Visit Pastoralist & Hunter/Gatherer Cultures On The 2018 Tour d’Afrique
The idea for this blog emerged while I was reading a recent NY Times article called ‘Up Close with Tribes of Imperiled Ethiopian Valley’ by Andrew McCarthy. Four years ago I wrote a blog called Do Epic Tours And Hunter/Gatherers Have Anything In Common. The article is of particular relevance because the participants on the 2018 Tour d’Afrique Cycling Expedition will actually be going to this area and will have a firsthand opportunity to witness and mingle with the Omo Valley tribes who have lived as pastoralists in the area for millennia and wish to continue to do so. Unfortunately for these tribes, something serious has just happened and their way of life is under threat. The Ethiopian Government has recently completed the third of five proposed dams on the Omo River and the dams are now stopping the rise of the river and thus endangering the livelihood of the tribes who live in the area.
The Hadza People of Tanzania
Visiting the Omo Valley will not be the only opportunity to witness a way of life that is thousands of years old. While in Arusha, Tanzania at the halfway point of the tour there is another unique opportunity to witness something that is now almost nonexistent on the planet. Within a day’s drive live the Hadza – a hunter/gatherer tribe whose existence has not changed in 10,000 years. They grow no food, raise no livestock and as a National Geographic December 2009 story reveals, live without rules or calendars. According to the article by Michael Finkel “the Hadza appear to be free from possessions and most social duties. Free from schedules, jobs, bosses, laws, news, money. Free from worry.” “What the Hadza appear to offer- and why they are of great interest to anthropologists – is a glimpse of what life may have been like before the birth of agriculture” writes Mr. Finkel.
Did Hunter/Gatherers Have a Better Life?
According to some rather stunning assertions, hunters/gatherers had a better life than we iPhone possessing moderns do. In a 2009 BBC blog by Tom Feiden, he asks the question “Do hunters/gatherers have it right”. He writes; “Studies of the few remaining hunter/gatherer societies show these people work less hard than their farming neighbours, and enjoy a much healthier and more varied diet”. “The evidence from archaeology” he goes on “supports the idea that hunter/gatherer societies were surprisingly healthy. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that average height at the end of the last ice age was around 5’9“.
With the adoption of agriculture that figure crashed, and by 3000 BC the average height had reached a low of 5’3”. Similar comparative studies of tooth decay, and from the scars left on bones by diseases like tuberculosis, point to a similar conclusion.” In the 2012 blog I mention at the beginning of this piece “according to a paper just published by Dr. Gerald Crabtree of Stanford University human intelligence peaked at the time of hunter/gatherers and has declined as a result of genetic mutations that have eroded human brains’ intellectual and emotional abilities. According to Dr. Crabtree Intelligence genes were fully functioning in hunter/gatherer days as humans were forced to think critically and creatively in order to survive.”
I have no idea whether Dr. Crabtree’ s hypothesis is correct or whether hunters/gatherers had a better life than the majority of the human population on the planet do today. I do know that my travels in Africa and visits with hunters/gatherers, be it in the rainforests of Africa or the Kalahari desert, have enriched my life. And if you are one of the people who are still pondering whether to join the 2018 Tour d’Afrique, I would say go. You will not regret it.