The Hadza

In the December 2009 edition of National Geographic, Michael Finkel wrote an absorbing article about the ‘Hadza’, a hunter-gatherer tribe in a remote part of Tanzania, Africa. He writes:

‘Onwas is an old man . . . Across his arms and chest are the hieroglyphs of a lifetime in the bush: scars from hunts, scars from snakebites, scars from arrows and knives and scorpions and thorns. Scars from falling out of a baobab tree. Scars from a leopard attack. Half his teeth remain.’

A Hadza hunt at night: ‘Walking through Hadza country in the dark is challenging; thorn bushes and spiked acacia trees dominate the terrain, and even during the day there is no way to avoid being jabbed and scratched and punctured. A long trek in the Hadza bush can feel like receiving a gradual full-body tattoo. The Hadza spend a significant portion of their rest time digging thorns out of one another with the tips of their knives.’
     And,     ‘The Hadza have to cope with extreme heat and frequent thirst and swarming tsetse flies and malaria-laced mosquitoes.’

When I hear a happiness expert say their life is spectacular I wonder how they keep their endorphin levels so high for so long. It’s good that they don’t see cowpats and weeds, and instead see field upon field of daffodils. But for me the cow pats, weeds and snakes are part of life. I don’t aim to avoid pain; I aim to handle it when it comes along.

‘Onwas doesn’t worry about the future. He doesn’t worry about anything. No Hadza I met, in fact, seemed prone to worry. It was a mind-set that astounded me . . . for the Hadza, to my way of thinking, have very legitimate worries. Will I eat tomorrow? Will something eat me tomorrow? Yet they live a remarkably present-tense existence.’

‘The days I spent with the Hadza altered my perception of the world. They instilled in me something I call the “Hadza effect” . . . they made me feel calmer, more attuned to the moment, more self-sufficient, a little braver, and in less of a constant rush. I don’t care of this sounds maudlin: My time with the Hadza made me happier.’

The Hadza live in one of the most inhospitable places on earth. They get punctured by thorns, scorpions, snakes and tsetse flies, and half the time they are thirsty and hungry. But they are happy, because they can handle it.
     Core happiness is not determined by what happens in our life; it comes from satisfying long-term innate needs. One of those needs is to feel safe. And the best way to feel safe is to feel that we can handle life. The Hadza seem to satisfy that need.
     We don’t have the same opportunities the Hadza have. For us, the best way to gain that confidence in this safe, comfortable western society is to take full responsibility for how our life unfolds. It’s then we discover we can handle life.
     Apply the umpteen tips in this book and reclaim the resilience you were meant to have, before we became civilised and comfortable.

If the cowpats, snakes and weeds outnumber the daffodils, we needn’t worry. That’s normal. If the Hadza can be happy, so can we.

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