Wednesday, March 10, 2010

We have moved

I've decided to relocate this blog to
The new site will have a gallery with pics of your favourite hyenas.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How to hoover the unseen

The oowooping sound that Shebo was making in the last post (if you were able to download the video) has an added dimension to the ecological explanation that is given for why they make the sound. As I said, in ecological terms, the oowoop is a kind of ‘I’m here’ message. Although I’ve seen a hyena making this noise, combined with a protest yell, after it was chased off its food by a higher ranking hyena. In which case it’s also a way of saying ‘I’m here and I’m indignant that that bloody bossy hyena over there took a bone from me’. But, in terms of local tradition, the hyenas, when they make this sound, are actually sucking jinn (In Islam, beings that exist unseen in the human world) from the ground. According to my sources, there are good and bad jinn in Harar and they are all pervasive, with the bad ones occasionally possessing people. And this is where the hyenas come in. They serve the town by locating and eating the bad jinn and maybe mistakenly eating the odd good one. While humans can only occasionally see jinn, hyenas see them all the time and will chase and eat them at every opportunity. In fact it’s been suggested that a hyena attacking a person could well be a case of a hyena attacking a jinni that has possessed a person. So presumably, the ‘oo’ sound is the hyena sucking the jinn from the ground, and the ‘woop’ is the point at which it enters the hyena’s stomach, the tomb of the jinn. But it goes even further. After a hyena has eaten a jinni it vomits the jinni’s remains, be they fingernails (sometimes with fingers attached), hair, or if the jinni has been digested properly, gold and jewels. Hence if you find a hyena’s cave and look around inside you might be lucky to find gold and jewels that the occupant has regurgitated onto the cave floor. If you’re a biologist you’ll feel lucky just finding the hairballs, because you can analyse them and see what the hyena has recently eaten.
Now, even though spotted hyenas have been known of outside of Africa since the time of Aristotle, there’s no mention of them in the Quran or the Haddiths so it’s likely that this belief - that hyenas can eat unseen spirits - dates back to the earlier, probably animistic beliefs of the Harla people; the predecessors of the Hararis. So you see, hyenas serve a double role in Harar. First, they clear the streets of any food scraps that people might have left lying around and second, they clear the town of any Jinn that happen to have entered. So if you happen to live in Harar - or even if you’re just visiting – and you hear a knock at your door in the middle of the night… don’t answer it; it’s most probably a jinni being chased by a hyena.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sounds of Shebo

There’s a folk tale from here in Harar where Donkey is mourning Hyena’s dead son and says, rather insincerely, ‘Oh Hyena. No matter how far you are, your voice is always near. Why did your son desert you so?’
The ‘voice’ that donkey is referring to is the oowoop sound that hyenas make in the night. They can be across the other side of town but the sound seems to be coming from right outside the house. And each hyena’s oowoop is not only unique, but pretty easily recognisable if only you pay attention. This is video of Shebo – with wire still around her neck – making her oowoop. She makes the noise with nose to the ground, probably to get the most out of the reverberation, and she adds a trill to her oowoop, which may or may not be because of the wire tightening around her neck. But it’s always nice to hear it at night and know that she’s still kicking. I managed to find a vet at Haramaya University who said he has the capability to come and sedate her and remove the wire, but I’m having trouble mobilising him. Fingers crossed