Hunter Gatherer’s of Tanzania

Hadzabe Hunter Gatherer tribe - Tanzania - Crooked Compass
Hadzabe Hunter Gatherer tribe before the hunt. Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Adorned in splayed baboon skins, his chest is bare bar a few beaded loops hanging around his adolescent neck. Our Hadzabe leader grunts and barks as he imitates the sound of a baboon being struck with one of their purposely crafted ‘baboon hunting’ arrows. Wup wup woop wooop woop. He jerks around as he now mimics the sound of a gazelle being pierced and proudly shows us his antelope hunting spear. The noises he mocks are absurdly accurate. He continues his authoritative calls of birds, rats and other bush species between a jumble of his native click language whilst modestly showing his array of precious hand carved and sharpened arrows. We have no clue what he is saying verbally, but his body language is astonishingly clear. He’s getting excited. His eye’s are alive with appetite – he is ready. They all are. It is time to hunt.

Mimicking the animals of the bush - Hadzabe Tribe - Crooked Compass
Mimicking the animals of the bush – Hadzabe Tribe . Photo credit: Crooked Compass

We lurk behind in silence. The dogs trot alongside. We linger awkwardly behind – not sure how close to get or what to really do. There is no English to explain but all I know is the adrenaline is pumping as our eyes dart between trees at every crack of a branch or rustle of a bush. We silently wonder which of our five hunters to follow. They dip inside a hollowed out baobab tree unexpectedly. We quickly follow. Ten of us inside this magnificent tree trunk.

Entering the Baobab tree. Photo credit: Crooked Compass
Entering the Baobab tree. Photo credit: Crooked Compass

A bush made ukulele type instrument appears and they being to sing. What they are crooning, I do not know. We watch in fascination as they chant. Swiftly, it is over and the Hadzabe have exited the tree and are back on the hunt. We scramble out of the tree and trail them.

On the hunt - Hadzabe Tribe - Crooked Compass
On the hunt. Photo credit: Crooked Compass

We follow – keeping an eye on each other and our hunters. The dogs abruptly go berserk at a mongoose hole. The hunters take no chance at missing this opportunity. Arms are thrust into the shaft, whilst another hunter pounds above the hole. Dogs heads burrowed in the other access points. One hunter stands ready – the draw weight of his bow pulled, arrow pointing into the tunnel. We stand back. Mongoose can be aggressive. After several minutes of various techniques to try and coax out the critter, it is time to move on. No luck here.

Come out little mongoose - Hadzabe hunting - Crooked Compass
Come out little mongoose. Photo credit: Crooked Compass

Darting between trees, we lose some of our hunters as they follow the calls of wildlife. One hunter scales a clunky trunk of a baobab effortlessly to peer into a hollow. Nothing. This is tough. As they hunt, their ears are pricked. Their eyes dart. Their senses are extraordinarily overdeveloped compared to ours. We strain to hear and see what they are alerted by.

On the hunt - Hadzabe and his dog running - Crooked Compass
On the hunt – Hadzabe and his dog running. Photo credit: Crooked Compass

One hunter is calling the birds in the trees which respond to his coo’s. He lurks into position and freezes. His dog is ready to grab the kill. He shoots. There’s a flutter and he has missed. He retrieves the arrow and paces onward. A heard of gazelle are spotted on the hill. The Hadzabe split up again as some head toward the antelope and others delve into the thicket. We clamber behind. Hushes are called. Something is near. The swish of a flying arrow slices through the silence. Missed.

Gazelle spotted on the hill - the Hadzabe split up - Crooked Compass
Gazelle spotted on the hill – the Hadzabe split up. Photo credit: Crooked Compass

Suddenly we are in a vast dry river bed. We are now in the open. The hunters regroup in a collapsed baobab tree for a quick smoke – not a regular type of cigarette, something they have crafted themselves from the bush. Now re-energised, it is time to continue on. We tramp behind dripping in sweat. They float effortlessly over the terrain, heart rate barely raised. Agile, keen and fixated.

Smoke break inside the fallen baobab - Crooked Compass
The Hadzabe break for a quick smoke in the hollow of a baobab tree. Photo credit: Crooked Compass

We are now traversing cracked dusty land. Wait. They can hear something beneath the surface. The Hadzabe are now surveying for small holes in the ground. They are in a trance like state. There is something here and they will find it. Their faces etched with concentration. Stiff with determination. Arrows bore in the ground. Mazes of tunnels are uncovered. They work faster. Harder. More focused. We jump back in surprise as they catch two small mice. Grins spread across their faces. The Hadzabe calmly break the mice’s necks with pure precision using their teeth. I cringe at the crack. The death is painless and quick. They know exactly what they are doing.

Mouse trap! Caught! Success with the Hadzabe Tribe - Crooked Compass
Mouse trap! Caught! Look at that grin! Photo credit: Crooked Compass

We rest under a towering baobab tree as they strike a fire. Another hunter somehow finds us through the labyrinth of the bush. He has a bird on the end of one of his arrows. The bird is plucked and then cooked over the fire with the mice.

Another Hadzabe hunter arrives with his contribution. Photo credit: Crooked Compass
Another Hadzabe hunter arrives with his contribution. Photo credit: Crooked Compass

The hunters offer the mice to our little group. Two of the women take a nibble. It’s not for them. But for the hunters, this is life or death. Hunting for meat is a reward. When scarce, like today, they go for smaller prey.

House of the Hadzabe Crooked Compass
House of the Hadzabe. Life is simple. Photo credit: Crooked Compass

We sit there watching them devour these mice and the bird in awe. A time frozen tribe living their traditional, untouched life with no influence from the western world. It feels like we have stepped into a National Geographic documentary. To sit here with this diminishing hunter-gatherer tribe and to experience this incredible insight into their daily lives at this depth was strikingly eye opening and utterly humbling. What an incredible privilege.

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