Wednesday, June 27, 2007


The Hadzabe, last hunter and gatherers of East Africa

The Hadzabe community live around Lake Eyasi to the south of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northern Tanzania. They are reported to be the last remaining ancestors of the original hunter-gatherer tribes who first inhabited Tanzania. The Hadzabe are assiduous and very skilled hunters. They use a number of methods to attract game within range of their arrows, including the use of the horns of an antelope, attaching them to their heads while mimicking the animal’s characteristic bobbing walk, which draws other curious animals closer. Another method is to hide under an animal skin, and wait for vultures to land, when they can easily be caught. The Hadzabe community supplement their diet with roots and plants, and they have a particular liking for honey, which they trade with other tribes in exchange for arrowheads or tobacco.

The home seen in the background belongs to one Hadzabe family.

Hunting and honey-gathering are predominantly male activities, while the women and children forage for roots and fruits. The Hadzabe tend to avoid eating reptiles, and the greatest delicacy is considered to be the baboon. Baboon fur is often used to make garment parts for the men. The rudimentary huts are made of grass, woven by the women, and can be constructed in a matter of hours.

Playing a traditional string music instrument. The hide this man is sitting on also serves for sleeping

Sharpening the hunting arrows
Photos by Ragdaddy

The Hadzabe lifestyle is increasingly threatened as their traditional lands have been taken by commercial plantations and farms. This has had the effect of creating barriers along the seasonal migration routes of the animals, upon which the Hadzabe depend for hunting. In the 1970s the then socialist government of Tanzania attempted to resettle them in a newly constructed settlement with schools, a clinic and brick houses, but within ten years the Hadzabe had abandoned the settlement, going back to their traditional way of life in the bush. The pressures on them are immense, however, as the area of land they inhabit becomes increasingly constrained, and despite their resistance to formal education, a monetary economy and religious indoctrination by missionaries, they have increasingly come into contact with foreign tourists, which has brought problems of its own. Despite bringing in revenue for the Hadzabe community, this has proved to be a huge culture shock.

The Hadzabe seem to prefer adapting to change at their own pace. Though some Hadzabe children attend primary and secondary boarding school in the valley, programs to build new schools and provide medical care and water have mostly benefited neighboring tribes and have lured more people to the overpopulated valley. Several members of the Hadzabe community have even tried to adopt their neighbors' ways, starting small farms while some have headed to villages to look for jobs.

Hunter up a tree scouting for wild game
Making fire

Poking holes on the beehive in order to incite the bees into leaving the bee hive. The smoke is used to drunken the bees so that they do not get stung by the bees as they hunt for the honey combs.

Honeycombs retrieved and ready to eat

They close in as much as they could to their prey before shooting

Game meat is always shared with other families

One method of hanging on to their kill while hunting continues

The Hadzabe life is simple and pristine, free from the hustle and bustle of the complex so called 'civilized world' we live in today. Should they be assimilated to the contemporary society we live in well the ball bounces back to their court - it is their prerogative to decide
Photos by Grace D Lambiotte


"One of the last remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers on the planet is on the verge of vanishing into the modern world.

The transition has been long under way, but members of the dwindling Hadzabe tribe, who now number fewer than 1,500, say it is being unduly hastened by a United Arab Emirates royal family, which plans to use the tribal hunting land as a personal safari playground.

The deal between the Tanzanian government and Tanzania UAE Safaris Ltd. leases nearly 2,500 square miles of this sprawling valley near the storied Serengeti Plain to members of the royal family, who chose it after a helicopter tour.

A Tanzanian 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.

But dozens of Hadzabe interviewed ...said that while they are ready to modernize, slowly, they were not consulted on the deal, which is a direct threat to their way of life because it involves hunting.


"If they are going to come here, ...Our history will die..."

For more information on Seattle Times Click here

Watch Hadzabe Dance Video
The Language of the Land: Living Among the Hadzabe in Africa by James Stephenson
Photos by Grace D Lambiotte
Hadzabe tribe an endangered species by IPP Media
(I found this news heading appalling. The Hadzabe community being referred to as "an endangered species" is categorically wrong. Is it the culture that is threatened or their lives?)
Discussion on the Hadzabe on Metafilter (This is very interesting)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Binyavanga Wainaina was born in Kenya in 1971. He attended Mangu High School and Lenana School before studying commerce at the University of Transkei. He then moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where he has worked for some years as a freelance food and travel writer.
His writings have been featured in renowned media houses, such as
The EastAfrican, National Geographic, Granta, The New York Times and the Guardian UK. Binyavanga aunt, the novelist Rebeca Njauwrote, who was published by Heineman’s African Writers Series in the Sixties, is the major inspiration to him.

In 2002 Binyavanga Wainaina won the prestigious Caine Prize for literature at an award ceremony held in Oxford, UK, for his short story Discovering Home.

In January 2007, Binyavanga Wainaina was nominated by the World Economic Forum as a "Young Global Leader" - an award given to people for "their potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world." He subsequently declined the award. In a letter to Klaus Schwab and Queen Rania of Jordan, he wrote:

"I assume that most, like me, are tempted to go anyway because we will get to be ‘validated’ and glow with the kind of self-congratulation that can only be bestowed by very globally visible and significant people...And we are also tempted to go and talk to spectacularly bright and accomplished people – our “peers.We will achieve Global Institutional Credibility for our work, as we have been anointed by an institution that many countries and presidents bow down to.

The problem here is that I am a writer. And although, like many, I go to sleep at night fantasizing about fame, fortune and credibility, the thing that is most valuable in my trade is to try, all the time, to keep myself loose, independent and creative…it would be an act of great fraudulence for me to accept the trite idea that I am “going to significantly impact world affairs."

He was the founding editor and publisher of Kwani?. Outside his literary career, he is a leading authority on African cuisine having collected an astounding 13,000 African cuisines. He is presently a Writer-in-Residence at Union College in Schenectady, NY (USA), where he is teaching, lecturing and working on a novel.


Wainaina interview with National Geographic Reporter click here


How would you write about Africa or depict Africa to our global friends.
Here are some ideas By Binyavanga Wainaina

some tips: sunsets and starvation are good

Always use the word 'Africa' or 'Darkness' or 'Safari' in your title. Subtitles may include the words 'Zanzibar', 'Masai', 'Zulu', 'Zambezi', 'Congo', 'Nile', 'Big', 'Sky', 'Shadow', 'Drum', 'Sun' or 'Bygone'. Also useful are words such as 'Guerrillas', 'Timeless', 'Primordial' and 'Tribal'. Note that 'People' means Africans who are not black, while 'The People' means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates.

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.


Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with.


Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people's property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant.


Readers will be put off if you don't mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red.

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Ejigayehu Shibabaw a.k.a. Gigi

Gigi was born in 1974 in Chagni, a small rural town in Ethiopia. The fifth born in a family of ten children, Gigi grew up in a musically filled household. "I grew up singing in the Ethiopian Church, which is actually not allowed for women, but there was a priest at my home who taught me how to sing the songs. And I listen to a lot of West African music, South African music, hip hop, and funk, so you feel all that in the melodies. Even if it’s in Amharic, people can appreciate this music."

Gigi has dedicated her life to her music. Her early determination to become a singer put her at odds with her father.

"My father is a businessman, and is very hostile to the fact that I am a singer. I had to run away from home to follow my vocation. He believes that it is shameful to perform in public. Even if I became a big star, he wouldn’t change his mind."
— Gigi

Gigi's ambition never wavered as she later moved to Nairobi, Kenya where she started a trio. Having lived in Nairobi for a couple of years, Gigi returned to Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, where she quickly established herself as a singer and songwriter. Cast in a French theater production of the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Gigi toured East and South Africa, and eventually France, where she was invited to perform at a Paris world music festival. Seeing the world stage as her true home, Gigi relocated to San Francisco at age 24. Her big break came when her music, released for the local Ethiopian community, caught the attention of Chris Blackwell, Palm Pictures founder.

"There are five different vocal modes in the Ethiopian style. You can write millions of songs in one of those modes. It is in the way you phrase; it can sound like a modern song. And it makes the words sound differently. You can use the Bati mode, for instance, in so many styles. But you know when somebody is singing a happy song, they are singing about life. You communicate the sound. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics of a song you understand the feeling; it is universal."


Gigi's latest album "Gold and Wax"

Her renowned album "GiGi" is musically delightful, whether or not you pay attention to the songs messages. Simply magnificent!

Her 2001 album Gigi brought her widespread attention. Together with her husband and music producer, Bill Laswell, Gigi continues to release albums that take you back to her home country, combining her impressive range, her infinitely rich musical heritage and western rhythms - releasing mesmerizing tunes.

Click here Utopia


Gigi MySpace

Monday, June 18, 2007


This is the kind of place people visit when they want to discover a different world; when they realise that you can eat burgers in McDonald's in Paris and drink coffee in Starbucks in Beijing, and that computers, movies and cellphones are ubiquitous.
-Naomi Schwarz for CNN Traveller

The Dogon are a cliff-dwelling people who live in the south of Mali. The Dogon population is most heavily concentrated along a 200 kilometer (125 mile) stretch of escarpment called the Cliffs of Bandiagara, near Timbuktu. These sandstone cliffs run from southwest to northeast, roughly parallel to the Niger River are reported to have arrived on the scene in the 14, and attain heights up to 600 meters (2000 feet). The Dogonth or 15th century, after fleeing their lands along the Niger river, refusing to convert to Islam. In their quest for new lands to inhabit, they displaced the Tellem people, whose cave-like homes are still intact high on the cliffs above the Dogon villages. The lower plains are shared with the Fulani people.

Cliffs of Bandiangara

Tucked under Bandiangara escarpment no one is sure what attracted them to this remote and inhospitable place and why they stayed. The cliffs provide a spectacular physical setting for Dogon villages built on the sides of the escarpment. There are approximately 700 Dogon villages, most with fewer than 500 inhabitants. Local Dogon historians explain the first man who came here found paradise trees, rabbits, water everywhere. But they also found dangerous things here such as the crocodiles.

No one knows how the crocodiles got there because they are miles away from the nearest rivers. Some allege that is the work of god because they have been there since the time their ancestors got there. Perhaps god did put them there and indeed they did find a sympathetic home with the Dogon. Crocodiles and Dogon's have a unique understanding in Dogon. The Dogon's feed the crocodiles. They are the totem of the village and it is forbidden to harm them and kill them. During the rainy season when there is drought the Dogon shaman asks for the crocodiles blessing and 2-3 days later it rains. For the Dogon every rock plant and animal is powerful spirit that must be respected.

The Dogon culture has remarkably survived the onslaught of outside influence from the French, the Muslims, and others who have attempted to conquer them over the years.

Thousands of visitors travel here each year and Dogon villagers also have access to modern technology. The older generation says traditions are dying and some blame tourism. But members of the younger generation say they can benefit from these changes without losing their culture. As the modern world encroaches on once-isolated spots, many minority cultures face this dilemma: how to adapt while holding on to their unique traditions. The Dogon at least have had considerable practice in revitalising their history

Dogon villages are concentrated around water holes, usually in groups of five or six. These groups are referred to as 'cantons' or regions, each with their own distinct dialect. Villages are organised around family groups, which run through the father's lineage. Each household usually consists of the man, his wives, and their unmarried children. The Dogon are known to be a polygamous culture however, most men have only one wife; and it is rare for a man to have more than two wives. Formally, wives only join their husband's residence unit after the birth of their first child. Women may leave their husbands early in their marriage, before the birth of their first child. After having children, divorce is a rare and serious matter, and it requires the participation of the whole village. Members of the extended family collectively are called guinna.

The Togna -meeting 'room' where the village leaders/elders meet to discuss village affairs. It is impossible to stand in this area and that is done for a reason. The elders have learned that often times when a discussion heats up people will rise in anger to make their point or counter someone else's point. Being forced by the environment to keep one's seat often leads to cooler heads and more fruitful debates.

The Dogon villages are communities are tightly-knit. A grouping of family compounds make up a Togu. All villages have at least one Togu Na, a shelter where the men gather and where disputes are settled, and a Lebe shrine. The Togu Na roofing comprises of three layers of millet (representing the plateau, the cliffs, and the plains). They are rebuilt every 60 years as part of a larger ritual.The oldest living descendant of the common ancestor of the lineage is called the Gina Bana. It is his primary responsibility to conduct ceremonies, as well as presiding over a council of elders made up of the adult men of the Togu.

A Hogon inside A Togu Na

The oldest direct descendant of the village founder is called the Hogon. He is considered to be the chief of the region, and together with the council of elders made up of the Gina Bana, presides over the policing, tax levies, and justice in the region. The Hogon also provides the link between the villagers and their ancestors. The Dogon are an intensely spiritual tribe, and look to their ancestors for guidance. Ethnic unity derives from all members of the region claiming kinship with a common ancestor, who was responsible for founding the first village in the region.


Hogon's Residence

The Dogon construct exceptional mud buildings. The Bandiagara features a unique architecture, ranging from thatched flat-roofed huts to distinctive tapering granaries. There are a series of cemeteries along the cliff-face, reached by ladders, where the Dogon bury their dead. The Pays Dogon area of Bandiagara has been designated a World Heritage site due to its cultural significance.

The Dogon tribe are highly skilled agriculturalists, having developed a unique irrigation system in an area known to be infertile and inhospitable. Their principal crops are millet, rice, beans, sorghum, sorrel, tobacco, and onions (introduced to the Dogon by a Frenchman at the turn of the century). They also keep herds of goats and sheep, along with some cows and poultry.

The Dogon have a hierarchical series of occupational 'castes' consisting of smiths, leather workers and griots. The griots function as lineage genealogists, musicians and poets. Caste members are segregated from the agriculturalists, living on the outskirts of Dogon settlements in autonomous communities of strict clan lineage with a ban on intermarriage. The members do not participate in the common religious cults although they take part in the Dama dances.

The smith is respected, and is believed to have supernatural powers due to his ability to make tools from iron and sculpture from wood. This is regarded as being a 'creator' and as such they are reported to be looked upon with 'suspicion'. In Dogon society, the smith is the symbolic mediator between the supernatural world and the human world. Only he and the Hogon have the right to intervene in communal disputes. He is the intermediary between men and their ancestors. The tools and carved images he creates function as vehicles by which fertility and support are obtained from the supernatural world. The leather worker is an intermediary in his function as merchant. He is the one who has contact with foreigners.

Male and female associations are entrusted with the initiations that take place by age group, corresponding to groups of newly circumcised boys or girls. The Dogon believe these operations remove the female element from males and vice versa. Circumcision thus creates a wholly male or female person prepared to assume an adult role. The blacksmith performs the male circumcision. Afterwards, they stay for a few days in a hut separated from the rest of the village people, until the wound has healed. The circumcision is a reason for celebration and the initiated boys goes around the village to receive presents.

Initiation of boys begins after their circumcision, with the teaching of the myths annotated by drawings and paintings in caves. The young boys learn the place of humans in nature, society, and the universe.

Dogon initiation cave painting


The majority of the Dogon tribe are Animists, although there is a significant minority of Dogon who have converted to Islam, and a small number to Christianity. Allegedly, when the Dogon left Egypt, they brought with them sacred knowledge in the form of oral traditions, perhaps handed down by the ancient priests of Egypt. The Dogon creation tale is laced with metaphors that are similar to other legends of creation throughout the world. According to Dogon mythology, Nommo was the first living being created by Amma, the sky god and creator of the universe. He soon multiplied to become four sets of twins. To the Dogon all things come in pairs - the sky and the earth, the sun and the moon, and many of the villages are actually two villages, two halves of one. The Nommo founded the eight Dogon lineages and introduced weaving, smithing, and agriculture to their human descendants.

Ritual is an integral part of Dogon culture. The Dogon rites reflect awareness of the harmony between the human spirit and nature. Their religion includes the ancestral spirit Nommo and Sirian mythology, and has evolved over thousands of years. The beliefs are complex and knowledge of them varies within Dogon society.


In the sacred earth spaces to the Dogon, the Shaman draws long rectangular bars and very carefully places small pieces of wood and stones around and on small mounds of earth. The Shaman works just like an artist creating a profound masterpiece never looking up from his trance like state of concentration and focus. Then he sprinkles seeds over his earth painting. During the night a fox would come and hopefully walk across the earth painting about individuals. In the morning the shaman would "read" his own work and how the fox had created it's own story about the individual on the earth painting "reading" the paw prints. For this service the individual is asked to leave a little something so he can buy more peanuts at the market for the fox. Foreigners who have visited the shaman claim that that shaman readings about themselves as having been true and dazzled after this revealing experience.


The Dogon are well-known for their masks which are used in various ceremonies and rituals. The masks are known as inima, and are believed to contain the life force, nyama. There are over 75 different kinds of masks used for ceremonies. Dogon masks is reported to rank among the most respected within the world of tribal art collections and have influenced such Western 20th-century artists as Picasso and Braque, and even the Cubist movement.

The Dogon continue an ancient Dama tradition, which commemorates the origin of death. Dama memorial ceremonies are held to accompany the souls of the deceased into the ancestral realm and to restore order to the universe. These dance ceremonies often last for three days and involve dozens of dancers representing figures from the animal world, as well as male and female powers, and the afterworld. The timing, types of masks involved, and other ritual elements are often specific to one or two villages and may not resemble those seen in villages only a few miles away. The masks also appear during baga-bundo rites performed by small numbers of masqueraders before the burial of an elder male Dogon. Without the Dama dance, the dead cannot cross over into the after life in peace.

Mali Official Tourism Website

Dogon Tourism
Behind the Mask CNN Traveller