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Written by: Juan Proll on 23 March 2022

Visiting the Hadza people at Lake Eyasi – what to expect

Hadzabe - Lake Eyasi in Tanzania

For many travellers to Tanzania, the Maasai are the country’s best-known ethnic group. But they only make up 3% of this multi-ethnic nation. An even smaller ethnic group are the Hadza (or Hadzabe) of Lake Eyasi. What makes their life so interesting is their still very traditional lifestyle as hunters and gatherers. Tourists are welcome. What to expect when visiting the Hadza at Lake Eyasi? Read on to find out!

Hadzabe hunting Tanzania

Imagine waking up in the morning before sunrise. Tired, you get up in front of the antelope skin near the fire, rub your eyes, drink a little water if there’s any left, grab your bow and arrow and follow the Hadza (also called Hadzabe) into the savannah after daybreak. Without breakfast in your stomach, you follow the fresh tracks of wild animals ranging from small mouselike mammals to smaller birds and ostriches, monkeys, impala, wildebeest, zebra, and giraffe. Your prey is easy to find. You take your first arrow, soaked in the poison of the desert rose, clamp it on the bow, aim and let it shoot smoothly from the string.

You return to the family with the fresh meat of the hunt. To satisfy your hunger, you will eat some of the game you have killed. And while the hairy baboon’s arm grills over the fire you light the night before, you walk over to the tree where the Hadza cut a thick branch from its trunk with their machetes. Wild honey appeared. As the honeybees left their gourmet paradise, the new guards move forward in excitement. But the sweet temptation is too great for you to let the ant warriors frighten you away. You reach deep into the cave to grab the tasty natural resource. Back at the settlement, it is time to prepare the hunted game, or its remains, for a festive meal to be shared at the evening campfire. Stories of the hunt are told, together with laughter, singing and dancing. An extraordinary day ends, but 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.

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What to expect when visiting the Hadzabe people at Lake Eyasi? Who are the Hadzabe?

Around 1,000 people identify as Hadza today. They live along the banks of the Eyasi River, south of the Serengeti National Park. It is estimated that between 300 and 400 still survive on a traditional basis of hunting and gathering. Tourists are welcome to join them in their daily routines. This is a great opportunity for you to share a time of ease and difficulties with one of the world’s last hunter-gatherer tribes and to get to know a special culture. The Hadza are one of the last living examples of how our ancestors lived without the technological advances of agriculture and modern weapons.

Unlike other traditional tribes, the Hadza are generally not very religious. They care little about religious practices and believe less in the existence of powerful supernatural and moral forces.

How do the Hadza live in Tanzania?

The Hadza live in small groups or “camps”. These vary in size from about 10 to 100 depending on whether it is the dry or wet season. During the dry season, as the water holes become scarcer and the wildlife at the remaining water points increases, the camps grow larger.

When the resources close to the camps are exhausted, the groups move on. This happens about every seven to eight weeks. In a society based on the division of labour, men are mainly responsible for obtaining meat and honey, while women concentrate on the vegetarian options. They pick and shake wild fruits from trees and bushes, collect them in nature or dig them out of the ground, including berries, figs, fruits, nuts, and root tubers. It’s a job that men don’t shy away from, especially when they can’t get meat or honey.

Hadzabe group men Tanzania

Anthropologists such as James Woodburn and Frank Marlowe have attested to a high degree of egalitarianism among the Hadza in various aspects of life, although men are more dominant than women, though not as much as in other populations. There appears to be no leader and all decisions are made collectively as a group. And although older people are more respected, they aren’t considered more valuable than younger members of the group.

The Hadza’s relationship to possessions is also interesting. They limit themselves to small personal possessions, while materialism is not important. Understandably, historically, the Hadza didn’t know about land ownership and rights. That’s why they were easily exploited in a “modern” world. They were assigned boundaries that became smaller and smaller over time. At the same time, other populations occupied their ancestral land and reduced the quality of life in their territory, for example through agriculture and livestock. Thanks to their survival instincts, they have managed to secure land rights from the Tanzanian government, contrary to their cultural attitudes.

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 indigenous East African population. You will see simple living conditions in a seemingly “anarchic” environment. For the time being, communication is only possible through a guide. Even repeating words is difficult because their language, called “Hadzane”, includes click sounds. Only later, when you have become a bit more familiar with the Hadza, can body language and sign language be used to communicate. But it is like travelling back in time. You will feel like you are in a completely different world. They are unlikely to offer you anything to eat or drink straight away. They don’t keep supplies in stock. The offer is more like: “Come, sit with us around the fire and let us be together”.

Walking with Hadza Tanzania

Depending on the time of day, this fire may still need to be lit. A good opportunity for you to learn this art out there in the bush. You don’t even have to ask for an internet connection to find a fire-making tutorial on YouTube. You just have to trust the Hadza to teach you. In the dry season, everything happens outside. In the rainy season, they build upside-down bird nests out of long branches and grasses. Of course, they are big enough for them to live and sleep in. There is no furniture.

But maybe part of the family has already left: the men are hunting, the women in the bush. Then you have to find them. Even though the Hadza’s habitat has shrunk by 90% in the last 100 years, it can still take some time to find them. In the centre of the area, Lake Eyasi rests on its bed southwest of the Ngorongoro Crater. A steep shoreline borders the salty, unstratified waters. Acacia and palm trees line the north-eastern shore. The surrounding area is more or less dense bushland, with a few umbrella acacia and baobab trees here and there.

Once you have found the strolling Hadza men and women, you can start working side by side. But please don’t confuse root tubers for stones. And don’t scare off the wild animals with sudden movements. Finally, you can try your skills at hunting. The bush experts will teach you how to hunt with a bow and arrow, which is all part of the enjoyment and an interesting experience.

As much as this way of life seems like a parallel universe to the one which we are used to, don’t expect an experience without contradictions. Modern civilisation and the power of those in charge have come too close for the Hadza to completely shield themselves from external influences. That’s why wearing modern clothes is probably more plausible than wearing animal skins. Though, the unadulterated way of life and closeness to nature remain 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 learning experiences, a visit to the Hadza is a worthwhile option.

Tanzania is full of highlights. Meeting the Hadza people is 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. Just get in touch!

Author: Juan Proll

Traveling has always been Juan Proll's great passion: three years in Latin America, two years in Southeast Asia and Oceania as well as short trips of up to nine months in Europe, Central America, and North Africa. In 2010, he decided to quit his job in Germany as an adult education teacher and head of department for migration issues and to become a ranger in South Africa. Juan has been traveling across Africa since 2011, traveling to southern and eastern Africa and also climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Beforehand, he completed his nature guide training in South Africa and worked in a Big Five game reserve. With further training and intensive self-study to become a cultural guide, Juan has since expanded his field of activity beyond the natural world to include the countries, cultures, and its people. In mid-2013 he joined Africa-Experience and has been guiding travelers through Africa as a safari guide ever since. Juan is a member of the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa.

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