Spotting more impala tracks, the men followed that for a while, stopping to shoot at birds in bushes. The youngest member was the only one to make a successful shot, killing a bird. I asked Qwarda how old the boy was. After thinking about it for a minute and trading some words with the boy, he turned to me.
"They don't really know," Qwarda said. "They do not keep track of birthdays or years. The only time they mark is the time of the rainy season."
After the hunters lost the impala tracks, they turned their attention to the trees, exploring for those that held wild honey hives. They examined branches for telltale signs, and began chopping at tree trunks and limbs. As soon as the honeycombs were revealed, the Hadzabe stuck their hands in and scooped up the honey greedily.
They did this with three different trees; after finally getting their fill, they hollowed out a few gourds to scoop more honey into, and take back to camp.
Camera? Boring. Tattoo? Cool.
Soon the Hadzabe indicated to Qwarda that it was time to head back to camp. They typically hunt in the morning, then again in the late afternoon. During this time the women are cooking, caring for the children, or gathering berries, roots and also honey. We returned to the settlement, where the elders had a pile of newly-made arrows they had been working on while we were away.
I sat with the women and children a bit longer, though no one paid much attention to me. They weren't even interested in my camera, or asking to see photos of themselves on the digital display screen, as all other children around the world seem to do. I wasn't sure if this was because they didn't know what it was, or were simply not interested in the outside world.
But then, one small child of about five spotted the tattoo on the inside of my forearm. She looked at it, then at my face, then back at my arm. Tentatively, she reached out a finger and touched my skin. When I smiled and held my arm toward her for further inspection, her reserve melted and she began tracing the pattern with her fingertip.
The other kids came running over to see for themselves. Soon, a group of toddlers surrounded me, all scrubbing furiously at my arm to see if the strange marking would come off my skin. Leave it to a tattoo to break the ice between cultures a lifetime apart.
I was reminded that here, at the start of the Great Rift Valley which is known as the Cradle of Human Birth, is a people and existence from which we all sprung. But the Hadzabe way of life is in danger of ceasing to exist. They are increasingly encroached upon by the outside world, the land from which they subsist taken over for agriculture and development by thousands of acres each year. There are only an estimated 700 Hadzabe left in Africa, and those numbers have decreased from around 1,200 a mere five years ago.
It is a people, and a way of life, which sadly seems about to disappear. What do the Hadzabe know about living that the rest of us have forgotten?
If You Go (Softly):
Book your visit to Lake Esayi, or a cultural visit with a Hadzabe or Datoga Tribe, through African Scenic Safaris: www.africanscenicsafaris.com, +255 783 080 239. The company specializes in affordable, sustainable tourism in Tanzania and donates a percentage of its profits into its local NGO, Path to Africa, which provides direct help to local small-scale organizations such as children's shelters in Moshi, Tanzania.
For a fun and comfortable lodge camping experience in Lake Eyasi, stay at the Tindiga Tented Camp run by Moivaro. This small, traditional camp offers the ultimate African bush experience, albeit with comforts such as flush toilets, hot water and delicious meals. www.moivaro.com.
Shelley Seale is a professional freelance writer, editor, and author based out of Austin, Texas. She has written for National Geographic, USA Today, Globe Pequot Press, CNN, AOL, BootsnAll Travel and Andrew Harper Traveler, among others. She is also the author or a contributing author of six books. See more at ShelleySeale.com.
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