We Are What We Eat

We Are What We Eat

After traveling to five different countries (Greenland, Bolivia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Crete) in search of the origins of the human diet, Matthieu Paley comes to the last stop in his journey, Tanzania.


3 - 12+


Social Studies, World History


Kongolobe Berries

The Hadza people of Tanzania rely on hunting animals and gathering wild fruits and vegetables for food, such as these colorful kongolobe berries (Grewia bicolor)​​​​​​​.

Photograph by Matthieu Paley
The Hadza people of Tanzania rely on hunting animals and gathering wild fruits and vegetables for food, such as these colorful kongolobe berries (Grewia bicolor)​​​​​​​.
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I am a photographer and I take pictures for National Geographic magazine. I came to Tanzania to look for a community that doesn't get any of its food from outside sources. I wanted to take pictures of a people who get their food in an ancient way. Everything they ate either had to be gathered, hunted, grown or herded.

I decided to visit the Hadza people, who have what are probably the most ancient food customs on Earth.

The meat the Hadza eat comes only from hunting, which they do with bow and arrow. To experience a Hadza hunt, I tailed along with two hunters, named Kauda and January.

We walked for three days in search of game. We shot at a warthog (Phacochoerus africanus), but the arrow just bounced off its head. Other animals were too far away to shoot at.

Then, we saw a huge giraffe in the distance. January took off his sandals to avoid making noise and walked barefoot and half-bent for half a mile. When he was close enough he carefully aimed and shot off a poisoned arrow. Not for fun or because I was there, but to get food for himself and his people.

No Giraffe Meat this Time

Large animals like giraffes provide so much meat that the whole Hadza camp moves next to a kill. The camp is made up of between 20 and 30 people.

January's arrow went in near the giraffe's stomach. We then tracked the wounded animal for over an hour. It started to get "drunk" as the poison took effect. After a while, January said we needed to return to camp before it got dark. We would continue tracking in the morning. 

The next day, we set out to look for the giraffe, but the track had grown faint. The giraffe had survived the poison and moved on. 

On our way back to the camp, Kauda spotted a hyrax sitting on a rock and managed to kill the creature. It looked like a large rat, though I've read hyraxes are distantly related to elephants. That was the end of my hunting story. Instead of a large and mighty giraffe, we had to settle for a small, ratlike creature.

Don't Worry, Be Happy

The Hadza do not grow crops, herd animals or even store any food. There is nothing to eat at camp in the morning. Each day, they walk in the surrounding plain for a few hours and gather berries, honey, tubers, and baobab-fruits. And yes, sometimes they kill animals. However, they do not hunt for cruel fun or out of greed, but simply to feed themselves.

Our ancestors all had that lifestyle at some point in history. The Hadza are one of the oldest peoples on Earth, perhaps even the very oldest. Some scientists believe they have been where they are for 50,000 years.

The Hadza travel from place to place, with no fixed home. They live in camps made of twigs covered with grass, like upside-down nests. When they leave a camp behind, the twigs and grass fall off and go back into the soil. There are no graveyards, no piles of garbage, no traces left behind. Over thousands of years, the Hadza have caused no damage to their environment.

What struck me most about the Hadza is how happy they seem. In their language, there is no word for "worry." Worrying is related to either the future or to the past. The Hadza truly live in the moment. When you spend your time focusing on the here and now, on day-to-day living, there is no need for worrying about unimportant things. The Hadza may have something to teach us.

Article originally published on December 10, 2014, this material has been adapted for educational use.

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
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Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
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Last Updated

January 22, 2024

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