When In Africa (Get your Anthropological Hat On!)

As the only anthropology major on the trip it seemed like I may have been dealt a great hand with going on an anthropological trip to Tanzania. We were allotted many experiences that normally would only be designated to professional anthropologist. I am forever grateful for these experiences. Granted some aspects that were ‘anthropological’ were more touristy, such as our meeting with the Massai compared to our meeting with the Hazabe.

The Massai seem to have this sort of meet and greet with tourist groups often. They were all very respectful and nice, answered as many questions as I could come up with, but the entire experience felt rushed and like we were being siphoned for money. Before we showed up the Massai already had the entire visit structured from one activity to another.  The head of the village partnered each student up with a ‘guide’ that didn’t seem concerned with making personal relations, but rather to get you through their set up, and help us shop for trinkets their mothers and other women in their village made. I learned some things while being there, like what the inside of one of their huts looks like, and the type of food they eat but still some experiences were more educational and anthropological than others.

One of my favorite experiences was meeting the Hadzabe people which are one of the last nomadic hunter/gatherer groups on Earth. When we showed up to the location that our one day guide brought us to, bright and early in the morning, two other groups were in the midst of their visit with them. Eventually, they left, and the people that entertained the last group was resting and getting ready to ‘welcome’ us. Welcoming us basically involved them acknowledging our guide. Walking among their grass huts that they only make for part of the year, I got the sense from the people’s lack of caring that we were there that they may get visited by many different groups during all times of the year. Heck one of these hunter/gatherers may of meet more people from different places in the world than I have. I take pictures of these people and where they live, and they seem to look right through me. One woman speaks to another, and their language, a Khoisan language that has distinct clicking sounds, is one of the strangest but most familiar sounding language I think I have ever heard. It seems to be a language that would come more naturally than our English disaster. Our group went on a ‘small’ hunting trip with three of their men, which is kind of like speed walking as quietly as you can and as fast as you can. The village’s dogs stuck at the heels of the hunters, hoping to pick up one of the birds that the hunters manage to get. It was astonishing seeing them pull back their hand-made bows with hand-made arrows, shoot it 20-30 feet through the air and hitting a target smaller than a BlueJay or Robin back home. All in all the hunters of the hour got four small birds; a nice little snack. While we were there our professor gifted them with tobacco, which the entire village smokes daily along with marijuana. They were highly appreciative of this gift, but in the end said that it will probably only last them a day or two for their entire village of 60 people. We also got a more rare of experience of seeing the Hadzabe sing and dance one of their traditional songs, the lyrics pertaining to going out for a hunt to see what they can get. Of the people that we met my favorite, or the one I seemed to develop the best relationship with at the time, was the most excitable gentleman there, who was was probably in his mid twenties to early thirties. He enthusiastically showed me his grass hut which was very large compared to the others. He also helped me navigate to the rovers and back to the little village center, where the rest of my group was purchasing jewelry and other products the Hadzabe make to sell to their frequent visitors. He also posed with me for pictures, and led the group during the song and dance we witnessed. Though we didn’t spend more than five hours with them, I feel like my understanding of humanity was definitely deepened after that meeting.

Overall I met many different people while in Tanzania, many will be in my memory forever, some I hope to visit again sometime in the future, and forever will I crave more Anthropological experiences that Tanzania has to offer.

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