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The Hadza are an egalitarian society in east Africa ("Tanzania") who have no chiefs or other human authorities and also no gods. Even the children are free to do as they wish. They work for only a few hours a day, and they have lived sustainably for many millennia.

“We don't have a leader. All of us look like leaders. We lead ourselves. That is why when the young male like him, when he says 'I'm going somewhere,' nobody will stop him,’” reports Hadza member Shani Msafin-Sigwaze.[1]

The Hadza live in mobile camps of anywhere from 2 to more than 100 people, with a mean of about 30. In 2010, anthropologist Frank Marlowe reported that there were about 1,000 Hadza in total and that about 400 of them still practiced a foraging lifestyle.[2] A 2012 census found that there were 1,200 to 1,300 Hadza individuals.[3]

The Hadza claim that they have lived as foragers since the beginning of time, and members have consistently told researchers that their way of life is better than the surrounding pastoralists' and farmers'. As of 1999, there was no significant migration out of Hadza society.[4]

Over the past half century, the Hadza have lost 90% of their land, according to Survival International. Their land has been encroached on by farmers, pastoralists, and cattle herders with support from the Tanzanian government.[5]



Explaining the Hadza people's egalitarianism, Marlowe writes:

This does not mean that there are no individuals who would like to dominate others and have their way. It is simply difficult to boss others around. If a Hadza tries to tell others what to do, which does happen now and then, the others simply ignore it; if he or she persists, they just move to another camp. Of course, the bossy person could follow them, but if people move to several different locations, the bossy person cannot control them all at once.[6]

In addition to being able to join another camp, the environment has enough resources for most Hadza adults to live totally on their own. It is not rare for a Hadza to live alone as a hermit for an extended period.[7]

In secular life, Hadza women have full equality. Women are free to marry who they want and divorce at without explanation. Children stay with the mother after divorce. The husband has no authority over the wife.[8] If a husband tries to beat a wife, the wife's mother can threaten to take her away from the husband. In bad cases, women may join together and beat the husband with sticks.[9]

Hadza society's sole clear example of inequality is in the religious sphere and involves the exclusive right of initiated men to eat certain parts of hunted animals. Women, children, and uninitiated men are forbidden to eat this meat. Calling this exclusion a weak point in Hadza egalitarianism and a possible opening for the establishment of domination by male elders, Woodburn adds, "But it certainly is no more than a possible opening." [10]


The Hadza do not have a formal religion, churches, or preachers. They consider the sun (Ishoko) to be female and the moon (Seta) to be male, and the stars to be their children. The creation myth goes:

"Humans descended to the earth on the neck of a giraffe, sometimes they say humans climbed down from a baobab tree. A giant ancestor, Hohole, and his wife, Tsikaio, lived at Dungiko in a cave beneath the rocks where Haine (god, the sun) could not follow them. Hohole hunted elephants and dispatched them with one blow of his stick, then stuck them in his belt (the way Hadza carry home hyrax they have killed; ironically, the rabbit-sized hyrax are close relatives of elephants). Sometimes Hohole walked hundreds of miles and returned home with 6 elephants under his belt. One day, Hohole was hunting when a cobra bit him on his little toe and he died. Tsikaio found him and fed on his leg for five days until she felt strong enough to carry his body to Masako. There she left him to be eaten by birds. She left to live in a giant baobab tree. After 6 days in the baobab tree, she gave birth to Konzere. The Hadza are the children of Konzere and his mother Tsikaio."[11]

Social egalitarianism is maintained through through a monthly epeme dance. Two to three nights a month, when the moon isn't visible, all members of the Hadza camp participate in the epeme ritual. One one side of a barrier (sometimes made of bushes, and sometimes a hut wall), women sing and gather with children. On the other side, men dance for the well-being of their families. Anthropologists Bwire Kaare and James Woodburn argue that the epeme ritual may be interpreted as a recurring ceremonial reconciliation of men and women, and indeed all Hadza."[12]

Girls and boys have complementary coming-of-age initiations. The girls' initiation, called maitoko, is led entirely by women and girls, with no direction or involvement from men. After their first menstruation, a group of girls are circumcised early in the morning by a woman and dressed in lavish bead decorations. For three days, the girls then playfully chase the boys with whipping sticks. Anthropologist Camilla Power writes, that the women's solidarity and endurance of this ritual has the effect of "commanding respect" from the men.[13] However, Kaare and Woodburn reported in 1999, "There are at present some indications that Hadza women may, on their own initiative, soon decide to give up circumcision."[14]

The male initiation ceremony, called the maito, was reported by Woodburn in 1964 to occur after his first emission. According to Marlowe, however, the maito ceremony occurred after a young man killed his first large animal, usually at the age of 20 to 25. Some camps allow teenagers to join, although Marlowe notes one instance of a 15 year-old who, despite killing a large kudu, was deemed too young for initiation. A young man who does not kill a large animal, and therefore epeme hunter, may still marry and have the equal rights in the rest of society but cannot eat the epeme meat. Once he reaches an age around 30 to 35, he is accepted as an epeme man whether or not he has killed a large animal.[15]

Games and Leisure

Children's games include a jacks-like game called l'ese played with small rocks. Girls tend to play with dolls made of clay and old cloth, and boys tend to play by throwing rocks or shooting arrows at targets.[16]

Woodburn reported that Hadza men spend most of their time gambling over objects like arrows, knives, and beads. The game involves throwing bark discs against a tree and seeing where they land. "Basically it is a game of chance," reports Woodburn. Although some skill is involved, its importance is minimized by the rule that the winner of one round isn't allowed to participate in the next round.[17] This game, called 'lukuchuko, was played less often by the men with whom Marlowe did fieldwork. Perhaps this is because Woodburn, unlike Marlowe, brought a rifle that lightened the camp's hunting load. Marlowe observed that Hadza men had plenty of time to rest but often made arrows at the same time as they relaxed at camp.[18]

The Hadza sing and dance often, making up new lyrics to familiar melodies. Everyday dancing looks very different from the dance of the epeme ritual. Marlowe additionally describes a rare dance:

"On rare occasions, there is a dance in which both men and women participate and form a long chain. I saw them do this around the fire at night in one camp. They held onto the person in front and all moved around in a snakelike, sinuous path. They were singing and making noises like animals, and their movements resem­ bled one animal and then another. This dancing is unique and full of soul­ the most sensual dancing I've ever seen."[19]

Although the Hadza do not currently make cave art, there is existing cave art on their lands and the Hadza have oral histories of having created it. Because the art depicts hunting rather than farming, there is no reason to think that neighboring cultures made it.[20]

Sexuality and Marriage

Women are free to marry who they want and divorce at without explanation. Children stay with the mother after divorce. The husband has no authority over the wife.[21]

Relationships are almost always monogamous. Premarital sex is common but discreet. Marlowe observes that every Hadza man over 45 had at least one child.[22]

Residency tends to be matrilocal. Woodburn found that among married monogamous women with living mothers, 68 percent lived in the mother's camp.[23]

When asked what they look for in a potential mate, Hadza men answer that they value character most highly, then looks, then foraging skills. Hadza women answer that they value foraging skills most highly, then character, then intelligence. Desirable character traits included being nice, understanding, gentle, non-combative, and caring. In the "looks" category, the most desired trait was being short.[24] However, unlike in many industrialized societies, height and weight are statistically insignificant factors in Hadza mate choice. For example, the Hadza defy the "male-taller" norm of many cultures. According to Rebecca Sear and Frank Marlowe find Hadza mating "appears to be random with respect to size."[25]

The Hadza traditionally recognize two genders,[26] and, according to Marlowe's observation and interviews, there are no homosexual relations except in the sex play of young people. However, Marlowe attributes this trend to the small population size and not to social restrictions: "In fact, given how much individual freedom each Hadza has, it seems that the lack of adult homosexuals cannot be due to social disapproval."[27]


Hadza infants are held by allomothers (not the biological mother) 31% of the time.[28]


Decisions are generally made by informal discussion and occasionally by an assembly. If the camp decides that someone ought to do something, they do not actually force the person to adhere to the decision.[29]


The Hadza have an immediate-return economy, meaning that food is not accumulated in surplus but rather is eaten within a few days of its foraging. Generally, women gather vegetables and fruits, and men obtain honey and meat. A rough equality of possessions is maintained through widespread sharing, luck-based gambling, and sanctions on accumulation.[30]

Although Hadza women mainly gather for themselves and their immediate family, they share it generously and are expected to give food to anyone who asks for it. It would be unthinkable, Woodburn reports, for anyone to hoard food while others go hungry. The meat brought by Hadza men is even more rigorously shared with all families, even those who weren't involved in the hunt. When a family cooks meat, they are expected to share it with anyone who happens to be around.[31]

The Hadza work for about 14 hours a week.[32] Marlowe observed Hadza women foraging for 4 hours a day and men for 6 hours a day. Back at the camp, women do more of the cooking, and men do more of the tool making.[33] Likewise, epidemiologist Tim Spector found: "My other lasting impression was how little time they spent getting food. It appeared as though it took just a few hours a day – as simple as going round a large supermarket. Any direction you walked there was food – above, on and below ground."[34]

The Hadza have no specialists and no division of labor except for between men and women. Marlowe writes:

"Each Hadza knows how to do everything he or she needs to do and does not depend on others. Each man can make his own bow and arrows, his poison, and his ax. Each man knows how to make fire, how to track, and how to make pegs to climb baobab trees and get honey. Each woman knows how to make her own digging stick, how to find tubers and dig them up, how to build a house, and how to make her own clothes, jewelry, and baskets or find gourds to use as containers for carrying water or berries. Even when it comes to medicine, each adult man and woman knows which plants to pick for different ailments.[35]


Confrontation is avoided, and when an agreement cannot be reach, the conflicting parties easily move away from each other. Occasionally, an assembly is called to work out a solution. There is no punishment. Rather than expelling an uncooperative member out of the campsite, the whole camp will move to a different site without that person[36]

There is no known theft, since people can simply ask for all the food they need.[37] From 1967 to 1997, there were two known instances of a Hadza killing another Hadza.[38]


The Hadza people's sustainable lifestyle has allowed them to live on their land for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. No people has lived longer on any land. The Hadza do not consider themselves owners of the land, since the land belongs to the animals.[39]

Here are some of their own explanations, as told to Survival International:

An unnamed person says, "We Hadzabe have no record of famine in our oral history, they say. The reason is that we depend on natural products of the environment … by living in this way, the environment we depend on is not damaged and remains healthy."

Gonga says, "This is my home. Our grandparents lived here. I am part of the land, this is where we feel free. Without the land, there is no life."[40]

Visitor Tim Spector noticed, "In Hadza-land nothing is wasted or killed unnecessarily."[41]

  1. “Africa’s ancient hunter gatherers struggle for survival,” BBC video, 18 April 2014, https://www.cnn.com/2014/04/18/world/africa/africas-ancient-hunter-gatherers-hadza/index.html.
  2. Frank W. Marlowe, The Hadza: Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 40.
  3. Thea Skaanes, "Notes on Hadza Cosmology. Epeme, objects and rituals." Hunter Gatherer Research 1, no. 2 (2015): 247–267.
  4. Bwire Kaare and James Woodburn, "The Hadza of Tanzania" in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers ed. Richard B. Lee and Richard H. Daly (1999).
  5. "The Hadza," Survival International, accessed 31 December 2021, https://www.survivalinternational.org/galleries/hadza.
  6. Marlowe, The Hadza, 45.
  7. James Woodburn, "Egalitarian Societies," Man 17, no. 3 (1982): 438.
  8. James Woodburn, "Egalitarian Societies, Reconsidered" in Widlok, T, Tadesse, WG (eds) Property and Equality: Ritualisation, Sharing, Egalitarianism (New York: Berghahn Books), 27.
  9. Camilla Power, "Hadza gender rituals- epeme and maitoko - considered as counterparts", Hunter Gatherer Research 1, no. 3 (2015): 338.
  10. Woodburn, "Egalitarian Societies, Reconsidered," 27.
  11. Marlowe, The Hadza, 61.
  12. Kaare and Woodburn, "The Hadza of Tanzania," 390.
  13. Power, "Hadza gender rituals."
  14. Kaare and Woodburn, "The Hadza of Tanzania," 394.
  15. Marlowe, The Hadza, 57.
  16. Marlowe, The Hadza, 66.
  17. Woodburn, "Egalitarian Societies," 443.
  18. Marlowe, The Hadza, 66.
  19. Marlowe, The Hadza, 67-68.
  20. Marlowe, The Hadza, 18.
  21. James Woodburn, "Egalitarian Societies, Reconsidered" in Widlok, T, Tadesse, WG (eds) Property and Equality: Ritualisation, Sharing, Egalitarianism (New York: Berghahn Books), 27.
  22. Marlowe, The Hadza, 178.
  23. Chris Knight, "Early Human Kinship was Matrilineal." In N.J. Allen, H. Callan, R. Dunbar and W. James (eds.) Early Human Kinship (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008), 80.
  24. Frank Marlowe, "Mate Preferences Among Hunter-Gatherers," Human Nature 15, no. 4 (2004): 365-376.
  25. Rebecca Sear and Frank Marlowe, "How universal are human mate choices? Size does not matter when Hadza foragers are choosing a mate," biology letters 5 (2009): 606-609.
  26. Marlowe, The Hadza, 53.
  27. Marlowe, The Hadza, 169.
  28. Sarah Hrdy, Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2009), 78.
  29. Marlowe, The Hadza, 248.
  30. James Woodburn, "Egalitarian Societies".
  31. Woodburn, "Egalitarian Societies," 441-442.
  32. Jared Diamond, "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race," 1 May 1999, Discover Magazine, https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/the-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race.
  33. Marlowe, The Hadza, 120-121.
  34. Tim Spector, "I spent three days as a hunter gatherer to see if it would improve my gut health," The Conversation, 30 June 2017, https://theconversation.com/i-spent-three-days-as-a-hunter-gatherer-to-see-if-it-would-improve-my-gut-health-78773.
  35. Marlowe, The Hadza, 46.
  36. Marlowe, The Hadza, 248.
  37. Marlowe, The Hadza, 251.
  38. Marlowe, The Hadza, 141.
  39. The Hadza: Last of the First, directed by Bill Benenson, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwS7JaWB0x8.
  40. "The Hadza," Survival International.
  41. Spector, "I spent."