– Last Updated on: 30th June 2022
For many travelers to Tanzania, the Masai are the country’s best-known ethnic group. Yet they make up just about 3 percent of this multi-ethnic nation. An even smaller ethnic group are the Hadza (or Hadzabe) at Lake Eyasi. What makes them so interesting is their still very traditional life as hunters and gatherers. Tourists are welcome.
Imagine being woken up before sunrise in the morning. Still weary you get up from the antelope skin near the fire, rub your eyes briefly, drink – maybe – some leftover water found somewhere, then grab your bow and arrow and walk together with the Hadza-men into the savannah at daybreak. Without breakfast in your belly, you follow the fresh tracks of the wild animals from small mouse-like mammals to tiny birds and ostriches, from monkeys, and impalas to gnus. The prey is found quickly. You grab your first arrow, soaked in the poison of the desert rose, string it on the bow, aim it, and then release it smoothly from the string.
With the freshly killed meat, you return to your family. But in order to still the morning hunger, part of the hunted game is eaten first. And while the baboon’s furred arm simmers over the fire that you yourself – at some point learned through play – have kindled after hard study the night before, you walk over to a tree where you use your machete to cut off a thick branch where it joins the trunk. Wild honey appears. Excited, the new guardians of the gourmet paradise that the honeybees have abandoned run to the front. But for you, the sweet temptation is too great to be put off by the ant fighting unit. You reach deep into the cavity and take the delicious natural substance. In the camp it is then time to prepare the shot animal, or at least its remains, for a feast in order to share it with the others at the evening campfire. You tell each other stories about the hunt, laugh, sing, and dance. An unusual day comes to an end, a special experience remains.
It’s time for you to wake up from your dream and look forward to your coffee and a delicious breakfast. Life as a Hadza is hard enough, most big game have long since disappeared from the hunting grounds, and the burden of civilization is growing heavy. But they still exist and with that the opportunity for you to meet them at least for a few hours and to accompany them in their everyday life.
Is it worth visiting the Hadzabe people at Lake Eyasi? Who are the Hadzabe?
Around 1,000 people in Tanzania still see themselves as belonging to the Hadza. They live along the shores of Lake Eyasi south of Serengeti National Park. It is estimated that around 300 of them survive today on a very traditional basis of hunting and gathering. Tourists are welcome to accompany them in their daily routines. This is a great opportunity for you to experience a time of ease and difficulties together with one of the last hunter-gatherer peoples in the world and to get to know a special culture. The Hazda are one of the last authentically living models of how our ancestors have lived without technological advances such as agriculture and modern weaponry.
Unlike many other traditional peoples, the Hadza are only religious in a minimalist way. They therefore engage in few religious practices and are also less attached to a belief in the existence of powerful supernatural and moralizing forces.
How do the Hadza live in Tanzania?
The Hadza live in small groups or “camps”. Their size varies depending on the dry season or rainy season and ranges between around 10 and 100. When the number of water points decreases during dry seasons and the number of wild animals at the remaining watering holes increases at the same time, the camps also grow.
As soon as the resources around the lair are exhausted, the groups will switch locations. This happens about every seven to eight weeks. In a society based on the division of labour, men see themselves primarily responsible for procuring meat and honey, while women concentrate mainly on vegetarian food. They pluck and shake wild fruits from trees and shrubs, collect them in the surroundings or dig them out of the ground, including berries and figs, fruits, nuts, and tubers. An activity that the men don’t shy away from, especially if they can’t get meat or honey.
Anthropologists such as James Woodburn or Frank Marlowe attest the Hadza a high degree of egalitarianism in different areas of life. But they don’t ignore the fact that men do dominate over women. Yet only a little compared to other population groups. So obviously there are no leaders, and they make decisions together as a group. And while older age grants an individual additional respect, it does not mean that they are considered more powerful than younger members of the group.
Their relationship to possessions is also interesting. They are limited to few personal belongings, while material things play practically no role. So it’s understandable that the Hadza historically didn’t know about land ownership and the rights associated with it. This made them vulnerable to exploitation in the “modern” world. Boundaries were set for them, which became progressively smaller. At the same time, more and more other populations invaded their ancestral lands and reduced the quality of their territories, for example through agriculture and animal husbandry. It is thanks to their drive to survive that, contrary to their cultural attitude, they managed to secure their already limited existence by acquiring land rights. This was preceded by difficult negotiations with the government of Tanzania.
Is it worth visiting the Hadza people at Lake Eyasi? What can you expect?
Above all, you can meet some of the last representatives of the East African indigenous population. You will find very basic living conditions in an environment that seems “archaic”. Initially, communication is only possible via your guide. Even repeating words is difficult because their language, called “Hadzane”, uses click sounds. Only later, when you are a bit more familiar with the Hadza, you may be able to communicate using body language and hand signals. Nevertheless, it is like a journey back in time. You will feel like you are in a completely different world. Rather unlikely that they can offer you something to drink or eat right away. They don’t keep stocks. Instead, the offer is, “Come hunt with us or join us around the campfire and let’s be together.”
Depending on the time of day, that fire may need to be lit first. A good opportunity for you to learn this art out there in the bush. Don’t even ask for internet access to watch a lesson on YouTube on how to make a fire. Surely there isn’t one here. You must rely entirely on the Hadza’s ability to teach. In the dry season, everything happens outdoors. In the rainy season, they build upside-down bird nests out of long twigs and grass. Of course, in a size that gives them space to live and sleep underneath. But there is no furniture here.
Perhaps all family members have already moved out: the men out hunting, the women in search of field, bush or tree fruits. Then you have to find them first. While the Hadza’s living space has shrunk by an estimated 90 percent in the last 100 years, it’s still possible to wander around aimlessly for a while before meeting anyone. In the center of the area, Lake Eyasi lies southwest of the Ngorongoro Crater. A steep coast lines the banks of the salty, drainless body of water. Acacia and palm trees adorn the north-east. In the wider area there is a sometimes more sometimes less dense bushland, where here and there umbrella acacias and baobab bottle trees set accents.
Once you’ve found the roaming Hadza women and men, you’ll get to work, side by side. But please don’t confuse tubers with stones. And do not chase the game away with careless steps. You might even try your luck at hunting yourself. In a speed training session, the bush experts will teach you how to shoot with a bow and arrow. It’s part of the fun and an interesting experience.
As much as the way of life here may seem like a parallel world to our familiar universe, please don’t expect an encounter without contradictions. Modern civilization and the power of the rulers have come too close for the Hadza to be able to completely protect themselves from external influences. For example, wearing modern clothing is probably more authentic today than wearing wild animal skins. However, the core of the original and closeness to nature remains visible.
For those who do not only expect Kilimanjaro, the wildlife of the Serengeti and the beaches of Zanzibar from a Tanzania safari but also cultural impressions, a visit to the Hadza is a worthwhile option.
Tanzania is full of highlights. The Hadza people are a unique experience if you’re interested in foreign cultures. We are happy to answer any questions and help you plan your trip to Tanzania, whether on a lodge safari or camping safari. Here on site, we are always well informed about the current situation. Get in touch with us!