I began writing this blog a year ago. Clicking through my entries, it all seems a little crazy how many completely different experiences I’ve had since my first entry about Ngorongoro Crater. I can see a weave forming and the stories that have started out as threads are coming back and joining with other threads to create a bigger picture; the fine art I’d originally intended my safaris to be.
My first client came back with her photography project. Attempting to capture the beauty of the Hadzabe and their way of life in the Eyasi basin, we spent 12 days shadowing, listening, and watching. Some would say we roughed it, but I loved it. We finished the trip at Oliver’s camp, where I started my next safari. The dry season in full swing, an estimated 800 elephants feeding daily in the swamp among a couple thousand buffalo and few thousand zebra. A week later, I was walking in talcum-powder dust with an eleven year old, his mother and friend, vaccinating 139 chickens in a neighboring (wa)Arusha village- revisiting The Chicken Story that had begun with Nicol’s first visit.
Revisiting the Hadzabe
(Images copyright and credit to Nicol Ragland Photography)
Sitting around the campfire, we repeat rituals. Sipping black cowboy-coffee from the kettle on the fire, as we did last nights caramel scotch. The thin sliver of light prompts a dawn chorus from the birds, their murmurs of greeting. The bustle of cameras, batteries, lenses, memory cards, water and sunscreen, as we set off. Off we tread on the hunt, before the cattle come through and scare the game, before the sun is high and the animals lay down in the shade. The sun will rise as it has done for millennia, and within a few hours the light will soon be as harsh as the environment. We pause every so often, wondering which way to go? The wind keeps changing. The hunters stop, pull out their fire sticks, twirl them until the familiar smell of myrrh smoke, ahh, yes, a tiny coal has formed to light the newspaper wrapped tobacco. Then one of us treads on the wrong twig, or coughs and the invisible kudu or giraffe crashes through the bush.
The first day we walked for 8 hours in near silence. A hand signal and we’d squat as the hunter stalked. Losing his shoes, his body would take a different being, stringing arrow to bowstring. He would draw it back, the tension of the muscles in his back a reflection of the tension in the air. The twang, the curse, and another one has got away. Later on we sit as they whittle their arrows, using only a knife and their hands to lathe beautiful long arrows, stripping guinea-fowl feathers and tying them on with sinew. Another takes a hammer, nail and stone and proceeds to pound out a new arrowhead. They tell stories that I try to translate.
It’s an interesting journey into the past, but also into the reality of the present. It’s the story of population pressures that are marginalizing pastoralists who in turn marginalize hunter-gathers. We sit with men and women on rocks overlooking beautiful vistas. There is a history here. It is quite simple. The Hadzabe live off the land. When the men are hungry they hunt, when the women are hungry they go digging for tubers or picking berries. They come back to camp with what they have and then tell stories. The most complicated piece of technology is their arrow, which takes up to 9 steps to make if it’s an arrow with poison.
Hadza fixing a new bow.
Our conversations while drinking sundowners overlooking the widest vistas and around the campfire under the stars revolve around the dilemmas we face. It’s a very different experience than the first time Nicol and I visited the Hadza. We are looking deeper, and have researched more, yet the experience written up in The Irony of Poison reiterates itself.
Overlooking traditional hunting grounds.
Frank Marlowe describes it well in the Afterword of his book: The Hadza: Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania. There is no easy answer.
Where will these boys be in 10 years?
Revisiting the chicken story
It has been an intense, and wildlife packed four days. With highlights including a lion jumping out from the river bank and killing a wildebeest as they crossed the river, watching elephants in the most beautiful light with a brewing storm as the backdrop, and three leopard sightings alone. It’s another early morning, but we need to get to the village before the chickens are let out. A couple of weeks ago, in discussion with an opinionated journalist I had been told that it wasn’t possible to have a meaningful cultural experience in half a day. “I can” I replied, and I have.
Since visiting our neighbors last year with Nicol, the same chicken vaccinators have vaccinated over 35,000 chickens. (The Chicken Story). Now a young boy was carrying around a little bottle of the precious liquid, one drop in the eye per chicken, two months of his pocket money donated to the project. It is enough to vaccinate 1,000 chickens.
Meaningful? Yes! Meaningful in many ways.
We do the calculations again. If a bottle of vaccine costs $2-$3, and can vaccinate 400 chickens @ 3 cents per chicken, the vaccinator earns about $12. But, the value of the vaccination is much higher. A chicken sells for around the equivalent of $4, so vaccinating 400 chickens is worth $1600, and we haven’t started counting the value of the eggs or chicks that the live chicken may produce.
I’ll leave it to you to decide the meaningfulness of this exchange to the boy.