What an incredible experience. We went on a two hour walk with one of the last tribes of hunter/gatherers left in East Africa, and I had no idea what to expect. National Geographic can only show so much and then you need to experience for yourself. We drove for a little over an hour in the Mwiba Conservation area to a meeting place. Because they go wherever there is food the Habzabe people are not super easy to find, but the guide who went out before us did indeed find a group of eight.
Smiling, happy, and kind of jokesters, the group greeted us warmly, and THEY SPOKE CLICKY!! Ok. Thats not what it is called but that’s exactly what it sounds like.
Our guide could communicate with them and we started to follow them through the bush. The oldest of the women showed us, this plant was good for the stomach, that one for birth control. These plants had eatable tubers. They found a tree with African killer bees and went right to work building a fire with sticks and chopping a hole in the tree. Bees were all around the two guys and they never got stung. The fire took two or three minutes to start and soon the smoke had driven the bees away. The man opening the hole had his arm in a beehive right up to his shoulder pulling out honeycomb. All eight shared the honey and they offered us a taste. So good. And just like that they put the fire out and were on the move.
We hurried to catch up in the medium heavy bush and came upon them at a kopje where they had cornered and whacked a rock hyrax with a stick. Lunch. And they were gone again. This time through heavier bush. They spread out and you could hear them communicating with a series of whistles. A slightly more urgent series of whistles and everyone congregated around a tree with another hive. Another fire was started and I was asked to give it a try. I got some smoke but didn’t want to hold them up so they took over and were done in a minute. More smoke, more holes, more honey. And then they threw the hyrax on the fire, cooked and shared it around, and in a couple of minutes were done. The fire was out and we were on the move looking for water.
It was starting to get hot, and it was time to part. We had been walking for the better part of two hours through all kinds of bush and they had brought us to within a hundred meters of our vehicle.
For me this was such a rare honour. The Mwiba Conservancy allows these people to hunt and gather as they have done since the beginning of time. The area where they can do this is shrinking however, and its not clear how long they will be able to continue their traditional way of life. I am extremely grateful I was able to experience this adventure firsthand before this dying culture is lost forever.