The Hadza Tribe – History, Culture, Religion, Myths

The Hadza Tribe – History, Culture, Religion, Myths, and Tales

The Hadza tribe, also known as Hadzabe, are a native ethnic group found in north-central Tanzania. They live around Lake Eyasi in the central Rift Valley. They can also be found in the neighboring Serengeti Plateau. As of 2015, between 1,2000 and 1,300 Hadza tribe people are living in Tanzania, although only around 400 Hadza tribe still exclusively survive based on the traditional foraging. Additionally, their traditional way of life is threatened by encroaching pastoralists as well as the increasing impact of tourism.

Genetically, the Hadza tribe are not closely related to any other ethnic group. The Hadza tribe language, also called Hadzane, was once grouped as a Khoisan language, mainly because it has click sounds. However, the language is thought to be a  language isolate as it is not related to any other language. Hadzane is entirely an oral language. However, it is not believed to be in danger of extinction. According to UNESCO, Hadzane is vulnerable but not endangered because most kids learn it. However, its use is limited to certain aspects of life, for instance, to the home. The Hadza language is also regarded as the most important factor in knowing who is and who is not part of the Hadza ethnic group. In recent years many Hadza tribe have learnt Kiswahili, Tanzania’s national language, as a second language.

Due to the fact that they descended from Tanzania’s native, pre-Bantu expansion hunter-gatherer population, it is believed that the Hadza people have likely inhabited their current home for thousands of years with hardly any changes to their fundamental lifestyle until the last 100 years.

The Hadza tribe has been coming in contact with herding and farming people entering Hadza tribe land and its vicinity since the 18th century. These interactions were mostly hostile and led to a decrease in population in the late 19th century. The earliest European contact and documented account of the Hadza tribe is from the late 19th century. Since then, many attempts have been made by colonial governments, foreign missionaries and the independent government of Tanzania to settle the Hadza tribe by introducing Christianity and farming. These attempts have largely been unsuccessful as many Hadzas still live almost the same way their ancestors were described to have lived, according to early 20th-century reports. In recent times, they have faced pressure from neighbouring tribes trespassing on their land. Safari hunting and tourism have also affected them.

Hadza Tribe History

Oral Tradition

According to one account of the Hadza tribe’s oral history, their past is divided into four periods, each dominated by a distinct culture. According to oral accounts, hairy giants, known as the geranebee “ancient ones” or akakaanebee “first ones,” inhabited the world initially. The geranebee did not have fire or tools; they hunted animals by running them down until they dropped dead and ate the meat without cooking. They didn’t construct houses; rather, they slept under trees as the Hadzabe do in the present-day during the dry season. According to older renderings of this tale, fire wasn’t used because it was not physically possible in the earth’s primitive state. For younger Hadza people that have attended school, the geranebee simply didn’t know how to use fire.

In the second period, the xhaaxhaanebee “intermediate ones” replaced the geranebee. They were equally huge but had no hair. During this period, they could make fire, and it was used to cook meat. However, animals had become cautious of humans and had to be hunted and chased with dogs. They were the first to use charms and medicines to shield themselves from enemies. They were cave dwellers and started the epeme ritual.

The hamakwanebee “recent days” lived during the third period. They were not as big as their predecessors. They erected huts like those of present-day Hadza and mastered the use of fire. They invented arrows and bows, as well as containers for preparing their food. The hamakwanebee people were the first Hadza tribe ancestor to come in contact with non-foraging tribes, with whom they traded iron to forge arrowheads and knives. They also created a gambling game called lukuchuko.

The fourth period continues in the present day. The hamayishonebee “present-day people” inhabit the period. When talking about the hamayishonebee people, people usually mention specific places and names. They can also approximately state how many generations ago events occurred.

Hadza Tribe Genetic and Archaeological History

The Hadza tribe is not closely related to any other tribe. The Hadza tribe language was once grouped with the Khoisan language because it had click sounds. However, since no evidence exists that the languages are related, Hadzane is now considered a language isolate. Genetically, the Hadza tribe is not particularly closely related to speakers of Khoisan languages. Even the Sandawe, who live 93 miles (150 km) away, diverged from the Hadza over 14,500 years ago. Also, genetic testing shows that significant genetic admixture has occurred between the Bantu and the Hadza, while minor admixture with the Cushitic and Nilotic-speaking people has taken place in the last few thousand years. In the present-day, a few Hadza women marry into neighboring tribes like the Nilotic Datoga and the Bantu Isanzu. However, these marriages fail often, and the woman and her kids return to the Hadza tribe. In past decades, capture or rape of Hadza by intruders appears to have been common. During a famine in 1918-1920, some Hadza tribe men were reported to have married Isanzu wives.

The ancestors of the Hadza tribe have probably inhabited their current territory for tens of thousands of years. Hadzaland is 31 miles (50 km) from Olduvai Gorge; a site sometimes referred to as the “Cradle of Mankind” due to the number of hominin fossils found there. The prehistoric site of Laetoli is located 25 miles (40 km) away from Hadzaland. Archaeological evidence also suggests that hunter-gatherers like the Hadza tribe have occupied the area since at least the onset of the Later Stone Age, 50,000 years ago. Despite the fact that the Hadza tribe doesn’t make rock art today, they believe their ancestors created several rock art sites within their domain. The art sites are believed to be at least 2,000 years old. Their oral history does not hint that they migrated to Hadzaland from somewhere else.

Haplogroup B2-M112 (Y-DNA) dominates the Hadza tribe population. There are also haplogroup E-M215(Y-DNA)and haplogroup E-V38(Y-DNA).

Precolonial Era

Until 500 BCE, hunter-gatherers like the Hadza tribe exclusively occupied Tanzania. Cushitic-speaking cattle herders who migrated from the Horn of Africa were the first agriculturalists to enter the area. The Bantu expansion reached Tanzania around 500 BCE. The expansion brought populations of farmers with iron weapons and tools. The Nilotic pastoralists were the last major ethnic group to enter the area. They moved south from Sudan in the 18th century. Each of these expansions of herding and farming peoples forced out existing hunter-gatherer populations, who were at a technological and demographic disadvantage. As a result of the spread of farmland and pastures, the hunter-gatherer populations also had to deal with the loss of environmental resources like game habitats and foraging areas. Therefore, groups like the Sandawe and the Hadza tribe are remnants of native hunter-gatherer populations who were once much more widespread. They remain under pressure from the continued spread of agriculture into areas they have traditionally called home.

Herders and farmers were not in the vicinity of Hadzaland until recently. The Maasai expansion forced the pastoralist Datoga and Iraqw to move to the area, the former in the 1910s and the latter in the 19th century. The Isanzu, a Bantu farming group, started living just south of Hadza tribe territory around 1850. The Hadza had also interacted with the Sukuma and the Maasai west of Lake Eyasi. The Hadza’s interaction with many of these groups has been unfriendly. In particular, the disorder brought about by the Maasai expansion in the late 19th century led to a decline in the Hadza tribe population. Oftentimes, pastoralists murdered members of the Hadza tribe as retaliation for the “stealing” of livestock. The Hadza tribe didn’t have the notion of animal ownership and would hunt them like they were wild game.

At times, the Isanzu were also hostile to the Hadzas and may have forcefully captured them for the slave trade until the 1870s, when the German colonial administration halted the slave trade. Later interaction was more peaceful, with the two groups sometimes intermarrying and living together. However, the Hadza were reported to be “ready for war” with the Isanzu as late as 1912. The Hadza and the Sukuma had a more cordial relationship. The Sukuma drove their salt caravans and herds through Hadza territory. The Sukuma people also gave old metal tools to the Hadza in exchange for the right to hunt elephants in Hadza territory. These old metal tools were forged into arrowheads by the Hadza. The neighbouring agro-pastoralists were generally prejudiced against the Hadza. They regarded them as backwards people who had no “real language” and were largely made up of the dispossessed people of neighbouring tribes who had run away into the forest due to poverty or because of the crime they committed. Many of these misconceptions were passed down to early colonial visitors that wrote about the Hadza tribe.

20th Century

During the late 19th century, in a period referred to as the Scramble for Africa, European powers took over much of the African continent as colonies. The Hadza tribe became part of German East Africa. However, at the time the colony was declared, there was no evidence that Europeans had ever visited Hadzaland. The first mention of the Hadza tribe in a written account was in German adventurer Oscar Baumann’s  Durch Massailand zur Niquelle, which was published in 1894. The Hadza tribe hid from Oscar Baumann and other early explorers; their descriptions were based on second-hand accounts.

The Hadza tribe settlement style
The Hadza tribe settlement style

Erich Obst and Otto Dempwolff were the first Europeans to report actually meeting the Hadza tribe. The former lived with them for eight weeks in 1911. At the end of World War I (1917), the British took control of German Tanganyika. Soon after, British colonial officer F.J. Bagshawe wrote about the Hadza tribe. These early European visitors’ accounts of the Hadza tribe at the beginning of the 20th century portrayed them as living almost the same way they live today. Obst had earlier noted a difference between the ‘pure’ Hadza tribe (those living purely by gathering and hunting) and those that dwelled with the Isanzu and engaged in land cultivation.

The foraging Hadza tribe got the same foods using the same methods they use today, although there were more animals to hunt because farmers had yet to start directly infringing on their lands. The Hadza tribe was described as having big men or chiefs in some early reports. However, the reports were likely mistaken; more trustworthy accounts depict early 20th century Hadza society as egalitarian as they are today. They also inhabited similarly sized camps, constructed houses in the same style, had similar religious beliefs and utilized the same tools.

The British colonial administration attempted to make the Hadza settle and embrace farming in 1927, the first of various attempts. They tried again in 1939, as did the independent government of Tanzania in 1990 and 1965. Many foreign missionary organizations have also tried to settle the Hadza tribe since the 1960s. Despite many attempts, some of which were forceful, there has been no success. Generally, the Hadza voluntarily settle for a time while the provided food supply lasts. Once the provisions finish, they leave to continue their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Only a few have embraced farming as a way of life. Diseases are another problem the Hadza tribe faces because its communities is isolated and sparse; few Hadza people have immunity against infectious diseases like measles that thrive in sedentary communities. Several attempts to settle them ended with outbreaks of illness leading to many deaths, especially of children.

Out of the four villages developed for the Hadza tribe since 1965, two (Munguli and Yaeda Chini) are now inhabited by the Iraqw, Isanzu and Datooga. Another, Mongo wa Mono that was established in 1988 is intermittently inhabited by Hadza tribe groups who live there for a few months at a time, either foraging, farming, or using the food donated to them by missionaries. At the fourth village Mwonyembe (also known as Endamagha), Hadza children attend the school. However, they account for only one-third of the student population. Many attempts to convert the Hadza tribe to Christianity have largely failed.

The first German plantation in Hadzaland was created in 1928, and three European families later settled there. Tanzania farmers started moving into the Mangola area to plant onions in the 1940s, but they didn’t come in large numbers until the 1960s. Geneticists, anthropologists, linguists and other researchers have regularly visited the Hadza tribe since the 1960s.

Present

Neighbouring groups have been encroaching on Hadza tribe territory in recent years. The western Hadza tribe lands have been turned to a private hunting reserve, and the Hadza tribe is officially limited to a reservation within the reserve and are not allowed to hunt there. Datoga herders now occupy the Yaeda Valley, which was long uninhabited because of the tsetse fly. The Datoga are clearing the Hadza tribe lands on both sides of the now fully settled valley for grass for their cattle and goats. They hunt out the game, and their land clearing destroys the tubers, honey, and berries that the Hadza tribe rely on, as well as the watering holes for their cattle, leading to the drying up of the shallow watering holes the Hadza tribe rely on. Most Hadza tribe members are not able to sustain themselves in the bush without supplementary food like ugali anymore.

After documentaries about the Hadza tribe on BBC and PBS in 2001, the Mang’ola Hadza have become a tourist attraction. On the surface, this may appear to be beneficial to the Hadza tribe. However, much of the revenue from tourism is allocated to tourism companies and government offices rather than to the Hadza tribe. Money given directly to the Hadza tribe also contributes to alcoholism, and deaths caused by alcohol poisoning have become a severe problem in recent times. These deaths have further contributed to the loss of cultural knowledge.

In 2007, the entire 2,500 square miles (6,500 square kilometres) Hadzabe land adjacent to the Yaeda Valley was leased to the Al Nahyan royal family of UAE by the local government controlling the area. The land was to be used as a “personal safari playground.” Both the Datoga and the Hadza tribe were evicted, with some Hadzabe resisters jailed. However, after a series of protests spearheaded by the Hadza tribe as well as negative international press coverage, the deal was revoked.

Range

Traditionally, there are four areas of Hadza tribe dry-season inhabitation: Siponga, located east of the Yaeda Valley in the Mbulu Highlands; Dunduhina, located west of the southern end of Lake Eyasi; Tlhiika, located between Lake Eyasi and the Yaeda Valley swap to the east; and Mangola, located north of the valley around the town of Mang’ola. The Hadzabe camp outside and between these areas during the wet season. They also readily travel between the areas during the dry season too. Access to and from the western area is by crossing the southern end of the lake, which is usually the first part to dry up or through the Serengeti Plateau’s escarpment around the northern coast. The Yaeda Valley is crossed easily, and the areas on both sides abut the hills south of Mang’ola.

The Hadza tribe has traditionally foraged outside these places, on the slopes of Mt. Oldeani north of Mang’ola, in the Yaeda Valley, and up on the Serengeti Plains. Such foraging is done for collecting berries, hunting, and collecting honey. Despite the fact that hunting is prohibited in the Serengeti, the Tanzanian authorities recognize that the Hadza tribe is a unique case and do not enforce the regulations on them. The Hadza tribe is also the only people in Tanzania that the national government does not tax.

Social Structure

The Hadza tribe men smoking ganja (Cannabis)
The Hadza tribe men smoking ganja (Cannabis)

The Hadza tribe is organized into bands, referred to as “camps” in the literature, of 20 to 30 people, although camps of more than a hundred people may form during the berry season. Tribal or other governing hierarchy does not exist among them. Almost all decisions are made by reaching a consensus through discussion. The Hadza tribe members are egalitarian as there are no real status distinctions between individuals. While the elderly are slightly more respected, all individuals are equal within groups of age and sex. Compared to strictly hierarchical societies, women are considered fairly equal among the Hadza tribe members. This egalitarianism results in high levels of self-dependency and freedom. When conflict arises, it may be settled by one of the parties willingly moving to another camp. Urs Fischbacher and Ernst Fehr point out that the Hadza tribe members “display a considerable amount of third-party punishment” to organize these tribes. The Hadza tribe lives in a communistic setting and practice cooperative child-rearing, where many people (unrelated and related) provide high-quality care for children.

The Hadza tribe moves camp for various reasons. Conflict is primarily settled by leaving camp, and camps often split for this reason. Camps are also abandoned when an individual becomes ill and dies, as the illness is associated with where they fell ill. Furthermore, there is a seasonal migration between dry-season refuges, places with many berry trees or tubers, and better hunting grounds where water is more abundant. If a person kills a particularly big animal like a giraffe far from home, a camp will temporarily move to the kill site. Smaller animals are always brought back to the camp. Shelters can be constructed within a few hours, and most of the possessions an individual owns can be carried on their backs.

Having no governing or tribal hierarchy, the Hadza tribe traces lineage bilaterally (through maternal and paternal lines), and almost all Hadza tribe members can trace some kinship tie to all other Hadzabe people.

The Hadza tribe is mostly monogamous, although monogamy is not socially enforced. After marriage, the couple is free to live where they choose, either with the mother or father’s family. This marital residence style is referred to as ambilocality and is common among foragers. Among the Hadza tribe members specifically, there is a marginally higher prevalence of married couples living with the wife’s kin rather than the husband’s. While women and men value traits like hard work when searching for partners, they also cherish physical attractiveness. In fact, many of their preferences, like averageness, sexually dimorphic voice pitch, and symmetry, are similar to preferences found in Western countries.

An anthropological study conducted on modern foragers in 2001 found the Hadza tribe to have an average life expectancy of 33 years at birth for women and men. At age 20, life expectancy was 39 years, and infant mortality was 21 percent. In more recent times, Hadza tribe adults have often lived into their 60s, and some have even reached their 70s or 80s. However, it is important to note that Hadza tribe members don’t keep track of age and time exactly the way the Western world does; therefore, these life expectancy figures are approximate and highly variable.

Subsistence

Two Hadza tribe men coming back home from hunting
Two Hadza tribe men coming back home from hunting

The Hadza tribe men typically forage alone, and during the day, they usually feed themselves while foraging. They also bring home some fruits, wild game, or honey when available. The females forage in larger parties and usually bring home tubers, berries, and baobab fruit if available. Men and women also forage together for fruit and honey. At least one adult man will usually accompany a group of women foragers. The diet consists of mostly honey, tubers, some fruit, and occasional meat during the wet season. The quantity of meat in the diet increases during the dry season, when wild animals become concentrated around water sources. Men usually hunt in pairs during this period. They spend entire nights lying in wait by water holes, hoping to kill animals that come for a night drink with poison-treated bows and arrows. Branches of the shrub Adenium coetaneum are used to make the poison. The Hadza tribe is highly skillful, selective, and opportunistic foragers. They adjust their diet according to circumstance and season. Depending on local availability, some Hadza tribe groups might depend more heavily on berries, others on meat, others on tubers. This variability is a result of their opportunism and tendency to adjust to prevailing conditions.

Traditionally, the Hadza tribe does not use hunting dogs. However, the custom has been borrowed recently from neighboring tribes to some extent. Most men (more than 80%) do not use dogs for foraging.

Women’s foraging tools include grass baskets for carrying berries, digging sticks, large skin pouches or fabric for carrying items, other clothing, shoes, knives, and many small items carried in a pouch around the neck. Men carry poisoned and non-poisoned arrows, bows, axes, small honey pots, knives, apparel and shoes, fire drills, as well as many small items.

While men specialize in getting meat, baobab fruit, and honey, women specialize in berries, greens, and tubers. This division of labor is quite apparent. However, women will sometimes get a small animal, egg, or honey. And men will occasionally bring some berries or a tuber back to camp.

A myth portrays a woman harvesting wild bees’ honey, and at the same time, it claims that the task of harvesting honey belongs to the men. For harvesting honey or plucking fruit from large trees like the baobab, the Hadza tribe members beat pointed sticks into the tree trunk as ladders. This method is depicted in a story, and it is also documented in a film.

A dynamic relationship of manipulation and mutualism exists between the Hadza tribe and a wild bird, the Greater honeyguide (Indicator indicator). In order to get beeswax, the bird guides people to wild bees’ nests. Hadza tribe men strike trees, whistle, and occasionally shout to attract and keep the honeyguide’s attraction. The bird also calls to attract the honey hunter, using a unique chatter. Once the honey hunter locates the bee nest, he then uses smoke to overpower the bees. Subsequently, he uses his axe to chop into the tree to open the nest. The honey hunter consumes or carries most of the liquid honey away, and the honeyguide eats beeswax that may be left sticking to the tree or which has been spat out or otherwise abandoned at the site of acquisition. In a lot of cases, rather than actively feeding the honeyguide, the Hadza tribe men burn, hide, or bury the wax that remains at the harvest site to keep the honeyguide hungry and willing to guide again. The honeyguide also appears in the Hadza tribe mythology, in personified and naturalistic forms. Honey constitutes a substantial part of the Hadza tribe diet (~10 to 20% of calories) and is also an important food for many hunter-gatherer communities inhabiting the tropics. The increased consumption of bee products helped improve the energy density of the human diet during evolution.

Religion, Tales, and Myth

Religion

The Hadza tribe doesn’t follow a formal religion, believe in life after death, or engage in worship. They pray to Ishoko (the sun) or Haine (Ishoko’s husband) during a hunt and conduct rituals like the monthly epeme dance for men at the sight of the new moon. They also hold the less frequent maitoko circumcision ritual and coming-of-age ceremony for women.

Epeme

Epeme can be considered as Hadza tribe’s idea of manhood, hunting, and the relationships between genders. The Hadza tribe refers to ”true” adult men as epeme men. A Hadza tribe man becomes an epeme by killing large game, typically in his early 20s. Being an epeme has an advantage – only epeme men are permitted to eat certain parts of large animals, like giraffe, warthog, wildebeest, lion, and buffalo. The parts of these animals reserved for epeme men are the lung, kidney, neck, genitals, heart, and tongue. Also, non-epeme men are not permitted to be present during the epeme meat-eating. If a man has still not killed a large animal by his 30s, he will automatically become an epeme man and be permitted to eat epeme meat.

Apart from eating epeme meat, the epeme men also take part in an epeme dance. The dance takes place every night when the moon is not visible and must take place in complete darkness. One man dances at a time, wearing an ostrich-feather headdress, a black cape, as well as bells around the ankles while the women watch. The man sings, shakes a gourd maraca, and stamps his foot to provide a beat. After a few rounds of performance, the women will stand up and sing and dance around the man. After one man leaves, he passes his dressings to another man to repeat the dance.

Mythological Characters with Heavenly Connotations

Some mythological characters are believed to partake in arranging the universe. For instance, they roll the earth and the sky like two pieces of leather and swapping their order to create the current situation – the earth used to be located above the sky in the past. These characters have also made important decisions about humans and animals (designating their environment and food), giving people fire and the ability to sit. These characters have heavenly connotations: Haine is a lunar figure, while Ishoko is a solar figure.

Ishoko (Sun)

The character called “Ishoye” seems to be Ishoko. In some stories, she is portrayed as someone who created animals and people. Her creatures also included some humans who later turned out to be a disaster for their fellow humans (the man-eating giant and his wife). As Ishoko realized this, she killed the man-eaters and declared that they were “no longer people.”

Mentioning Ishoko’s name can mean a simple greeting or wishing someone a successful hunt. Ishoko is Haine’s wife.

Roles of a Culture Hero

The Man Who Returned From the Grave to Become a Hero

Indaya was a man who went to Isanzu territory after dying and returned. He plays a culture hero role, introducing goods and customs to the Hadza tribe.

Isanzu People

The Hadza tribe neighbor the Isanzu. Unlike the Iraqw and the cattle-rustling Maasai people who used to led raids towards Iramba and Isanzu through Hadza tribe territory, the Hadza tribe regarded the hoe-farming Isanzu people as peaceful people. Moreover, the Hadza tribe got customs and goods from them. Therefore, Hadza tribe myths mention and depict the Isanzu people’s benevolence. This favourable view of the Isanzu makes their role comparable to that of a culture hero in the Hadza tribe folklore.

Also, an Isanzu man frees the Hadza tribe member from the evil giant in some of the mythical tales about giants.

Tales About Giants

The folktales about giants depict people with superhuman size and strength. However, they have human weaknesses and needs – they drink and eat, they can be cheated or poisoned.

Sengane and His Brothers

One of the giants, Sengane (or Sengani), helped Haine, and Haine gave him the power to rule over others. While Haine was absent, the giant’s decisions endangered people. The people had to go against him. Thus, Sengane ordered the lions to attack people. The attack surprised people because lions were formerly seen as harmless creatures. The people murdered the giant in revenge.

Sengane had brothers, translated “Waonelakhi” and “Ssaabo” by Kohl-Larsen. Many stories describe the disaster these giants brought to the Hadza tribe, killing and beating them. The Hadza tribe had to seek help from neighboring groups. The giants were eventually tricked and poisoned. In some other accounts, they were shot to death by poison-treated arrows.

Man-Eating Giant

A man-eating giant, translated “!esengego” by Ludwig Kohl-Larsen and his family were murdered by a kind snake. The snake turned out to be Ishoko’s remedy to liberate the people. Ishoko transformed their corpses into leopards. Also, he forbade them from attacking people, except they were provoked or wounded by an arrow.

!Hongongoschá

Another giant, translated “!Hongongoschá” by Ludwig Kohl-Larsen, was a mythological figure. He did not disturb the Hadza tribe, except for a few smaller thefts done secretly at night. Tree flowers and stolen vegetables were his nourishment. People greeted him respectfully, and the giant wished them good luck in their hunting. Even after a body deliberately hurt him, the giant was still kind-hearted to the people. However, he exacted fatal revenge on the boy. Eventually, the god Haine decided the fate of the people and the giant. He revealed the boy’s evil deed, warned the people and transformed the giant into a big white clam.

For more articles on the Tanzania Tribes click here!


LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here