Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Invaders Must Vacate State Forests

IT was reported in the press on Wednesday that invaders have encroached into a conserved government forest near Kipamba-Munguli village, 120 kilometres north east of Singida municipality. This is another smarting headache for the government.

It is this kind of unacceptable behaviour that prompted the government to form an operation dubbed 'Tokomeza.' The outfit was given clear-cut instructions to make sure that all conserved land was free from invaders, including poachers who decimate wildlife.

Unfortunately, the operation's operatives, whose team was mainly made up of military soldiers, members of the Police Force and wildlife management officers, took their job with much zeal, treading on raw nerves, so to speak.

They allegedly tortured innocent villagers and in some cases, rounding up their cattle. Other reports indicate that they raped and even killed some of their victims. The public outcry that followed was overwhelming.

Investigation into the atrocities revealed a grain of truth. Legal action is likely to take its cause but in the meantime, invaders of protected forests and poachers, who had taken refuge in their lairs, are back wreaking havoc.

The latest news has it that invaders have occupied a natural forest that is home to Wahadzabe people in Singida Region. The invaders, we are told, have been advised by Mkalama District Commissioner Edward ole Lenga to move out of the forest immediately.

The DC has advised the invaders to move out of the conserved forest voluntarily, short of which they will be arrested and prosecuted over illegal occupation of a conserved area. The Wahadzabe who live in this forest have a lifestyle that is akin to that of wildlife.

Mr Lenga said that the government will not tolerate seeing the invaders felling trees and burning the forest to clear patches of land for agriculture and livestock rearing. This is bad news for the Wahadzabe who subsist on wild fruits, tubers, leaves, honey and meat.

They are increasingly experiencing shortage of food due to forest clearing, especially the felling of baobab trees. The invaders have cleared huge tracts of the forest intent on establishing farms, creating pastureland and building homes.

The indigenous Tanzanians who live in Yaeda valley in Mbulu District also face possible starvation because the baobab trees on whose fruits and seeds they subsist are disappearing mainly due to old age and forest clearing.

As if this threat is not bad enough, some invaders have cleared huge tracts of the forest intent on establishing farms, creating pastureland and building homes. In the eyes of the now few the Wahadzabe diehards, the invaders are vermin.

The Wahadzabe, who are also known as Tindiga, possess a thrilling 'click' language and uncanny hunting skills. They use bows and arrows in hunting. While some families live in cave-like holes inside baobab tree trunks, others live in 'burrows' underground or in crude thatched huts.

It is intriguing, to say the least, to see that some indigenous Tanzanians still live so primitively fifty years after independence.

Of course, it is on record that efforts to improve the living standards of the Hadzabe in yesteryears failed. In one instance, a group of Wahadzabe, who were encouraged to live in a modern house near their forest, refused to eat and some nearly died of starvation.

Their refusal to eat what did not look like food to them (rice and ugali) baffled the officials who were detailed to make the experiment. One Mhadzabe man who ate 'ugali' contracted an infection and died. Frightened, the remaining Wahadzabe sneaked back into the forest. They continued gathering wild fruits, roots and tubers and hunting baboons, monkeys, antelopes and other animals with bows and arrows.

And when a primary school was introduced in their locality the few pupils who were enrolled disappeared after a few days. But a lot of water must have gone down the bridge since those years. Some cultural changes must have sprouted in the Wahadzabe community bringing them closer to modernity. Although Wahadzabe men still hunt, not all look wild or vicious.

The Wahadzabe are believed to have been living in the remote Yaeda valley for almost 100,000 years relying on the baobab trees for both food and shelter. Some historians consider them to be the last hunter gatherer society left in Africa, their lifestyle unchanged for millennia.

Some of the Wahadzabe now take kindly to visitors, including tourists. They do not forage in the forest in the nude anymore as some indigenous tribesmen do in India, the Amazon Forest, Indonesia or the Kalahari Desert in Namibia.

They are also opportunist hunters. Operating solo, they eat most animals, except reptiles. And they are lovers of honey. They brave huge swarms of bees to steal combs from high up in baobab trees. They never grow any food or cash crops.

While they like to live alone, they periodically come across other different people in the bush. They trade tobacco in return for animal skins. They are a musical people, enjoying song and dance as a core part of their lives.

Already, a few males wear shorts while their women appear in cotton skirts. Some speak crude Kiswahili but manage to get the message across. They frequently meet tourists in the forest during their hunting forays and interact with them cordially.

Continual encroachment by people originating from as far afield as Mwanza, Shinyanga and Singida, whose activities include crop cultivation and raising large herds of cattle has taken a huge toll on vegetation, especially on the baobabs, on their territory.

This means that their livelihood is under threat. Their population is likely to shrink further. So it is high time another attempt to usher in a modicum of civilisation was made. They need schools, dispensaries, clean drinkable water and other critical needs.

Some tour companies have been criticised for offering tourist trips to visit the few Wahadzabe, who have moved into settlements after giving up their hunting ways to live off holidaymakers' dollars. These are typically shy, but welcoming of visitors.

In the southern arid areas of the Great Rift Valley, there are also other tribes that live near them but with different culture. These include the Iraqw (Mbulu) who are pastoralists.

Other livestock-loving people in the area are the Maasai and a few other Bantu groups. So far, there are no known tribal conflicts said to have occurred in recorded written history between the tribes.

Unfortunately, there are many orphaned children in the tribe - a result of poverty among adults in the tribe. Modern culture encroaches rapidly on their lives through the introduction of 'cultural experiences' to the tour itineraries.

There is also the need for the members of this tribe to speak Kiswahili in order to communicate with local communities. By the way, they live on land that has been gazetted by the government as a wildlife sanctuary - a national park.

As this land is protected, they are gradually being pushed off -- reducing their food supply in the process. Tour companies disrupt their traditional life by bringing tourists to see the culture of hunting baboons with bows and arrows.

While this is an amazingly educational experience for the tourists, it amounts to 'trespass' for them. It is not possible for any tribal setting to maintain its ancient culture when 'intrusion' is commonplace.

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