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Tribes of the Southern Serengeti with Penny Robartes

When one hears the word; Southern Serengeti, the mind conjures up vast skies and large expanses of grassland plains and granite kopjies where some of Africa’s most loved and sought-after wildlife species go through the various stages of the circle of life. Images run though our minds of Lion prides hunting grunting Wildebeest, Hyena cackling in excitement as they come upon food, the swift-footed Cheetah using is rudder-like tail to navigate tight turns as it chases the fleeting Thompson’s Gazelle, large herds of Zebra congregating to create a dazzling visual while Vultures fly high in the sky as they catch the thermals.

These visuals aren’t wrong and are more likely to be found occurring more often and in large numbers during the Wildebeest Calving Migration Season, but it certainly isn’t the only magic that one can experience during your safari to Tanzania’s Southern Serengeti.

Tanzania is home to more than 120 tribes with their own customs and traditions. While the Maasai are one of the most commonly known throughout the world to travellers, my Tribes of the Southern Serengeti private photo tours takes my guests off the tourist path to visit truly authentic Maasai peoples and their villages as well as two tribes that many travellers do not know of; the Hadzabe and the Datoga.

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At the end of January and in March of 2023, I led two private Tribes and Wildlife of the Southern Serengeti Photo Tours. Both tours were a mix of photographing the Maasai, Datoga, Hadzabe and the local wildlife in the area.

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Maasai

 

Leave your preconceptions of the Maasai behind. Don’t worry about having to pay US $60 to enter a Maasai village for a tourist show. No. Leave all these past experiences or findings behind as the Maasai people and villages we visit are not tourist geared and instead, actual working and living spaces. We stay at a camp in the Southern Serengeti that actively assist the local tribes and supports them through employment, enrichment programs, and brining guests to visit their villages and learn about them and their traditions and customs. No money is exchanged, and this is a big deal, in my opinion. Having lead multiple tours to both Kenya and Tanzania, as well as having travelled to other African destinations where money is the main exchange, it changes peoples interactions with one another, and not for the good. Where I firmly believe that there always needs to be a fair exchange between, the removal of money being the main exchange has left the interactions between the people we visit with my guests one of true interest, happy exchanges and inquisitive learnings.

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The two Maasai villages we visited were both so different from one to the other. On my first tour in January, we visited a seasonal Maasai village that was close to our camp. Here, a few of the people are employed by the camp to assist in camp, in the kitchens, with camp logistics, as well as road works within the conservancy. When we visited the village, we were greeted with honest and open smiles, curious but shy children, women who were proud to pose for us, until the children left their shyness behind and too, wanted their images taken once we showed them what we were taking.

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The second Maasai village I visited with a solo guest as to a village further away from our camp and very remote. Here, some of the children had never seen a light-skinned person before, and we had to tread sensitively and with more care and respect than what we normally do. Here too, we met with a mix of children and adults and spent time with them until everyone was feeling happy and at ease before we began to take photographs.

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There is a utterly stunning section about 30-minutes game drive away from camp filled with domed granite boulders of various size and shapes. There is one in particular that makes for a phenomenal lookout and sun-downers place, where the height gives you a breathtaking view of the stunning scenery before your eyes. A treat for us on our last night was having some young Maasai men and women come from the nearby village to sing and dance for us. Their pride in their traditions and customs were very clear as they took us through various dances and songs. When it came to the photographic side, the girls giggled and laughed in amusement and delight when we showed them images and videos that we had taken of them, which then proceeded to them asking to take selfies with us. The men would look at what we had captured and smiled and nodded in approval of how we portrayed them and captured their essence as individuals and as a people.
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Datoga

 

The Datoga village that I visited with both private photo tours was a sure highlight, to which I had the privilege of visiting 3 times in total. It was such a pleasure to return to faces that I recognised and that recognised me, as we communicated in very broken hand signals and limited words. But the lack of communication was more than made up in joyful eyes and smiling faces.

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Previously known as nomadic herders, the Datoga are now more commonly known as agriculturalists as pressures from government and developmental changes have made these people seek out more permanent living spaces. The Datoga people are famed for their fine workings with brass that they use as various adornments such as multi-layered necklaces, bracelets, rights, around their ankles and so on. The bracelets around their wrists and ankles create a percussive beat for their singing, dancing and jumping.The women’s main dress is made from tanned cow hides where we watched the process of how the dried skin is scraped with metal tools to remove the animals fur from the hide. Beads are then sown onto the cloth, and young girls clothing to married women’s varies hugely.

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When we visited the village, it is clear that a lot of the men still go about their day with tending their cows and taking them out to pasture. We are welcomed by the chief and his first wife as they show us their home and general daily chores. We do not interrupt their day, and instead, groups of married and older women, young men and young women show us a taste of their lives and traditions and customs during our visit with them. The give us as much as an insight as possible, to show us how the Datoga live. We are shown how they crush down sorghum into flour, their dances and songs, while off to the other side of the camp we have the young men performing their dance and songs as part of a ceremony with the unmarried women. It is an educational visit and should be understood as such, with their openness and happiness for us to take photographs of them creating such a wonderful environment and flow during our experience at their village.

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Hadzabe

 

I have no doubt that this tribe is soon to be listed as one that has been lost due to land restrictions and globalisations. As is with most civilisations in the world and over the years, many tribes throughout the world have had to embrace development and what those changes mean for their traditions and customs. The Hadzabe are likely one of the last remaining, true nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes that can be found in Tanzania. With around 700 recorded individuals, and this is a hard feat as the Hadzabe are so spread out, many of the Hadzabe people are having to seek work as they battle to continue to life their traditional life.  The Hadzabe are one of the few tribes that hunt and eat wild animals, and as such, the Tanzania government has given them designated land where their can continue to practice their traditions, customs, and way of life while still protecting wildlife conservation as a whole. I have had the fortune of meeting and photographing some Hadzabe men that still practice their customs while given employment by the camp we use during our stay.

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We have the wonderful opportunity to spend time with these men, listening to their fascinating click language as we watch them make their bows and arrows all made purely out of animal materials (bar the arrow head of course). They take us on walks as they search for honey in beehives, pose with pride for us as they let us capture their uniqueness. We had a beautiful, soul-stirring experience one night where the three gentlemen joined us at the camp’s fire, with the one man playing his hand-made violin-style instrument, sang stories in a hauntingly beautiful voice while the other two younger men danced in such primal ways that I felt transported to an era long since past.

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After leading two private photo tours to these cultures in a quick succession from one to the other, I feel that its impact stayed with me longer as I was able to move myself into each tribes space with such ease and familiarity. With this ease came the big message of already how much these people, people who live with their traditions and customs with pride and as a defined way of life, have had to adapt to an ever-changing world where their livelihood and the way of life that they know is being forced to adapt and at times, be left to fall away. So we celebrate their uniqueness with them, their traditions, customs, beauty and growth.

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