11 February 2017, Ngorongoro Highlands, Tanzania
Today we make an early start, leaving in the dark at 6 a.m. We’re headed for a jam-packed cultural exchange experience. Today we ride with Mahunga as our driver and local guide. We wind our way over the dirt road in the dark, and onto the main road.
As we near Karatu, we begin to see people walking along the verge of the road in the dark – no lights, no reflectors. Mahunga is very careful. In Karatu, there are groups getting their exercise, running along the road. This is a new sight for us in Africa. It seems quite dangerous as the lighting is so poor.
We turn right onto another dirt road, skirting plowed fields with dark red soil. Herders are moving their cattle deeper into the bush as the first light creeps into the sky. It is dry, and grazing is sparse. Finally, the sun peeks over the horizon.
We pass a coffee plantation growing under trees for shade, settlements with electricity thanks to the rural electrification program, motorbikes, ox and donkey carts, one fairly large truck, and a couple of tractors.
After an hour we pause at the Lake Eyasi Girls Vocational Center, where Mahunga calls our guide for today. We turn on a smaller dirt road and ride the washboard (they call this African massage) to a campground and conference room. Here we meet Qwarda (prounounced “gwarda”). He is from the Datoga tribe. He speaks 7 different dialects as well as Swahili and English. He is quite fluent. He “just learned” English, he tells us.
Qwarda rides shotgun with Mahunga, directing the turns. We drive and drive, eventually dropping down into a dry river bed, where we drive in the direction that would be upstream. Eventually we reach our stopping place. We are hunting for the Hadzabe, the bushmen who live in this area designated for their use.
The first positive sign is the appearance of a dog. A short walk into the bush and we come to an awesome baobab tree, upon which hang small bows and arrows, baboon skulls, kudu horns, impala horns. There are pegs used as ladders to climb the tree to collect water, and maybe even honey.
Above us on the rocks, gathered around smoldering ashes, are the men. They have already been out hunting today, and will go out again later. They show us their bows, with string made from animal tendons, and their arrows, fletched with bird feathers. Wooden-tipped arrows are used for small animals. A wooden-tipped arrow with a section of corncob pushed onto it is used for birds, to knock them down. Metal-tipped arrows are used for larger game, and sometimes a poison made from the bark and roots of the desert rose is applied to the barbs. This would be used for large game like buffalo.
In the early 1970s the government of Tanzania tried to “locate” these people, building them nice houses and giving them plots of land. They fled into the bush. The houses, they complained, were too warm, causing their children to become sick. Also, the houses “shouted” in the rain, with their tin roofs. Finally, they missed their traditional food, meat from game and berries and fruits and roots from native plants.
We walk around to the women’s fire. These are the gatherers of berries, fruits, and roots, the makers of food and medicine, the child minders. Soon, one of them calls out, and children emerge from the bush, where they are hiding just in case government officers have come to kidnap them and take them to boarding schools. Like children everywhere, they like seeing their pictures.
There are several shelters here, built from flexible branches rooted into the earth and tied and woven with sisal twine, which the women make from the sisal plant. They are lightly covered with leaves or material or grasses, and open at the sides. The people sleep on animal skins. The shelters include a circular room and a vestibule
The Hadzabe trade honey and meat for metal arrow points and other necessities. They are nomadic, moving every couple of months, following the game and the water. During the rainy season, they move into the mountains where they live in dry caves. When a group kills a large animal, all the bushmen are summoned. They feasts and celebrate and dry meat together, before separating once again.
The men have a bow and arrow competition shooting wooden tipped arrows at a soft wood “target” – a hunk of wood lying on the ground. They invite our men to join. Bob gives it a try. Ron and Tony also have a go. Clearly, practice makes perfect.
Then men, women, and children join in a traditional dance. One young man straps metal rattles to his ankle. He sets the rhythm and all join in the dance, moving in a circle, then joining hands and moving in and out. This is one of several Hadzabe communities; in total they number only about 1200.
Next we are on the way to the Blacksmith Clan of the Datoga tribe. These folk make tools and jewelry from scrap metal that they buy in the town – iron, copper, aluminum, and brass. One of the blacksmiths demonstrates for us. He heats a plumbing scrap in the charcoal fire. His compatriot works the cow-skin bellows that feed air to the fire through a clay nozzle. The fire flames up.
The smith breaks the metal into small pieces which he places in a small vessel, which goes back into the fire. While the metal melts, the smith prepares a mold, greasing it with oil from sheep. He extracts the vessel of molten metal from the fire using the long tongs he made, and pours it into the mold. In a few minutes, he carefully levers the metal strip from the mold, and eases it in stages into a vessel of water to harden.
From here the metal strip will be heated in a regular fire and pounded, heated and pounded, until it is ready to work into, say, a bracelet. Some of the bracelets they show us are intricate, with small patterns of different metal. We buy one that is of copper and aluminum.
These people also move with the weather and their customer base. There are 5 or so families of smiths, some 100 in all. They trade their wares for honey, maize, meat, and other necessities.
We pause for tea and coffee, and today there are also goodies – banana bread, marble cake, and cheese breads.
Next we visit a Datoga family. These people are pastoral, raising goats and sheep and even farming. They do not move. The family we visit consists of a father, his five wives, and his mother-in-law. The latter has a separate house, a big one!
There are two small children and one infant, although their may be other children about their duties or in school. The women are dressed in fringed and beaded outfits, with metal and bead jewelry around their necks and up their forearms. We are invited into the main house, which has a roomy sitting room, and a second smaller room that is both bedroom and kitchen. One of the younger women demonstrates grinding corn between two grinding stones, while the older women pass the baby around, nuzzling and kissing it. Lots of affection.
As I move outside, papa arrives. He is a tall man, draped in cloths, the upper one decorated with small bangles. He greets his two small children affectionately, bending down to talk to them and to kiss them on both cheeks.
There is a photo op with the entire family, and then we are into the safari vehicles and away. We drop Gwarda off with the leftover goodies, and ride the dirt roads back to Karatu Simba. There we have a late lunch. Avocado salad with vinaigrette and vegetable lasagna with eggplant are hits.
This afternoon there is a trip to a hospital and clinic. I elect to nap instead, and catch up on pictures and blog posts. They are ready … if I ever have enough signal to post.