By the shores of Lake Eyasu, in Tanzania, is a small camp called Kisima Ngede. Simple tents, shaded over by thatched palapas, look out over the ancient dry lake, where vervet monkeys patrol the palmy shoreline. From here my family and I embarked on one of our more memorable African experiences, an early morning game hunt with some of the last remaining hunter-gatherers on earth, the Hadzabe.

Long ago, almost all of Africa was in the hands of people like this, the Khoi-San of Southern Africa, the Pygmies of the Congo rainforests, and these, the Hadzabe, somehow isolated from their click-speaking brethren far away in the south. Long ago the hunter-gatherers were pushed out of all the arable land by the expansion of Bantu-speaking farmers, the people we think of today as "Africans." Then, more recently, as a result of the traumatic modern era, they were all either wiped out, absorbed into other ethnic groups, or forced into the most uninhabitable, unwanted, and least productive land. This last was the fate of the Hadzabe. There are several Hadzabe groups in Tanzania, but the group we visited was squeezed between national parks where hunting was forbidden and licensed hunting reserves where hunting was restricted to rich clients. Thus, the original stewards of this land, whose presence for over forty thousand years had negligible ecological impact, were made refugees by modern concepts of property, conservation, and law. To add injury to the irony of this insult, illegal squatters had moved in to farm on the meager tracts left remaining to the Hadzabe. This may not sound like a formula for a great family holiday experience, but that is wrong. despite all of this, the Hadzabe were gracious, generous, and enthusiastic hosts. The bargain they had made was that we could accompany a group of Hadzabe on their morning hunt in return for some food, chickens and vegetables. The exchange was as rational as could be, since our presence on the hunt was likely to ruin it anyway.

We met our Hadzabe hunters in their camp, which was just that, not a village, but a camp. Those Hadzabe who still live a traditional lifestyle have no villages,they follow game and build simple shelters wherever they stop. Where we met them, the only object that might have been called architecture was a grass shelter about the size of a big washing machine. It was dome-shaped with a sort of opening in front, and looked like nothing so much as an oversized birds nest turned upside down.

Three young men in shorts, each carrying a bow and a sheaf of iron-tipped arrows, led us off into the dense thickets of acacia. I think they expected to rapidly outdistance us in the thick undergrowth, but myself, my wife, and my two boys, then aged eight and eleven, are experienced outdoors travelers and kept up quite well with the hunting party. We started out in pursuit of a civet, but ended up cornering a jackal, which our hosts promptly and efficiently killed, quartered, roasted, and ate, at least those parts which they didn't bring back to camp. We knew this would happen. Before departing, through he intercession of a translator, we were clearly told, and here I paraphrase,"Look, we're hunters. We are going to find an animal, track it, kill it, and eat it. This is how we survive. We don't want any weenie, bleeding heart guilt trips about this, okay?" We had agreed, and so, when the moment came that this jackal breathed her last at the end of a spear, we were silent and respectful. No matter what we thought, we were witnessing something which has been acted out by these people, their ancestors, and our own African ancestors, since we became humans. Even my kids, at their supposedly tender ages, were also keenly aware that we were likely to be among the last to witness this, as the Hadzabe and all the ancientness their lives represented were certain to be squeezed out of this existence and into a mold prepared for them by the rules of the modern world, which offered them little promise more than labor and wages.

We were sad for the jackal, sad too for the Hadzabe. But they were not sad. They celebrated, sang, and danced in their dusty camp, lifting my children into the air in the exultation of the day. One could imagine then that time stood still, that we were sharing in a prehistoric moment transported to the beginning of human time. But time does not stand still. This moment was now, in our time. Satellites circled unseen, high in the morning sky above our dancing hunters. And yet, in dancing their celebration, our Hadzabe hosts were creating another kind of time, outside of history and outside of change. That time was as eternal as the first morning.



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