Imagine a society with no warfare, no rules, no official leaders, no known history of famine and relatively no personal possessions; a place where people truly live in the here and now.
Well, such a place still exists.
In northern Tanzania—in one of the harshest environments on the planet—live the Hadzabe people. The Hadzabe are a small indigenous ethnic group, numbering fewer than 1,000.
The Hadzabe are one of the few truly hunter-gatherer societies left in the world and are the last true nomads of Africa.
They grow no food; have no livestock and almost no possessions. They have no calendars or clocks, or even permanent shelters.
The Hadzabe speak a unique native language called Hadzane. It is not closely related to any other that still exists. The language is filled with sounds, such as tongue clicks, that are so different from most languages. The language doesn’t have words for numbers past three or four.
Amazingly, this little cultural pocket of the world is little changed from 10,000 years ago.
Living off the Land
The Hadzabe live around Lake Eyasi in the central Rift Valley and in the Serengeti Plateau. In this hot, dry harsh terrain there is a shortage of fresh water and, for an outsider, food may not seem plentiful, but for the Hadzabe their home is filled with everything they need.
It’s estimated that the Hadzabe spend about four to six hours a day actively pursuing food. The women collect berries and baobab fruit, while the men collect honey and hunt.
Men use a bow and arrow to hunt. The bows are made out of animal tendons, and the arrows are dipped in a poison made from local plants. The poison on the arrowheads is potent enough to kill a giraffe.
Men usually hunt alone, but sometimes when they’re hunting larger prey, such as a baboon, they’ll go as a group. Their kills are brought back to the camp, where they are shared with everyone. Sometimes, if the kill is especially large, the whole camp will move to the carcass to feast.
It’s not just food that the Hadzabe get from the land. They also know where to get water from trees, how to make various medicines from plants and they still make fire by rubbing sticks together.
A Dangerous Life
Although the thought of not being burdened by too many possessions and rules may be appealing to some, the Hadzabe do not live what most of us would consider an easy life. They face constant dangers.
About 1/5 of all babies die before reaching their first birthday, and almost one-half of children don’t make it to age fifteen.
In addition to the extreme heat and lack of drinking water, the Hadzabe must contend with poisonous spiders and scorpions, black mamba snake bites, malaria, and of course the many large animals that would make a quick meal of a human.
The Ever-Creeping Outside World
While there are roughly 1,000 people who are identified as Hadzabe, today only around 300 of them live the traditional lifestyle.
As with many indigenous groups, the outside world has slowly encroached upon the Hadzabe. By some estimates, they have lost as much as 90% of their homeland. There are now even dirt roads at the edges of their land.
Some Hadzabe are learning to speak Swahili to communicate with other groups in the area, and there are even a handful of Hadzabe people who speak English.
The double-edged sword of tourism is another outside influence that cannot be ignored. Hopefully those who are fortunate enough to visit with the Hadzabe people will do so responsibly and be influential in helping to protect their ancient way of life.
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Valued as one of Tanzania’s best fashion photographers, Ali’s passion for portraiture sings out in his photographic series of The Hadzabe – Living in the Here & Now.