Kelly pops in toward the end of the day and invites us to the elephant roast. The Hadza have cut all their meat into strips, and it’s hanging on a tree like long beans. In a big pot over coals they are trying to render big pieces of fat that they cut off the elephant’s legs. At first it might seem a little gruesome, but the truth is that the Hadzabe did not kill the elephant. They are a people who still hunt with bow and arrow, can tell how many animals of what gender and size passed through an area 48 hours later, and have been living off the land for longer than any of our memories. When the elder clambers up the tree and brings down a cooked piece, then carves off a piece with his wide, flat knife and hands it to me with his small, muscular hand, I thank him thoroughly. To partake is an honor, for the rest of the elephant was dragged off and left to rot, and these hunters open-heartedly shared their bounty with us. They’ll probably be up all night, guarding it from the hyenas and lions that might catch a whiff of the meal.
So that happened.
I’ve been reading an enormous handbook on pastoralism today. Between that and trying to cram as much Swahili into my head as I can, I’ve decided my brain is too full for anymore. On the other hand, I’ve staked out my new “office,” the conference area on the top of Noloholo. It’s a pretty good view, if I say so myself. Though, I can’t help but be very distracted by the miniature parade of birds that come to drink at the pond. Today there was a straw-tailed whydah, its foot-long tail feathers blowing in the breeze, as well as a cut-throat and several chestnut sparrows, and the usual actors – crimson-rumped waxbill, red-cheeked cordon bleu, superb starlings, emerald spotted wood doves, two yellow-collared lovebirds and a whole host of Reichenow’s serin.
Pastoralism is totally fascinating to me. For the uninitiated (which was me, yesterday), pastoralism is a type of livelihood practice that involves the movement of herds to pastures of the best nutrients. This way of herding is, per hectare, more productive than ranching because it produces cattle, milk, dung and helps keep grass levels cropped down so that the next year’s grasses can seed, sprout and grow properly. Pastoralism in East Africa has long relied on the ability of herders to drive their cattle between the best pastures for the best time of year. They must do this because the rains here are seasonal and occur in microbursts (highly localized rain showers) and are also not predictable from year to year. Without the ability to move, herds of cattle will ultimately die of thirst or of starvation. When the cattle die, the people who rely on them for milk, blood and meat, also become impoverished.
It’s the western idea of land ownership and tenure that has caused pastoral systems to break down, beginning with the Berlin Conference in 1885 that divided pasturelands and people into countries. Western ideas of ranchlands have also restricted movement, caused formerly rich pastureland to be claimed by agriculturalists, and created situations of overuse near watering holes.
Some of this has occurred because of wildlife conservation – some of the best grazing ground for cattle is also the best grazing ground for wildebeest and other mammals. The creation of National Parks led to the forced removal of indigenous pastoralist societies, and has greatly restricted the mobility of others.
Here around Loibor Siret, most of the land is shared between wildlife and cattle, rather than being designated for one or the other. It works pretty well, but this drought year will significantly tax the already-limited resources of this system. So, there needs to be other ways for the Maasai to continue keeping cattle while also making money in a way that allows them to feed their children, and of course, that leaves enough grass on the ground for wildlife to thrive as they move in and out of Tarangire National Park. I hope that as time goes on, I’ll become more and more able to think from a pastoralist point of view, and really integrate that with the type of economics and market forces that drive successful businesses in other parts of the world.