Life on the Edge | The Pied Piper of Eyasi

In Tanzania, the Hadza are one of the last tribes of hunter-gatherers on earth, but their lifestyle may soon be over because of the pressures of globalisation. The Hadza are realising that they must fight to protect their development. Traditionally they have no sense of hierarchy and no leaders, but now they believe they must find a voice to make themselves heard. They need a leader! Meet Baalow, a young Hadza hunter who is championing the Hadza cause. How will he unite fiercely independent people to a common cause when each has an opinion on how to best lead their lives? Baalow is torn – a dilemma shared by other tribesmen across the planet. If Hadza kids go to school and work for money, they lose their identity and ability to provide for themselves, if they don’t they become ever more vulnerable and isolated. Where will he lead his tribe?

Modern Tanzania is developing fast, politically stable and hungry for progress. Most Tanzanians want change – but for the Hadza tribe it’s a dilemma. Living in the wilderness of the Yaeda valley, around Lake Eyasi, the Hadza are one of the last tribes of hunter-gatherers in Africa. For years they have existed in isolation, surviving on meat, honey and roots. They live without hierarchy, have few possessions, and share whatever they have.

Now Baallow, one of the few educated Hadza, is trying to persuade his people that it can’t go on. Baallow sees himself as a leader. He wants the Hadza to seize the chance of education, assert their land rights and think about tomorrow.

‘It is very hard – the way the world is today, the way it is changing, the way our country Tanzania is changing – for our community to grasp what is happening,’ he says. ‘Why? First, because they are not educated – they have an understanding of their community but not of the world and that’s why it’s so difficult. How can they understand what the government says, what the government wants? It is difficult for them to communicate with the government without education.’

He goes to the village of Mongo wa Mono. The Hadza are nomadic, but some settled here a few years back in return for government help. Settling down has not been easy, these Hadza have given up their carefree way of life. Now they’re dependent on handouts from NGOs, tourists, the church and government.

village sub-chairman MoiThe village sub-chairman Moi recognizes the Hadza need to modernize. ‘At least children get educated now so that one day we can lead ourselves instead of other tribes leading us. Because, you know without taking the children to school the other tribes cheat us. We must take our children so they can continue where we left. The government taught us the laws, and now we are trying to get the land back by following those government land laws. How else are we going to protect our land?’

Most agree with protecting land rights, but not everyone is happy with the idea of development. For Maadi, who is 20 and a mother of two, it’s not just the town that’s a step too far. It’s the village. ‘When Baallow comes here he tells us about progress and development. He encourages us to go to the village, but I do not want to. They are confusing us with lots of talk. I don’t know, maybe we should develop. I don’t know if I could survive in a town because I am used to life in the bush, there are no wild fruits and tubers, and no trees.’

The Camp Elder’s son Jackson does want education. But only so the Hadza can stay as hunter-gatherers. ‘Yes, of course, we would like the system to go back to how it was in the old days. Because now it’s a mess, people just take our land without following any procedure. We’ll die! If all the animals are gone we will die because all our traditions will die and without traditions the Hadza will be lost, one after another. I think it’s very good to live in the bush but my children have to go to school and get educated. Then they can come back here and teach their father!’

two schools in the Hadza areaThere are two schools in the Hadza area, neither has a special curriculum for the Hadza. Primary school is compulsory in Tanzania, but most Hadza children run away. Baallow says: ‘Education is very good because it will teach you about right and wrong. If someone has not studied he will let himself he stepped on by those who have studied. But if you have an education you will not allow anybody to step on you. The education I had is what made me want to develop. Development is not building a house, development is to bring about change, to bring change and see ahead. That is the difference between me and my community, I understand what is happening. The only way they understand is through me, through what I tell them.’

Baallow’s journey takes him close to the northern tip of Lake Eyasi. He’s heading for Mangola. Mangola is what can happen if the Hadza don’t have land rights. Here they are far outnumbered by new settlers, they’ve become effectively landless. They depend on money from tourists who come to see one of the last tribes of hunter-gatherers on earth. Not that there’s much to hunt or gather.

Salibogo is a famous old hunter, an important elder – and lives like a refugee in his tribe’s ancient lands. Salibogo’s problem is that he has no land. He says: ‘In the old days here we used to hunt buffalo, zebra, pigs. In the old days before the other tribes came we ate meat, but today there is nothing in the whole of Mangola area, we suffer until the hunger squeezes us’¦ These days the animals are gone. I get small things like birds, pigeons, or mice. I want a house, everything. I want a place to live. I don’t like to be hungry and see the backs of other tribes who are ahead of us.’

And suddenly Salibogo is being told off for trespassing on his own ancestral land. Salibogo’s fate shows that doing nothing is not an option for the Hadza. They have to decide whether to join the modern world or not. Baalow’s campaign for land rights has put them on the road. But they’ll have to decide how far they travel – without him.


Go here to listen to Samba Mapangala’s music, which is used in this film. There’s more information on Samba’s music on his publisher Annie Reed’s website.

Survival International has pages on the Hadza. The Hadza people are represented in the Hunter Gatherers Forum.

Charges against Hadza campaigners were recently dismissed.

The Tanzania High Commission in London has an official website on Tanzania, with a country profile and other information. You can also visit the official National Tanzania website, while the Tanzania Tourist Board provides more colourful information and pictures.

The Summer 2008 issue of Travel Africa has an article on The Hadza – the Endangered Hunters.

The UK Government is a major supporter of Tanzanian development, as is the European Union. Go here to read about the work of Oxfam and Oxfam-Novib in Tanzania.

Visit the BBC website pages on this series.


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