After threading through acacia trees and aloes along dusty valley tracks for quite some time we found the Hadza and their domed grass huts that looked like upside-down birds’ nests. They were eating a recently-shot antelope or baboon and smoking zol. The Hadza are hunter-gatherers and the poison they smear on their arrowheads, made of the boiled sap of the desert rose, is powerful enough to bring down a giraffe.
They grow no crops, raise no cattle, have no permanent shelters and live without writing, rules or calendars. Genetic testing suggests they may represent one of the taproots of the human family tree – more than 100 000 years old. We sat with a group of about 12 men smoking under a tree near their domed shelters. The men were highly sociable and seemed to take our arrival as entirely normal. In their world, what happens simply happens. One man, making arrow shafts when we arrived, was horrendously scarred. He’d gone into a hole in a baobab tree looking for honey and encountered a leopard with cubs. Turned out he was a wonderful musician, playing on an instrument similar to Sambargwa’s.
The reason the Hadza have been able to maintain their lifestyle so long is that their homeland has never been an inviting place. The soil is briny, fresh water is scarce and the bugs can be intolerable. For tens of thousands of years, it seems, no one else wanted to live here. So they were left alone.Through a translator I asked about their rituals and they seemed puzzled. They danced when they felt like it, had no stories of their origins, knew nothing of rock art and left their dead for the hyenas. Life was about the present. Little else mattered. For fun, after the meal, they shot arrows at a log. They were deadly accurate. We tried, but wouldn’t have survived long in the hunting business.