Back in 2010, I visited Africa for the first time. You can read about my time photographing animals on safari in Kenya and Tanzania in my blog A Lifelong Dream. It was an absolutely incredible experience, one I’ll never forget, but it did have a downside.
Part of the tour involved visiting one of the last hunter gatherer tribes left in the world; the Hadza people. Now, this was an experience I was excited about, as anthropology and human culture are great interests of mine. But I sadly never considered the negative effects that my visit may have had until I was stood in the centre of a circle of men and boys.
The Hadza people are a genetically distinct human group, indigeneous to Northern Tanzania around lake Eyasi and the Serengeti. There’s estimated to be around 1000 alive today, with up to 400 still living as hunter-gatherers. We were welcomed warmly, shown around their camp and taken on a safari to find some tubers; they only gather these days as they live on a private reserve where hunting is banned. See the Hadza have been displaced, relocated to a small area where they are officially restricted. The problems start to creep in.
A documentary back in 2001 highlighted the Hadza tribe, and increased tribal poverty tourism surrounding them. This sounds like a good thing, in that it brings monetary value to the Hadza (the fact that anything needs monetary value in order to have worth in the world we live in is a thought to consider.), but where does the money go? Here’s an interesting article on the direction of monetary gains in ‘slum tourism’, which is of a similar vain to this experience. It doesn’t appear to go directly to the Hazda, but to the tour operators and to the owners of the private reserve. The Hadza benefit in a small way, through the sale of trinkets and traditional bows and arrows to tourists that visit.
Our party turned up with gifts for the tribe, which we were told were needed in an element of tradition and respect. I never saw the gifts directly, except for a few packets of tobacco that were later smoked in a stone pipe. However, i distinctly remember the sound of clinking glass in the bag that they received. I have later discovered that alcoholism has been a growing problem since the Hadza people became a sight for tourists.
It was stood in the centre of that circle of boys and men that i started to feel uncomfortable. My expensive camera swinging around my neck, my phone in my pocket, my clothes and shoes and hat, my piercings, my sunglasses; they were all analysed and scrutinised. I felt a strange sense of want from many of the people there. I felt like they were trapped for my entertainment. And the ethical quandary of sustaining a culture for cultures sake vs allowing people to live how they like sprang clear into my mind. Are these people trapped with no other option? It seems clear from the diminishing numbers of Hadza, as many move away from the tribe into the Tanzanian culture that many do not want that life. Are the ones that remain there staying out of choice, or due to a lack of available funds or ability to make the transition into the rest of Tanzanian society? Instead of the government sustaining their existence in a reserve, should they improve options by providing educational, health and emotional support? In my mind, genetically distinct or not, labelled as a name or not, these people are people. Simply that. They have the capacity to make the same decisions I do. They should be allowed this option.
And then I consider that the reasons they want to leave may be insidious in my presence; their exposure to western society giving them all the cravings for material gain that our culture creates? It’s funny that so many people in western society are now longing for a more stripped back life, while so many people I meet living in those scenarios want the opposite. We as humans must find it hard to fully consider an option, to see past the positives or the negatives to the full image. And that’s the point of this post. I didn’t consider the impact of my own experience until it had happened. That’s not to say I couldn’t have done so – I definitely could’ve, and in this post I urge you all to do so too.
In comparison to the Hadza people, my experiences with the Datooga and the Pare people were much more positive. The Pare have long been assimilated into Tanzania, not kept as a separate entity like the Hadza. They are historical ironmongers, and many still uphold these techniques and traditions aside from their daily lives. I watched in amazement as a guy made a chainring from an old bicycle into a arrow head whilst his friend worked the cow-hide bellows. That arrow head is one of my favourite souvenirs. The Datooga are a pastoralist tribe similar to the Maasai. It may be for that reason that they don’t suffer from the same effects; their lifestyle doesn’t rely on the freedom to hunt. Due to this they can much more easily make their own decisions regarding their assimilation into any culture. The Datooga man who’s house I visited showed me round, introduced me to his seven wives and showed me his goats and his new mobile phone. He was proud. He was happy, and so was his family. It was a stark contrast to the Hadza. However, the Datooga actually now occupy many of the traditional Hadza lands which they have stripped for farming. In doing so they have removed many of the tubers and other crops the Hadza have traditionally relied upon. Nothing is simple.