The Last Hunter-Gatherers

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“Mutana,” they greeted us with their hands extended, dressed in a unique combination of animal skins and cargo shorts that only the Hadzabe could rock. They spoke only Hadza- not a word Kiswahili and definitely no English. We shook hands.

There are fewer than five thousand members of the Hadzabe tribe that remain, living throughout Tanzania. They are the only people in this country who are allowed to hunt without guns, still using the traditional bow and arrow. They taught us how to start a fire without a match and how to shoot a bow and arrow, and we participated in one of their dances. All this was part of a “cultural tourism” experience, which was educational, but left many of us with mixed feelings. Were these people being empowered, or exploited, by these exchanges? Were we changing their culture?

None of the Hadzabe we met had cell phones or facebooks (you’d be surprised how many people here do), but they did use the money from tourist visits to go to the market to buy strings, beads, beets, and other supplies. Much of their clothing was obviously purchased. Of course, these changes aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but they aren’t necessarily good either. Were we disrupting their traditions, or is it only the outsiders hoping to preserve some kind of living cultural artifact?

While we were learning to make fire, one man returned from the morning hunting trip holding a wooden bow in one hand and the body of a dik-dik in the other. Clearly, even if their culture is changing, much of it remains. The Hadzabe will find a balance between the new and old because they must if their tribe is to survive.

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Until next time,
Heather

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