The Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania live a life that has not changed much in over ten thousand years. They have no crops, no livestock, no permanent shelters. In spite of long exposure to agriculturalist groups around them, who have domesticated both plants and animals, the Hadza have maintained their foraging lifestyle.
The story of the spread of agriculture is the story of growing population density. Villages formed, then cities, then nations. And in a relatively brief period, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was extinguished in all but a few places. Africulture's rise, however, came with a price. It introduced infectious disease epidemics, social stratification, intermittent famines and large-scale war. Professor Jared Diamond of UCLA has called the adoption of agriculture 'the worst mistake in human history' - a mistake from which we have never recovered.
Looking at the Hadza, you can see why he came to this conclusion. They do not engage in warfare. They do not live densely enough to be threatened by an infectious outbreak. They have no known history of famine. The Hadza diet is more stable and varied than that of most of the world's citizens. They live almost entirely free of possessions. The things they own - a cooking pot, a water container, an axe - can be wrapped in a blanket and carried over a shoulder. They enjoy an extraordinary amount of leisure time, 'working' - actively pursuing food - only four to six hours a day. And over all these thousands of years, they've left hardly a footprint on the land.[Spoiler (click to open)]read more
Hadza women gather berries and baobab fruit and dig edible tubers. Men collect honey and hunt. They will eat almost anything they can kill, from birds to wildebeest to zebras to buffalo. The Hadza recognise no official leaders. Camps are traditionally named after a senior male, but this honour does not confer any particular power. No Hadza adult has authority over any other. None has more wealth: or, rather,they all have no wealth. There are few social obligations - no birthdays, no public holidays, no anniversaries. People sleep whenever they want. Some stay up much of the night and doze during the heat of the day.
The chief reason the Hadza have been able to maintain their lifestyle so long is that their homeland is not an inviting place. The soil is briny; fresh water is scarce; the bugs can be intolerable. For tens of thousands of years, it seems, no one else wanted to live here. Recently, however, escalating population pressures have brought a flood of people into Hadza lands. The fact that the Hadza are such gentle stewards of the land has, in a way, hurt them - the region has generally been viewed by outsiders as unused, a place sorely in need of development. The Hadza, who by nature are not a combative people, have almost always moved away rather than fight. But now there is nowhere to retreat. Over thepast century, the Hadza have lost exclusive possession of much of their homeland.
There are many things to envy about the Hadza - mostly what free spirits they appear to be. Free from schedules, jobs, bosses, bills, traffic, taxes, laws, social duties and money. Free to grab food and run shirtless through the thorns. But who of us could live like them? Their entire life is one insanely commited camping trip. It's incredibly risky. Medical help is far wawy. One bad fall from a tree, one bite from black mamba snake, and you're dead. Women give birth in the bush and nearly half of all children do not make it to age fifteen. They hace to cope with extreme heat and swarming tsetse flies. The fact is that it's too late for us to go back to a Hadza lifestyle. Of greater concern is that soon it may be impossible for them to remain in one.