While visiting Tanzania with Albatros East Africa earlier this year, our FAM group was excited to stay at Mwiba Lodge in the private Mwiba Wildlife Reserve on the southern border of Serengeti NP. During our stay we had the chance to spend time with the Hadzabe people who are among the last of the hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa living in a traditional manner. It was far and away the best cultural experience I have had in Tanzania and one of the very best in the whole of Africa.
Their arrival was goosebump-inducing. We had been driven to the forest and began walking when we heard whistles coming from all around us. Suddenly, the Hadzabe materialized out of the forest. It was evident from the first moment of meeting them that they have a symbiotic relationship with their surroundings, allowing them to sustainably harvest what they need from the forest for their survival.
Several things about the Hadzabe were very noticeable. First was their lack of possessions. They were wearing loose, comfortable clothing with beautiful beaded jewelry and carried almost nothing save for a few weapons – bows and arrows, a knife and an axe. We would see all of these in use at some point during the morning.
The second thing that was immediately evident was their joy. These are people living a life that I can hardly imagine – one where I’d probably starve within a few days – and they were having an absolute blast. They were going to have to work for every single bite of food they would eat that day, find shelter to sleep that night, avoid wild animals and heaven knows what else, and they were laughing and joking almost the entire time we were with them. It was infectious and uplifting.
We had a local guide with us who could communicate with the Hadzabe using a mix of Hadzane and Swahili. They shared their methods for identifying and harvesting foods, finding water and making fire, as well as the all-important ways to find and collect honey, including following honeyguide birds to the bees’ sweet stashes. While the Hadzabe harvest honey as an important part of their diet, they know that it’s critical to leave some behind both for the bird and the bees themselves.
They made fire with a stick and some (damp!) vegetation, then used the smoke to move bees away from their hive. They had to employ an axe to get to the honey but did so in a way that did not permanently harm the tree. Watching them take turns to hack into the tree to get to the honey with bees flying all around them was a bit surreal, but they eventually hit the jackpot. They shared this treasure trove with us – it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted.
There was nothing demonstrative about what the Hadzabe showed us. While it was mind-opening and educational, it was also totally natural. We were out for a walk in the woods and whatever we came across became part of our day. It was so natural and easy feeling – there was absolutely nothing contrived about it.
The time went all too quickly. We found ourselves back near the vehicles and realized that hours had passed, but we weren’t quite done – the Hadzabe wanted to check out our archery skills. What followed was a largely hilarious display of a variety of abilities. Some people had the Hadzabe backing away in fear while laughing. The best of us of course could not hold a candle to any of them. After each of us doing our best to hit a target, we reluctantly said our goodbyes before heading back to the lodge for lunch.
I recommend visiting the Hadzabe as the top experience at Mwiba, and for travelers that are interested in a special cultural interaction, I would insist on making this a part of their itinerary. Mwiba also offers visits with the Datoga, as well as excellent game viewing, bush walks, spectacular sundowners, spa treatments, bush dining and optional fly camping and helicopter flights. I can vouch for the sundowners – we even had a long, uninterrupted view of a very relaxed caracal strolling through our sundowner scene! The setting is gorgeous, the suites luxurious, the spa sublime and the food was very good. It has everything to recommend!