Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Could Never Live Like That...Or Could I?

The other day at work, I went down to the 5th floor cafeteria for lunch, sat down at my favorite corner spot, and reached in my bag for the book I’m currently reading…only I forgot my book at my desk upstairs. Damn!

Then I noticed that someone had left two National Geographic magazines on the table right in front of me. Score!

I hadn’t looked at a National Geographic magazine probably since I was a kid (I think my Dad used to subscribe to it), and I remember my 12-year-old self thinking that it was not an interesting magazine (at that age, I was much more interested in learning about boys than in learning about science). Nevertheless, I needed something to read, so I opened the issue from December ‘09 and began flipping through the pages. An article entitled “Are We Alone?” about the possibility of life on other planets grabbed my interest for a few minutes.

Then I turned to an article about a 21-century hunter-gatherer tribe in northern Tanzania…and I was instantly hooked.

The author of the article (Michael Finkel) spent two weeks in Tanzania among the Hadza tribe, a band of people who have never moved on from the hunting/gathering stage of human existence. The men hunt and the women gather. The men hunt for almost any animal that they can eat, including warthogs, zebras, giraffes, and baboons, while the women gather berries, fruit, and edible tubers.

The first thing that really fascinated me about the Hadza is that, according to the author, “They enjoy an extraordinary amount of leisure time. Anthropologists have estimated that they “work”—actively pursue food—four to six hours a day.”

Four to six hours a day of work, with the rest of the day being spent in leisure? I think I could handle that!

Then there is the fact that the Hadza have no real awareness of the “outside,” modern world. When the author asked the leader of the tribe “what he knew about America—the name of the president, the capital city…he said he knew nothing. He could not name the leader of his own country.”

The author continued, “I asked him, as politely as possible, if he knew anything about any country. He paused for a moment, evidently deep in thought, then suddenly shouted ‘London!’ He couldn’t say precisely what London was. He just knew it was someplace not in the bush.”

Wow! Can you imagine not knowing anything about the world around you, other than what’s in your immediate area? Okay, admittedly, there are many people (including myself) with limited knowledge of many places around the world…but at least we know that these places exist! And we certainly are oversaturated with knowledge of pop culture, aren’t we? I wonder if the Hadza have ever seen a television set—or even know what one is. (I highly doubt it.)

And then there is the fact that, according to repeated statements by the leader of the tribe, the Hadza do not worry about anything. Ever. Isn’t that amazing? As the author pointed out, “It was a mind-set that astounded me, for the Hadza, to my way of thinking, had very legitimate worries. Will I eat tomorrow? Will something eat me tomorrow? Yet they live a remarkably present-tense existence.”

Wow. That one really gave me some food for thought. I probably worry at least a little bit every single day of my life. What would my life be like without worry? I can’t even imagine it…but it sounds beautiful and amazing.

So I started to wonder, could I ever live like that? Could I be a hunter/gatherer? It seems like such a peaceful existence, away from all the worries of the modern world…

But then I got to the part of the article where the author discusses the risks inherent in living as the Hadza do, and I quickly realized there would be no way I could handle that kind of life. The author’s description says it best:

“But I could never live like the Hadza. Their entire life, it appears to me, is one insanely committed camping trip. It’s incredibly risky. Medical help is far away. One bad fall from a tree, one bite from a black mamba snake, one lunge from a lion, and you’re dead. Women give birth in the bush, squatting. About a fifth of all babies die within their first year, and nearly half of all children do not make it to age 15. They have to cope with extreme heat and frequent thirst and swarming tsetse flies and malaria-laced mosquitos.”

Women give birth in the bush, squatting? No thank you! That alone is enough to make me not want to live that kind of life. If I am fortunate enough to give birth to a child someday, I want them to pump me full of drugs so I don’t feel a thing.

Yes, I am a woman of the modern world. I like my comfy couch and my hairdryer and my froo-froo olive oil & vinegar and my packaged, pre-washed spinach. I could not live without my asthma inhaler and my allergy medicine.

I like to “hunt” for bargains at Walgreen’s and “gather” fruits and veggies in my shopping basket at the French Market here in downtown Chicago.

I guess in that way, you could say I’m a modern hunter-gatherer.

Or you could just say I’m a wuss. And I’m okay with that.

*To read the entire article about the Hadza people (which I highly recommend; it’s an amazing article), click on this link.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beautiful comments on the story. I'm glad you were, as you note, immediately hooked; there's no higher praise for a writer. Yes, I'm author of the Hadza article.(Really.)




i love national geographic mag.i like the idea of their life style, but not actually living it.

Buck said...

That is SO COOL that you received a reply from the author!

The Hadza people could never receive replies from magazine authors like that. And you did.

D. Jones said...

Very cool article. As a comtemporary hunter/gatherer I don't know what I'd do without modern amenities like reality t.v., e-coupons, and pre-washed bagged salads. As much as I don't envy the Hadza people's style of living, there's a lesson to be learned about being in the present moment (living the now). I know that I get so consumed with making plans and reminiscing about the past that I forget that those past and future times are all composed of the present moment. Not worrying seems like something us modern folks only hope to obtain in death and its been in the bushes of Tanzania all of this time. Now, I'm gonna go to 7-Eleven and get the biggest Snickers bar ever!

Barb said...

Wow! A comment from the author. Waaay cool. I'm right with you though. As much as I love reading about other ways of living ~ and as great as they seem in some ways... I'll take what I've got now, thank you very much.

sageweb said...

how do those people check their email?

Bad Alice said...

Wow - neat that the author found you! I'm all about modern amenities. I'll take the emotional hell if I can just have Twitter.

Miss Healthypants said...


In case you stop back here...

I just wanted to say that I'm honored that you visited my little blog. :) Your story about the Hadza WAS really amazing, and it really made me think.

Thank YOU for taking the risk to venture into this part of Tanzania in order to share this wonderful (and wonderfully written!) story with the world.

Mom said...

Now that i have lived long enough to be retired I enjoy a great deal of leisure and have gotten pretty good at living in the moment, but i am a cit girl and like all of conveniences that bless my life. I don't think the Hazda can enjoy your blog.

Sling said...

Do the Hadza get National Geographic magazine?..I couldn't live without it.
Did you know an ancient language just went extinct within the last couple of days?..How sad.
Here's the link..

Random Thinker said...

Do they get internet? Because I don't care how stress free your life is, without internet access life isn't worth living.

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rosemary said...

What a great post. When I was much, much younger I thought living with a Bedouin Tribe would be wonderful and then I went through the Yanomama Indian stage. There is a book about the Yanomama and the anthropologist that documented these Amazonian Indian's life wound up ruining his info gathering and leaving the tribe as he found it.....because he married one of the women and brought her back to "the present." His book was called "Into the Heart." A great read. We still subscribe to Natn'l Geo...I have decades worth of the mags. How great is that...the author commented. YAY!!!!