There is silence for a couple of heartbeats. Then I hear frantic yelping and crashing. It's coming from the far side of the rock, and I can't tell if it is human or baboon. It's both. We thrash through bushes, half-tumbling, half-running, until we reach a clearing amid a copse of acacias.
And there it is: the baboon. On his back, mouth open, limbs splayed. Shot by Giga. A nudge with a toe confirms it—dead. Maduru whistles and shouts, and soon the other hunters arrive. Onwas kneels and pulls the arrow out of the baboon's shoulder and hands it back to Giga. The men stand around the baboon in a circle, examining the kill. There is no ceremony. The Hadza are not big on ritual. There is not much room in their lives, it seems, for mysticism, for spirits, for pondering the unknown. There is no specific belief in an afterlife—every Hadza I spoke with said he had no idea what might happen after he died. There are no Hadza priests or shamans or medicine men. Missionaries have produced few converts. I once asked Onwas to tell me about God, and he said that God was blindingly bright, extremely powerful, and essential for all life. God, he told me, was the sun.
The most important Hadza ritual is the epeme dance, which takes place on moonless nights. Men and women divide into separate groups. The women sing while the men, one at a time, don a feathered headdress and tie bells around their ankles and strut about, stomping their right foot in time with the singing. Supposedly, on epeme nights, ancestors emerge from the bush and join the dancing. One night when I watched the epeme, I spotted a teenage boy, Mataiyo, sneak into the bush with a young woman. Other men fell asleep after their turn dancing. Like almost every aspect of Hadza life, the ceremony was informal, with a strictly individual choice of how deeply to participate.
With the Hadza god not due to rise for several hours, Giga grabs the baboon by a rear paw and drags the animal through the bush back to camp. The baboon is deposited by Onwas's fire, while Giga sits quietly aside with the other men. It is Hadza custom that the hunter who's made the kill does not show off. There is a good deal of luck in hunting, and even the best archers will occasionally face a long dry spell. This is why the Hadza share their meat communally.
Onwas's wife, Mille, is the first to wake. She's wearing her only set of clothes, a sleeveless T-shirt and a flower-patterned cloth wrapped about her like a toga. She sees the baboon, and with the merest sign of pleasure, a brief nod of her chin, she stokes the fire. It's time to cook. The rest of camp is soon awake—everyone is hungry—and Ngaola skins the baboon and stakes out the pelt with sharpened twigs. The skin will be dry in a few days and will make a fine sleeping mat. A couple of men butcher the animal, and cuts of meat are distributed. Onwas, as camp elder, is handed the greatest delicacy: the head.