Tanzania – Hadzabe Tribe Threatened

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

26 thoughts on “Tanzania – Hadzabe Tribe Threatened

  1. Hey Tim, thanks for covering this. I didn’t know about this until I read it here. It is very disheartening that people in Tanzanian government consider the Hadzabe ‘backwards’ because it is very hard to reverse that mentality.

    Like you mention, they are far from backwards. On the whole, they’ve maintained their lifestyle despite being contacted from the ‘outside.’ I see this push to conformity happen in other pastoral nomadic tribes, such as the Hamer, Surma, Mursi, Dassanech, and the Danakil cultures which border both Ethiopia and Kenya — but they aren’t really being driven out by the government!

    Afarensis has also commented about this news, if you or others are interested in reading more check out what he has written too.

  2. I’m having some difficulty in accepting that this kind of travesty can in any way be legal, and that it might even be too late for anything to be done to stop this from going through – hopefully there will be more coverage in the mainstream press, but I’m not sure that even a spot of adverse publicity will change the minds of those responsible – thanks for the other links, which I’ll check out.

  3. Chris O’Brian – who has worked with the Hadza – is working on a post also. I don’t know when it will be up, he says soon.

  4. Hey Afarensis & Tim,

    I wanted to let you know that I’ve contacted Survival International to see if they have any current campaigns going on or have planned any future campaigns in regards to helping out the Hadza. I think they are one of the more international organizations that specialize in issues like what the Hadza are facing… check out their site and maybe their blog too… but a disclaimer, they don’t have anything up abotu the Hadza, yet.

  5. Good idea Kambiz – like you say, there’s nothing up at their site relating to this tribe – let’s see if they pick up the story and raise more awareness in the future.

  6. There is no way people can be judged as ‘backward’ in development as the perspective of what is development differ from one community to another,so they are ‘backward’ in the eyes of the people who are calling themselves ‘civilized’ while as per their understanding they dont need further step and are confortable with their life.Furthermore,if development is to be judget by other peoples eyes where is Tanzania if not ‘far backward’?

    In short what is happening (if true) is the betrayal of the highest order of human right of settlement,and it needs serius attention.

  7. My comments go direct to this marginalized society found in Tanzania.As the matter of the fact we need to cooperate as academicians to rescue these indigenous people.As Iam one of the activist I am looking forward to get both material and moral support that I can fulfil my goal of conducting a workshop in Arusha Tanzania in August this year on the “ways of preserving traditional heritage of Hadzabe people”.This workshop needs participarts as well as facilitators who will present papers. I am very impressed once I come accross this page that I can keep in contact with the world to tell the reality about the Hadzabe. I am a Tanzanian, also a third year student at Tumaini University in Iringa Tanzania, pursuing a bachelor of Cultural Anthropology and Tourism.

  8. Hi Francis, thanks for your comments; you might also want to visit another website ‘Northstate Science’, where Chris O’Brien has written more extensively on the Hadza, and moreover, has worked with them in the past – his most recent post is ‘More on the Hadza’, but there are others, and I’ll post more info here later in the day. Anyway, good luck with your workshop, and hopefully you’ll attract sufficient interest in time for August.

  9. Margwe – thanks also for your comments, which I think echo the sentiments of many others.

  10. Hallo,

    I live in Tanzania, and am proud that we have the oldest people on earth living in our country in harmony with nature.

    I saw on Survival international site a bulletin about the arabs taking their land. I have been asking around the community what is going on, and surprise surprise, alot of intimidation and fear and corruption and total disrespect for the Hadzabe people from politicians.

    People here are scared to help them, there are rumours that the politicians took huge election bribes from the arabs, and now they are in power are paying back. with the Hadzabe land.

    There are rumours that the arabs have already depleted and destroyed the hunting blocks they had before. That they bring booze and women to their camps, so like to be very private.

    That they dont ‘hunt’ in a traditional sense but exterminate many animals, shooting from their cars. They fly in and have no one monitoring their hunting behaviour.

    There are rumours that they have ‘pet’ bought Hadzabe who co-operate in the theft of their tribal land.

    There are rumours they have bought many politicians and it is dangerous to help the Hadzabe, so be careful Francis, we need to make sure the world knows what you are doing!

    I have heard that people have already been arrested for helping the Hadzabe.

    But the Hadzabe do have the respect of the world and the power of our voices behind them.

    Tanzania has been a leader in conservation and needs to be shown by the world the respect we have for the oldest people on the planet who still know how to live in harmony with nature.

    I think the more press coverage in the world for these people, the better, I think the tanzanians will realise that the Hadzabe are a living wealth of knowledge and example for the whole world.

  11. Dear all,

    I have been following closely your discussions about the Handzabe tribe in nothern Tanzania. As a matter of fact, this subject will be the lead story of The Express a weekly newspaper published in Dar es salaam. I am very troubled by the comments made by the Minister responsible for good governance, Philip Marmo. Please I would like to hear some more thoughts about that you can drop me a line on my email kizmakoye@gmail.com thanks, kizito.

  12. Kizito Makoye – thanks for leaving your comment, very interesting to see it being published as a lead story – I’m assuming their article will appear online as well as in print, if so I’ll put something up in due course. I’ll run an update on the overall situation in the next day or two, once I’ve gathered one or two pieces of info.


  13. I was reading the article in todays Daily mail about the plight of the Hadzabe Tribe.Is there any way we can get a petition to try to stop these cruel selfish and greedy Royals to leave these lovely people alone to live the way they choose in peace? They are by no means a backward race in fact they are a very pure race, who are holding a lot of light for this sad [planet.

  14. Is there anything more we can do to highlight the plight of the Hadzabe Tribe . I think it is shameful to think they are a backward race . They should be allowed to live their pure simple way of life without being bullied out of it by anyone .

  15. Hi Anne – thanks for your comment, we have a number of posts on the subject, the most recent of which is Hadzabe Alert/Protest Letter which also has a couple of email addresses of to which you can address your concerns, as well as details of the website of Steffen Keulig – didn’t realise the Daily Mail had picked up the story, good to see it in the mainstream press, I’ll check it out, thanks for the heads-up. Chris O’Brien at Northstate Science also has some info; he spent time working with the Hadza.


  16. Adam –

    Thanks very much for sending us this link, especially as it is the bringer of such good news.

  17. well,
    i am so sorry for this.
    the sell of the birth right could happened here in my own country Tanzania. How dare the goverment could do this to his own people?
    God help your people

  18. I’m a freelance photographer in California and just recently returned from Tanzania having spent some time with the Hadzabe. I shot several images and working towards a grant in hopes to return to Tanzania and continue documenting the urgency of the Hadza’s situation. I also met with Daudi Peterson of the Dorobo Fund who is actively working with several activists to protect the Hadza.
    More of their work can be seen at http://www.dorobofund.org

    Thank you for the deepening conversation. It truly is the way for humanity to evolve.

  19. It is truly sad for many people just to sit and watch the eventual eredication of a culture from the land of the human cradle: Tanzania.

    It is a shame on those royals from UAE who are threatening people and wilf animal at Loliondo and at Yaeda valley in Tanzania.

    In accordance with UN resolution on the Right of the Indigenous People in 2007, I hope more people pay more attention to preserving our ancient form of life.

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