I wrote previously about mankind’s attempts to resurrect some faunal components of the Pleistocene, but here’s a story about mankind’s attempts to obliterate one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer societies that has survived (just about) to the present day. This from MSNBC

…members of the dwindling Hadzabe tribe, who now number fewer than 1,500, say it is being unduly hastened by a United Arab Emirates royal family, which plans to use the tribal hunting land as a personal safari playground.

The deal between the Tanzanian government and Tanzania UAE Safaris Ltd. leases nearly 2,500 square miles of this sprawling, yellow-green valley near the storied Serengeti Plain to members of the royal family, who chose it after a helicopter tour.

Apparently, the Abu Dhabi royal family were concerned that hunting lands they already used nearby, had become overcrowded by too many members of the same royal family, who are evidently enthusiastic hunters. One detail that caught my eye was the way in which the royals surveyed their new sport-hunting domain from a helicopter – too bad they didn’t have the courage to explain direct to the Habadze why they are about to be denied access to what little they have left in the way of land resources. Here’s a look at one of the ways in which the Hadzabe, like many before them, have gradually been ground down…

“A few decades ago, this Garden of Eden (Chem-chem) was thick with game. I imagine the Hadzabe people who lived here had little trouble sustaining an enviable life-style of hunting, gathering, sharing, chilling out, getting stoned, and chatting away in Clicklout(sic), their click-based language. Their cupboard was well stashed. And the tedious concepts of time, a cash economy, the nuclear family, and the Victorian work ethic had yet to complicate the bliss of their simple existence. Like Adam and Eve, I guess. Pre-apple.

Today Eden is not what it used to be. Like the !Kung and Khwe of the Kalahari, the North American Indians, and the Australian aborigines before them, the Hadzabe have begun surrendering their lands and their life-style to the pressures of more developed societies. Today, sombre Barabaig pastoralists herd their cattle along the paths of Chem-chem. Wasukuma, Iraqw, Niramba, Wachuga, and many more tribespeople have brought their hoes and their animals to this green garden.

And so the remaining warm-blooded ingredients of a good Hadzabe lunch have fled to the dry, thorny forests below the Rift Valley escarpment and in the Yaeda Valley. Having no history of aggression, the Hadzabe simply retreated into the forest.”

We might expect the government of Tanzania to have some interest in preserving their cultural past – after all, this is the land of Olduvai Gorge and other important archaeological and anthropological sites – here’s how one of their number view the tribespeople…

The official, Philip Marmo, called the Hadzabe “backwards” and said they would benefit from the school, roads and other projects the UAE company has offered as compensation.

He might consider these people backward, but here’s some of what they have had to contend with in recent years, with particular reference to the arrivals of Europeans in Africa…

While they have through 50,000 years survived the coming of agriculture, metal, guns, diseases, missionaries, poachers, anthropologists, students, gawking journalists, corrugated steel houses and encroaching pastoral tribes who often impersonate them for tourist money, the resilient Hadzabe, who still make fire with sticks, fear that the safari deal will be their undoing.

So they survived all that, just to fall at the last to the entertainment preferences of a privileged group of foreigners, who seemingly have no regard for what they probably consider to be primitive humans – sad to see that almost nothing has changed in the last few hundred years.

But what surprises me is that there seems to be no level of protection, either at the national or international level for beleaguered natives, who are persecuted and punished simply for having the temerity to live a pastoral life-style in the modern economic world.

I wonder if the Tanznian government aren’t simply using the Abu Dhabi royals as an excuse to finish off the Hadabze – they will be able to claim that this is no government intent on committing cultural genocide – pointing to the supposed material benefits on offer to the Hadzabe, enabling said governemt to wash their hands of any responsibility for people who should be under their care.

There are various projects which seek to protect wildlife in Africa – for example there is a big, if not completely effective, anti-poaching drive to protect elephants from ivory hunters and traders – so why can we not protect human hunters and gatherers? In a similar vein, one of the major problems with the slow eradication of gorilla species in Africa has been identified as the culture which is irredeemably lost when such creatures are wiped out, and so it is with humans. Once people like the Hadzabe are gone, the traditions, language, knowledge of the landscape around them, as well as oral histories, myths and stories – all gone, for ever, whereas rich people with too much money and too little constructive input, will doubtless be in abundance on this nearly ruined Earth, for many years to come. (TJ)

update 11 Jun 07: Chris O’Brien at Northstate Science, who has previously worked with the Hadzabe, has posted this, which is well worth reading:

Hadza Tribal Lands Being Confiscated By Arab Royal Family

See also: Hadzabe Bushmen Lake Eyasi