NEWS 2007


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Hadza Tribal Lands Being Confiscated By Arab Royal Family

Afarensis notified me of this MSNBC story regarding my friends, the Hadzabe (Hadza) of northern Tanzania. He posted the story and commented on it as well. I can only say that this is the most depressed I have been in while and the lead sentence to the article says it all:

One of the last remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers on the planet is on the verge of vanishing into the modern world.

Apparently a United Arab Emirates royal family is trying to use Hadza tribal territory as a “personal safari playground” and has worked out an arrangement with the Tanzanian government to lease 2500 square miles of the Eyasi highlands. Of course the Hadza were never consulted about the agreement and now may well find themselves trespassers on their own land. Previous agreements between the Tanzanian government and other private companies have resulted in a number of Hadza hunters being jailed for subsistence hunting – an experience that ended up killing most of those imprisoned. 

Most disappointing of all, Tanzanian officials and others invoked visions of the Hadza as primitive savages in need of being removed from the bush for their own good:

The [Tanzanian] official, Philip Marmo, called the Hadzabe "backwards" and said they would benefit from the school, roads and other projects the UAE company has offered as compensation…

Marmo said the Hadzabe -- who until recently had no use for money, organized religion or standard time -- are "the one backwards group in the country”….

"We want them to go to school," said Marmo, who is Tanzania's minister for good governance and represents the valley in parliament. "We want them to wear clothes. We want them to be decent."

It is ironic that government officials would be calling the Hadza “backwards”. On the contrary, it appears the Tanzanian government, far from exhibiting a societal maturity more in line with the 21st century, seems to prefer a cultural connection with 19th century Europeans in North America or 16th century Spanish in Central and South America. Indeed, catering to UAE royal family despotism might make Marmo and other Tanzania officials more comfortable with a return to the 17th century Arab slave trade across East Africa.

The Tanzanian government has frequently attempted to “settle” the Hadza and make them good little agriculturalists like we all should be. And, as the article has pointed out, this almost never works:

Government efforts over 40 years to forcibly integrate the Hadzabe into modern society have mostly failed. Instead, the Hadzabe seem to have preferred changing at their own pace, adopting bits of modern life over centuries…

A program to move families into a village of metal houses ended with Hadzabe fleeing to the bush after only a few days. "When it rains, those houses make a lot of noise," said Sarah Makungu, who tried them.

I remember returning to work with the Hadza in the early 1990s, at a time when the government forced them into settlements and brought it western development workers to teach them how to grow corn. Understanding that the Hadza would not be able to feed themselves while they were in “training” to grow corn, truckloads of milled corn were brought in regularly to feed the families until they were able to sow and harvest their own crops. The Hadza graciously accepted this government handout while the process of growing food was demonstrated to them over a number of months. All the while, Hadza men sat in the community meetings, working on arrows and bows. Eventually, the government felt the Hadza had been shown all they needed. The trucks of corn stopped coming, the officials said “good luck in your new economic system” and departed, and the development workers went back to their western countries. And the Hadza? They promptly left the settlement when no one was around and returned to hunting and gathering in the bush.

The one bright spot for me from the article is that the effort to Christianize the Hadza apparently never took hold either:

Missions to spread Christianity have also failed. "We just go to church as if we are pictures," one man said. "Our hearts and minds are not there."

The greatest tragedy in all the efforts to forcibly modernize or convert the Hadza is that these efforts destroy the strong family and cultural ties that members of the tribe have with each other. One year, after an attempt to settle the Hadza into government camps I remember sitting around the fire one night with an old hunter. We were listening to the children singing in their huts. The old man turned to me and said “We can’t go back to the government camps; the children don’t sing there”. Now they have to hide and worry they will be arrested for getting meat to feed their families:

A recent meeting in the Yaeda Valley on the issue ended with several Hadzabe men shouting at Tanzanian government officials for ignoring them. One of the men was later charged with disruptive behavior and jailed for several days. Two others who have spoken against the deal said they have been threatened with arrest and are now on the run, moving from hut to hut to elude police.

"We're not used to that kind of life in jail," said Gudo, an elderly Hadzabe whose best friend, Sumuni, was among those who perished. "Sumuni was my age. Our fathers were friends. We played together, learned how to hunt together," he said, looking away. "I don't want to talk anymore."

Reading the article was also difficult because I recognized the names of many Hadza interviewed: Gudo, Kaunda, Gonga….men I had met, lived with, hunted with and together roamed the Eyasi highlands. There were others that came to mind while I was reading: Makungu, Hamisi, Koiobe, Katembuga, Mahia…I can only hope that their way of life will remain for as long as they choose to live it.

Posted by Christopher O'Brien


More On The Hadza

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Posted by Christopher O'Brien at 11:29 AM

Hadza Diary

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"Help the Hadza!" - Why focus on culture and not on human rights?

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The Last Foragers of Tanzania - A Farewell to the Hadza?

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Posted by CFeagans at 10:13 AM

Hadza Tribal Lands Being Confiscated By Arab Royal Family

Northstate Science has a story regarding how one of the world's last Stone Age societies, the Hadza in Tanzania, are having their lands confiscated by the Tanzanian Govt., on behalf of the Abu Dhabi royal family, who wish to use the ...

Posted by Tim Jones at 4:42 AM

Help out the Hadza!

For anyone who may not yet have heard the news, the Hadza tribe in Tanzania, one of the last hunter-gathering peoples on Earth, are about to have their land confiscated by the Abu Dhabi royal family who have decided that they need the ...

Posted by timaeolithic at 2:06 AM

united arab emirate royals plan mass eviction for ancient african ...

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Posted by schmoo at 3:08 PM

Northstate Science on the Hadzabe [Afarensis]

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Favorite Quotes

"God will not mind, my Lord; and if He does, then he is not God and we need not worry" - Balian, Kingdom of Heaven

"I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the Word of God" -
Hospitaler, Kingdom of Heaven

About Me

Christopher O'Brien

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Christopher O'Brien is an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Chico and Adjunct Faculty at Lassen Community College, Susanville. His day job is as the Forest Archaeologist for Lassen National Forest in northern California. He received his BS in Anthropology from the University of California-Davis and a MA and PhD in Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently working on the zooarchaeology of several cave and rockshelter sites in northern California, and the historical ecology of several species. He has also been directing archaeological excavations in western Tanzania since 2002. Views expressed on these pages are those of the writer and do not reflect those of the US Forest Service or any other land management agency except where explicitly indicated and where that view has been made public by the agency itself. I support the US Forest Service's mission; to me, the concepts of the USFS are a creed, sacred, and I feel a duty to pass on my concerns to anyone who'll listen. Any criticisms I advance stem from concern and hope.