You may want to watch some selected clips of aspects of East Africa about things that we will experience on our Safari, and so this selection has been prepared. I hope you find them of interest.
Most wildlife Safaris focus almost exclusively on the wildlife of the Serengeti, but ours is somewhat different. If you challenged me on this I would say that our safari is also an exploration of the historical ecology of the Rift Valley. And I would not stop there, I would add that our Safari is also about exploring our own historical imaginations.
And so when I think about East Africa, I immediately consider that it is very much and always has been part of the Nile River Basin. Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya all share a border with Lake Victoria, the source of the White Nile. And, if we can compare 19th century and 20th century epic quests, the search for the source of the Nile in the late 19th century was akin to the race to put a man on the moon in the 20th century. As most of us remember this latter space race, we can perhaps gain some emotional understanding of the fascination that the English speaking world had for the explorers who found the Nile's source, for in a sense these men (and a few women such as Mrs. Samuel Baker) were the "astronauts of the 19th century." And we must remember that centuries ago it was the Nile Basin, and the southern Sudan that provided the homelands of the Maasai and Datoga tribes who now inhabit the ecological hinterlands of Lake Victoria, that is in large part, the Serengeti. These largely pastoral people (and their Bantu, agricultural neighbours and "enemies" the Ikoma who came from West Africa, and whom we will also visit) are in some sense "children of the Nile."
Exploration of the Nile
The wonderful thing about documentary film is condensation. It often takes months of "stake outs" by full time wildlife photographers and cinematographers to get the footage that gets crammed into this kind of IMAX documentary. I have seen this piece about the Serengeti many times and still enjoy it. But just as much, if not even more, when I am in the Serengeti, and I feel the wind, see the sky and luxuriate in the slow movements of an elephant herd, experienced over long periods of time, or witness a herd of giraffes approaching across the plain, then I get that feeling that no film can ever give. It is that prehistoric human sense of variable time, of having to, whether I want or not, adjust my perceptions to the rhythm of the animals and landscapes around me. It is at these moments, and which are usually quite pleasurable, when I can almost get in touch with the hunter and gatherer inside of me and that evolutionary psychologists argue is still the basis of each and every one of us, in our basic physiology and unconscious mind. Then, I commune with an aspect of my psyche that is usually kept under wraps in the hurry and scheduled life that is the lot of modern urban dwellers. Being in the Serengeti brings it back to me.
Serengeti documentary IMAX
Ngorongoro is an enormous volcanic crater filled with wild animals. It is and has almost always been part of the Serengeti ecosystem but, the fact that you descend into it from a forested crater edge makes me think like an active hunter gatherer. When I visit it, I always imagine what it would have been like to establish the family base camp up on the ridge, admittedly near wild animals like forest dwelling elephant but, at the same time allowing me and my family to scavenge and hunt in the caldera. It makes me better understand the ancient archaeology of prehistoric peoples, our ancestors, when we are confronted with tool assemblages that are far from base camps. Were these places of animal slaughter, on site? Were they the tool bases for scavenging? Were the plants and herbs of the highland different from the lowlands? For me Ngorongoro reminds me of the importance of different ecological niches based on altitude and which was probably one of the basic challenges that faced our ancestors on their route out of Africa into the wider world.
I would suggest that one of the most important assumptions of cultural ecology is that "if it is not broken, do not fix it." What this means is that when as our ancestors moved out of East Africa, 50,000 years ago or more, the hunter gatherer way of life worked for them. We must remember that until only 12,000 years ago our ancestors were all hunter gatherers. We adopted agriculture and later industrialization out of necessity, in most cases because of the overhunting of wild game and the die out of species. Yet in the heart of Africa, where we came from, the people we left behind were doing reasonably well. Although Africans adopted agriculture in pre Pharaonic times it took a long time to spread across the continent. In Tanzania it has only reached the area of the Hadza during the last one hundred years. It and pastoralism are the reason that the Hadza are slowing and surely losing their hunting area. BUT it still exists and they still hunt and gather. When we visit the Hadza for those who rise early, we can join a hunting party of Hadza or, go gathering food plants with Hadza women as has been their practise since time immemorial.
When Tribe is Everything
If hunters and gatherers are organized as loose groups of related kin groups the Maasai give us a picture of the world of tribes. What distinguishes the Maasai is not just their love of cattle but, their sense of tribal unity. Not unlike the ancient Greeks, they can still raid and fight each other, but they have a distinct sense of themselves that is different from other groups based on a lineage ideology of common descent. The Maasai and their distantly related Nilotic language speaking neighbours the Datoga, with whom they have fought for generations, are not all that different from each other. But the self definition of the Maasai and the Barabaig is like that of the French versus the English. Each one is divided from the other by a sense of fundamental difference, a kin based loyalty that cultural ecologists call "tribe" without hesitation, and which is empirically based. Here are clips from a series of documentaries that give you the inside story of life among the Maasai.
Diary of a Masai Village - Previews
And so we do not forget that every tribe is a unique style of music, for doth not live by bread (or milk) alone! Here are Datoga dancing.