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There are things I envy about the Hadza—mostly, how free they appear to be. Free from possessions. Free of most social duties. Free from religious strictures. Free of many family responsibilities. Free from schedules, jobs, bosses, bills, traffic, taxes, laws, news, and money. Free from worry. Free to burp and fart without apology, to grab food and smoke and run shirtless through the thorns.

But I could never live like the Hadza. Their entire life, it appears to me, is one insanely committed camping trip. It's incredibly risky. Medical help is far away. One bad fall from a tree, one bite from a black mamba snake, one lunge from a lion, and you're dead. Women give birth in the bush, squatting. About a fifth of all babies die within their first year, and nearly half of all children do not make it to age 15. They have to cope with extreme heat and frequent thirst and swarming tsetse flies and malaria-­laced mosquitoes.

The days I spent with the Hadza altered my perception of the world. They instilled in me something I call the "Hadza effect"—they made me feel calmer, more attuned to the moment, more self-sufficient, a little braver, and in less of a constant rush. I don't care if this sounds maudlin: My time with the Hadza made me happier. It made me wish there was some way to prolong the reign of the hunter-gatherers, though I know it's almost certainly too late.

It was my body, more than anything, that let me know it was time to leave the bush. I was bitten and bruised and sunburned and stomach­achy and exhausted. So, after two weeks, I told everyone in camp I had to go.

There was little reaction. The Hadza are not sentimental like that. They don't do extended goodbyes. Even when one of their own dies, there is not a lot of fuss. They dig a hole and place the body inside. A generation ago, they didn't even do that—they simply left a body out on the ground to be eaten by hyenas. There is still no Hadza grave marker. There is no funeral. There's no service at all, of any sort. This could be a person they had lived with their entire life. Yet they just toss a few dry twigs on top of the grave. And they walk away. 

Michael Finkel reported on Islam in Indonesia for our October issue. Award-winning photographer Martin Schoeller is best known for his close-up portraits.
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