What Can Hunter-Gatherers Teach Us About Purpose

I have been leading Inventure Expedition “walking safaris” in Tanzania, East Africa for three decades.  With my guide friend and partner, Daudi Peterson, we were able to initiate contact with the Hadza hunter-gatherers in the early 1990’s.  And, we’ve built a lasting relationship ever since.

Daudi has written the book, Hadzabe, By the Light of a Million Fires – an engaging portrait of the lives of contemporary Hadza from their own perspectives, in their own words.

Remarkably, the Hadza have managed to keep their “sharing culture” intact despite many of the same pressures that have wiped out most of the hunting-gathering societies since the advent of agriculture, 10,000 years ago.  Today, the Hadza number around 1,300 people, with 200-300 still living their original lifestyle.

For most humans living today, it is hard to imagine life without technology.  But on the scale of human history, the internet and mobile devices are recent inventions.  Until just 10,000 years ago, we lived in small groups, hunting and gathering.  While that life might seem to be ancient, it is also the life for which our bodies and our brains are adapted.  So, we have something to learn from people who still live as we did for most of our history.

The Hadzabe have early origins qualifying them as “original people” and, perhaps, original “purpose people.”  They have likely been living in the Lake Eyasi basin in northern Tanzania for thousands of years.  This would mean that through cultural practices they have survived as one of the oldest and very “first” people on earth.

What can hunter-gatherers teach us about purpose?  I am not suggesting that we romanticize the lives of hunter-gathers, or shape our lives like them.  We couldn’t even if we tried.  I am suggesting, however, that we learn from them.  For they have survived – and still thrive by living their lives as a total sharing culture.  The Hadzabe provide a living glimpse of the evolution of purpose.

What is the Power in Purpose?

The hunter-gatherer is in all of us. For 90% of human history we were almost exclusively hunter-gatherers.  Living in our technology-dependent world does not mean that we have totally severed our hunter-gather roots.  One does not erase the souls of one’s ancestors. Could it be that we could recapture the purpose in life we have forgotten and need to relearn today?

Hunter-gatherers, like the Hadza, embody ancient wisdom. That embodiment includes a grounded wisdom – a worldview which honors “sharing” as the implicate order of surviving.

Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs & Steel, writes that after thirty-three years of working with hunter-gathers, he believes they are more intelligent than his counterparts in America or Europe are. He concludes, “They impressed me as being on the average more intelligent, more alert, more expressive, and more interested in things and people around them than the average European or American is.” Who among us would not like to be more intelligent, more alert, more expressive and more curious?

Being with the Hadza for periods of time triggers a recalling, in my own memory and psyche, the core traits that Jared Diamond observed – intelligence, alertness, expressiveness, and curiosity. Can we recall and perhaps, recapture these traits?

Giving & Getting

Why are they smarter? Diamond feels it is the combined result of their lifestyle and the process of natural selection, which would promote genes for intelligence by weeding out those not quite savvy enough to “get” the inevitable need to “give.”

The Hadzabe don’t recognize any leaders or any one person as having more power or influence then others. And even though they have clearly defined gender roles, men and women in their society participate equally in decision-making. Their traditional economy supports this equality because all people from an early age have the skills and knowledge to get what they need each day. To be a Hadza means that if someone asks, they have no option but to share. It is considered bad to hoard or accumulate more than what one needs. Everyone shares. Everyone serves. Everyone leads. That’s the power in purpose.

With no alphabet or writing, the upside would be that you develop a better memory, you do more storytelling, you are a keener listener, and you speak from the heart of experience. Your observational skills mean living or dying. You live in the now, since today’s “immediate return” (purpose moment) is the primary focus of your day.

Few people know the Hadza better than Daudi.  He grew up in Tanzania, not far away from Hadzaland, and often visited them when he was a young boy.  Daudi’s book, and its stunning photos, captures what it’s like to be a Hadza, as told by the Hadza themselves, in their own words.

In this book, Daudi observes that because they know with certainty that each day will provide them with food, they don’t need to store food for tomorrow. They share whatever they have today with everyone. But to ensure that they have enough for tomorrow, they live a nomadic life that allows the land to recover in their wake. When they return, they find the land healthy and plentiful once again. They serve each other and they serve the land around them.

The Hadza wake up every day to the reality that time is precious and limited; living close to life and death, they realize every one of us will die. The wise person seeks fulfillment in the present moment. The Hadza appear to experience more joy in a day than some of us do in a lifetime. Living in the now and living on the edge brings forth the power in purpose.

Book Offer – Get a copy of the special edition!!!

Over the past two decades, Daudi and I have created a foundation dedicated to helping the Hadza hang on to their land and their rights.  We have employed Hadza to help with guiding its efforts.

The purpose of this book is to give expression to the voice of the Hadza culture.  100% of the proceeds will be used to further education, health care, and land/resource rights for the Hadza.

We are offering the book at an investment of $75 (shipping included).  This book was created as a “special edition” for fundraising purposes with all proceeds going to the Hadza cause.

Donate online at

Click HERE to view an article published in the Financial Times which features Richard’s Guide partner, Daudi Peterson.

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