Skip to content

Destination: Tanzania (part 6)

March 17, 2010

Ngorongoro signaled the end of the animal-centric portion of our safari and we were left in a Karatu lodge for 36 hours to observe Christmas. It was one filled with unexpected diversions, including a tiny decorated tree complete with hand strung popcorn garland, attendance at an oddly familiar catholic service, and an outdoor concert put on by a local choir (Swahili devotional + synthesizer bossa nova beat = Tanzanian Christmas carol).  The final sweet oddity of Christmas was our transition from the relative bustle of Karatu to the marshy salted shores of Lake Eyasi. The rain clouds of Ngorongoro had stretched over the countryside and as we turned off the paved Karatu road onto a wide mud track it slowly dawned on us that *this* was a real Tanzanian road – wholly impassable without 4WD, alternately pocked with ruts or soggy with red clay reminiscent of my own native Georgia. Philipo regarded the road with nonchalance, as according to him its true precariousness was really only evident during high rainy season. Then the road would need to be plied with heavy machinery and great truckloads of rock to stabilize it just enough for passage. But for now the road grader that could do such a chore sat lazily beside the road and farther on a similarly idle bulldozer rested peacefully between a hut and a church. Goat herders and dung beetles populated our same trail and the architecture became that of mud daub and sticks. The road was so impressively bad that I increasingly questioned the necessity of this off-the-beaten track diversion. But Philipo promised wonderful things and sure enough, the mud road led to an impossible eden where monkeys are dinner companions, a golden hyena is more or less the family dog and gorgeous yellow weavers perform their construction acrobatics daily.  But why the long trek to this idyllic outpost of a lodge? The itinerary stated that we were going to find the Bushmen of Lake Eyasi to accompany them on a hunt.  My instinctive feeling about this was best summed up by the phrase yeah, right.

Kisima N'geda Lodge and environs


Yellow weaver knitting a home


The day started when it was still night, the glowing eyes of the family hyena my first of several otherworldy encounters of the day. We drove on what looked to me to be unmarked roads for half an hour, picked up a local guide who knew where “to find” the Bushmen and then we drove some more. With no apparent warning or change in landscape we stopped and there they were, the Bushmen or Hadzabe. Two fires some 20 feet apart hosted two groups of people separated by sex. Both were busy preparing tobacco for smoking, the women’s hands additionally making bead and porcupine jewelry. As the local guide introduced us and showed us around the camp I immediately took note of the Hadzabe dress, cheek markings and clothing. It dawned on me that I had very recently read about this tribe of people in National Geographic, there described by this compelling introduction: They grow no food, raise no livestock, and live without rules or calendars. They are living a hunter-gatherer existence that is little changed from 10,000 years ago. And yet, we found them not to be living cavemen or merely  others to stare at, but rather to be a proud, show-offy group of individuals, each one hopeful to one-up the other at some feat of skill, marksmanship, or strength. They reveled in their ability to make fire and light pot pipes easily and laughed at our equal inability to do the same. They knew what would surprise us – climb a nondescript tree, hack at a limb for 10 minutes and tah dah! extract honeycomb. They opted to endear us – hunt for easy river crossing and in its absence build an impromptu rock bridge, the construction of which required 3 Hadzabe to stand waist deep in muddy river current, ironically all so we would not get wet. And finally they let us go along on what they do best – hunt.

My father-in-law tries to make fire


Hadzabe hunting tools (left) non-barking dogs and (right) bows and arrows, each one etched with the owner's distinctive mark


Honeycomb hunting


Returning to camp with the kill, (right) my husband makes sure it doesn't get away while river passage it sought


The Hadzabe kill often, but not everyday something as large as a baby kudu (deer). It was still alive when we returned to camp and the youngest boy was encouraged to practice his arrow shot on the still breathing creature. Soon we would all enjoy a marksmanship lesson using various sized bows and arrows made from wood, feathers and baboon tendons and fur. Our target: an Oldupai plant some 25 yards away that each of the Hadzabe men and boys could hit squarely and easily. But first the hunters gathered in a circle to sing, a traditional celebration for such a big kill. We all soon joined them and danced amid the brush impressed by our own happiness.

Me getting an archery lesson

When it was time for us to leave – some 4 hours after our skeptical arrival – we were all bubbling over with unbelievable energy and joy at what we had experienced. The National Geographic article on the Hadzabe (or Hadza) is populated by so many more facts and colorful insights into this band of people that I can’t emphasize enough how much you should read it.

You can find it here:

Next time: More cultural encounters – The Datoga people.







7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2010 4:21 am

    Great photos–that looks like an amazing experience.

  2. March 17, 2010 4:47 am

    more beautiful photography and writing. thanks for sharing these great traveller’s tales

  3. Susan permalink
    March 17, 2010 12:50 pm

    This is my favorite group of photos. The people are absolutely beautiful. How did you do with the bow and arrow?

    • March 17, 2010 12:55 pm

      They showed us a few techniques that made it easier than I thought it would be. For example I needed to lean forward and to the side opposite the arrow so the arrow simply rested on my hand. That way I could concentrate on pulling the bow, which was pretty taut. In the end I was not very good, but my sister-in-law hit the Oldupai plant. That seemed to impress the Hadzabe!

      I think the people are beautiful, too. Thanks for checking them out!

  4. Jesse Castaldi Keen permalink
    March 17, 2010 5:40 pm

    Amazing! After reading the Nat Geo article on the Hadzabe, I think you are very lucky to have experienced their life ways. Your photos are beautiful, as usual, and it is so cool that you got to participate and shoot arrows. I hope tourism visits like yours help support their lifestyle for a little bit longer! I got so nostalgic for their simpler life just reading that article. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • March 17, 2010 6:43 pm

      “cultural” tourism is something that Tanzania is trying to promote so that some tiny bit of the truckloads of cash brought in by Europeans, Australians and Americans ultimately makes its way into the local economy. The “local guides” I refer to get paid 10-20 dollars a day which is about 5 times the national average. Sounds good, except tourists only come around in certain seasons and often not at all. The groups that host tourists get maybe 25-50 dollars. Much of their economy is still based on bartering. The kudu was skinned and the pelt staked to dry while we were still there. The next post will be about the Datoga people who are pastoralists and metal workers. At their home we saw a Hadzabe skin that had been traded for arrow heads made by Datoga craftsmen. Thanks for reading all the way to the end and going on to the Nat Geo article! Happy St Pat’s!

  5. Cathy Hall permalink
    March 18, 2010 1:59 pm

    Love this one! What a great cultural experience~ you got to live the Nat Geo!

    Can’t wait for next week.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: