I'm always trying to encourage women to join in the beekeeping training, though in most places I've been it's mostly the men that do the beekeeping. So I was somewhat surprised when I got the Hadza beekeeping trainees together for the first time on a warm evening and found they were entirely women.
"Where... are the men?" I asked, through my interpreter Neema, of the women gathered around under a large acacia in the approximate center of the very spread-out village (the houses are all a few hundred meters apart hidden from eachother by the thorn trees).
"They're out hunting" the response came back. And I remembered seeing them earlier holding literal bows and arrows. Despite a year of explaining "these people are actual hunter gatherer's living the same way they have for the last 100,000 years" during fundraising talks, I still found myself often surprised by the literal reality of it.
In another instance, I asked what their annual income was, intent on doing a baseline survey to do an impact report later the way the projects put on by other organizations I've worked for have done.
"We don't have an income," was the response. Thinking they just didn't understand the question, I rephrased it,
"What have you sold in the last year?" I asked.
"We haven't sold anything." And again, it dawned on me. These are actual hunter gatherers. They have NO annual income.
And that's the whole thing. I'd absolutely love to preserve their culture and way of life, but to have no income means to not be able to afford any medical treatment (as evidenced by the many member of the community hobbling about suffering from probably totally treatable ailments), or to send your kids away for school or anything else that actually requires money. Additionally being a hunter gatherer in this day and age is to be playing a losing game of musical chairs, as while you do your yearly nomadic rotation people keep moving in permanently to the better land and pushing you to ever more inhospitable scrub forests.
(I don't have very many photos because my cell phone, which had most of them on it, was stolen at the end of the trip)
The beehives had been designed and set up as kind of caricatures of beehives. They consisted of rectangular boxes roughly the size and dimensions of a standard langstroth box, but inside they were filled with frames about twice as wide as they ought to be, and only half the depth of the box. As such, there was all kinds of cross-combing both within the frames and under them. I left instructions for the proper construction of the hives and explained the reasoning, and unfortunately a lot of more advanced hive manipulation couldn't be done with such hives.
The beehives were hung from acacia trees in the manner that traditional hives are hung. This is all good for traditional hives (which may be more appropriate as a first step in beekeeping for the Hadza to be honest), but the entire point of a frame hive (which typically costs ten times more to produce in Africa) is to be able to make manipulations, and if you have to climb a tree to get to your hive you just aren't going to inspect it or take it down more than once a year. Additionally the bees were thoroughly stirred up in every hive by the time we'd managed to swing it down on a rope from a tree. So I talked to them about building some simple hive shelters to keep their hives off the ground but within reach. Additionally, as their hives were currently in only a few trees, ten or more to a tree that had them, I told them to at least space them out so they have more chances of catching wild swarms and don't all stir eachother up when you go to take one hive out of a tree.
I attempted to teach them to make lotion from the beeswax but since they hadn't had a harvest they didn't have cappings, and though we melted down some old burr brood comb we had removed, one gets shockingly little wax out of it and it wasn't enough to do anything with really, though one very determined young man kept at it even after I'd given up and managed to refine a couple ounces of wax out of it and make it into a lotion.
One of the most tangible contributions I was able to make was that I had had about ten brand new bee suits donated to the project from Pierce Manufacturing in California (you may recognize the name was they make one of the best regarded heated uncapping knives, which can be found throughout the developed world), and I left eight of them with the Hadza (keeping two for the other planned projects for this trip). Normally I try not to bring a lot of equipment, to keep the project more of a training than a "here I'm bringing you what you need" kind of charity (which I feel is generally counterproductive as it discourages local industries and encourages a dependence on future donations), but being as these people have literally no money for the cloth and netting to make suits themselves I figure this will really help them out -- they previously didn't have any protective gear whatsoever!
Because the beehive-trees were all amongst the habitations of the village, we did all our beekeeping within the hour before the sun, so angry bees wouldn't be flying around bothering people. This left lots of time during the day to socialize and sit in the shade. I'd have kind of liked to go hunting with them but I'm sure I would have been awful by their standards and caused potential catches to get away. Though Neema and I had brought our own food (primarily just a lot of spaghetti and beans! Things that don't need refridgeration and were available at hte last village we left), the hadza were happy to combine our food, which is good because Neema and I were getting pretty tired of spaghetti as it was.
The hadza food was interesting. I decided I quite liked baobab porridge. And at one point I was eating what I thought was chicken and then I realized the little claw that was still attached to the drum stick was way too small for a chicken -- I was eating something no bigger than a dove, possibly a large sparrow!
We got to know many members of the community, but most evenings we ended up at the village chief's house, where they prepared food over a campfire (but is it a campfire if it happens every night?), as other little flickering amber lights on the dark surrounding hills indicate other fires, and the sky above unsullied by electric lights sparkles with an infinite array of stars. I loved these last minutes of the day under the starry sky, surrounded by no sign whatsoever of modern civilization, I'd stand there hardly believing where I was.
When the week was finally up, I very seriously believed there was a good chance that the government pick up would not in fact occur. It did though. And though we had to walk several days to get to this location, this time the government land cruiser managed to find a way to come all the way in to the village so we didn't have to hike out. Neema and I said goodbye to everyone and off we went over very rugged terrain (no sort of road, but apparently when Dr Kone (the regional governor and instigator of this project) had visited some time before they had hacked a path for his land cruiser.
As this was going on three years go now, I'd quite like to go back and see if they now have functional beehives and can benefit from more training now, Unfortunately its very hard to get ahold of Dr Kone, and the fact that previous fundraising for this project fell well short of what was necessary is certainly a deterrent.
But in the mean time, would Neema and I continue on to visit the beekeeping cooperative on Zanzibar Island? Would we be caught up in violence from the rising tensions of the upcoming hotly contested election? Keep an eye out for the next entry to find out!
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