In the world of anthropology, the term “Indigenous” encapsulates much more than the traditional meaning of earliest known inhabitants of an area. It explores the earliest ways of group life, the methods of survival across areas and the interactions with those environments. Mankind’s history is cruel; in the past 150 years we have seen many Indigenous groups around the world cease to exist or struggling to regain equal footing in a today’s world. Most of it has to do with colonization and the non-stop regional wars that have been fought—a conquer with no mercy mindset. Of the few remaining Indigenous groups, The Hadza of Tanzania have provided scientists key insights as to how hunter-gather societies had survived since the dawn of man.
Hadza Way of Life
The Hadza are a hunter-gather society that has survived without growing or storing their own food, nor domesticating livestock. They survived entirely by crafting weapons to hunt animals—bows and arrows made from their immediate environment—and by scavenging for plants. So their diet primarily consists of plant-based foods and various meats, but it also occasionally includes honey. They did not build and live in traditional villages like most, instead they would create temporary shelters as they travelled, and they carried only a few possessions. The expansion of contemporary settlements and farming, along with the over-hunting of animals for sport, has made the traditional way of life nearly impossible for the Hadza. David Choe shared a story on Joe Rogan’s podcast of how a Hadza elder explained to him how life was 50 years ago. The elder described the African Plains as a buffet, full of elephants, lions, hippos and so much more, and how in his lifetime it has all but disappeared.
What Makes the Hadza So Unique
One of the most unique things about the Hadza people is their symbiotic relationship with the Honeyguide bird. The bird uses a distinct call to communicate with the Hadza, who have learned to communicate with the birds through distinct whistles, and the birds have even been known to seek out groups of Hadza. The Honeyguide bird then leads them to a beehive and when they are taking out the honey, the bird takes the leftovers that are left on the ground. What makes this so special is that relationship is with an untamed animal. Richard Wrangham, a renowned anthropologist, called it the most developed, co-evolved, mutually helpful relationship between any mammal and any bird.
Another unique aspect of the Hadza people is that they have very distinct gut microbes and an intriguingly strong immune response to poisonous stings and bites . When scientists visit the Hadza people to conduct research, they sleep in zipped up tents that keep scorpions, snakes, and other poisonous animals away, while the Hadza people sleep in the open and on the ground. The immune response may be attributed to their million-year-old diet. When Hadza members had their health examined by scientists the results seemed to indicate that this group of people appeared to exist without diabetes, intestinal diseases such as colitis, and obesity (Schnorr, 2018). Their all-natural lifestyle, the seasonal diet and always being on the go, is what nutritionists recommend and what science backs up as the best approach (Smits, 2017). While they may lack some vitamins and nutrients, they are Indigenous to that area and over time they have evolved to thrive in those conditions.
A Different Perspective
When the topic of historical Indigenous groups comes up or other remote communities, there is often a quick association with a primitive way of life. By today’s standards, I would argue that all civilizations have been primitive throughout history. When nations decided to conquer or colonize other groups of people, that too was a primitive way of thought and many of those “dominant” nations had primitive ways of group life themselves. I see the past 20 years as a modern age of enlightenment, where we are just beginning to understand the ramifications of historical wrongdoings, and how it is still a battle for survival for many Indigenous groups.