The art of recognising war

Recall in the previous post, I mentioned a number of hyenas who were missing and said that it was somewhat meaningful. Well, here’s why: On Tuesday, the nightly feeding had finished and I was sitting inside Yusuf’s house with the family when I heard a commotion outside. It was hyena commotion: growling, lowing and groaning; the kinds of noises hyenas make when they’re being aggressive or territorial. I went out into the darkness and saw the silhouettes of several hyenas running up the road towards Argobberi. They were very aroused – tails up, manes bristling and strutting the way that aggressive hyenas do. Running after them, I thought that the Sofi hyenas were about to confront the Aboker hyenas at the territorial boundary at Argobberi, as with a previous incident. I had to catch up and take footage of one of these rare incidents. But at about halfway up the road, the hyenas turned around and charged back towards the Sofi feeding place. I followed them down and arrived at the shrine where Abbas was standing, and he said to me in Harari, ‘Did you see that Marcus! Aboker hyena!’ I tried to make out which hyena it was that the others were being so aggressive towards and wondered if I was about to see an Aboker hyena torn to pieces at the Sofi feeding place. But then it dawned on me. In Harari, the singular term for hyenas is used as often, if not more often, than the plural, and Abbas was in fact saying ‘Aboker hyenas!’ Plural! All of the hyenas who had charged down the road and were now swarming all over the ground at the Sofi feeding place were Aboker hyenas. It was a raid!

These Aboker hyenas are really something else. The guy who feeds them compels them to be very bold, or else they don’t get food, so they are really audacious in the presence of humans – even unfamiliar ones. They didn’t even flinch when I went to the outside of the compound and stood among them listening to some Sofi hyenas whooping in the distance. What’s more, three hyenas marched on into Yusuf’s compound and started stealing bits of meat from one of the food buckets. It was all Yusuf’s girls could do to chase them off. Abbas was giving a commentary as all this was happening. He pointed out how big these Aboker hyenas are – they are bloody big – and how the two high-ranking females of the Sofi clan, Koti and Chaltu, were nowhere to be seen. It was really something remarkable to see so many of the enemy in the core feeding area of the Sofi clan and I actually felt a little indignant about this invasion.

But then it got more interesting. Abbas said that these Aboker hyenas have in fact invaded the Sofi territory on several occasions in the last three months. And there has apparently been some serious fighting. Tukwondilli disappeared after being badly wounded and I’ve counted four hyenas with limps. One of these, Borrocha is in fact so badly injured that he will probably die, and if not he will at least lose a leg. And I wonder how many of the missing hyenas I mentioned in the last post, went the same way as Tukwondilli. Something is happening in terms of power relations between the two provisioned clans of Harar. It looks like the Sofi clan is very weak at the moment. Very few of the big females remain and those who do, apparently have insufficient confidence to defend their territory. Does this spell the end of Sofi control over their own feeding place? And what about the Aboker hyenas? How would they divide their time between two different places where feeding occurs simultaneously? I’ve often balked at the accepted term for hyena interclan-disputes: ‘clan war’. It’s a strong term for what’s often a lot of innocuous posturing without any dramatic change resulting. But in this case I think it applies.

Borrocha Injured

Borrocha with an injured leg and part of his face missing

From video: Two Aboker hyenas in front of the shrine at the Sofi feeding place

From video: Two Aboker hyenas in front of the shrine at the Sofi feeding place

Advertisements