HAPPY PORTRAIT MONDAY!
|Pieter Hugo, Abdullahi Mohammed with Mainasara, Ogere-Remo, Nigeria, 2007|
The Hyena Men is a series of portraits by Pieter Hugo featuring a group of wild animal handlers in Nigeria.
Writing about the project, Hugo states that they "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. The animal handlers were all related to each other and were practising a tradition passed down from generation to generation. I spent eight days travelling with them.
The spectacle caused by this group walking down busy market streets was overwhelming. I tried photographing this but failed, perhaps because I wasn’t interested in their performances. I realised that what I found fascinating was the hybridisation of the urban and the wild, and the paradoxical relationship that the handlers have with their animals - sometimes doting and affectionate, sometimes brutal and cruel. I started looking for situations where these contrasting elements became apparent. I decided to concentrate on portraits. I would go for a walk with one of the performers, often just in the city streets, and, if opportunity presented itself, take a photograph."
Reporter Adetokunbo Abiola, through whom Hugo contacted the group, describes the process of capturing and taming a wild hyena as one of "herbs, concoctions, powders, amulets and esoteric incantations. When setting out on an expedition to capture a hyena, Abdullahi and his partners drink a protective potion and also bathe themselves with it. They travel to the caves and forests of northern Nigeria accompanied by hunting dogs which assist in sniffing out the animals. The young men use a powerful torch to light their way through the darkness, believing that the potion they drank has made them invisible to the animal. At the entrance to the animal’s lair, they chant incantations and blow clouds of white powder, a traditional African tranquiliser, at its face, rendering it senseless and easy to subdue. Sometimes, the powerful light from the hyena’s eyes might damage the bulb of the torch, but the men eventually have their way.
After bringing the animal out of the cave,’ said one of the handlers, ‘it will fight, since it’s not familiar with humans. A traditional medicine is administered to its body so it automatically becomes obedient to us. It begins to obey all our commands.’
The animal is subjected to one or two months of training. It must learn to live alongside other animals and humans, and to engage in different kinds of play without becoming violent. In return, the handlers feed the hyenas with scraps purchased from abattoirs (a goat every three days or so helps prevent the animals becoming aggressive). Maintaining good relations with the animals, said Abdullahi, requires both skill and tact."
Read and see more on Pieter Hugo's website.