Hadza Movie: By The Light Of A Million Fires

Hadza Man Chewing Baobab Branch
A Hadzabe man chewing baobab for moisture. Photo: Amanda Quaine.
The Hadza are a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania.

This statement, however, hardly emphasises their importance.

The Hadza are one of the last societies anywhere in the world that survive by hunting and gathering.

Furthermore, they live in East Africa, an area that is considered key in human evolutionary history.

Despite this, traditional Hadza lands have been encroached upon by pastoralists and farmers.

It’s hoped that a new documentary film due for release in 2013 will bring an awareness of the Hadza to a wider audience.

Hadzaland and the Cradle of Mankind

The Hadza live on the land surrounding Lake Eyasi situated in the Great Rift Valley.

Not far away is the Olduvai Gorge, one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world.

Olduvai (a mis-spelling of the Masai word for wild sisal, Oldupai) where renowned paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey did much of her (literally) groundbreaking work, has been instrumental in furthering the understanding of early human evolution.

45km away from the Olduvai Gorge, Leakey also discovered the Laetoli footprints – evidence that hominins were walking on two feet 3.6 million years ago.

It is postulated that the Hadza’s foraging way of life resembles that of our earliest human ancestors. Certainly before the onset of farming 10-12,000 years ago in the Eastern Mediterranean, our ancestors were all foragers.

Hadza women digging for tubers
Hadzabe women digging for tubers. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

What’s particularly fascinating is that the Hadza hunt and gather in a part of the world which is rich in fossils giving clues to the history of our species.

In 1935, near a rock shelter on the shore of Lake Eyasi, the German explorer Ludwig Kohl-Larsen found an archaic human jaw-bone which is estimated to be 130,000 years old.

Subsequent excavations of rock shelters in the area have shown continuous occupation since at least the Later Stone Age. These occupants could well have been ancestors of the Hadza.

The Hadza Epitomize Bushcraft

Today the population of Hadza is around 1,000, with 300-400 living purely from hunting and gathering. They have few material possessions and rely on an intimate knowledge of their environment to sustain themselves.

Hadza men resting in shade
Hadza men resting in the shade while out hunting. They have very few material possessions. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

The foraging Hadza truly survive by their bushcraft skills. To me this simple and sustainable way of life epitomizes what bushcraft skills and knowledge can provide.

The Hadza are welcoming, generous and relaxed, spending less time working to survive than a typical office worker.

During Frontier Bushcraft’s Tanzanian bushcraft expedition, we visit the Hadza. We set up a lightweight camp near to one of the Hadza’s camps and then spend the next few days with members of the tribe learning about their way of life and the bushcraft skills they use to survive on a day-to-day basis.

Paul Kirtley learning bushcraft skills from Hadzabe men
The author learning bushcraft skills from the Hadza. Photo: Amanda Quaine.

For me, personally I feel it is a real privilege to spend time learning from people who live by a skill-set we choose to call bushcraft. For me it is the high point of the whole trip.

By The Light of a Million Fires

Another man for whom visiting the Hadza had a lasting effect is documentary film-maker Bill Benenson.

In 2004 he and his family went on safari for the first time to Tanzania and “it turned out to be the most fascinating trip of our lives. But it wasn’t the “Big Five” animals, as magnificent as they were, that most struck us, nor was it the vast and stunning plains of East Africa. No, what made the most profound impression on us was seeing and being with a very small tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherer-foragers called the Hadza.”

I knew I wanted to make a documentary film about them because it was clear that their way of life is being threatened into near extinction by a variety of national and international pressures. I felt that perhaps by bringing the world’s attention to the Hadza I could help protect their unique lives from oblivion.”

By The Light of a Million Fires movie poster

Benenson’s work includes Dirt! The Movie, exploring the relationship between humans and soil. The film was an official nominee for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and won several other awards.

In 2011 Benenson returned to Tanzania along with Emmy Award winning cinematographer Bob Poole, to film a documentary centred on the Hadza.

The film titled By the Light of a Million Fires was proposed, after a book of the same name that recorded some of the oral history of the Hadza. It was slated for release in 2013.

According to the film-makers pre-release PR materials “By The Light of a Million Fires takes a lively look at human origins in the very place of our origins, Africa’s Rift Valley, where one of the world’s last remaining hunter-gatherer groups, the Hadza, have lived sustainably for over 50,000 years.”

The Hadza: Last of the First

Even though the working title for the film was “By The Light Of A Million Fires”, this was not the titled the documentary was ultimately released with. Perhaps the original titled ended up being perceived as too abstract or, given the message of the film, perhaps it was not direct enough. Or maybe there was an issue with taking the title of an extant book. Whatever the reason, in the end the documentary saw light under the name The Hadza: Last of the First.

Below is the trailer and the opportunity to watch the movie in full HD…

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Paul Kirtley is Founder and Chief Instructor of Frontier Bushcraft. He has had a lifelong passion for the great outdoors and gains great satisfaction from helping others enjoy it too. Paul writes the UK's leading bushcraft blog. He is the author of Wilderness Axe Skills and Campcraft, as well as having contributed to several other books. Paul has been involved in teaching bushcraft since 2003. He is also a Canoe Leader, British Canoeing Level 3 Canoe Coach and UK Summer Mountain Leader.

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9 Responses

  1. Mark H
    | Reply

    I hope the human race wakes up in time to save ‘peoples’ like this. Thank you Paul- very thought provoking. One day Lucy and I will definately come with you and visit this area and it’s people. It’s on my ‘Bucket List’ !


    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for your comment. I hope you will be able to join us and I hope the Hadza will always be there to be visited…

      All the best,


  2. dave
    | Reply

    will be an interesting film to watch. tho it wont make one slight bit of difference to the grande scheme of the modern agricultural machine chewing up all the minerals/natural resources etc under the land they roam. its nothing new just the same old story. where does all the metals and minerals come from to power i-phones/blackberries?……under their feet. sadly they are being turned into a zoo/disneyland type attraction. it all boils down to money and whats good for business. also those in power wont have a bunch of folks walking round in loin cloths paying zero into their pockets. the land will be taken, they will have to get jobs and a mc d’s drive thru will be up before you know it. ‘would you like fries with that grub, sir? have a nice day.’ sad but true.

  3. Steve Bayley
    | Reply

    Hi Paul, I’m certainly looking forwards to seeing this new film. I wonder if you were aware that Olduvai stone tools featured in the 2010 BBC Radio 4 series ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ as objects 2 and 3. You can find out more, including links to download the podcasts here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/about/british-museum-objects/
    Whilst not strictly bushcraft related this is a wonderfully interesting series.


    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      You know Steve, I’ve been meaning to read A History of the World in 100 Objects, and still haven’t found the time. This might just be the prod I need. Thanks 🙂

      Thanks also for the link to the podcasts. I shall enjoy listening to those.

      All the best,


  4. Alexander Slanger
    | Reply

    I really look forward to the film. During my first trip to Africa last year, my wife and I were fortunate enough to spend the day with a Hadzabe tribe. We went on a bird hunt, learned to use their bows and arrows, and it was truly the experience of a lifetime. While I only have a few images on my site currently, please feel free to have a look at our visit with the tribe at http://www.slangerphotography.com.

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Alexander,

      I can understand what a special experience you had with the Hadzabe.

      Thanks for sharing a link to your website. There are some very nice portraits.

      Warm regards,


      • Dalaly Julius
        | Reply

        Hello it’s me Dalaly Julius ,from Hadza members !
        I like your books ! I am from lake eyasi ,

        • Paul Kirtley
          | Reply

          Hello Dalaly Julius. It’s great to hear from you!

          I have been to visit at Lake Eyasi. I enjoyed my time there very much.

          It would be great to visit again one day. Are you still living at Lake Eyasi?

          Warm greetings,


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