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The Pied Piper of Eyasi

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Life on the Edge: The Pied Piper of Eyasi

By Steve Bradshaw
Executive Producer, Life on the Edge

Deep in the Tanzanian bush, the Hadza have a decision to make.

Should they follow Baallow, the charismatic leader who wants to take them into the prosperous, globalised 21 Century? Or should they ignore him and try to cling on to a way of life they love?

We join Baallow as he is revving up his Honda in Tanzania's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. He is about 50 years old and you might take him for a middle-aged biker, but a biker with a gleam in his eye.

Today, he is setting off on a tour of his tribal lands, in the Yaeda Valley close to Lake Eyasi.

Baallow has a mission: he says the Hadza have no choice but to follow his lead. They must fight for their land rights. It is time, he says, for the Hadza to realise they are being left behind by the rest of the world.

Hunter-gatherers

"Our life here - and I'm not talking about the Hadza only, but of the Africans in general - is very different to the life of the Europeans, because they saw ahead first.

Scene from Tanzania
Some Hadza have given up the nomadic life for government help

"Maybe it is just a blessing, maybe God liked them better. You see, they have made planes that go to the moon, they have almost reached the sun. And us, we still don't know how to make a car in Tanzania."

But the Hadza are not easily convinced. From elders to teenagers, many believe they do have a choice.

The trouble is, there is no obvious way of making it, and no obvious way of deciding whether to follow Baallow's lead. For the Hadza have no tradition of strong individual leaders and they have had few, if any, big decisions about their future to make.

They are used to living in the moment, or at least in the season: if you are hungry, for example, pick up the bow and arrow.

You do not have to be a cultural relativist to recognise this is not ignorance but a legitimate, maybe attractive, way of seeing the world.

The Hadza are one of the last tribes of hunter-gatherers in the world. Some are still living - or trying to live - just as they have done for centuries, and probably millennia, others have now settled in villages.

In Mongo wa Mono, Baallow visits some Hadza who have given up the nomadic life in return for government help. Here he has a willing audience - tribesmen like Moi, who used to hunt elephant and now cannot even find a baboon.

Life in the bush

"At least," Moi says, "children get educated now so that one day we can lead ourselves."

In the more remote bush, Baallow's Honda chugs into Nyoha's Camp, where the Hadza still live in the old way.

A young Hadza child
Hadza children often play truant from school

Although he now lives in the small town of Mbulu, here is where his heart is. "For me, the land is my mother... even if you throw me in a pot and you cook me for hours, I am a Hadza! I cannot change!"

Here many are not happy with the idea of "development".

Maadi, a 20-year-old mother of two, says: "When Baallow comes here he tells us about progress and development. I don't know if I could survive in a town because I am used to life in the bush, in the town there are no wild fruits and tubers, and no trees".

Hadza kids are supposed to go to primary school, but many play truant. Finally, Baallow takes his message to Mango, where Hadza are confronted by incomers, and migrants from other tribes.

Here Baallow meets Salibogo, an old Hadza hunter who is still a nomad, of sorts. "He has no land," Baallow says, "these days Salibogo lives between other people's houses."


My job is to show them the way, but it is their job to travel that road

Baallow, Hadza campaigner

A farmer from another tribe walks up to Salibogo, demanding to know what he is doing there. Salibogo is more upset and bewildered than angry. He is living like a refugee in the Hadza's ancient land, a land rights deal still not concluded.

"These days the animals are gone," Salibogo says wistfully. "I get small things like birds, pigeons, mice... I don't want to be hungry and see the backs of other tribes who are ahead of us."

Baallow looks grim, but his point is made. The Hadza need land rights but should they use them to develop, or to protect an ancient way of life which may already have become unsustainable?

The Hadza have not decided yet. Sometimes, Baallow himself seems unsure.

Baallow has a government post, and works for an NGO but aims to give up both once the Hadza have some formal entitlement to their lands.

"The young ones are here, I have done my part. I am off, I am knockout, there is no more. So my job, is not really my job, it is the people's job, I am just their leader. My job is to show them the way, but it is their job to travel that road."

Life on the Edge is broadcast on BBC World News on Tuesdays at 1930 GMT. The films were made for the BBC by TVE.


Should the Hadza people embrace development? Or cherish their traditional way of life? And how should they make their choice? Send us your comments using the form below:

Such, so-called development undermines the livelihoods and destroys the indigenous knowledge that allowed these peoples to develop ways of life that are more sustainable than our own. Our "developed world" is a model of unsustainability!
Sacha Kagan, Lüneburg, Germany

If it is to be successful, the decision-making would need to include traditional means including input from the elders, and more contemporary methods such as Baallow's consultation with other stakeholders and the education process. It will not be easy but the snapshot given by the program indicates there is hope. Robert Laine, Santiago, Chile I admire Baalow. He seems to be a natural leader, and yes I think he is right to encourage his community to secure their land rights. The Hadza should do this asap as land is becoming increasingly scarce and furiously contested in East Africa. Whilst I think they should organise themselves to secure their land rights, I don't know if this means that they have to abandon all their traditional ways?
Milla, London

The Hadza should be left alone to live the way they want. Transforming them would be as bad as vanishing the last traditional society in the Country. After all, we have seen nothing yet with capitalism development. We are stuck in the middle of nowhere. We need to create the same environment they prefer for their survival.
Emmanuel Shemaghembe, Dar es Salaam

I believe that they should be able to choose, and if they desire, remain with their current lifestyle. Humans have survived for thousands of years in exactly the same way, and although modern advances of technology and health care have made aspects of our lives easier, they have also brought along the stress of a consumer lifestyle and the pollution produced by our vehicles and machines. If they want to cherish their traditional way of life, and in doing so give us a living glimpse into how humanity developed, it should be supported.
Carolyn, Colchester, England

Why does the Tanzanian government give support to those who have ABANDONED the nomadic life? Why not support those who choose to PRESERVE their culture and way of life? It seems that minority nomadic cultures continue to be discriminated against all over the world. Surely there is a middle way where the Hadza can benefit from what is good in modern society but on their own terms, without having to abandon their culture.
Abysseus, Glasgow, Scotland

Once upon a time all humans lived like the Hadza do. Who is to say which way is better? All we know is that our way of life is threatening our environment and therefore our existence on an unprecendented global scale. Whatever choice the Hadza make, humanity must be sure to understand the wisdom of the old way, before it disappears forever.
George Svarovsky, Alresford, UK

I've spent quite some time in Tanzania, and travelled all over the north. There is no doubt in my mind at all that the Hadza have to fight to keep their traditional identity on their own land. I am not romanticising - many people are not happy in the so called 'developed' world. We should not pretend that this is what awaits them, but instead value love of land,tradition, family and identity. Baalow is taken in by fools gold.
Katharine, UK

Do the Hadza really cherish their way of life? 'Hunter-gatherer' can be a romantic notion; ideas of living in harmony with mother earth always strike a cord, especially with people in developed countries. But, in my experience, its getting food from supermarkets and sleeping on mattresses are the sort of things that people are striving for.
Alex Stone, Porto Alegre, Brazil

As a member of the Maasai people, I really do sympathise with the Hadza. We were and continue to some extend be in the Horns of a dilemma like the Hadza. They Hadza have no option but to change and adopt a new way of life. May be "adjust" is the right word. With their land gone, it is impossible to continue with pure traditional lifestyle. They should not however worry too much about change because I am sure they will survive. I want to tell them that no culture can ever survive if it does not change and adapt to the new environment.
Kisimir, Namanga, Kenya

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