Africa’s First People (Hunting in the Rain with 40,000 year old Hadza Tribe)

**I would like to advise readers/viewers that this article contains scenes of hunting and tribal life and covers themes that may not be suitable for sensitive souls. Read on, if you dare…**

Africa’s First People.
The Hadzabe tribe of East Africa.

One of the oldest tribes in the world and perhaps the last authentic hunter-gatherer tribe on the planet.

I would like to tell you my story with this tribe in Tanzania. It is a tale of both wonder and concern, a vision of our collective human responsibility, of our likeness… I invite you to step back in time with me, to a time when our earliest ancestors roamed the thick forest and savannah of Africa, running barefoot to the drumbeat of nature’s call, free and unshackled, clad in tanned leopard skins, wet with the dew of dawn. A time when a handful of honeycomb was the most prized treasure, flickering firelight the only binge, a manic baboon hunt the greatest thrill, the heartbeat of a loved one the truest song. A time when the sun herself was the only timekeeper, a staff of acacia the surest of friends, when the scars on your body, your palms, your heels, were a map of your whole life.

This is the last remnant of an ancient world.
One that fades with every second.
And perhaps what is left is only an illusion…


The Hadza are a unique tribe, their click language is an isolate, seemingly-unrelated to any other for tens of thousands of years, meaning… they are as old as the land… A few hundred of the tribe still live completely by hunting and gathering, and it was one of these clans that I visited. It was during monsoon season so they were sleeping in a cave at the time. During the summer months they sleep out under the stars or in temporary grass huts. For me, tribes like the Hadza are the true sovereigns of the land.

I was invited to join them on a morning hunt. I followed these men on foot as they dashed through the thick Bush, the rain plummeted. I was soaked through. They were soaked through. The only difference between us at this point may have been the clothes we wore: I was in a shuka cloth given to me by a villager the day before, they were clad in simple animal hides. Their usual wear.

We waded ankle-deep in shallow streams which feathered through their rich ancestral lands, ducking beneath low thorn trees heavily laden with silvery rain drops. The might of the baobab trees punctured the thin forest canopy with thick grey trunks many meters wide and a great flourish of bright green leaves: kings in a fenceless country.

We would creep, tiptoeing together, as one of these highly-skilled hunters moved in for a bird sitting motionlessly in the branches. It was like a dance. The rawest kind of art form. Their precision and direction was faultless. They moved with complete purpose and ease. I was breathless and sticky, but in awe, lost in another universe…

You may watch the film below for the full account.


After hunting in the rain we took shelter in the clan’s cave, around the fire, for many hours… the road out of the Bush was blocked by flooding, so we remained with the Hadzabe Tribe for the rest of the day until the storm passed. It still blows my mind that there are people left in the world who live this way, in the same fashion they have for at least 40,000 years, and probably a lot lot longer.

I’ll never forget the sweet perfume-y smell of their blunt joints filling the air, mixing with the earthy scent of the roasting fowl, freshly caught, the sound of the gently-pouring rain tickling the rocks of the cave around us, as we sat around the open flames and I watched and observed these unbelievably mesmerising peoples, who seemed completely undisturbed by my presence, and allowed me to melt into the background of their everyday life…

They smoke a lot of marijuana, and the intoxicating fumes engulfing the cave mixing with musical clicks of speech and the rhythmic summer rain, soon left me in a mellow stupor that I willingly melted into. My entire being relaxed, I sank into the presence of this rare and sacred moment alone with these indigenous peoples. You forget about yourself, ideas of tomorrow, and future, of possessions and possessors. For fleeting moments I glimpsed into a life where nothing really matters apart from true acceptance of the simple bliss of existence.

It wasn’t long before my wet western clothes were replaced by a dried antelope skin and baboon hat. One of the huntsmen placed lines of ash on my face… apparently such an act would stop the rainfall they said, although usually it was smeared on an elder’s face… Most of the time I was quite unsure of what was happening, of what was being said, of why the men wanted us to pose with the skulls and trophies of their past hunts – they must have been relics of great pride for the people… There were times when I couldn’t really tell who was observing who. It was a relief for me to be of some kind of entertainment to the clan, which made the whole gig feel less like a glorified human zoo…

After many hours the rain eventually stopped and I was able to hit the road again before sunset, ignited by this extraordinary time. Before I left the men gave me various necklaces made by their family, small chains of dried berries and glass beads held together on platted grass. They invited me to return and come and sleep in the cave any time I wanted. I asked them if I could bring any gift as a thank you. This is when things got really exciting… they expressed that they would like some old shorts for the men to wear beneath their skins, and some basic African-print cloth for the women to cover themselves when dancing in front of fully-clothed tourists. I was told we would have to smuggle the goods in as the Tanzanian Government doesn’t allow the tribe to have modern things…

So off I went to the nearest city, gathering supplies: several pairs of durable shorts of khaki colours, and authentic-looking cloth for the ladies. I returned several days later by nightfall… I was relieved to find the clan in their cave as before, sitting around the fire in the pitch of night, wearing their baboon furs and skins, speaking their special language.

They greeted me like brothers, welcomed me back and took the gifts gratefully, expressing that no outsiders had brought them gifts in many years. It saddens me that people don’t treat tribes like the Hadza as people, but as soulless spectacles only to be photographed and gawked at.

Before long however we received word via my guides that somebody from the nearest village had reported to the police that a white man was seen travelling to the cave, without the correct permits. Security was on their way to arrest us!

The Hadza chief became quickly agitated and assured me the tribe would protect me, by whatever means necessary, if the police came to the cave. But wanting to avoid any kind of conflict me and my two guides decided to dash into the Bush, wheeling our moped into the think undergrowth, engine off, in complete darkness. Anything could have been lurking, not least deadly snakes, baboons or even wild dogs or cats… I could just make out the tall silhouettes of giant baobab trees as we silently marched through the jungle, praying not to cross the path of any predators. Voices and torch light could be seen coming from the Bush behind us. Somehow, and I don’t know how, we managed to make it back to the nearest village before security could find us. I was wrapped head-to-toe in a giant maasai shuka to avoid my pale skin being seen. We quickly dived into a local hotel, slept a couple hours, and left at first light. Luckily we escaped..and luckily the goods made it to the tribe in tact. I really hope the police never found them…

What an adventure ! What a drama ! And all for taking some clothes to a group of poor indigenous people who just wanted a little protection from the harsh monsoon weather. Still… to this day… I cannot believe this happened… it feels like a strange movie that I was the central character of. And I feel it’s a story that I
have to tell.

So, I ask you, dear reader, what would you have done in that situation? I guess most of you wouldn’t have been there in the first place, but image you had…

Should these endangered and critically important tribes be protected at all costs, even at the cost of their own free will, to preserve this way of life for future generations? Or has tribal tourism reached all new heights of exploitation? Are the Hadzabe Tribe being held hostage to their own tradition and heritage by the Tanzanian government, unable to evolve and choose their own way forward in an ever-changing world?? Is it a money-making scheme by the government or a genuine conservation movement? When does the line between humane conservation get crossed and become a glorified zoo for truck-loads of rich tourists to gawk at the last cave men on the planet? It’s a tricky subject, one I had questions and concerns about before travelling to Lake Eyasi to meet them, and one I have found myself contemplating deeply ever since…

As always I appreciate your responses. I don’t have all the answers, I just seem to have all the crazy stories…
Thank you for reading and connecting. May God be with you.

(Part 2 of the film below)


Follow the Journey

Jx

52 Comments

  1. A beautiful post James. You have such a rich and fascinating life! I applaud your openness and sense of adventure, and your ability to fully immerse yourself into completely foreign cultures by engaging with people from such different walks of life with incredible humility and respect.

  2. James, thanks for sharing your opportunity of hunting with the Hadza tribe. I liked your observation: “You forget about yourself, ideas of tomorrow, and future, of possessions and possessors. For fleeting moments I glimpsed into a life where nothing really matters apart from true acceptance of the simple bliss of existence.” Is this what it means to live as one with Mother Nature? Your final questions reveal your sensitivity and empathy towards these people. I sense exploitation by government officials. If the government truly seek to preserve their way of life, they would avoid contact of all kinds with the tribe.

    1. You are so welcome my friend and I love your thoughts. These people are so fascinating and unique… and yet I just want them to be free… it’s such a huge topic and I wish there was a clear answer. If the Hadzabe choose to drift into obscurity even surely it has to be their own choice? They seem to only value their freedom and simple life. I was so so honoured to spend time with them…

      1. As a 1 in numerology I treasure freedom personal for everyone more than anything else! I am learning so much from Ya brown brother honestly I am! Younger than I yet wisdom exudes ya pores do ya know ya number bye da way?❤️🙏🇩🇴🇺🇸😎🙌♒️💯😜✅🎶🎶🎶

  3. James, I truly respect your kindness and care for these people. Their way of life, so different from anything I’m familiar with, seems so free from the weight we put on ourselves with unnecessary worries and anxieties that we too often have no control over. The fact that, in your gentleness, they invited you in to be with them says volumes. It’s heartbreaking to think a government would take advantage of their uniqueness and put it on display for tourists. Like a petting zoo. But then I live in America, and I’m seeing the realities of the dark side of people more and more. Thank you for your gracious way of presenting the awe and wonder of this tribe.

    1. Thank you so much. I am really honoured to share this story and to hear feedback. It brings out the value in the whole situation.
      And yes, the Hadza have such a care free way. I honestly experienced something with them I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before… and I mean an internal thing… 🙂

    2. American Exceptionalism keeps ya blinded we as well brown people whom are born bred 🇺🇸 and when y’all travel always 🇺🇸exceptionalism stands ground great hoodies beware of the big bad old wolf hunter’s arrow in la casa Blanca come on man ya gotta be kidding ya kam on man de verdad? Nah, Kam On man really 😱

  4. James, you’ve captured the beauty of the Hadza tribe as well as brought to light their plight in a truly captivating narrative that evokes compassion and understanding towards a people and their way of living. It pained me to read about the basic necessities denied to them and the harsh, cruel as well as inhumane treatment they endure in the hands of authority. I can only imagine the impact of this particular journey on you … I hope you find some measure of comfort and peace from the help you had extended to them. Also, believe that a higher power watches over them and works through good souls like you for some measure of kindness to be spread.🙂

    1. My dear friend, thank you… your words always mean a lot. I believe that higher power is at work too, albeit invisibly. I believe goodness always prevails and we work in a spiritual way even when (in fact most especially when) we are completely unaware. I’m really happy to share this story finally, it’s been a little while (happened last year). I think it’s an important conversation, and didn’t just want to do the usual ‘here’s me with a fascinatingly underdeveloped tribe in the middle of nowhere’ gig that most people do. I think we have a responsibility to be honest… I am glad to read other peoples’ thoughts on this! Conversation and debate is always a very good thing.

      Jx

      1. You’re so welcome my friend, James.
        Thank you so much for taking the time to reply and share your thoughts. Good always prevails is a ‘hope’ to rely on especially in the world we inhabit now where people are changing as rapidly as the times …which isn’t always a good thing. You did great justice to the tribe by waiting and giving your best account.
        Lastly, I agree with you… conversation (another dying art)&debate is good. Thank you so much for initiating and interacting. I’m grateful. 🙏🏾

  5. Wow, what an experience! You are a real-life adventurer. Thank you for bringing us closer to this tribe and their way of life. Appreciate the trigger warning, too. I hope you get recognised on YouTube soon, this is truly high quality content.

  6. Thank you for the honesty of this article which was an amazing story to tell. Like you; I’m not sure what the answer is to this situation but I always believe in personal and individual freedom. Should we ever allow ourselves to become prisoners’ of our own cultures? Lots to think about.

    1. Thank you, Gail. So much to think about… Of course, I am bias, but to me it seemed a real tragedy that the true Original Peoples of this land invited somebody to stay, to bring them goods, and the government intervened and didn’t allow it. I would understand and respect it if they didn’t usually allow truckloads of rich tourists to pass through during their megabucks overland safari tours and kept the tribe away from outsiders. That would sort of make sense. Truth is the Tanzanian Government are making a lot of money from tribal tourism with the Hadza and I can’t see how it benefits the tribe directly… it’s especially crazy when you consider that I was taking them shorts and cloth! But what do I know…

  7. James, you did it again. You opened my eyes and my heart to realities in our world that had been beyond my awareness. I
    feel so much love for these men, so content in their simple life, seemingly experiencing joy in their daily pursuit of survival.

    They show us the kind of connection with one another and with nature that is almost totally missing in our culture. It raises the question of who is really more civilized.

    What an honor to be included in their lives. They surely felt kinship with you. Your efforts to get needed clothing to them shows us who you are. Thank you for the example you give us of living with love and kindness.

    1. It really was an honour for me, and even if my judgement is proved wrong I am gladdened in the knowledge that I at least acted from a place of genuine love and respect for these peoples. I’m not sure in what way these experiences will affect my travel choices in the future, but they undoubtedly will… I definitely learned a lot in my short time with the Hadza. I will forever hold them in my heart.

      I am so happy you connected with this story, Pat 🙂 Means a lot to me.
      Always happy to hear from you.
      With love, James x

  8. Good thing you managed to elude law enforcement!

    (On a side note — rather late, but thank you for following The Monching’s Guide. Couldn’t comment on your About page so I’ll leave this here, if you don’t mind.)

    1. Yeah I think it’s a good thing. Although if I had been caught I wonder on what grounds they could arrest me?! It would have made a very interesting story…
      You’re welcome. Jx

      1. Well, from the looks of it — they might cite public health concerns if they take you into custody.

        Apparently, tribespeople do not have immunity to certain diseases that outsiders like us have. Such foreign diseases might compromise the tribal population and cause serious harm, thus the concern coming from Tanzanian authorities.

        1. #Amazonia #isolation #dialogues The biggest takeaway is that we are speaking about the issues and how to come up with a solution that is symbiotic to all involved 😀 😉 NOT Easy daggers!!

        2. Yes, this is of course very true and an interesting point to raise my friend, although unfortunately the Tanzanian Government allows thousands of tourists to visit this tribe every year, so they are not protected from foreign diseases in any way. I am not sure I made that very clear in the article or videos. I had such a long time alone with them because I travelled in a time when there weren’t many tourists, and the monsoon rains blocked the roads.

          Interestingly, scientists have studied the digestion of this tribe and found it to be the most diverse in any peoples, with a huge range of complex gut flora. There are some fascinating articles online about it. This gives them a very strong immune system, and they are able to eat almost anything.

        1. De nada @Martin Mr E Espinal #youtube.com #indigenous peoples campaign #appreciated #boldness #daring #accomplishments #jdeeClayton woohoo 🙌 👏 😀 👌 😄 👍 🙌

Shine Your Light...