Can the Hadza be Saved?

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Mon, 10/20/2014 - 12:29 -- Nick Dager

The Hadza: Last of the FirstThe Hadza: Last Of The First chronicles the lives of the Hadza tribe of Tanzania, possibly the last true hunter-gatherer group on earth. Opening in limited engagements October 24 at the Regent Theater in Westwood, California and at the Quad Cinema in New York City on October 31, The Hadza: Last of the First is the latest film from producer/director Bill Benenson.

The film was shown to international diplomats at this year’s United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and has had ongoing support and input from The Nature Conservancy.

Emmy Award-winning actress Alfre Woodard is the narrator.  Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o is Swahili consultant and translator on the film. 

The Hadza:  Last of the First centers on a people who have lived sustainably on their land near the Rift Valley birthplace of humanity for over 50,000 years.  They have occupied one place probably longer than any other group, and their foraging lifestyle characterizes most of human history.  Due to modern-day encroachments, the Hadza’s land and way of life are currently endangered -- and a vital tie to our evolutionary roots may be lost forever.  

In addition to the remarkable Hadza themselves, the film features primatologist Jane Goodall; Nobel Laureate and Green Belt Movement Founder the late Wangari Maathai, and a host of internationally renowned experts in anthropology, evolutionary biology, genetics, linguistics and nutrition who outline how important the Hadza are in understanding our origins.  Like other indigenous peoples around the globe, the Hadza now face grave challenges. While the film celebrates their unique history and cultural cohesiveness, it is also a call to action to help establish a protective land corridor for the Hadza’s survival as a vibrant community.

The Hadza: Last of the First"This is the story of a remarkable, self-sustaining people who can help illuminate our past while teaching us unexpected lessons on how humans can live cooperatively in the future," said director and producer Bill Benenson. “To help the Hadza survive as our continuing ancestors, to be guardians of their lands and our mutual heritage, we must help secure their homeland. We must not let the Hadza be overrun and robbed of their role as the Last of the First. We owe this to the Hadza and to ourselves.”

Benenson said, “In the summer of 2004, I went on safari for the first time, to the Serengeti in Northern Tanzania. It had taken almost two years of planning - and herding - to get my family and our friends the Spire family to arrange this faraway, apparently arduous journey, and it turned out to be the most fascinating and rewarding trip of our lives.  But it wasn’t the "Big Five" animals, as magnificent as they were, that most struck us, nor was it the vast and stunning plains of East Africa. No, what made the most profound impression on us was seeing and being with a very small tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherer-foragers called the Hadza.”

“We spent two days out with the Hadza, in a "fly camp" up in the mountains overlooking Lake Eyasi, just south of the Ngorongoro Crater, where mankind first walked upright.  "Fly camp," meant we slept on cots under mosquito netting, miles away from even the relative comfort of the safari tents,” he explained. “It was so remote that the sight of a lone Range Rover up there was like an out-of-body experience. Flabbergasted, I asked our guide who on earth it could be. It turned out there were Harvard anthropologists observing the Hadza.”

The Hadza: Last of the First“During the day,” he continued, “we went out with the men hunting and honey gathering, often led to the beehives by a bird known as the Honeyguide,” Benenson said. ‘They killed nothing with us noisy city folk along, but they did gather the rawest and most fresh-tasting honey any of us had ever had. Later we watched the women pound the fruit of the Baobab tree into a cornmeal-like mush for their children’s dinner.”

“There are now only about 300 Hadza left practicing their timeless ways. Still living as our earliest ancestors did when they began their (and our) sojourn on Earth in the Rift Valley around two million years ago, the Hadza get no food from agriculture, grow nothing themselves and have no domesticated animals. They eat only what they can shoot down, dig up, or pick off the trees on their annual rounds through their rocky terrain. The men are extraordinary archers who can kill anything with their poisoned arrows except elephants. (They are also the only living beings not vulnerable to the traditional poison the tribe distills from a plant called the Desert Rose.) The women are tireless gatherers of the essential tubers that they mine from the rocky landscape with their sharpened sticks.”   

“Their lives are as primal and practical as they are beautiful and pragmatic.  Along with Swahili, they still speak Hadzine, a "click" language spoken by no one else on the planet. I knew I wanted to make a documentary film about them because it was clear that their way of life is being threatened into near extinction by a variety of national and international pressures. I felt that perhaps by bringing the world's attention to the Hadza I could help protect their unique lives from oblivion.”

The Hadza: Last of the First“We have formed a partnership with the invaluable Nature Conservancy to politically help secure land rights for the Hadza, because if I've learned anything at all, it's that if any rural or bush people lose their lands, for whatever reasons, they are finished as a unique, self-sustaining and thriving society.”

Benenson is best known for his award-winning documentaries Dirt! The Movie, which was a Sundance Official Selection and for The Marginal Way and Diamond Rivers.  He is currently working on a documentary about the search for a lost Pre-Columbian city in Central America using LIDAR technology, work for which he was awarded the prestigious Leading Global Thinkers Award from Foreign Policy magazine and garnered notable media coverage in Doug Preston’s New Yorker feature article. 

His feature films include Boulevard Nights, The Lightship, A Walk on the Moon, Mister Johnson, and Who Bombed Judi Bari? 

The Hadza: Last of the First