Thursday, May 19, 2016

Speaking of Hyenas

A Fascinating Look at the Hyena Men of Nigeria

Known to the locals on the streets of Lagos as the Gadawan Kura (rough translation: ‘hyena handlers/guides’) but portrayed by Nigerian press as little more than a group of shady body guards, bank robbers, drug dealers and debt collectors - there has always been a tangible sense of myth and mystery surrounding the existence of "the hyena men of Nigeria".

Their story sparked the curiosity of photographer Pieter Hugo, who boarded a plane to Lagos determined to understand the roots, practices and culture of this fascinating group of individuals.
This is personal story and account of his journey with The Hyena Men of Nigeria.

"In Abuja we found them living on the periphery of the city in a shantytown – a group of men, a little girl, three hyenas, four monkeys and a few rock pythons. It turned out that they were a group of itinerant minstrels, performers who used the animals to entertain crowds and sell traditional medicines." reveals Hugo.

"The animal handlers were all related to each other and were practicing a tradition passed down from generation to generation. I spent eight days traveling with them to take these photos." he reveals.

Below are just some of the captivating images from his travels with the group - visiting them twice in a 3 year period. The photographs & many more are from his book wonderful book The Hyena & Other Men which we highly recommend you seek out.


I ordered a copy of this book today.  (Be warned: the cheapest used copy I could find was about $325.00.)  I'm eagerly looking forward to it.   

After watching the "Faces of Africa" segment (29 min.) below, I was left with a lot of questions.  How happy can the hyenas be, living this life?  It is very easy to be judgemental and see the housing, heavy chains, and handling as cruel.  But what does a happy hyena look like?  

Hyenas are wild animals.  They are not dogs.  In Africa, as elsewhere, the hyena is often seen as a malevolent spiritual and physical creature.  He is ruthlessly destroyed in the pastoral landscape.  Wild places are shrinking. The shows of the Hyena Men may help to change the fate of these creatures.  And looking closely at the pictures above, the animals seem well-fed, as clean as hyenas ever are, and relatively calm - habituated to their circumstances.  

After reading the book, "Among the Bone Eaters," I have learned to see the interaction between hyenas and humans in a different light.  And while I may prefer the free-roaming existence of the hyenas in the town of Harar, it is well not to judge the Hyena Men too quickly.  The hyena, like all top predators in Africa (and the rest of the world) face an inevitable extinction if we do not find ways to co-exist with them.  The hyenas of the Hyena Men and those of the the city of Harar may have a better chance at escaping oblivion than their wild-in-the-wilderness kin.


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