Farmers, tourists, and cattle threaten to wipe out some of the world’s last hunter-gatherers

Ann Gibbons writes:

As we hike down a rocky slope, through thorny acacias that snag our clothes and past the emaciated carcass of a cow, we hear people singing. We are approaching a small camp of Hadza hunter-gatherers, and our Tanzanian guide thinks they must be celebrating something.

But as we near a few huts made of branches and draped with mosquito netting, a slender woman in a worn T-shirt and sari totters toward us. “She is drunk,” says Killerai Munka, our guide.

The woman calls her children, and as she puts their small hands inside ours we get a sour whiff of diarrhea. That’s when she tells Munka that her youngest child—a baby boy—died the night before. “He wanted to sleep some more and didn’t wake up,” Munka translates from Swahili.

A couple of pastoralist men, probably members of the local Datoga tribe, are also visiting. They carry wooden staffs, wear brass hoop earrings, and have brought a bottle of homemade alcohol. They have traded that bottle, and likely others, for honey gathered by the Hadza, who by now have had too much to drink.

Times are hard for the Hadza, who include some of the last people on the planet to live as nomadic hunter-gatherers.

Their way of life has been a magnet for researchers for 60 years, and the subject of hundreds of scholarly papers, because it may offer the closest analog to the way our African ancestors lived. The iconic lifestyle persists: Just that morning in another Hadza camp called Sengele, an hour’s walk away, women and children were digging tuberous roots for food. Men were gathering honey by smoking out bees from baobab trees. But that lifestyle is quickly disappearing. [Continue reading…]

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