Hunting with the Hadza

Man, say the Hadza, descended to earth on the neck of a giraffe, but more often they say that he climbed down from a baobab.” Peter Matthiessen, In “The Tree Where Man Was Born“.

baobab

Lake Eyasi

It was another grey morning. Our native interpreter/guide, Saidi, found the temporary camp of the Hadza, a click-speaking hunter-gatherer tribe near Lake Eyasi, who still lives much like their stone-age ancestors. Saidi, a Hadza himself, has gone to school and speaks both Hadzane and some English. He lives in a village nearby and wears his guide attire: shirt, long pants and shoes. These days, the ‘stone age people’ dress in baboon fur, jeans shorts and tire-soled sandals and decorate themselves with headbands and necklaces made of plastic beads. Other than that, Hadza culture hardly shows any signs of contacts with the encroaching modern world.

When we arrived in the Hadza camp, half a dozen men were sitting around a dwindling fire, smoking and resting after their first hunt at dawn. The women and small children were hiding out in two dome-shaped shelters made out of plant material. The results of the dawn hunt had been meager, only one or two small animals like mongoose. Perhaps it was about time to move to another area with a greater stock of game? Apparently, the cycle time between camps is only a few months and they had already stayed in the same spot for quite some time. And they hadn’t caught any baboons or antelopes lately.

Smoking is engrained in the Hadza culture. Wild tobacco (Nicotiana sp.) and various psychoactive weeds were used traditionally, but nowadays Cannabis is very common. Several of the men would probably like to hang around the fire for the next few hours. However, three hunters were getting ready to go out again and we were allowed to follow them.

We set off with the Hadza hunters. They moved swiftly and softly through the bush, coordinating their hunting efforts by whistling commands to each other. We felt rather clumsy trying to keep up with them without getting hooked by acacia thorns or tripping over low branches. The terrain was a mixture of open patches, boulders, and dense brush plus a few high trees, including acacias and huge baobabs.

A few dogs followed us for a short while, but then padded off. The band of Hadza we visited doesn’t use dogs for hunting, but we figured that the dogs keep guard against predators at night.

following

Trying to keep up with the Hadza hunters as they flow through the bush. Dogs are the only kind of animal they keep.

The Hadza make their own hunting bows and arrows. They trade meat and honey for knifeblades and arrowheads made by the blacksmiths of the nearby Tatoga tribe. At least four different types of arrowheads are used. The largest metal arrowheads have one or two spurs and are laced with a powerful cardiac toxin from the desert rose (Adenium obesum or other Adenium species) that sticks like black tar to the metal. —Don’t touch that! M&M both take a step back. The largest arrows are used to hunt big game, like buffalos, zebras or larger antelopes. Sink one of these arrows in an animal and it will keep running for a few minutes before its heart gives up. Smaller metal arrowheads, without toxin, are used for smaller game, like guinea fowl or dikdik. Arrows for even smaller animals, like mongoose, simply have sharpened wood at the end. And arrows for small birds and lizards have a blunt end, so that the target is knocked dead. We only saw the hunters using the sharpened wooden arrows on our morning hunt.

lake_eyasi copy

View towards Lake Eyasi from the Hadza hunting grounds.

Wild honey is a delicacy and forms an important part of the Hadza diet. We were told that at weddings, each guest is expected to bring one baboon and 10 liters of honey. We were out hunting for only a couple of hours and during this time the Hadza raided three beehives and harvested at least several hundred grams of honeycomb. It seemed to us that different species of bees showed very different levels of aggression.

axe

After knocking on the trunk of the tree to find out exactly where the beehive was located, it only took a few swings with the hatchet to get to the honeycombs.

We stood back at a safe distance from the angry bees. The Hadza guys got stung several times over, but seemed used to it. It’s part of the game.

raiding

The stinging bees were whisked away with a bunch of leafy branches from a nearby bush. One piece of honeycomb is visible inside the hollow tree.

Once a beehive had been raided, the guys closed up the hole so that the bees could go about their business again, replenishing the stores of honey until next time the Hadza pass by. Q: Do you remember every tree where you’ve found a good source of honey? A: Sometimes.

honey

Yummy! Huge amounts of honeycomb were consumed on the spot. Eat when you can.

Two fat pigeons escaped, despite being chased for some distance as they flew from cover to cover. Two small blue-naped mousebirds weren’t as lucky. The Hadza guys plucked the long tail-feathers and saved them for later use as hair decoration (but they are not the ones you see in the pictures here).

mousebird

A blue-naped mousebird (Urocolius macrourus) without its long tail-feathers. Apparently, nothing is considered too small to be hunted.

After a couple of hours of speed hiking through the bush, we had closed the circle and returned to the camp. M & M were happy to be back, as the trek had been a matter of jogging through acacia brush, which required all senses to be on full alert all the time. ‘Where did the hunters go?’, they suddenly disappeared, hiding from some prey, ‘Duck! Watch that branch!’, ‘Please help free dad from the acacia thorns!’, ‘Don’t touch that plant!’, ‘Listen… what’s that sound?’ (whispering, of course, we’re on a hunt…) Fun, but physically tiresome. A great morning workout.

By the time we made it back to camp, the catch comprised the two mousebirds and one squirrel. This hunt was a tough, but valuable, experience for M & M. Cute little animals for breakfast? That’s another way of life, quite simply.

bbq

Post-hunt chilling with a smoke by the fire. On the bbq menu: blue-naped mousebird, squirrel, mongoose.

Cooking is very simple, no need to complicate things:

squirrel

Squirrel. Put it whole on the coals, wait until most of the fur has burnt off, crack the parched skin open, gut it, eat. No need to wait until the meat is cooked. Then carefully crush the bones with a stone and suck out the marrow.

We all declined the half-cooked squirrel they kindly offered us. But we did try the honey of the stingless bee (most likely Hypotrigona sp.), which was absolutely fantastic! The best honey we have ever tasted. Very fruity flavor with rich citrus tones, but not overly sweet.

Baboon is the Hadza’s favorite food, as evidenced by this close-up shot of their trophy tree. There were easily some 20–30 skulls displayed on this tree. Look at the fangs on the left-most skull! Baboon hunting is risky business: a cornered baboon does not hesitate to attack.

trophies

Baboon skulls.

The Hadza normally sleep out in the open by their fires. Sap from a local tree is used as mosquito repellent and the leaves of a particular plant are thrown on the fire to drive away snakes. Only in case of rain do the Hadza sleep under cover. Two of the men showed us their bad-weather shelter, a cave formed by a big flake of a boulder leaning at an angle against a huge rock. The rock formation looked oddly familiar, a fake memory originating from Matthiessen’s book. Could this be the place where Matthiessen spent a few weeks living with the Hadzabe back in the 60s? It might well be the same place, actually, because there are probably only a handful of similar optimal caves in this region and they have definitely been used by the Hadza for thousands of years. Sure enough, beneath the overhanging boulder we spot the primitive rock paintings: a sun, hunters and animals.

sun

“Ishoko”, Sun, female deity. Who painted this and when? Nobody knows…

Q: How old are these paintings? A: They have always been there.

There are few, if any, places on earth where you get a more direct connection with our distant past. During a morning’s hunt M & M got a feeling for a true out-there way of life that runs straight back to the origin of mankind.

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A day-hike in the Gorges du Verdon

In September 2011, we rented a house in Provence where we did several great day-hikes, including one down into the Gorges du Verdon and back up to the rim. We started from Point Sublime, which is at the junction of the GR4 and GR49 trails (which offer inspiration for future through-hikes). It was a very hot and sunny day in mid-September. It felt like full-blown summertime, but in the shade it was pleasantly cool and fall made its presence known through the bright red and fiery orange leaves on some trees. This late in the season we didn’t have to fight the crowds. In fact, we met very few people on the trail.

point_sublime


Here we are at Point Sublime, the starting point and return of our day trip down into the Verdon Gorge and back up.

Right from the very start, the scenery is awesome. Through the eons, the Verdon River has carved its way down into the limestone mass to create a deep canyon that winds its way for some 25 km through these ancient coral reefs.

the_gorge


Peering down into the Couloir Samson of the Verdon Gorge from the rim at Point Sublime, grappling with the stark contrast between its sunlit faces and darker depths. The canyon runs several hundreds of meters deep (quite impressive by European standards).

The trail was very easy to follow and made for an easy walk. We stopped occasionally to take a good look at …

vultures


Wow! Look at those big ones!

…what exactly? Vultures! Le Vautour Fauve (Gyps fulvus; ‘Griffon vulture’ in English) to be more precise. These giants of the air were soaring the thermals high above us. With a wing-span of up to 2.8 m wide they are truly impressive!

vautour


Welcome back mighty giants! Nice to see you!

From the trail we had great views of the gorge and the turquoise river, while we worked our way downwards along the switchbacks. Our hiking poles were useful in relieving some stress on the knees.

On the way down.


On the way down.

Once we had made it all the way down, it sure felt good to cool off in the river, then stretch out on the pebble beach, rest our feet and knees, and replenish our energy stores before the return hike up to the rim.

swimming


M testing the strength of the Verdon’s current before swimming across.

Lunch was served up. On the menu: levain (sourdough bread), saucisson (salami), fresh fruits, water and coffee. What else could you ask for? A piece of chocolate? OK, I guess we had one or two of those too.

lunch


Goodness.

The hike back up to the rim wasn’t too tiring, but we did work up a thirst in the afternoon heat. Little M got to ride on dad’s shoulders for a very short while, when it looked like the end point was miles and miles away along a steep and never-ending dusty trail that wasn’t any fun at all. But, what do you know: Point Sublime appeared magically beyond the next outcrop, and we could soon quench our thirst with the water we had stashed at the finish line. High spirits soon returned and we savored the last views of the gorge and surrounding mountains in the golden, late-afternoon sun, before taking off back home. 

On the way back to our rented house in Tourettes, we stopped for some additional refreshments at a cafe in a quaint old village (plenty of those in this part of the world).

cafe


Deux express, s’il vous plait.

refreshments


…and some sirop de peche blanche, spiked with sparkling mineral water!

A longer trip through this area is definitely on our wish list for the future. Here’s some inspiration!

Canoeing on Immeln

We took off on a brief but exhausting and very fulfilling 2-day canoeing trip to lake Immeln. This area is sometimes called the “southernmost wilderness” of Sweden. Not quite wilderness actually, but you still get a real sense of being out there. We rented two big, clunky canoes from Immelns Kanotcenter. They were perfectly suited for beginners like us. We set out from the southernmost end of Immeln with a slight breeze on our backs. The weather was pleasant, despite the compact cloud cover and intermittent drizzle. Soft air.

M & mom paddling away northbound with a light tail wind.

In just a couple of hours worth of paddling, we reached far north (some 10 km away) with little effort. We made a few stops on islands on the way, to have lunch, to have a coffee/hot chocolate, and to just check things out, and finally landed on a small island where we set up camp for the night. Sadly, as on all of the other islands we went ashore on, there were obvious signs of frantic bushcraft with lots of trash left behind. Who are these people? What ever happened to leave-no-trace? We quickly filled a big bag with trash to bring back home. With two huge canoes and very light packs, there simply wasn’t any excuse not to pitch in and haul it out.

On the bright side of things, we also picked a cup full of golden chanterelles (Chantarellus cibarius) to supplement our dinner. The sun broke through the clouds and we all had a swim before we started cooking dinner. Wilderness or not, the water in the lake is fit to drink. Close to the shore of our little island the water was full of planktonic crustaceans (i.e. “water fleas”) that we couldn’t be bothered to sieve out, so our soup was fortified with extra protein and dietary fiber. There were also some bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus), a.k.a. blueberries, to be found on the island, and M & M were busy grazing away for a good while after dinner.

Bounty! Chanterelles for dinner.

Later in the evening, a storm rolled in over the lake. We pulled the canoes high up on the shore and turned them upside down. It rained heavily throughout the night and the wind reached gale force, ripping violently through the tall pine trees on our little island. We were very comfortable in our shelters. The Trailstar and Tarptent Double rainbow both stood solidly in the strong wind and we slept well, dry and warm.

A storm is rolling in…

The next morning, the rain stopped but the wind just kept increasing. Lake Immeln frequently sees winds being channeled from south to north and this day was no exception to that rule. The strong headwind presented some problem to us. We tried to paddle as much as possible on the leeside of islands, which helped to some extent. We quickly learned a lot about how to and how not to handle a canoe in strong wind and choppy waves. Crossing open waters, we had to paddle steadily and stay exactly on course into the wind, or else our big, heavy canoes were rapidly swept away tens to hundreds of meters before we managed to get them back on course again. In retrospect, we should have rented only a single canoe; as things stood, with only one adult in each canoe, we were in for a real challenge to make it all the way back to the southernmost tip of Immeln. We had a close call in the shallows near an island, where sidewinds pressed us repeatedly towards the rocks, threatening a capsize. Finally, after a lot of struggle, we managed to steer the canoes straight into the wind and headed out onto open water, fully committing ourselves to a long crossing of continuous and hard paddling across the sound to the next peninsula. We made it, but by the time we reached the jetty where we returned the canoes, mom and dad were utterly spent. It had been a very long day of hard work and we all celebrated the completion of our great little microadventure with huge ice creams. Satisfaction certainly lies in the effort — but the attainment is pretty sweet too! We were all extremely satisfied with our first overnight canoeing trip.