The ongoing plight of the Hadzabe in Tanzania has caught the attention of the British mainstream press, in the guise of this article from the Daily Mail, on whose behalf Andrew Malone has filed a report. Although many readers of these pages will already be familiar with this story, it’s important to keep it in the public eye, hence this post.
After a four-day quest covering thousands of miles by light aircraft, Land Rover and, finally, on foot, we knew we were on the brink of an unforgettable experience — the chance to reach back in time and meet our living human ancestors from countless millennia ago. We waited in silence.
Suddenly, shadows of human forms started moving around the bush. The noise of sing-song voices floated towards us. Here, in one of the world’s last untouched wildernesses — the dense bush south of Africa’s Rift Valley where the first humans emerged upright more than two million years ago — a group of men from the mysterious Stone Age tribe were ready to make their introductions.
Draped in animal skins and carrying arrows tipped with poison, two slim, wiry characters walked slowly towards us in the clearing. Time has stood still for these men — two of an estimated 400 remaining survivors of the Hadzabe tribe — whose way of life has scarcely changed since human evolution began.
Malony makes the somewhat ironic point that the Hadza are one of the last hunter-gatherer societies on Earth, and they just happen to live in a part of the world from where some of the earliest traces of our archaic ancestors have been found – the Palaeolithic starts and ends there, so to speak. He describes an encounter with a Hadza tribesman named Gonga…
“You are welcome here. But please tell your people how things are for the Hadzabe. Please do not add things and please do not take things away. Please just tell the world that we are dying.”
More than wild animals or sleeping sickness, what Gonga fears is that rich men with guns and helicopters from the ‘new world’ are about to arrive on his doorstep, spelling the end for a tribe that, with the exception of headhunters in remote parts of Papua New Guinea, represent the only bridge between modern and ancient man.
It is the modern story — of clashes between people from the first world eager to exploit Africa, whatever the cost to ancient customs, and the desperate battle by the world’s few remaining indigenous people to survive.
In the past, it has been Europeans who have most noticeably exploited Africa for materials and humans, seemingly oblivious to what they were destroying in the process, but more recently other foreigners have been turning their baleful eyes towards this continent, including China and the Middle East. And while of course it could be argued that the First World has since made reparation in financial and material terms, the reality for hundreds of millions of people there has remained one of unremitting poverty.
If the Abu Dhabi royals had overflown Native American territories, or Aborigine grounds in Australia, and then proposed they boot some of them off their land in order to better enjoy their hunting trips, there would be immediate uproar, and no such deal could be made. This might be because both these nations are First World, who happen to have a remnant of their own ancestral heritage living in their nation. Forgetting for a moment the disgraceful ways in which those native populations were treated, the situation today is that they are legally more secure, and as far as I can work out, have sufficient rights to ensure that no-one can take their lands away from them, or at least not as easily as appears to be the case here.
But because the Hadza don’t live in the First World, it seems they have no rights at all to stay on their own lands, with no-one to stand up on their behalf in the courts, or even to any significant extent, in the Press. In this instance the Hadza are being offered a type of compulsory compensation…
In return for the dubious pleasure of shooting lion, leopard, buffalo and elephant, Crown Prince Hamdan bin Zayed (the UAE’s deputy prime minister) and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (deputy supreme commander of the air force) want the Hadza evicted from the area to prevent them competing for game.
As bait, they are offering to pay the impoverished East African country a reported £30million, and have offered to build private homes, hospitals and schools for the displaced tribe.
The Tanzanian government supports the plan and, for years, has considered the Hadzabe an embarrassment — ‘a backward people who should be living decently in proper houses’.
When their own government has this attitude towards them, what hope have the Hadza got – sure, they might get these cosmetic benefits in the short-term, but as a people they will be doomed to a domesticated extinction event. It’s very worthwhile reading the rest of the article, so in the meantime we’ll leave the last word from Gonga…
“Our voices will never be heard,” said Gonga. “Tell the world we are dying. Tell the world we want to live.”
Without help, there will be no shadows in the bush for much longer. Matayo and his brother and sisters may be the last Hadza children to dance round the fire in the deep of the African night.
Soon, there may be only ghosts in the Yaida Valley, and a unique way of life will be replaced for ever by the sound of guns bought with Arab gold.
Time for the Hadza, it would appear is running out faster than you could say ‘helicopter hunting party’; and whilst it may seem appropriate for supposedly sophisticated outsiders to disapprove of certain aspects of the Hadza life-style, obliterating their culture is not the way to go – let’s hope that a little more media exposure can raise sufficient awareness for a more sensible and practicable solution to be applied to this sorry affair. (TJ)
n.b. for further articles on this site, just type Hadzabe into the search box, which should point you towards them.
see also: Northstate Science – ‘Hadza Help Letter‘
image from Daily Mail