Taking Shots

by Rae Ellen Bichell:

The 975 Hadza tribespeople who live in Tanzania’s Rift Valley, where the ancestors of modern humans originated 7 million years ago, are among the last hunter-gatherers on the African continent. To the rest of Tanzania, they are barbarians.

Eighteen-year-old Hamis Said from Arusha shook his head as he described the primitive condition of the Hadza. “They wear skins and run around in the forest,” he said. Upon mention of the Hadza, the response of one Dar es Salaam resident was to laugh. “They are still living in the Stone Age. They are, you know…” His voice trailed off as he gestured toward an imaginary loincloth around his waist.

Hadza men practice their aim by taking shots at a small rock. As safaris and farming have encroached on their land, diminishing the stock of large game, thse hunters are becoming used to bringing home smaller and smaller animals. (Ramirez/TYG)

Urban Tanzanians generally know little about the Hadza but imagine them to be scantily clad, baboon-eating bushmen armed with poisoned arrows. The Hadza also have another reputation, one that is growing along with the number of tourists that comes to visit each year. According to Tanzanian journalists, travel agents, and even human rights activists, they are increasingly becoming drunkards.

Many Hadza still follow a way of life based on ancient traditions. Since the Stone Age, Hadza men have set out each morning into the desert bush with bows and arrows in hand, hoping to bring back anything from birds and bush babies to the prized but now rare buffalo and giraffe. These traditions, however, are on their way out.

In recent years, a wave of tourist visitors have brought cash to the Hadza, and cash has brought with it alcohol. In the past decade, drink has become a part of Hadza culture, replacing even the most basic subsistence activities like hunting and gathering and spurring new additions to the typical Hadza schedule. These days, a group of Hadza near Mangola Gorofani can be seen squatting around a bucket of beer at noon. In the afternoon, they pack onto wooden benches in the mud and thatch hut that serves hard liquor in the village. At night, they sit on the matching green couches that clutter a one-room hotel-bar, the light from oil lamps casting shadows on their beads and weapons.

Rehearsed Traditions

Five thousand years ago, Bantu farming communities spread across the continent, incorporating or displacing hunter-gatherer tribes in a wave of agricultural assimilation. Other hunter-gatherers like the Khoisan and the Pygmies (another of Tanzania’s earliest indigenous tribes and the genetic relatives of the Hadza) became dependent on Bantu markets, were absorbed into the new population, and eventually lost their land.

Somehow, while the rest of the continent went from hunting and gathering to planting and pastoralism, the Hadza escaped the transition culturally unscathed, a relic of early civilization. Now, amid global trends towards urbanization and industrialization, the Hadza are a truly unique people. But like all relics, they have also become an attraction in tourist guidebooks.

Much of the Hadza population continues to live the way it has as far back as anyone can remember, the way the Hadza live when there are no tourists in sight. They still sleep under the stars on reed mats, everyone spread around campfires. Fast-forward a few hours until daybreak: Some men prepare to go hunting while others stay behind with the women and children.

The Hadza made their debut on the world stage in 2001, when PBS and BBC produced documentaries highlighting the resilience of their ancient practices. Soon after, “there was a marked increase in the seasonal influx of tourists,” said Kirk Miller, a linguist who spent eight months living in the bush with a Hadza group near Lake Eyasi in Northern Tanzania.

The documentaries sparked the interest of tourists and researchers, bringing many Hadza communities face-to-face with the rest of the world. For some of them, the arrival of these foreigners provided an alternative to tracking down or digging up scant food sources for hours in the sun. “Hunters have to walk two or three days or even one week to get meat,” said Mariamu Anyawire, a Hadza woman. Now able to sell to tourists, many men have taken to sitting around and waiting for visitors to arrive rather than hunting for wild animals. The Hadza have started to set up camp in places near the villages for months at a time, waiting patiently for what they call “touristy people” to appear on the horizon.

“If we have money, we can go to the village. If not, we have to hunt, or if people come and give us things, we can buy food for the children,” said Ankiga Bagaya, a Hadza man from Lake Eyasi. Tourism has altered the Hadza diet — hunting and gathering now make up only half of what the average Hadza consumes — as well as other traditions.

Bagaya, who wears a colorful beaded band around his forehead and ripped khaki shorts, switches off between hunting and waiting. On any given day, he trades in his hunter cry — a shrill call that can reach other Hadza hunters up to three miles away — for tour-guide lingo. On our visit, he took on the role of spokesman, narrating everything going on at the camp and prodding the others to show us how to start a fire, shoot an arrow, and treat flesh wounds with tree resin — though none of the activities was necessary at the time.

The group of women on the mountainside overlooking Mangola Gorofani sits in a circle stringing colorful seed beads onto fibers harvested from plastic bags, plant stalks, and the women’s own clothing. Hadza women typically dig for roots and gather berries while the men hunt game, but adorning tourists has recently become the top priority. The women make sure that visitors do not leave un-bedecked, even if it means removing their own necklaces made of porcupine-spine beads and bush-baby tails to place them around the necks of eager visitors.

According to Johannes Kleppe, a German expatriate who has lived in the area for 20 years, the introduction of money to a people who “did not assign property values to things until tourists arrived” is itself a cultural invasion. But the repercussions of tourism on the Hadza are more than price-tag deep.

The central religious ceremony, the epheme, is supposed to take place on nights when there is no moon because, according to tradition, the women are not supposed to see the men or even know who they are. For the sake of putting on a show for tourists, however, Hadza men and women will jump up in the heat of noon to sing about a successful hunt, though the hunters will not return for hours.

“In the past two or three years, they’ve started performing the epheme not at the right time and not for the right reason,” said Miller, the first to compile a dictionary of the Hadza language in 2006. “They’re putting on a fake production for tourists.”

In Miller’s view, the effects of tourist attention could cut both ways. “The potential benefit of tourism is that there is now monetary value in being Hadza, which might possibly help prevent cultural loss,” he remarked. Peter Mwenguo, director of the Tanzanian Tourist Board, believes fervently in the idea that the influx of money will leave the Hadza culture unscathed. “It gives money to the grassroots, to the people. It is a way of giving economic values to the group without destroying cultural values,” he said. However, optimism about the potential of tourism to preserve a dying culture comes easily from someone sitting in leather chair in a fifth-floor office in downtown Dar es Salaam.

Mwenguo and the rest of the Tanzanian government will go to extremes to attract foreign capital to the fledgling nation, including pushing their own hunter-gatherers off prime land to make way for foreign companies. Though the deal fell through, that is precisely what occurred in 2000, when the United Arab Emirates siphoned off one third of Hadza territory so that the royal family of Abu Dhabi could use rifles and jeeps to kill off the very animals that Hadza hunters track for days on foot with bow and arrow.

Tourism may account for 17 percent of Tanzania’s GDP. It may even be “the engine of the Tanzanian economy,” as Richard Rugimbana, executive secretary of the Tourism Confederation of Tanzania, put it. But tourism could prove more harmful than helpful to the Hadza, catapulting the tribe into a modern version of the assimilation most hunter-gatherer communities experienced 50,000 years ago.

Quenching Hunger and Thirst

Not everything brought by the tourists has been bad. A steady stream of cash revenue has allowed the tribe to replace their dwindling food supply with newfound purchasing power at local markets. Access to markets has proven a vital necessity for the Hadza since, according to Miller, the region’s “exploding population of pastoralists has killed off most of the wildlife, cut down the berry groves, burned out the tubers, and depleted the honey, each 20 percent of the calories in the traditional Hadza diet.”

The government sees the move toward village markets as a positive step toward civilizing a community considered backward by the rest of the nation. “They have to understand that the world and the environment are changing. Hunting can exist, but hunting alone will not sustain them,” said Mwenguo.

While the revenue made from selling jewelry and arrows to visitors may mean a steady source of meat and cornmeal for the Hadza, it also pays for a habit unique to societies with disposable income: alcoholism.

The Hadza of Mangola Gorofani sat perched on the side of a desert mountain, whiling away the time between tourist visits and the hunters’ return. The Hadza typically blend in with their slow-moving surroundings; they sit quietly in two gender-segregated circles, talking occasionally as smoke from the communal pipe blends in with the dust billowing by.

After we had bought a few souvenir arrows, however, the paced changed abruptly. A half-dozen men darted from their places in the shade, where they had been diligently waiting for tourists to arrive, and started the brisk 30-minute walk downhill to the village. Their shopping list: beer, marijuana, and hard liquor.

Alcohol has caused significant damage over the years. According to Kleppe, it has even been used as a currency, a surprising phenomenon given that the community had only a slightly alcoholic drink made of baobab fruits before eighteenth-century trappers started paying local workers a daily salary of 1.5 mugs of beer for their labor.

At the first stop on his shopping trip, one man emerged from a mud hut with a two-gallon bucket of liquid. Squatting in the shade of a thorn tree, we took turns scooping pombe, a thick beer made of fermented maize, out of the communal bucket into smaller plastic containers.

“It’s useful for hunger. The beer makes us more full, and stronger for hunting also,” said Hamisi Ugunda, gritty white foam collecting on his upper lip.

Made by fermenting the water left over from maize porridge, pombe does have substantial nutritional value, but the alcohol has more immediate uses. “It helps us forget our problems,” said a 70-year-old grandmother who had walked five miles from her Hadza community to join in the festivities, coughing down homemade vodka from an empty laundry detergent cap.

Seated on wooden benches against the straw and mud walls, the Hadza men methodically passed the clear liquid around the room, the label torn on the used glass bottle. The elderly woman, Marta, joined in a discussion with the hunters and the bar owner.

According to Miller, Marta “didn’t even know what beer was five years ago.” Thanks to tourist money, she has frequented bars, even joining in taking shots of homemade vodka. According to Anyawire, the problem is exacerbated when tourist season rolls around: “During high season, they drink every day and get very drunk. All of them — women, children, men.”

“It’s the alcohol that’s messing them up, and it was tourist money that gave them access to it, since without money they’d have no reason to be in town or go to market,” said Miller. Now, Kleppe said, tour guides sometimes pay the Hadza in “pure,” alcohol laced with insec•ticides to render it more potent.

On top of the unpleasant consequences of downing insecticides, alcohol has had other effects on Hadza health. According to Anyawire, Miller, and Kleppe, it contributes to the spread of tuberculosis contracted from sharing drinking bowls in pubs. There have even been cases of beer prostitution among the women, who smoke and drink almost as frequently as the men. “Women have sex for beer when they don’t have tourist money, often with tour operators, which we fear has introduced AIDS,” Miller said.

Despite the fakery and cultural decay it may be causing, the government refuses to see tourism as anything other than beneficial. “Tourism is OK because they are showing their way of life. It also gives them some money,” said Rugimbana, whose job is to maximize tourist visits to Tanzania. “No, it hasn’t changed their way of life. Why would it?”

Like many in the government, Rugimbana’s view may be colored by the glint of tourists’ foreign mints. Tourists command heightened attention and respect in Tanzania, particularly from police; their voices speak louder than the Hadza’s 10,000-year-old click language.

Uncommon Aggression

The traditionally non-confrontational tribe only has only two legends in its oral history in which the Hadza fought another tribe, let alone each other. But introduce alcohol — or rather, beer, marijuana, hard liquor, and more beer, all in one afternoon — to the situation and Kleppe occasionally has to draw out his knives to break up inebriated brawlers. “With pombe, the rate of murder and death amongst the Hadzabe is increasing,” Kleppe said.

The conflict can be sparked by something as trivial as sharing marijuana, according to Anyawire. “They fight for stupid reasons, but with bows and arrows, and the people in the village don’t take them to the jail when they fight because they know it is normal for the Hadza,” she said. Still, a handful of Hadza men have been arrested for murder.

Alcohol — a vice imported from civilized society — is causing arrows to fly and also deteriorating the tribe’s reputation in the rest of Tanzania. Even Alois Sikirami, who works for an organization that lobbies for the rights of indigenous tribes, voiced a typical Tanzanian view of the tribe: “The Hadza people are drunkards and smokers.” A bad reputation does not bode well for a tribe that desperately needs national support in defending the very land it sets up camp on.

With a burgeoning population of onion farmers continually encroaching on the Hadza’s land and pastoralists like the Datoga and the Iraqw hunting and crowding out their game, the Hadza way of life “may not be viable for much longer,” Miller said. “Sooner or later, if you cut down all the berry trees, hunt all the game, and deplete the land, you’re going to hit a tipping point. If we’re lucky, the promise of tourist revenue might prompt the government to provide some measure of protection.” Unfortunately, a tourism-based economy supporting the Hadza could lead to more of the same alcoholism, violence, and cultural degradation.

Mwenguo claims that the government is involved in the Hadza’s cultural preservation, but his words ring hollow in the face of blunt criticism from the Hadza themselves. “There is no help from the government. Nothing,” said Shakwa Ngetta, a Hadza hunter, taking a swig of pombe from a green cup. “They just say they will help, but they do nothing.”

Bringing Civilization

Since Tanzanian independence in 1961, the government has tried multiple times to “civilize” the Hadza, distributing goats and building houses in an attempt to make them into herders and farmers. The Hadza, however, have little interest in living indoors when they can sleep under the stars. As for the cattle, “they just ate them,” said Seif Mangwani of the PINGO Forum, an advocacy group that argues for the rights of minority tribes.

To many Hadza, pastoralist, agricultural, or urban life — what the government considers civilized — simply has no appeal. “We do not know the business of the city. If I go to the city, what will I do? I will go to die there,” said one Hadza woman.

Even to those Hadza who live in or who attended secondary school in Tanzania’s cities, the bush will always be home. “We do not settle or farm. It is just not what we do,” said Susanna Zengu, who moved to the city, but who much prefers returning home to the Yaeda Chini Valley.

Anyawire, one of the few Hadza women to complete secondary school, shares Zengu’s view. “I went to school and had to wear trousers, but I prefer my skins,” she said of her traditional animal hide clothing.

Before becoming a tourist attraction, the Hadza were “considered a lower order of human being,” said Miller. Tanzanians, who com•monly refer to them as tindiga, meaning “swamp people,” still harbor fantastic misconceptions about the Hadza. “Some people think the Hadzabe have tails like the baboon,” said Anyawire.

Now, a Hadza tribesperson can make more in a few hours than the average Tanzanian does in three days, enough to spend on alcoholic beverages. But instead of gaining them respect, tourist cash has only exacerbated criticism and discrimination of the Hadza. “Tourism adds some value for being Hadza, but also breeds resentment,” said Miller.

“We are equal like other people, we are black like other people, but the Tanzanians do not see it this way,” Anyawire said. Neither does anyone else, from the tourists who come to see the last hunter-gatherer tribe in Africa to the government officials who omit them from the national census. Even the Hadza themselves view the tribe as a unit distinct from the rest of the country.

The Hadza may be one of the closest models of the early human community, but as long as they continue to attract tourists, they will be treated, as Kleppe pointed out, “like wildlife,” their culture kept intact only enough to draw in foreign capital and their primitive stereotype exaggerated.

A Stone Age society in a rapidly developing country, the Hadza are in trouble. “The time of the Hadza is gone, and I think some of them are starting to realize this,” Kleppe said. Though some remain hopeful that the Hadza can resist cultural deterioration, the combination of buckets of pombe and barrages of tourists to fund their consumption has left the tribe in a state of vulnerability.

The government wants them to civilize. Tourists pay them to be primitive. All the while, farmers, investors, and pastoralists absorb their means of subsistence. The Hadza risk losing a chunk of their culture and the continent its last subsistence hunter-gatherers. Ironically, the tourists are the ones being shielded from the alcoholism and cultural downfall they propagate with every visit.

Still, some harbor faith in the Hadza’s staying power. “People have been predicting the demise of the Hadza for generations, and they’re still around. Just give them an area where they can live the way they want to and leave them alone,” said Miller. As Shakwa Mugulumbi said, “We want our own free land. We stay around a lot of different people, which makes us not free to hunt and do other things. The other people must go away.”

Though Mugulumbi was referring to the farmers and villagers eating away at Hadza resources, perhaps the same could be said of tourists: It is time to go away. Time to stop marveling at the hunters’ archery skills and the women’s porcupine spine jewelry; time for foreign bills to stay in tourist pockets instead of funding alcoholic escapades that will compound disease, discrimination, and perhaps demise for the Hadza.

Indeed, once the hunters had exhausted their profit from the day on a dangerous combination of intoxicating substances, it was time to leave. “They will maybe get into fighting later, and we do not want to be near for that,” said Anyawire, leading down the desert road, away from where the men still sat taking shots, their eyes bloodshot and their bows leaning idly against the wall.

Rae Ellen Bichell ’12 is an Anthropology major in Davenport College. Contact her at raeellen.bichell@yale.edu.