True Bushmen: The Hadza

Written by Thomson Safaris

The Hadza still hunt game with bows and arrows.
By Woodlouse ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There are over 120 different cultural groups living in Tanzania today, but perhaps one of the most unique (or old-fashioned, depending on how you look at it) is the Hadza.

There are right around 1,000 Hadza left in Tanzania (the only place this group lives), and some 300-400 of them live as true hunter-gatherers, sharing meat when they can find (and kill) it, and living off foraged tubers, berries, fruits, and honey when they can’t. As far as oral histories of the Hadzabe and anthropological research on the tribe can determine, their practices have barely changed in thousands of years.

One of the most effective ways the Hadza live with the land is their symbiotic relationship with the honeyguide bird. When they hear its whistle, they’ll whistle back, the bird and the human calling back and forth to one another as the honeyguide flits through the trees. Following these birds can lead to very sweet rewards; they lead people to hives, and, after the honey has been conveniently cleared out, feast on the remaining larva and wax.

Most hunting is done with hand-fashioned bows and arrows. Some of the most commonly hunted animals include dik-diks, warthogs, monkeys, and occasionally larger antelope such as impala and eland. The bowstrings are generally made from animal ligaments, arrow heads are pounded out from nails and attached to wooden shafts, and the arrows are hand-fletched with bird feathers.

The Hadza are also unique for another feature: their clicking language.

A linguistic isolate, the Hadza language—which involves unique (and, for a westerner, nearly impossible to replicate) glottal stops and click sounds on consonants—doesn’t fit into any larger language families. Fortunately for linguists, the language remains in use, and though the Hadza population is small, most Hadza children learn to speak Hadza fluently.

Hadza shelter

A Hadzabe shelter. During the dry season, even structures this simple might not be made.
Photo: Thomson Safaris guest, David Rush

Perhaps most surprising to a westerner, the Hadza have little if any concept of personal ownership. While they will make (and keep) hunting implements, leather bags from the skins of animals they’ve killed, and stone pipes, they tend not to accumulate many other possessions. If a Hadza does somehow accumulate more possessions than he or she needs, he or she will distribute them equally among the group, with no expectation of receiving anything in return. This sort of communal lifestyle is fundamental to their belief system.

Various attempts have been made to “settle” the Hadza, both by missionaries and by the Tanzanian government (the most recent government attempt was in 1990).