The earliest ancestors of man may well have originated in what is
now East Africa, as far back as five - perhaps even eight million
years ago, taking into consideration the recent findings of the
“Tugen Man” in Kenya. Most of this pre-history of mankind is
contained in bones and stones, in middens (dunghills or rubbish
heaps) and museums, in scholarly theories and painstaking
excavations. The history of our ancestors continues to live in
present peoples and cultures.
The most prolonged past of any people of Eastern Africa and the
Horn is that of the hunter-gatherer groups. These groups are not
the survivors of the Stone Age nor are they direct descendants of
an ancestral race once inhabiting parts of East Africa, but are
rather the elements of Stone Age cultures that have survived
through them and their way of life. The hunter-gatherers are not
primitive, but rather the aspects of their technology are – and
in the best meaning of the term: Easy, highly adapted and very
The fact that there was a pre-food-producing population or
hunter-gatherers once inhabiting East Africa is undisputed. Also
indisputable is the fact that a Bushman-type people was once
present, although there are no true Bushmen e.g. in Kenya today.
Quite possibly there were hunter-gatherers of still other stock
also. Kikuyu legends, for instance, talk of pygmies, the Agumba,
living in the forests to which the Kikuyu migrated. But one thing
remains in dispute - where did these people originate from?
Economically, then, hunting and gathering peoples and their
cultures are obviously characterised by exactly what they are
called: hunting and gathering. Although many hunter-gatherers
attempt to herd or cultivate, so that hunting has become a
secondary economic pursuit for them - an addition to other
food-producing pursuits, the inclination to hunt continues to be
strong, but present-day laws make it hard to follow. Keeping bees
and collecting honey is an economic pursuit not hindered by
legislation, and of far more greater value than of economic alone.
The social value of honey is incalculable. The bee and honey are
to the hunter-gatherer what a large stock and milk are to the
herdsman. Even if honey has never constituted more than one-fifth
of their diet, it is the substance which binds the total social
life of hunter-gatherers together in different ways. It is the
gift given at marriage, the pre-eminent element in ritual and a
form of social communication through the process of exchange. That
is also the reason why certain attempts by people and
organizations under the flag to “help”, who start to buy all
the honey and market it, is actually the very way to destroy the
culture of these people.
Although the bands of men are bound by the hunt and the groups of
women are bound by gathering - honey binds them all.
Hunter-gatherers live in loosely organised societies lacking
centralised authority and government. Their attachment to place is
proverbial, yet they have always been mobile and nomadic within
the general bounds of their hunting grounds. Territorial rights to
these grounds broadly “ belong “ to line-ages, so do the
rights to hunting and gathering.
The simplicity of economic and social life is marched by the
simplicity of material culture. Home is a
dome-shaped hut constructed from a frame of sticks and branches
which is thatched with leaves or grass. Bows and arrows, spears,
beehives, honey baskets and pottery are the most characteristic
items of the Hunter-gatherer’s material culture. The pottery
style is distinguished by paired lugs on the rim of bowls and
below the neck of the pots.
One last outstanding cultural characteristic of hunter-gathering
peoples is their adaptability, a manifestation of their capacity
for survival. They adopt the customs, imitate the material culture
their neighbours, don the dress and learn the languages of their
neighbours when it suits them. When it suits them they do it so
well that they may become indistinguishable from their neighbours.
But beneath the assumed identities the people remain hunters at
heart, with a taste for honey on their tongues and senses attuned
to the desiccated bush of the hinterland or to the forest of the