Last Days of the Hadzabe
June 11, 2007 11:28 AM   Subscribe

"50,000 Years of Resilience May Not Save Tribe." A deal to provide a member of the UAE royal family with a personal Tanzanian playground may be the final nail in the coffin for the remaining 1,500 members of the ancient Hadzabe people and their unique language. Read a Westerner's account of living among the Hadzabe here.
posted by lalex (18 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"A Tanzanian official said that a nearby hunting area the family shared with relatives had become "too crowded" and that a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family "indicated that it was inconvenient" and requested his own parcel.

The official, Philip Marmo, called the Hadzabe "backwards" and said they would benefit from the school, roads and other projects the UAE company has offered as compensation."
Oh for fuck's sake.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 11:36 AM on June 11, 2007

In an unusual peak of pithyness, Nick Purdon on 'Definitely Not The Opera' said it qquite well this weekend (paraphrasing from memory): We used to be obsessed with the explorers, those who were the first to see something. Now we're obsessed with who is going to be the last to see something.
posted by GuyZero at 11:37 AM on June 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

"'We want them to go to school,' said Marmo, who is Tanzania's minister for good governance and represents the valley in parliament. 'We want them to wear clothes. We want them to be decent.'"

I've never needed high blood pressure meds before, but I just might start.
posted by Liosliath at 12:09 PM on June 11, 2007

You wake up, you get honey. What do you need time for? Amen.
posted by klue at 12:10 PM on June 11, 2007

One more thing to think about when I fill up at the pump. I was enthusiastic enough about abetting Wahabism and climate death, but it's nice to know that I'm destroying the world's oldest tribe as well.
posted by sy at 12:22 PM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Speaking of backwards tribal customs, how 'bout the families of despots that rule the Arabian peninsula?

Give me a bow and arrow and I could show this effete princeling the effectiveness of this "savage" weapon.

And you there, Tanzania, destroying your oldest living culture for a wealthy foreigner's pocket change does not make you a modern country, move you into the 21st century or anything else.
posted by MasonDixon at 12:46 PM on June 11, 2007

that's one small step for a prince, one giant step for feudalism....
posted by dinsdale at 1:10 PM on June 11, 2007

These are truly the last days.
posted by nasreddin at 1:15 PM on June 11, 2007

Thanks for the post, depressing as it is.

Nitpick: All languages are unique. Hadza may be related to the distant Khoisan languages, as Ethnologue thinks, or it may be unrelated to any other surviving language, but that wouldn't make it any more "unique" than any other language isolate (Basque or Korean, say).
posted by languagehat at 1:56 PM on June 11, 2007

Thanks languagehat; your informative "nitpick" is very welcome. I was hoping somebody with superior knowledge of languages would pop up in this thread - it's not a topic I know much about.
posted by lalex at 2:26 PM on June 11, 2007

Langaugehat: What makes Hadza interesting as a soon-to-be dead isolate is what the article pointed out: that its speakers have the most divergent known mitochondrial DNA of any human population, seems unique even among isolates. Basque, say, is simply not as old as Hazdma (even taking into account drift), and not as imperiled.
posted by DenOfSizer at 5:11 PM on June 11, 2007

Either way, it's the saddest thing I've read all day and want to do something now! Ideas?
posted by DenOfSizer at 5:13 PM on June 11, 2007

I don't even know what to say about this. The world bums me, sometimes. Between this and the Lieberman thing, today is one of those days, big time. And f%$@ OPEC, too. I'm riding my bicycle and buying a biodiesel ride asap. This is bulllshit.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 5:38 PM on June 11, 2007

That should be 'bums me out.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 5:47 PM on June 11, 2007

i'm in the process of trademarking a "save the Hadzabe" bumper sticker. seeing how the "free tibet" one's have done so much good, this'll be a good way for us all to assuage our guilt.

awhile back i didn't think i could be any more pessimistic about humanity. fuck us.
posted by andywolf at 8:50 PM on June 11, 2007

UNESCO world heritage?
posted by dreamsign at 1:20 AM on June 12, 2007

Hmm, this is interesting.

So, Lake Eyasi is on the edge of Serengeti National Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. Unfortunately (for the Hadzabe), it was done so on the basis of criteria vii. and x.:

vii. to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;

x. to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

What's needed is for criterion iii., or possibly v.:

iii. to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;

v. to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;

and for the area to be expanded to include the Hadzabe settlements, or for provision be made for the Hadzabe to move entirely within the park. I have no idea if either is practicable.

I do know that the 23rd session of the Committee is right around the corner, so those of you from the current Committee's membership states may consider urging your representative to take a look at the issue. It's late in the game, though. This year's talks are from June 23 to July 2, and be aware that the Committee operates on the timescale of decades. They encourage member states to submit lists of properties likely to be recommended in the coming ten years.

The World Heritage Committee currently comprises representatives from:

Benin, Canada (Rapporteur), Chile, Cuba, India, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lithuania, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand (Chair), Norway, Peru, Spain, Republic of Korea, Tunisia, United States of America.


New Zealand


United States of America

I would add that criterion v. properties seem to be comparatively rare. Out of 644 cultural properties, a whopping 333 properties were designated using criterion iii., but when you check how many were added to the list solely on the basis of iii., that number drops to 28. For v., the numbers are much lower: 94 as one of many criteria; just 8 as sole criterion. Cultural properties also tend to focus on human adaptations of or to the land -- irrigation systems, farmhouses, shelters, etc. -- the kind of thing nomadic hunters don't bother with. The argument here would be for "associative cultural landscape" (search for term to skip to the relevant paras) which is a tough case to make.

This is not something that a delegate can simply add to the agenda, AFAIK, and the list is not created via coercion -- states make their own nominations -- but I'm thinking that even informal chats during those mid-morning coffee breaks could lead to something productive down the line if a particularly sympathetic ear is reached.

If anyone knows more about this process, and what is or is not possible, please chime in. It's likely to be a dead end, but maybe worth a try. I'll send an enquiry to our Canadian reps and see if I can get some kind of feedback on this. If I do, I will post it here.
posted by dreamsign at 2:59 AM on June 12, 2007

Langaugehat: What makes Hadza interesting as a soon-to-be dead isolate is what the article pointed out: that its speakers have the most divergent known mitochondrial DNA of any human population, seems unique even among isolates.

No, that makes them genetically interesting. That has nothing to do with language.

Basque, say, is simply not as old as Hazdma

That's not only wrong, it's meaningless. All languages are equally "old" (in that they descend from the same common ancestor, however many thousands of years back). I never understand what people mean when they say Basque or Icelandic or Flemish or whatever is particuarly "old." I mean, once upon a time they meant it was the language spoken in the Garden of Eden, but I doubt that's true of present company, and aside from that it simply makes no sense.
posted by languagehat at 5:36 AM on June 12, 2007

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