Wednesday, September 26, 2012


The very existence of the Hadza people of East Africa the last true hunter-gatherer foragers in Africa is an astonishing phenomenon at best. And even more so in a world where relentless ‘progress’ and limited resources have extinguished so many traditional cultural practices. Yet this small community of some 300 indigenous inhabitants found along most of the perimeter of Lake Eyasi in the Great Rift Valley in present-day Tanzania, where we as a species evolved, has managed to sustain a way of life that has prevailed for thousands of years. Living lightly on the land, consuming only what they need, the Hadza have suffered neither the agony of deprivation nor the bitter conflicts caused by surplus."

The Hadzabe are the last functioning hunter-gatherers in Africa. There are only just under 1000 Hadzabe left. Most of them live around Lake Eyasi, much as their ancestors have for thousands or even tens of thousands of years. Scientist have agreed that an ancient homo sapien may have evolved from these people (watch this video;!)
The Hadzabe are not closely related to any other people. Recent research has shown that their DNA is the most divergent from any other humans in the world, suggesting that they were the first, or at least among the first, surviving peoples to have split off the human family tree. Based on DNA analysis, in 2003 Alec Knight and Joanna Mountain of Stanford University suggested that the three primary genetic divisions of humanity are the Hadzabe, the Juǀʼhoansi (a tribe living in Botswana) and relatives, and everyone else.

                                 Hadza men at archery practice. Image courtesy of

The Hadzabe are moving around in small groups consisting of around 30 persons, which are 3-4 families. Like many predominantly hunter-gatherer societies, they are predominantly monogamous, though there is no social enforcement of monogamy. The division of labour between men and women is rather apparent: While men specialize in procuring meat, honey, and baobab fruit, women specialize in tubers, berries, and greens. However, women will also occasionally gather a small animal or egg, or gather honey, just as men will occasionally bring a tuber or some berries back to camp.
                                 Hadzabe men making arrows

The Hadzabe groups typically stay at one place for around 2 weeks before moving to other areas. During the dry season they build very simple temporary shelters from branches and leaves, during the rainy seasons they still stay in caves.

Small groups of 2-4 men usually go hunting with bow and arrow in the very early morning hours around dawn. Although hunting is illegal in the National Parks, the Tanzanian authorities recognize that the Hadzabe are a special case and do not enforce the regulations with them, just as the Hadzabe are the only people in Tanzania not taxed locally or by the national government.

                             Hadzabes, the Africa`s remaining Archers

The Hadzabe get their arrowheads from members of the Tatoga tribe that are sharing ground with them. Whereas the Tatoga have learned how to recycle soft metals by smelting them and casting arrowheads, knifes and other metal tools, concerning their tool-making skills, the Hadzabe still live in the Stone Age. On their arrowheads, the Hadzabe use poison that they extract from the branches of the shrub Adenium coetaneum.

It is impressive to follow the Hadzabe bushmen on their hunt with bow and arrow. On bare feet, several Hadzabe men run through the savanna at impressive speeds, focussing the prey at large distance, taking into consideration the direction of the wind to approach the prey from various sides and then, without any further communication shooting their arrows at the animal while still running. Their archery skills are truely impressive just as their skills to predict animal behaviour, both of which are abilities that fathers teach their sons from early childhood.
    A Hadza hunter in Tanzania. The skills need to kill animals for food have now been dated back to two million years ago. Photograph: Nigel Pavitt/Corbis .Humans hunted for meat 2 million years ago
Evidence from ancient butchery site in Tanzania shows early man was capable of ambushing herds up to 1.6 million years earlier than previously thought

While the arrow with the herbal poison can instantly kill small animals such as birds or a dick-dicks, the poison's effect will take longer with large animals such as kudus. As a consequence, the large animal which has been hit by a poisoned arrow can still run away several kilometers and it's then up to the Hadzabe to read the animal's tracks on the ground to find it once it's going down. The Hadzabe also use dogs to assist with hunting, however this is a custom only recently adopted from other local tribes.
                             Hadzabes returning from hunt with their dogs

When they successully hunt a larger animal, they usually butcher it right on the spot. They also start a fire using their traditional drill firemaking technique to grill and eat the inner organs which are considered the best parts of the animal. The other parts of the animals are then carried to the camp.

"Ninety-five percent of the tribes diet comes from what they gather or kill. With bows and poisoned arrows, the men hunt a variety of animals: lion, zebra, wildebeest, baboon and birds, everything but elephants, due to their size. Arrowheads are fashioned from nails they trade with the honey they collect and poisoned with the boiled sap of the desert rose. Boys as young as 8 hone their skills by killing monkeys.
Women raise the children and are the gatherers, collecting fruits, berries and nuts and digging up a variety of tuber plants, mostly the Ekwa, which is found on flat ground and rocky hillsides. Wild tubers are rich in energy and nutrients and may have higher levels of carbohydrates and protein than domestic tubers such as cassava and sweet potato."

Women forage in larger parties, and usually bring home berries, baobab fruit, and tubers, depending on availability. Men and women also forage co-operatively for honey and fruit, and at least one adult male will usually accompany a group of foraging women. Women's foraging technology includes the digging stick, large fabric or skin pouch for carrying items, knife, shoes, other clothing, and various small items held in a pouch around the neck. Men carry axes, bows, poisoned and non-poisoned arrows, knives, small honey pots, fire drills, shoes and apparel, and various small items.

During the wet season, the diet is composed mostly of honey, some fruit, tubers, and occasional meat. The contribution of meat to the diet increases in the dry season, when game become concentrated around sources of water.

These Paleo diet hunter-gatherers also have a way of trading. The Hadza gather honey from wild bees and trade it for items they are unable to make themselves, like metal objects and fabric or clothes.
Perhaps the most fascinating enterprise is honey collection. For the Hadza, honey is the gold of life. Pursuing it is much more predictable than hunting and it is valued even more than meat and fat in their dietary preferences, the Hadza say. They harvest the honey from wild bees of seven different species. Honey is most prized but the larvae, pupae and pollen are also important to them.
Collecting the honey demonstrates ingenuity, sensitivity to nature and skill. The Hadza locate the honey with the guidance of the honeyguide bird, who helps find new hives or those whose location has not been passed on by the gatherers through the generations. The Hadza use smoke to pacify the bees, who often build their colonies in tall trees. This is a perfect symbiotic relationship: the honeyguide leads human beings to the honey and in turn benefits from the spoils of wax and larvae left behind."

                                       Hadzabe honey hunter

The Hadzabe speak their own language which seems unrelated to any other languages spoken by African tribes. It is a click language. Their life is full of mysteries and tales which are presented in a comprehensive way on

                             Hadzabe`s habitat

Excerpted from “Hadzabe: By the Light of a Million Fires” by Daudi Peterson, Richard
Baalow and Jon Cox
                                  A member of the Hadza tribe of Tanzania, a young boy practices his archery skills

We are Hadzabe, we are Tanzanians. Our people number
about 1000 and we live in the Lake Eyasi Valley and
surrounding hills. In our oral history we have always lived
here. We have no record of living somewhere else. Our
language is not related to any of the different languages of
our neighbors who have moved into this area more recently.
This is OUR story as told to us by our fathers and to them by
their fathers by the light of a million fires. Watching the
sparks fly into the African night, we listen mesmerized and
watch as the elders enact our history–the history of
humanity–before our very eyes. They hold our wisdom and their stories–our stories–
become alive, attaching themselves to our minds so that they will never be forgotten.
                      Hadzabe tribe`s boy 

And, when the time comes, we will pass them on to our own children as the sparks of
another fire pierce the night. These stories are an essential part of our early schooling
but when dawn breaks, it brings new lessons and the learning process continues as we
tag along behind our parents while they hunt and forage.
We are hunter-gatherers. We live off the land and have done
so successfully for thousands of years even though our
homeland in the Lake Eyasi region is harsh and dry. Our
neighboring tribes, dependent on water greedy crops such as
maize, and on large herds of cattle and goats, often face
recurring famine. Sever droughts force them to turn to the
government for help and famine relief. We, on the other hand,
have no record of severe famine since we rely on many
different plants and animals, all of which are adapted to this
particular environment.

                         Hadzabe man having a quiet time after hunting

Unlike many African tribes where the women are
subordinate to the men, our women stand proud beside
us, certain in the knowledge that their gathering of food
alone could sustain us. We the Hadzabe love meat, fat
and honey above all else, but these are only supplements
to our predominately plant-based diet.
Our God, Haine, along with Ishoko the Sun and Seeta the
Moon, have provided well for us. Every day we set out
with the sun to eat from nature’s table. The men sharpen
their arrows, tighten their bowstrings and focus their eyes. Thanks to the skills passed on to us by our fathers, we can hunt successfully enough to thrive one day to the next. Sometimes the honeyguide, an insistent little bird, will distract us with its rattling call and the promise of sweet honey melting in our mouths. Who are
we to deny it! We follow it through the bush as it hops from tree to tree leading us
towards a beehive.

The women too sharpen their digging sticks and grab their bags at daybreak. They are
sure to come back with enough tubers and fruits to feed us all. No matter the time of the
year, nor the fickleness of the weather, there is always some bush bearing fruit or some
tuber brimming with moisture lurking just beneath the ground, waiting to be harvested.
When the abundant fruits from the baobab trees ripen, they provide enough
nourishment to keep us all healthy for months to come.
Before the sun reaches its summit, almost everyone will be
back at camp with full stomachs and there will be no need
to go out again until the sun is low in the sky. For the men,
the hottest hours of the day are spent making bows and
arrows, or resting, smoking our stone pipes and telling
stories. Some days the men brew poison from the sap of
the desert rose or grind the other poison we use, to smear
on their arrows, replacing those lost during the morning hunt.
                                Ethnic Baby Sling Hunter-Gather Wa-Hadzabe Tribe Tanzania

The women tend to the children, make beaded
jewelry, and pound the pulp of the baobab fruits into flour
for porridge, while others rest and chatter incessantly in our ancient click language.
If a man has not returned by noon, there is no cause for worry but instead reason for
hope. It could be that he has been led far away by a honeyguide or even better, he
might be following the spoor of a big animal hit by his poisoned arrow. If the latter is
true, there will be enough meat to feast on until our stomachs distend and the last bit of
fat and sinew is picked off the bones. Even the bones will be cracked open for the
delicious marrow within. Nothing will be wasted and even the hyenas will skulk away,
tail between their legs, to whoop their disappointment to the stars.
Because we know for certainty that each day will provide us with food, we don’t need to
store food for tomorrow and we share whatever we have today with everyone. But to
ensure that we have enough for tomorrow, we live a nomadic life that allows the land to
recover in our wake. When we return, we find the land
healthy and plentiful once again.

                 a mother and her daughter cutting freshly prepared monkey

By using no snares or traps and hunting only with our self-made bows and arrows, we have no lasting impact on the wildlife populations. We don’t cut trees to build houses or enclosures for domestic animals and crop storage. Likethe rest of the world we depend on trees but we do not destroy them. We drink directly from springs and return for more when we are thirsty. Digging out the springs for crops and livestock lowers the water table, making it impossible for the wild animals to drink. If the wild animals find no water, they will be forced to move on and where would that leave us? Our houses are only temporary shelters built out of dry grass thrown over a frame of intertwined branches, like a bird nest upside down. They melt back into the ground as soon as we move on and we build new ones when we return.

We live in harmony with our environment because we live and depend directly on the
land. We look after it and it looks after us. We have lived in the Eyasi region for
thousands of years and have left no mark upon the land. This, ironically, seems to be
the cause of our present plight. Other tribes, passing through this area must have
thought it uninhabited and so settled here. We didn’t have a problem with that initially
since our land was plentiful and could sustain us all. But we soon realized the harm
caused to the environment by farming, by cutting trees for cattle enclosures and
houses, by making charcoal fuel out of trees, by huge herds of cattle overgrazing the
land, and by digging waterholes until the water sources retreat deep into the ground.
Finally when we decided to complain and make a stand for our land, our pleas went

We are discriminated against because we are hunter-gatherers. People who don’t
understand our economy and culture treat us as if we are backward or primitive.
Because we have maintained our environment in its natural state, they consider our
land empty and unused and our basic rights as Tanzanians are denied.
Over the last few decades we have lost more than three quarters of our land to
practices that continue to destroy it. Contrary to popular opinion, we Hadzabe are not
opposed to development. We are, however, opposed to the unsustainable use of the
land. We believe it is possible to develop while keeping our cultural heritage and putting
our profound knowledge of the environment to good and sustainable use. Our first
priority, therefore, is to obtain our rights over the land that has supported us for
thousands of years and which we have preserved intact for the generations to come.As we lose our land and the plants and animals we depend on, we lose the only
foundation that will enable us to develop alongside our fellow Tanzanians. The
continued loss of our natural environment will leave us homeless and its destruction will
not benefit our neighbors or our nation of Tanzania, now or into the future. Our fellow
citizens will lose a culture rich in knowledge accumulated over millennia–knowledge that
complements the lives of both our children and theirs.

As Hadzabe we wish to promote the understanding of our culture and economy–an
understanding that will lead to greater respect for our land and our basic human rights.
Only a better understanding and respect for who we are will allow us to join the future
with dignity as Tanzanians.
“We are Tanzanians, we are Hadzabe.” (

                                                   Hadzabe man on his way to hunting

          Hadza men sit around a fire before going hunting.The Hadza are the last hunter-gatherers in Africa.

                                                   wooden cigar

                                      Hadzabe boy smoking his wooden cigar

hadza arrows are of three types: wooden for hunting birds and rodents, metal for medium sized animals and with poisoned metal arrowheads for hunting big animals

hadzabe boys learn to hunt at the age of eight. at the age of ten their only food is the one they hunt themselves

                                                                           Hadzabe kids


                         Hadzabes going for hunting

                                      Preparing for the hunting

                               Hadzabe Archer with a his hunting prize bird. Birds are the easiest prey for the hadzabe people. and in some times the only food that they recieve during the day apart from berrie.


  1. very nice photos, very inspiring for an african like me. I love Africa. Thanks for taking your time to take these photos and sharing with the world. Cheers.

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