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Hunting with an un-contacted African tribe

June 18, 2020

Uncontacted tribes are getting more and more rare. Western civilization is creeping its way into every crevice of the Earth, like a tidal wave taking culture and tradition away and replacing it with cell phones and tennis shoes. Whether it is the tribe reaching out to the west as life off the grid becomes more difficult, or the west contacting the tribes to push religion or western education.

It is illegal to contact tribes that have been declared "Uncontacted" by the government of that country. Other than being difficult to connect with the tribes in the first place, there is hardly anyone patrolling the villages or any other chance of getting in trouble. This is why accounts of truly uncontacted tribes are getting fewer by the year.

In this story, I, along with three others met and lived with a previously uncontacted tribe called the "Hadza" in Tanzania. We did not have this experience illegally, and we were very cautious about what we showed them from the outside world. Through my connections, I was able to contact the Chief, who made a request to the government, asking if we could stay with them. The request was approved and we made plans to eat, sleep, hunt and live with the Hadza. The oldest tribe on Planet Earth. Living as their ancestors have more or less, giving us an insight into early man, and how little one must possess to still be content.

The Hadza are a group of people in Northern Tanzania. There are many tribes within the Hadza. Some have been contacted, some have not. All live as nomadic hunter-gatherers with almost no possessions or shelter. They do not have clay huts, they put large leaves as their shelter, and sleep as the early humans did 50,000 years ago. Each group within the Hadza are between 15-50 people, and have men, women and children.

We were excited to have this once in a lifetime experience, but we couldn't know what we were really in for. I had only talked to the Chief through a friend of a friend of a friend, who hardly spoke english. All I knew was what wikipedia told me, and that we would have to take the jeep out in the bush to find them. I knew they spoke a "click" language, where they added a clicking sound as they spoke, which I had never heard. We had a translator who could speak this language, and would help us ask questions, and get to know the members of the tribe.

Part I - Arrival

Driving through the bush, where there we sometimes no trail at all, scanning the ground for any sign of life, searching for this nomadic tribe was making me worried. we had been driving for some time and I hadn't really thought this part through, what if we can't find them!?

After searching for what seemed like an eternity, our driver, Joshua spotted them. We were so excited to find them, and so tired from the mid-day African heat. We stepped out of the Jeep and dropping out backpacks in the dust, we began walking over to a big tree full of thorns we could see them sitting under, in the shade of the hot sun. As I got closer I could see that there were actually two groups under two separate trees. A group of men, and a group of women and children. We first walked to the group of men, as we were told to by our translator to meet the chief and to be welcomed by the tribe. I asked if we should shake their hands or how they say hello. He said he showed them all how to shake hands, to make us feel more comfortable. I laughed at the idea, and kept walking to the shade tree.

When we got to the tribe, they looked pretty much exactly as I expected. Animal skins for clothes, sitting around a small fire making arrows and talking.

One man had horrible scars covering his body. We didn't want to be rude and ask what they were from I assumed they were from a fire, but I was wrong. We later found that they were scars from a leopard attack when he was a boy, and the medicine man saved him with traditional medicine. The story we were told is, that as the Leopard was attacking him, he spit tobacco in the Leopard's eyes and that's why it ran off and didn't eat him. Either way, the scars were the worst I've ever seen on a body.

The Hadza men were making arrows by hand, and straightening them by biting them and chewing them to make them straight. They showed us the four different types of arrows. The first was an arrow with no arrow head, just wood. This was for small game, that an arrowhead would make the meat mostly inedible. The second was an arrow with a wooden ball on the end. This was to knock out birds from the trees without ruining the meat. The impact alone would kill them. The third was a traditional stone arrowhead. The fourth was a poison arrowhead. They get the poison from a specific tree sap, and use it to take down big game, they otherwise couldn't kill. They said, when asked how they eat the animal with a poison arrow in it, they said they cut the meat around it and eat the rest.

Hunting is a big sense of purpose and pride for these men, and you could tell by them time and precision they take in making their arrows. Form placing the feathers on the back, to the way they look discerningly at the arrow to decide if it is straight enough. The arrow with be the difference between a meal for their family, or going to bed hungry, so it must be perfect. After saying hello the the men, who were all really nice and welcoming, we walked to the women, some of which were holding the most beautiful healthy and happy babies I had seen. The women were nice, but not quite as personable and mostly felt a little awkward at the lack of knowing what to say. We went back to set up our beds and get ready for an evening hunt with the men.

As we waited for the right time, I went to sit with the tribe, just to be around them, even without the translator. They had a stone pipe they kept filling up with weed and after taking a stick to create a friction fire, taking the biggest hits off of that stone pipe that I have ever seen in my life. We knew they smoked weed coming in, as that was one of our gifts to them. Knowing what a person values more than money is a great way to get what you want, and to get to hang out with the Hadza, was to bring lots of weed.

Part II - The Hunt

The time was right for a hunt, and we were off. Bow and arrows in hand, they silently walked through the bush. Well, I shouldn't say walked, I should say speed walked at the pace of my jog. We had been warned that the hunt can take up to 8 hours, and to be mentally prepared. I knew the morning hunt may be 8 hours, but there is no way were will be in the bush at night, with the Lions and Hyenas. They are the night hunters, and we quickly turn to prey as night falls. I knew this hunt would be 4 hours at the most, and was glad, because they move through the brush like ghosts. never slowing down, never talking. They make animal sounds to communicate with each other from a distance and always move upwind, making sure their prey can't smell them. These animals are constantly on the lookout for predators, and they are not easy to get close to, especially with even my most quiet steps usually making sound loud enough for a deaf goat to hear a mile away.

We stalked animals, but never came close enough to take a shot, until dusk, when a member of the tribe spotted a bush baby in a tree. Now for those of you who don't know what a bush baby, it's the world's cutest animal. It's the smallest primate and has big eyes and ears. It looks like this:

Yes, it's cute, but don't get too attached, trust me.

They kept shooting and missing, and this little guy would jump 20 feet or more from tree to tree screeching and trying to evade the tribes arrows. But these men need to eat, and eventually they hit a direct shot and the bush baby comes down. At first I was happy because they tribesmen get to eat, then they held up the cutest little animal of all time and with a loud "SNAP" they broke both of its back legs. Having no idea why they would do that and being thoroughly grossed out, we walk back to camp, killing a few small birds on the way. I asked the translator why they broke the back legs like that and he said it makes the meat easier to eat. I said ok, and left it at that.

That night we sat with both the men and the women, who were sitting in two separate groups, and listened to them sing around the fire, and smoked a little weed with them as well. It's customary to do as they do, I mean I had to right ? ;)

After the late night of singing, we woke up at first light, put on my camel pack and got ready for a long morning of hunting. I knew this could be 8 hours, and prepared myself for that. We walked where there was no trails, through empty river beds and thick bush, avoiding sharp thorns that seemed to be on every tree, and dry sticks and leaves that would inform the bush around us that we are here to kill the cutest animals you have.

After hours of "Thinking I hear something", they somehow spot another bush baby in the thick trees and bushes to the side of a dry river bed we were walking through. After multiple failed attempts at shooting it out of the tree, the tribe went full archaic hunter and started to throw big rocks at it. Eventually the lead hunter N'doku took a clear shot through the thick brush and hit it straight through. He climbed the tree and got it, holding it out like a prize as he came down. I was torn between being happy for N'doku and the tribe, and sad as hell for the bush baby. I didn't want to interfere, but asked if they would please kill it. It was still alive and I knew they were going to break it's legs soon. He grabbed a stick and hit it behind the ear a couple times and that was it. "Snap" goes the legs as another member takes a stick and rubs it back and forth between his hands to make a friction fire. They take out the intestines, and leave the rest. As soon as the fire starts, they throw the whole bush baby on the fire.

Taking a small knife, the chief cuts of a piece and hands it to me and my friend Travis. My friend Scott on the other hand was given the face...yes the monkey face. Looking at is awkwardly, he says "I don't know how to eat this." Which I have no idea how you're supposed to eat a face either. The hunter grabs it and pops it in his mouth like a burnt jawbreaker and just chews it up. Another slurps up the tail like it's spaghetti. Nothing goes to waste here. We are all happy. We have food. The men did what they feel is their purpose and we begin making our way back to camp.

Part III - Q & A and goodbyes

Upon getting back we talk about the hunt and then, with the help of a translator, ask the tribe questions about their lives, and the way they think, and they were able to ask us questions about our lives, and the outside world. I asked things like "Other tribes have decided to have goats, cows and huts, why do you choose to live nomadically when others chose to plant crops?" Answered simply by the chief "This is the way my ancestors have done it, this is the way my children and my people will do it."

They asked about how many wives we have, how we live and more. Then one of the members broke out an instrument that he made and we all started singing and dancing together. It ended happily, with bow and arrow practice (I hit a target so they let me keep the arrow), trading gifts and dancing. My friend Travis gave his favorite pocket knife and after some photos and goodbyes, we left in search of a shower and some big cats on our upcoming safari in the Serengeti, where we would be Glamping in the National park surrounded by lions, hyenas and Cape Buffalo before heading to Climb Kilimanjaro on the ultimate African Adventure.