Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Harar hyenas

Hyenas walk the streets of Harar, Ethiopia - and the people are not afraid. A man named Youseff Mume Saleh (2nd image) draws an international crowd each night feeding hyenas scraps of goat, donkey, or camel meat. The tips from the tourists help feed his family of 9, but he does not do it for the money, and supposedly neither does the other "Hyena Man" Salamo Fantan (3rd image). Saleh has given the animals names - "Funyamure" and "Tukwondilli" - and knows their personalities. Journalist Kate Linchicum recently describes, "Saleh leaps around the yard flinging scraps into waiting mouths. He uses his body to block the aggressive hyenas so those that have not yet eaten can get their share. He teases the shy ones, forcing them to come close and pull the meat from his mouth. When he’s out of meat, the spectators shove off and the hyena man shoos the animals into the shadows to finish off their meal. A call rings out from the nearby mosque, beckoning the faithful to evening prayer. Then all that is heard is the ring of cicadas and the crunch of bones."

Hyenas are villains in most Ethiopean villages, including Maalka Raafu, where the humans and the animals have a deadly antagonistic relationship. In contrast, even the children of Harar are unafraid of the beasts, comparing them to dogs and cats. In exchange for the nightly feedings, the Harar hyenas do not attack the residents or their livestock, and fend off other packs of hyenas. "One must know them and understand them, then nothing will happen." says the Hyena Man. The tradition is said to have begun 200 years ago during a famine, when the hyenas were discouraged from marauding the city and eating its inhabitants by offering them porridge. Later, city leaders made holes in the surrounding gates to allow the hyenas access to the community's garbage. In the 1960s, a farmer began to give them food to keep them away from his livestock. Now during the annual Muslim festival of Ashura, the city celebrates the truce negotiated so many years ago. Offerings of porridge and butter are set out for the hyenas at Harar's many shrines. As we do on Groundhog Day, the people see the animals' reaction as predicting the new year. Clearing their plates, signifies a coming drought; spurning the food indicates danger; and eating most, but not all, of the food suggests a prosperous year. Saleh plans to train his son Abbas to carry on the tradition, which will ensure the continued safety of his family - and the town.

1 comment:

  1. This article brought a smile to my face. ^-^
    It makes me happy to see that instead of making things a fight, an "Us" vs. "Them", the villagers looked for a better way, and that there is a mutually beneficial relationship now.
    Hopefully, other villages will take their success to heart & perhaps try something along these lines.


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