The HADZA community
The Hadza people are a culturally, linguistically, and genetically distinct population of approximately 1000-1500 individuals, living around Lake Eyasi, in northern Tanzania. Culturally, they are distinguished by being the only population in east Africa that continues to rely extensively on hunting and gathering for their subsistence. Linguistically, they speak Hadzane, a click-language that has phonetic similarities to other Khoisan click-languages but is not mutually intelligible with any. For this reason Hadzane is often considered a language isolate. Genetic studies confirm that the distinctiveness of the Hadza population stretches back thousands of years.
Anthropologists have described how the Hadza population's subsistence strategies are closely coupled to their woodland-savannah ecology, while also being guided by distinctive cultural ethos. James Woodburn notes the importance of sharing, minimal politics, egalitarianism, and an intimacy to social relations wherein most individuals act towards others like kin. Anthropologists also note how Hadza residential groups, or camps, often break apart and re-assemble in order to diffuse social tensions.
Being mobile is an essential part of Hadza culture: both as a way to find food and as a way to peaceably regulate social interactions. For these reasons, our efforts to provide needed medicine and medical education to the Hadza community also strive to be as mobile as possible.
The Hadza people live in a woodland habitat dominated by Acacia, Commiphora, & Adansonia digitata (Baobab) trees. The woodlands of Hadza country are typically hilly and rocky. Natural springs and seasonal rivers intersperse their range. On the edges of Lake Eyasi and the Yaeda Valley, rocky hills give way to sandy alluvial plains. The area can be quite hot, dry, and windy during the dry season (June-Oct) but is lush and green during the rainy periods.
The Hadza people typically live in camps with 20-40 residents. On any given day, camp members decide where and how to forage by closely observing their country, discussing their observations with other camp members, and by drawing upon their expert knowledge of the land. Though the Hadza people recognize five general regions within their country (Mangola, Han!abi, Tli’ika, Sipunga, and Dunduiya), there are no land-holding territorial divisions between Hadza groups.
Acacia and Commiphera flowers are important sources of nectar for the African honey bee, Apis melliferra, which produces large stores of wild honey, a crucial food in the Hadza diet. Baobab trees contain the largest hives, some of which have been harvested repeatedly by the Hadza people for hundreds of years. In addition to containing hives of wild honey, baobab trees produce a fruit rich in nutrients, green leaves that are eaten in times of hunger, and several tree parts used as medicine.
As with the Baobab, the Hadza people are stewards of an exceptional array of plants and animals in their environment. They are masters at finding widely dispersed sources of food, medicine, and water, which they have sustainably harvested for countless generations. The most important wild foods in the Hadza diet are large and small game, baobab, berries, several types of wild honey, and tubers.
About 500 Hadza people continue to rely on hunting and gathering for the majority of their diet, and perhaps 300 almost exclusively. Even though complaints of hunger and requests for food are heard in Hadza society, these are normal features of a society that depends on food sharing. Many Hadza men and women mention that they believe foraging for wild foods is a more fulfilling avenue to a better diet than either farming or cattle-raising would enable.
They truly enjoy and cherish the personal freedom afforded by living in small, mobile, and intimate camps. Many Hadza overtly reject the noise, crowds, dangers, and discrimination that life in neighboring villages would entail.
Increasing immigration into the Hadza region, as well as rapid population growth of neighboring groups has meant that the Hadza people have lost access to many of their most important foraging lands. The Hadza have little voice in the planning or regulation of regional land use, and their needs are often overshadowed by the masses that follow a more typical farming or cattle-raising way of life. The Hadza people realize they live in this rapidly changing world, which presents them with unique opportunities and special challenges.
Since the 1960's, many attempts to settle and "develop" the Hadza community have been made. The failures of these attempts make the Hadza community weary of new proposals to "help the Hadza". Our team of anthropologists and local health workers has built up a large store of mutual trust, knowledge, and friendship with the Hadza people , which allows us to tailor our health initiatives to their particular needs and the concerns of individuals. Our experience also enables us to effectively cooperate with other groups concerned with Hadza community survival.