8-4 office lives, emphasizing leisure, family, and a balanced work-life ratio.


The traditional Hadza life, a proof of human adaptability and harmony with nature, is now under severe threat. Their stomachs were once filled daily with berries, tubers, and fruits from natural, uncultivated sources. The land also provided abundant game, including zebras, buffalos, and giraffes that the Hadzabe skillfully hunted. However, this way of life is under pressure due to land alienation by new immigrant neighbors and environmental stress. If we don't act now, we risk losing the Hadza way, the only model of human existence in perfect harmony with nature.



Anniina Sandberg is a CEO of Visit Natives in Tanzania

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Anniina Sandberg, who holds a Master of Arts in African Studies, has devoted herself to conducting fieldwork in Tanzania, immersing herself among the Maasai and the Hadzabe.


Anniina's commitment to ethical travel experiences led her to establish Visit Natives, a travel agency that offers authentic and ethical experiences for exploring indigenous cultures. Her favorite office is in the bush under the equator sky full of stars, where she listens to stories of her favorite companions - the indigenous people.

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