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The Hadza Hunter Gatherers of Tanzania

Frank W. Marlow

University of California Press (2010) 

ISBN-13: 978-0520253421


This review on Amazon: 

Frank Marlowe has spent many years in the field researching this extraordinary hunter-gatherer tribe, the Hadzas - and this book is an eminently readable distillation of his work. For professionals it is a rich source of information and ground-breaking insights. For the lay reader, it is a fascinating and eye-opening account of what life must have been like for us humans for eons in our evolutionary past.

Marlowe is conscious that the Hadza are in a way an oddity. They have maintained their ancient way of life in spite of outside efforts from missionaries and governments, and external pressure from surrounding tribes like the Masai. Where necessary he points up where they differ from other savanna forager models such as the !Kung San as exemplified by Richard Lee's classic studies in the 1960s. See his book: Kalahari Hunter-Gatherers.

For example, compared to the San, the Hadza seem to be less territorial and less confrontational. If someone tries to boss them around, they just move away or even move to another camp. There are only a few hundred Hadza in total so they seem to regard themselves as one big extended family rather than (as with other foragers) a collection of rival bands maintaining bitter-sweet relations with each other.

It is refreshing to find that Marlowe is not infected with the starry-eyed ideals of the `noble savage' or the grotesque aberrations of the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM) promoted by (notably) Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, Richard Lewontin and Steven J. Gould. (For a fine debunking of the SSSM see Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.) So it is that Marlowe drily reports on the men always on the lookout to have extra-marital affairs; on stepfathers, in spite of their protestations to the contrary, giving preference to their biological offspring; on males being fiercely sexually jealous (leading sometimes to murder); on gender roles being specific - men hunt (and do it alone), women forage (and do it in parties of average size 5).

The range of phenomena Marlowe reports on is truly startling: In a lifetime on average, Hadza women only menstruate 100 times, compared to 400 times with western women; boys get their first bow and arrows at the age of three (and spend hours a day practising); grandmothers provide more food than any other group; baobab paste is weaning food; squabbles are more prevalent in bigger camps than smaller; for protection, the foraging party of women bring along a young boy armed with his bow and arrows; scavenged meat (often rotten) gives them stomach aches - but they still eat it; fruits provide 40% by weight of the diet in camp; male body-fat percentage is 10 and female 18; the pull on an average Hadza bow is high at 69 lb; falling out of baobab trees is a notable cause of death in old age; women walk 5.5 km per day when foraging, men 8.3 km per day when hunting;...

There is so much more, most of it seriously scientific. That makes this book a valuable work of reference in naturally adapted human behavior, feeding patterns, physical activity, spirituality, and lifestyle generally. It provides rich material for studies like mine where we analyze and describe how lifestyle diseases typified by cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes etc. are due to the mismatch between the way we live today and the lifestyle designed by our hunter-gatherer evolutionary past.

As an evolutionary lifestyle anthropologist, I fully recognize the unique contribution this book makes to our state of knowledge, and this encyclopedic information would have provided enriching backup for my own (but earlier) book Deadly Harvest: Our past, present and future diets - and why we should care.

I thoroughly recommend Marlowe's book to anyone interested in understanding what it means to live like nature intended - and of course, anyone studying evolutionary anthropology and related fields.

Oh, and by the way - for those new to such topics, Marlowe helpfully provides simple introductions to the ideas of natural selection (Darwin), altruism within blood relations (Hamilton), parent/child conflict (Trivers), and game theory to explain sharing patterns within groups (Maynard Smith).