Moiz Husein, an award-winning Tanzanian photographer, is one of the few outsiders to spend long periods of time among Tanzania’s Hadzabe (also known as the Hadza) tribe, only a few hundred in number. He talks about a community that speaks in clicks, has little in the way of material needs, and continues to uphold the hunting traditions of its ancestors.
How did you first hear about the Hadzabe?
I first saw them on a postcard – an almost nude figure barely covered in animal skin and colourful beads, posing with a bow and arrow. My curiosity led me to research them further and I was surprised to find that this tribe exists just the way I saw in the image, hunting for survival in Tanzania. In my photographic journey, I have visited several national parks and encountered various tribes. The Hadzabe, however, are unique. I took a road trip from Karatu in northern Tanzania to Lake Eyasi with my guide, Julius, in search of them. I first stayed with them for three days in 2010 and my curiosity never settled. I wanted to learn and experience more. My longest stay has been for two weeks when I set up camp among them and moved with them as they searched for food, much like what we all did eons ago.
Take us to back to your time with the Hadzabe.
The meat is shared amongst the group of hunters. The slayer is awarded the brain in recognition of the kill and also believes it will bring good luck for the next hunt.
On my third visit, I travelled with Julius for four hours to the Mongola village, and had the option of staying with those more used to outsiders or to go further down and have a more isolated experience. My world for the following days was a self-built tent, a window to the world of the Hadzabe. I rose in the early morning when they began hunting for food. They walked fast, and I followed at a run. Their arrows smeared with poison, the Hadzabe searched for anything edible from squirrels and birds to large animals. Snakes were the only exceptions. The women often stayed back, digging for medicinal roots and making beads and jewellery from porcupine thorns. I would show them books with photographs from my previous visits. Julius, who could speak their language, would interpret for me. Every moment was bewildering. I saw them share women, and fight over special arrows. During a one-day festival when there’s no moon, the men make a sound, and the women have to identify their men. After the festival – during the night – the men grab one of the women and go into the bushes with them.
And the arrows?
Each man selects a stick, and they start the arrow-making process, scrubbing off the top layer, and straightening them out by hand, dry them, and harden them over the fire. Sometimes another Hadzabe steals their unfinished arrow, provoking a fight.
How did they see you?
They did not see me as a threat and were rather friendly. For one thing, they do not have any materialistic wants. Of what use would be my camera or mobile phone? Although I could not communicate with them, they would, however, understand my emotions and facial expressions. When I had a headache, I was healed by a Hadzabe woman in 10 minutes after she gave me roots to chew. Kids would surround me and touch my hair and skin as if I was a friendly alien. There was one bad incident, however. I shook hands with the hunters and was immediately rushed to hospital with a life-threatening emergency. I later learned that by making physical contact with men just back from hunting, with poison still on their hands, the poison got into my body. They themselves are immune to these poisons.
How do they express themselves?
Imagine you are lost in the bush. What would you think about? For the Hadzabe, it is all about survival. What to eat, how to hunt and how to survive each day. They share intimacy during special nights when they try to impress the women, yet there is no daily bonding or any defined relation. They chat in clicks and prefer to interact with the people moving in their group.
Tell us about some more of their ways.
The Hadzabe are unique in multiple ways. I saw a small child smoking weed, and no one stopped him. It was his choice. The Hadzabe never bathe and their bodies are always covered with dust. Water is not considered essential for survival and they do not look for sources to quench their thirst or clean themselves. They can hunt down almost any animal with their poisonous arrows made from tree bark. They sleep on animal skin and cover themselves with the same, sometimes adorned with colourful beads.
What kind of challenges do they face?
They easily contract tuberculosis with the weed they smoke and are unable to comprehend other health complications. What they do to survive is normal to them. They neither fear wild animals nor seek anything better. They keep moving from one place to another. They have no boundaries and that is how they have lived for ages.
Why did you keep going back?
Although my chances of surviving among them initially seemed bleak with so many limitations, I went to stay with them almost three times. After my third visit, I stopped feeling stressed about the daily challenges. The Hadzabe are neither worried nor stressed. While I might fret at leaving a charger at home, the Hadzabe are not tempted by materialistic things. Even If they do not find food, they do not get restless. They are patient with nature. I learned to live for each day. I don’t worry as much about materialistic needs. I learned my basic survival skills with the Hadzabe. Live life minus worries about technology or the future. You will still be alive and happy!
Shelters can be built in a few hours, and most of the possessions owned by an individual can be carried on their backs. The Hadzabe survive using the most ancient subsistence practice and technology known to human beings. They hunt animals with bows and arrows and gather wild fruit and plants. The Hadzabe hunt all manner of game from small animals such as dik dik, bush pig and antelope, to large creatures such as wildebeest and giraffe, using arrows with poisoned tips. Baboons fear them with good reason. Baboon fur is used as head adornments and to decorate bows
As told to Ayushi Ramaiya
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