Hadza fieldsite in Tanzania

Primary Site Researcher

Alyssa Crittenden

Dr Alyssa Crittenden is a joint Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA) at the University of California, San Diego. She received her PhD from the Department of Anthropology at UC San Diego in 2009.

She is a Behavioural Ecologist who has worked with the Hadza foragers of Tanzania since 2004. Her research interests include life history theory, allomaternal investment, the ontogeny of prosocial behaviour, the evolution of childhood, and the evolution of the human diet and the sexual division of labour.

acrittenden@ucsd.edu | Website


The Hadza are a population of hunters and gatherers living in a 4,000km² area around Lake Eyasi in northern Tanzania. Their territory, which is located in the Eastern Rift Valley, is located at latitude 03-04°S and longitude 34-36°E.

Hadza territory


There are approximately 1,000 individuals who self-identify as Hadza. Of this total, approximately 300 are nomadic and live a hunting and gathering lifestyle, collecting over 90% of the food that they consume. The remaining 700 individuals live in quasi-settled Hadza camps located close to villages and practice a mixed subsistence regime where they supplement gathered food with store-bought food.


The language of the Hadza, called Hadzane, is traditionally classified as a Khoisan language because it contains clicks. Hadzane has three variants of click consonants: dental, alveopalatal, and lateral.

Linguists have argued that although it might share a handful of similarities with the Sandawe language, Hadzane has so few cognates that it is often classified as a linguistic isolate. Most Hadza speak Swahili as their second language.

Hadza people sitting together

Ethnic identity and history

The Hadza (also known as Hadzabe, Hadzapi, Watindiga, or Kindiga) call themselves Hadzabe - with the suffix -be referring to 'people' in their language, Hadzane (-ne being the suffix for 'language'). Only the Hadza speak Hadzane, therefore language is a valuable determinant in deciding whom to classify as Hadza.

Archaeologists, using evidence from stone tool middens, rock shelters, and rock art, suggest that before 3,000 years ago, the people living across Tanzania had a subsistence pattern and social structure quite similar to that of the Hadza.

Approximately 2,500 years ago, Cushitic speakers moved into northern Tanzania; 1,500 years ago, Bantu speakers from west Africa began occupying Tanzania, and around 300 years ago, Nilotic-speakers from Sudan moved into northern Tanzania and Hadza territory. There are several ethnically distinct groups that live in areas bordering Hadza land, these include the Datoga, Iraqw, Masai, Isanzu, and Sukuma.

There have been several attempts to force the Hadza to move into settlements. The British Colonial Government attempted to force the Hadza to begin farming in 1927 and again in 1939 - both attempts failed and the Hadza left the settlements shortly after arriving. The third attempt, made by the Tanzanian government in 1965, was the most ambitious and involved the Hadza being 'escorted' by armed guards to a village settlement where a school and clinic had been built by missionaries.

Many Hadza died after only a few short weeks of settlement, presumably due to increased disease transmission, particularly respiratory infections and measles. The remaining Hadza left the settlement soon after. A final attempt was made in the mid-1970s - an attempt which was, again, futile. After a short time, the Hadza left and returned to the bush to continue foraging.

People walking on the plains

Kinship and family

Family is an extremely important part of Hadza life. They practice bilateral descent through their mother and father and do not recognise clans. Kinship terms are broad and incorporate both classificatory and fictive kin. Residence patterns are variable, however there is a slight bias to living with the wife's kin.

Children primarily reside with their parents and siblings, but may often live with grandparents or aunts and uncles. Children sleep in the same hut as their primary caregiver until they reach puberty, at which point they can sleep in a hut with their age mates. These huts are typically constructed close to that of their parents or grandparents.

Both daughters and sons may continue to live in the same camp as their parents off and on through adulthood or choose to live with the kin of their spouse. Some Hadza are neolocal, choosing to reside in camps without kin of either spouse. Recent residence data suggests that a large percentage of residents in any given camp are genetically unrelated to one another.

Hadza children


The Hadza have been described as a population with little or no religion. Anthropologists agree, however, that they do have a cosmology - regardless of how we define religion. The Hadza cosmology includes the sun, moon, stars and their ancestors. They have a creation story that describes how the Hadza came to populate the earth. It involves descending to earth, either from a baobab tree or down the neck of a giraffe.

The Hadza do not have anything equivalent to religious leaders, churches, or organised meetings of any kind. There are no shamans or medicine men or women and the Hadza do not practice witchcraft. They do, however, believe that other tribes have witchcraft and can successfully curse the Hadza. The strongest taboos and rituals surround epeme - which refers to a type of dance and certain cuts of animal meat. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to convert the Hadza to Christianity.

Political and social organisation

Like almost all other hunter-gatherer groups, the Hadza have an egalitarian social structure. They do not typically recognise land rights in the traditional sense, although they recognise an affinity with other Hadza groups that occupy the region. There is no political structure, formal or informal, at the tribal level.

Society is typically organised in camps, which have fluid composition of extended family and friends. Labour and food are shared between related and unrelated camp members. Hadza women have a great amount of autonomy and participate equally in decision-making with men.

People foraging

Economic activities

The Hadza have very little accumulated wealth and most do not participate in a market economy. Some Hadza, however, live near villages and participate in ecotourism, which is steadily on the rise. In addition, village Hadza may be hired as wage laborers - either as hunting guides for safari companies or as guards to scare off wild animals from the farms of the neighbouring tribes.

The Hadza that reside in the bush, approximately 300 people, collect roughly 95% of their diet. Their diet, which is extremely well balanced, includes a wide variety of plant foods (eg tubers, berries, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds), small to large sized game, a great number of bird species, and the larvae and honey of both stingless and stinging bees.

Women typically forage in groups and target plant foods, while men tend to hunt solo or in a pair and focus on hunting and honey collection. When unsuccessful on a hunt (for game or honey), men will collect baobab fruit. Children also forage and are able to collect almost half of their daily caloric intake by the time they reach middle childhood. Children tend to focus on resources that are relatively easy to collect (eg berries, fruit, nuts) and are located close to camp.

The Hadza, like most foraging populations, are central-place provisioners (a term used by Anthropologist Frank Marlowe in lieu of the term 'central place foragers'). This means that they collect food on a daily basis and return to camp to distribute the food to weanlings, dependent children, elderly, or injured camp members. Food is widely shared within the family and with unrelated friends and neighbours. The Hadza have no food storage capabilities.

Hadza man carrying a child

Formal and informal education

Based on interview data collected by Anthropologist Frank Marlowe, approximately 20% of Hadza under the age of 50 years old have attended school for at least a short period of time - typically a year or less. For Hadza under the age of 30 years old, this percentage jumps to 60%.

There are two schools in areas bordering on Hadza land, neither of which offers a special curriculum for the Hadza nor serves only Hadza students. A primary school in Endamagha, which was built by missionaries for the Hadza, is now mostly populated with students from other tribes; only one third of the student population at Endamagha is Hadza.

Increasingly, Hadza children are attending school and staying for longer periods of time; historically, most Hadza children would run away back to the bush. While some Hadza value formal education for their children, others argue that learning to read and write English and Swahili holds little or no value for Hadza children who continue to live in the bush.

Most students, including those of other tribes, who graduate from rural primary and secondary schools do not go on to get jobs in the city. Therefore, according to some Hadza, sending their children to school will only be detrimental to their 'Hadza education' where they learn their own language, culture and foraging skills.

Hadza children


The Hadza live in a highly seasonal environment; during the dry season, they live outside and during the rainy season, they construct huts made out of tree branches and dried grass. In addition to living outside, they also live at low population densities and are nomadic - all characteristics that may be linked to a lower rate of disease transmission when compared to their pastoral and agricultural neighbours.

The Hadza do not suffer from malnutrition and are, in fact, healthier than neighbouring tribes. They do suffer from malaria, yellow fever, and tuberculosis as well as being exposed to trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) from the tsetse fly. Common injuries and illnesses include broken bones, diarrhoea, and eye and respiratory infections.

There are a few hospitals bordering Hadza land and are within one or two days' walking distance from most Hadza camps located in the bush. One hospital is located in Haydom, in the southwest corner of the Mbulu district in the northern highlands, and the other is located in Barazani in the Karatu district near the Ngorongoro Crater. A small team of healthcare specialists make sporadic and infrequent visits to Hadza camps located close to the villages of Mangola and Barazani.

Two people carrying food on their heads

Daily life

The Hadza day starts early, around 6.30 or 7.00am, with people waking slowly and chatting around morning fires. By 8.00 or 8.30am, most adults have left camp to forage. Women forage in groups whereas men typically forage alone or in pairs. Women's foraging parties include adult women of all ages, nursing infants, and often one teenage boy who acts as a 'guard' - to protect the women from possible violence of neighbouring tribes. Married couples may also go on daily forays together.

Once weaned, children stay in camp with the older children. Children play, forage, and work throughout the day. Work may be seen as an extension of play because children's games and social activities often involve food collection and processing. Children collect and consume a large percentage of their diet by the age of five years and are also fed by family and friends.

Food is shared widely among the Hadza and they practice central place provisioning as well as cooperative child care. Children are raised in a very communal setting, where most aspects of daily life take place in full view of all camp residents.

During mid-day most Hadza rest or take a leisurely nap. Whether in camp or out foraging, they stop work to rest for around two hours after lunch and until the mid-day heat subsides. Most camp members are back in camp around 5 or 6pm, when evening preparations begin. Women and children collect water and firewood close to camp. An evening meal is typically prepared and consumed just before nightfall. On nights without ritual dancing, men and women typically stay up until 10pm talking or telling stories.

When there is a 'new moon', the lunar phase that occurs when the moon lies between the earth and sun and the unilluminated portion faces the earth, the Hadza perform their ritual epeme dance, which only occurs under the cover of darkness. The epeme dance involves men taking turns dressing up and dancing as the embodiment of their ancestors for the women and children of the camp. Other evening dances may include members of both sexes dancing together as a large group while chanting and singing songs.

Hadza people walking through bushes

Explore this fieldsite with Google Earth

Google Earth allows you to explore sites anywhere in the world using satellite images of those sites. Navigate the fieldsite and explore it in detail using the files below:

Google Earth files for Hadza (KMZ, 752B)


Frank Marlowe (2010) The Hadza Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Alyssa Crittenden and Frank Marlowe (2008) Allomaternal care among the Hadza of Tanzania. Human Nature: An Interdisciplinary Biosocial Perspective 19(3): 249-262.

J. Colette Berbesque, Frank Marlowe, and Alyssa Crittenden (2011) Sex differences in Hadza eating frequency by food type. American Journal of Human Biology 23.3: 339-345.

Kristen Hawkes (1997) Hadza women's time allocation, offspring provisioning and the evolution of long postmenopausal life spans. Current Anthropology 38(4): 551-577.

Nicholas G. Blurton-Jones, Kristen Hawkes, and Jim O'Connell (1997) Why do Hadza children forage? In Genetic, ethological and evolutionary Perspectives on Human Development. Essays in Honor of Dr Daniel G. Freedman, edited by N.L. Segal, G. E. Weisfeld and C. C. Weisfeld. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Kristen Hawkes, James F. O'Connell and Nicholas G. Blurton Jones (1989) Hardworking Hadza grandmothers. In Comparative Socioecology: The Behavioural Ecology of Humans and Other Mammals, edited by V. Standen and R. A. Foley. London: Basil Blackwell.

Frank Marlowe (2003) A critical period for provisioning by Hadza men: Implications for pair bonding. Evolution and Human Behavior 24:217-229.

Bonnie Sands (1995) Evaluating claims of distinct linguistic relationships: The case of the Khoisan. PhD Dissertation, University of California Los Angeles.

Brian Wood and Frank Marlowe (2011) Dynamics of postmarital residence among the Hadza: A kin investment model. Human Nature: An Interdisciplinary Biosocial Perspective. DOI 10.1007/s12110-011-9109-5.

James Woodburn (1968) An Introduction to Hadza ecology. In Man the Hunter, edited by R. B. Lee and I. DeVore. Chicago: Aldine.

Back to top