Hadza - one of the oldest humanities and cultures in East Africa
14. September 2012
The Hadza are a unique population of hunter-gatherers living in the Lake Eyasi region of northern Tanzania. Their way of life dates back millennia, living off of the land by hunting wild game, collecting wild plants and honey, and sleeping in simple grass huts in the dry African savannah.
The Hadza are familiar with the outside world of towns and technology, but while they are gracious neighbors most have chosen to follow the life ways of their parents and grandparents, keeping their vibrant and fascinating own culture alive.
The Hadza are a culturally, linguistically, and genetically distinct population of approximately 1000-1500 individuals, living around Lake Eyasi, in northern Tanzania.
Culturally, they are distinguished by being the only population in east Africa that continues to rely extensively on hunting and gathering for their subsistence.
Linguistically, they speak Hadzane, a click-language that has phonetic similarities to other Khoisan click-languages but is not mutually intelligible with any. For this reason Hadzane is often considered a language isolate; as far from its' neighbouring tongues linguistically as Chinese is to English.
Genetic studies confirm that the distinctiveness of the Hadza population stretches back thousands of years.
This makes the Hadza of Tanzania in East Africa one of the oldest human cultures on earth.
Anthropologists have described how the Hadza's subsistence strategies are closely coupled to their woodland-savannah ecology, while also being guided by distinctive cultural ethos. Hartmut Heller, James Woodburn and others note the importance of sharing, minimal politics, egalitarianism, and an intimacy to social relations wherein most individuals act towards others like kin.
Anthropologists also note how Hadza residential groups, or camps, often break apart and re-assemble in order to diffuse social tensions.
Being mobile is an essential part of Hadza culture: both as a way to find food and as a way to peaceably regulate social interactions.
For these reasons, efforts to provide needed medical support and medical education provided to the Hadza has to likewise strive to be as mobile as possible.
The Hadza live in a woodland habitat dominated by Acacia, Commiphora, and Adansonia digitata (Baobab) trees. The woodlands of Hadza country are typically hilly and rocky. Natural springs and seasonal rivers intersperse their range. On the edges of Lake Eyasi and the Yaeda Valley, rocky hills give way to sandy alluvial plains. The area can be quite hot, dry, and windy during the dry season (June-Oct) but is lush and green during the rainy periods.
Hadza typically live in camps with 20-40 residents. On any given day, camp members decide where and how to forage by closely observing their country, discussing their observations with other camp members, and by drawing upon their expert knowledge of the land.
Though the Hadza recognize five general regions within their country (Mangola, Han!abi, Tli’ika, Sipunga, and Dunduiya), there are no land-holding territorial divisions between Hadza groups.
Acacia and Commiphera flowers are important sources of nectar for the African honey bee, Apis melliferra, which produces large stores of wild honey, a crucial food in the Hadza diet. Baobab trees contain the largest hives, some of which have been harvested repeatedly by the Hadza for hundreds of years. In addition to containing hives of wild honey, baobab trees produce a fruit rich in nutrients, green leaves that are eaten in times of hunger, and several tree parts used as medicine.
As with the Baobab, the Hadza are stewards of an exceptional array of plants and animals in their environment. They are masters at finding widely dispersed sources of food, medicine, and water, which they have sustainably harvested for countless generations. The most important wild foods in the Hadza diet are large and small game, baobab, berries, several types of wild honey, and tubers.
About 500 Hadza continue to rely on hunting and gathering for the majority of their diet, and perhaps 300 almost exclusively.
Even though complaints of hunger and requests for food are heard in Hadza society, these are normal features of a society that depends on food sharing. Many Hadza mention that they believe foraging for wild foods is a fulfilling avenue to a better diet than either farming or cattle-raising would enable.
They truly enjoy and cherish the personal freedom afforded by living in small, mobile, and intimate camps. Many Hadza overtly reject the noise, crowds, dangers, and discrimination that life in neighboring villages would entail.
Increasing immigration into the Hadza region, as well as rapid population growth of neighboring groups has meant that the Hadza have lost access to many of their most important foraging lands.
The Hadza have little voice in the planning or regulation of regional land use, and their needs are often overshadowed by the masses that follow a more typical farming or cattle-raising way of life.
The Hadza realize they live in this rapidly changing world, which presents them with unique opportunities and special challenges.
Since the 1960's, many attempts to settle and "develop" the Hadza have been made. The failures of these attempts make the Hadza weary of new proposals to "help the Hadza".
Anthropologists and local health workers have built up mutual trust, knowledge, and friendship with the Hadza, which allows us to tailor our health initiatives to their particular needs and the concerns of individuals. Our experience also enables us to effectively cooperate with other groups concerned with Hadza survival.
Challenges to Hadza Health and Culture
Unfortunately, while the Hadza have adapted to their ever changing environmental and social landscape in the past, recent challenges threaten their health and way of life.
Diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV are common in nearby villages, and increased interaction with growing villages near Hadza lands threatens to spread these and other illnesses.
Climate change and population growth also threaten Hadza access to the wild game, wild plants, and water on which they depend. Much of their traditional homeland has already been lost to them.
The Hadza’s foraging lifestyle has proven resilient for thousands of years, but leaves them in a precarious position today.
The most serious threat to the Hadza came in form of a bid by the rulers of Dubai, who already hold a vast and very controversial hunting concession in Northern Tanzania to take over the whole of the Yaida Valley. Unfortunatly the Arabs had highest governmenal backing. If they would have succeeded that would have been the end of the Hadza. Here is not the place to elaborate the defence which then was mounted, but the Arab insurgency was successfully fought back and stopped, though they already had started building.
Shortly after the Yaia valley had again been secured for the Hadza, Norwegian-led South-African gold prospectors started to show interest and the Norwegian-funded hospital in Haidom served as their base. But also these attempts could be fought back successfully.
Land demarkation and protection of the Hadza homeland once again proved vital.
That also stopped crazy plans proposed by the Frankfurt Zoological Society - while fighting against a highway through the Serengeti National Park - to have an alternative route for the road planned through the Yaida Valley. After an international outcry the FZS has retracted these plans.
Still the hospital in Haidom - based south of the Yaida valley - leads regularly "Safari-Drives" of their church-based venture into Hadzaland, though they are not welcome, because they do not pay safari-fees to the Hadza while at the hospital the Hadza have to pay the extraordinary high fees if they seek medical help. It has been noted on several ocasions that funds have been solicited from these uninformed faith-based safari-groups - attracted by the Haidom hospital - which never reached the Hadza.
Eastern Hadza Population
According to a census carried out by Brian Wood in Jan-May of 2012, there were only 950 Hadza speakers living to the south and east of Lake Eyasi. This small population size attests to the vulnerability of their population.
Efforts have been made to provide improved health services to the Hadza in the Mangola region, where approx. 1/5 of all Hadza live, and where many more occasionally visit. To support healthcare and research initiatives that improve the health of the Hadzabe and promote a better understanding of their culture it is necessary to improve the health of the Hadza by increasing access to and supporting the costs of medical care, and by supporting research that seeks to understand the context of Hadza health by documenting their way of life.
The Hadza fund focused on the Mangola area. That location was chosen because it is the region with the longest contact with outsiders,and consequentially the most serious health concerns.
Hadza from other regions come to Mangola to visit and trade, and so by improving the situation in Mangola, one can positively impact the whole Hadza population.
Since June 2012 a team, led by Nurse Ruth Matiyas, carried out regular camp visits to all of the Hadza living in the Mangola area.
During camp visits, Ruth and assistants provided health education to all and helped to diagnose or treat those Hadza with health challenges.
When necessary, Ruth transported the sick to the Hhando Medical Clinic in Barazani or to regional hospitals.
The conditions treated include broken bones, an ecotopic pregnancy, malaria, hepatitis, STDs, and TB. The work has led to a greater awareness of the risks of HIV-transmission, and several Hadza have begun antiretroviral therapy.
Traditional Hadza Health Practices
The Hadza do not have specific shamans, but listen to experiences of their elders when it comes to the needs of healing and have a strong spirituality with the traditional deity Heine at the core.
When sick, expert healers from other ethnicities are often consulted. This is a common practice in Tanzania, and Nurse Ruth’s activities did build upon this tradition of seeking and welcoming outsiders with special knowledge.
The Hadza have a strong will to maintain their traditional culture. That had lead even to skirmishes when governmental entities snatched Hadza children and forced them into far way schools. Once a mission-school was burned down by angry Hadza fathers while taking their children back and much legal effort had to be made to free them from prison.
A new approach to send Hadza children as groups, whereby the Hadza children can support and stabilize each other, into boarding schools like in Mangola, which is at the fringe of Hadza Land, for primary education or to Longido for secondary education were successful and even the first two Hadza ladies were funded to complete teachers training for the possible futur establishment of an own Haza school.
Increased interest in the Hadza and improved access to their homeland has created new challenges for them. The influx of tourists in some parts of the Hadza homeland has been overwhelming, threatening to forever change their way of life. Much of the difficulty stems from uninformed or irresponsible tour and safari companies, who bring well-meaning tourists to Hadza camps but invest little or nothing in the Hadza community in return. A number of social problems, including alcoholism, domestic abuse, and malnutrition, can and do arise as a result of these short-sighted practices.
The Hadza have over the years been targeted by quite a number of crazy people from all over the world and also in this context Hadza resiliance is remarkable. Those coming to the Hadza inluded hippies on back-to-nature dope-smoking trips, sexual predators and even infamous body-performance "artists" like Marina Abramovics, who wanted to transmit via satellite naked nightly scenes into the hall of the globalists in Geneva for champaign-sipping guests to see. The latter was stopped dead by two dedicated international activists from two cooperating organizations and Abromovics never dared to come.
An outragious filming event by a German television reality-show, however, could not be prevented because the producer had a very heinous strategy and broke all rules and regulations, bribed secretly one camp of the Hadza and got their shots showing western photo-models in disgusting scenes with the Hadza before anybody could react and step in. However, the broadcast then was successfully stopped and the case is still legally followed up.
If you decide to include a visit to the Hadza homeland on your trip to Tanzania, consider your choices carefully when choosing a safari company or tour guide. Only go with secular companies that follow socially and environmentally responsible practices and support the Hadza communities you visit.
To engage for the Hadza write to ECOTERRA Intl. via
To contact the Hadza Defence Fund write to ECOTERRA Africa via
To contact the Women in Wildlands Programme write to fPcN-InterCultural via
To contact the Hadza Health Programme write to the Hadza Fund via