Hunter-gatherers mark historic land rights milestone

Hunter-gatherers mark historic land rights milestone
[Photo (c) Martin Schoeller/National Geographic, 2009]
Via Survival International:

One of the world’s few remaining hunter-gatherer tribes, the Hadza, is celebrating the anniversary of a historic land victory.

In October 2011, the Tanzanian government took the unprecedented step of recognizing the importance of land to the Hadza, by formally handing over land titles to a community of 700 people. The decision was the first time Tanzania had ever recognized a minority tribe’s land rights.

1,300 Hadza live in northwest Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Eyasi. Whilst the majority now live in settlements, and supplement their diets with wild foods, approximately 300-400 Hadza survive almost entirely off the natural produce around them.

Survival International’s picture gallery details the Hadza’s hunting habits.

It explores how the tribe’s search for honey relies on a bird guiding them to bees’ nests in ancient baobab trees, and how their bowstrings are made from animal ligaments, and the arrows fletched with guineafowl feathers.

One Hadza man said, ‘We have no record of famine in our oral history. The reason is that we depend on natural products from the environment such as berries, tubers, baobab fruits, honey and many wild animals for food. By living in this way, the environment we depend on is not damaged and remains healthy.’

Having lived in the Great Rift Valley for millennia, the Hadza have an enduring connection to the land.

But over the last 50 years, the tribe has lost 90% of its land, along with the wildlife and plants it relies on for its livelihood.

One Hadza man said, ‘Because we do not plant crops or herd livestock, most people including government leaders, consider our lands to be empty and unused.’

In 2009, National Geographic published a feature story on the Hadza, which was notable to me for this very un-NatGeo passage:

The days I spent with the Hadza altered my perception of the world. They instilled in me something I call the “Hadza effect”—they made me feel calmer, more attuned to the moment, more self-sufficient, a little braver, and in less of a constant rush. I don’t care if this sounds maudlin: My time with the Hadza made me happier. It made me wish there was some way to prolong the reign of the hunter-gatherers, though I know it’s almost certainly too late.

The entire article, by Michael Finkel, is very much worth reading. (Though who knows how much of it is true.)

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