Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Hadza, numbering an estimated 1,300-1,500, are nomadic hunter-gatherers living in the rocky hills and arid valleys to the east and south-west of Lake Eyasi in northern Tanzania. They speak a language currently unrelatable to any other. They are acknowledged by neighbouring people to be the original inhabitants of the area. Hadza social structures are communal and egalitarian, with no system of chiefs and strong obligations to share resources, particularly food. Hadza reliance on hunting and gathering remains high. Adequate supplies of fruits, berries and tubers, as well as abundant game, make this way of life nutritionally adequate and ecologically sustainable.
Government policies have reflected the widespread belief that hunting and gathering is unacceptable and degrading, and should be given up. In colonial times, unsuccessful attempts were made to convert Hadza to peasant farmers, a policy intensified after independence though with limited success.
Hadza land has been treated as if it were unoccupied, and both agriculturalists and pastoralists have been encouraged to settle there, even though aridity makes it unsuitable for crops and tsetse fly make it unsuitable for cattle. However, in recent years Barabaig pastoralists displaced from their own land have taken over large areas of Hadza country. In the west of Hadza territory farmers have also settled in large numbers. Following pressure from Hadza and from a Canadian volunteer organization, a limited amount of land was registered in 1994 in the core area of Hadza country. However, the government has retained rights over hunting, subsequently leasing them out to a commercial company. The political weakness of the Hadza makes it impossible for them to resist settlement even on the land where their rights are recognized.
In 2007, Hadzabe hunter-gatherers close to the Serengeti plains in Tanzania scored a rare victory. According to reports, the Tanzanian government had struck a deal to lease the land, which was traditionally occupied by the Hadzabe, to a safari company from the United Arab Emirates. Although the deal supposedly included the development of roads and education facilities, they were not consulted and were reportedly opposed to it. Following a campaign by indigenous activists, in November 2007 the safari company had withdrawn from the project. In 2011, the Tanzanian government issued communal land titles to the first Hadza communities.
Loss of land to farming and wildlife preservation continues to threaten the future existence of the Hadza people. Nevertheless, Hadza are working with local NGO partners to secure communal land rights for all Hadza groups.
A further threat to Hadza society comes from the nature of the education system. Although most Hadza want their children to attend school their only option is for children to board over nine months a year from the age of six, being taught only in Swahili from non-Hadza teachers – a process amounting to forced assimilation on lines which have failed elsewhere.
Recently, the Hadza have been partnering with social enterprise Carbon Tanzania so as to benefit from their long-term protection of community forests through the carbon offset market. Companies and individuals buy carbon offsets and the funds are funnelled directly to the community for local projects and forest conservation. The project aimed to protect 35,000 hectares of forest in 2016.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in