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October 23, 2001
Lake Eyasi: the Hazabe and Tatoga (Russell)

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Kisima Ngeda Camp

When we left Arusha several days ago, we asked Sandi what we would need to bring.  She replied that we shouldn't need anything; everything would be supplied.  So we set off without so much as a schilling of Tanzanian money.  We did not discover until we were well on our way that there were no towels supplied for us.  As a result, we had not been able to bathe or shower since we left Tarangire Safari Lodge, with the exception of some meager sponge baths.  The need became urgent when we spent two nights tent camping at the Panorama Safari Camp, and absolutely critical by the time we drove from Lake Manyara to Lake Eyasi on October 22nd.

Tom had warned us that the drive would be long and hard -- pretty much all day on unpaved roads.  We set off at 9:00 AM -- earlier than usual -- so that we would be able to take breaks along the way.  Sure enough, it was the roughest road we had been on so far.  We were only able to average about 10 kph for the entire 5+ hours that we drove.  The boys were unable to play their Game Boys, read, play finger games, or even give each other spelling tests.  After giving everybody (including himself) Dramamine, Russell was able to read to them for awhile.  (Tom says that within two years, the entire road is going to be paved.  This will literally transform the area, both for better and for worse.)

The terrain was a deep rust red, and the abundant dirt and dust permeated everything around -- trees, shrubs, people, clothing, and vehicles.  We had to keep the windows closed due to the dust, and Tom actually turned on the air conditioning for the first time (though not for very long).  We stopped for a long break in Karatu (Tom's home town) at the Kudu Safari Camp, where we will return to spend the night in a few days.

We finally reached Kisima Ngeda Camp at Lake Eyasi at about 3:30 PM.  It was absolutely in the middle of nowhere (the word "godforsaken" comes to mind).  It was a wonder that anyone had ever been here before, let alone set up a camp site.  So we were flabbergasted to arrive and discover that Mr. So and Christopher had already set up our two tents and had dinner cooking on an open fire.  Even more amazing, there were towels waiting for us in our tents.

There was no game drive to embark on here, as the only wildlife in this benign place consisted of cows and Blue Ball Monkeys (they are named that for a reason).  Instead, we took the rest of the afternoon to recover from the long drive.  Cameron and Joss were elated to have a campfire that they could tend.  Russell and the boys tried taking a walk to the nearby shore of Lake Eyasi, but had to turn back after several hundred metres when they started sinking past their ankles into the ground (Cameron's sneakers were nearly destroyed by the "sinking sand"). 

We were back to water tank showers and pit toilets (Gail took one look and mused "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here").  We all took showers, but there was only enough (solar heated) warm water for Gail and Cameron.  This primitive wilderness was not without its rewards -- later in the evening, we were entertained by fireflies, bats, and a bush baby that kept jumping from tree to tree.  On the other hand, we had dozens of flies all over us, our dining table, our food, and in our tents.  And we awoke the next morning to discover that our legs and ankles were covered with dozens of mosquito bites (we had inadvertently left our insecticide behind in Arusha).

The morning of October 23rd was our earliest rising yet in Africa.  We got up at 4:15 AM in order to meet a nearby tribe of Hazabe, the African bushmen.  We stopped along the way to pick up Mamoya, a native Tatogan who would serve as our guide and interpreter, and we set off together in the pre-dawn darkness.  We don't know how he did it, but after half an hour and many kilometres of driving through the middle of nowhere in the African bush with absolutely no landmarks, Mamoya guided us directly to a group of three young families living together.

The Hazabe are a nomadic people who settle themselves temporarily wherever they can find food and water.  They make their living far away from the villages, because that's were the animals are.  They form groups of three to five families that reform constantly, and they build no houses or structures.  Instead, they live in the shade of trees in the African bush, using animal skins as their beds and seats.  They do not wear normal clothing, though their scant attire includes various bits that have been picked up from Westerners.  Every day, the women gather fruits and water while the men go hunting with bows and arrows (the Hazabe will hunt and eat anything except for snakes or hyenas).  They hunt baboon and impala with sharp stick arrows, and larger game (including elephants) with poison-tipped metal-head arrows.

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The Hazabe men enjoying breakfast

We said "Mutana" ("hello") to everyone there, and partook of the day-old dik dik meat that they had hanging from a tree.  Then we set out with the three fathers and their teenaged sons for the daily hunt.  We followed them on foot for several more kilometres across the African bush.  By now the sun was up and it was getting very warm.  The Hazabe knew exactly where they were going: to a grove of fruit trees across the riverbed where the baboon were likely to be eating (the Hazabe's favorite meat is baboon).  Russell and Tom were able to keep up, but Gail and the boys walked more slowly, hoping not to get completely lost in the African bush for the rest of their lives.

[The details of the hunt, while presented as ungraphically as possible, may nonetheless be unappealing to some.  You can read the details by clicking here.]

Back at the Hazabe encampment, we shared some more time with the families as they sang songs and danced to entertain us.  It is customary for visitors to bring a gift, but we had not known this before; and we now searched frantically through our backpacks for something to give them.  Gail ultimately donated her red handkerchief to the chief, who happily accepted it and tied it around his neck.  In return, he gave Cameron and Joss each a hand-made arrow that had been used in the morning's hunt.  We then said "No be er" ("thank you") to everyone and returned to civilization, leaving the Hazabe to their simple and amazing lifestyle.

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The Hazabe chief with Gail's kerchief; the boys with their arrows

Back at our own camp, Cameron and Joss spent several hours making their own bows, arrows, and quivers, newly inspired their their morning's adventure.

Mamoya, our morning guide, is a member of the Tatoga tribe, and in the afternoon he invited us to spend some time with members of his own people.  The Tatoga, while friendly with the Hazabe, are quite different.  They raise cattle and build semi-permanent dwellings.  The women wear dresses made from animal skins, and adorn themselves with elaborate beads and earrings.

The group of Tatoga we met consisted of Mamoya's uncle and his nine wives (all told, Mamoya's uncle has nine wives, 30 children, and 100 cattle).  They all live communally, but each wife has her own separate room in which to raise her children and cook.  We were invited into one of their stick-and-mud hut dwellings, where Mamoya told us about Tatoga life while the wives and some of the younger children looked on.

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Neighboring in the Tatoga hut

But what really broke the ice was when the women noticed Cameron and Joss playing their finger animal games.  The women were very curious, and the boys ended up teaching and demonstrating many of their finger animals (including birds, crocodiles, and frogs).  Gail brought out her album of pictures from back home, and we all compared ways of life and child-rearing.  We ended up having a marvelous visit with the Tatogans, from our first "Se yu" ("hello") to our last "Da ba bi skui" ("thank you").

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Teaching finger animals

Sometime during our stay at Lake Eyasi, it occurred to us that we have moved past the culture shock of Africa.  We are now very much at home here with tents, dirt, and flies; and we no longer bat an eye at sitting in a mud hut communicating with native tribespeople.  We look forward to even more experiences like these.


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