News / Africa

Ethiopia's 'Hyena Men' Talk to the Animals

Adam Mohamad, a butcher is not a "hyena man," but like many Hararis, he feels close to the animals and will feed them by hand if they come to his shop.
Adam Mohamad, a butcher is not a "hyena man," but like many Hararis, he feels close to the animals and will feed them by hand if they come to his shop.
Heather Murdock

The countryside surrounding Harar, an ancient walled city in eastern Ethiopia, is dense with hyenas.  The people of Harar say hyenas are not dangerous scavengers; they are a regular part of society. 

Salamo Fantan reaches into a straw basket for strips of raw goat meat, and calls the wild hyenas by name.  He tosses the meat to some animals, which look like large brown dogs with razor sharp teeth and black jowls.  Others approach Salamo and take the meat from his hand, or off a stick in his mouth.  A few tourists take pictures, lighting the feeding with the headlights of their taxis.

Across town, Youseff Mume Saleh feeds another family of hyenas with his hands and with his mouth.  He says the show goes on with or without the tourists.  Feeding the hyenas is a family tradition and a spiritual calling.  He says he speaks to the hyenas, and they communicate with him.

When bad news is coming, he says, the hyenas cry.  It is hard to find a Harari person skeptical of this claim.

The 'hyena men' of Harar, an ancient city in eastern Ethiopia, call the animals by name, and feed them goat meat with their hands or from sticks in their mouths.
The 'hyena men' of Harar, an ancient city in eastern Ethiopia, call the animals by name, and feed them goat meat with their hands or from sticks in their mouths.

Youseff says the Harari hyenas protect the city from other hyena packs, known to attack children and livestock because they are not well-cared for by their human neighbors.  He also says the animals serve as a kind of almanac, predicting the city's prosperity or suffering.

Every year, Muslims in this historically Islamic city gather to celebrate Ashura, the Islamic new year.  Hyenas always attend the celebration and are offered a special porridge.  If the coming year will be good, they dine.  If the year will bring hardship, the hyenas refuse to eat.

The wife of one of the sheiks who hosts the annual event, Kadiga Ali, says the last time the hyenas refused to eat was 2005.  That year hyenas in the nearby countryside killed two children, and some cows.

A butcher who sells lamb and goat meat, Adam Mohamad, says the Harari relationship with the hyenas goes far beyond the spiritual.  Holes near the gates of the walled city, which is more than 1,000 years old, drain rain water out, and allow hyenas to enter at night, to clean up the city garbage.

Adam also says local hyenas have excellent memories and will seek revenge on humans that harm them or their families.  When they come around his store at night, Adam holds strips of meat in hands for the animals to eat.  One day one of his neighbors got annoyed and threw a stone at a hyena.  In retaliation, the hyena ate one of the man's sheep.

But its not just spirituality, superstition and practicality that tie the Harari people to their neighbor hyenas.  It is also friendship.  The "hyena men" acknowledge that they feed the animals to make money from tourists, and to prevent attacks on goats, sheep and cows.  But, they say, if there were no tourists, and there was no danger to the livestock, they would still feed the animals.  More than pets or neighbors, these men say, the hyenas are their family.

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid