It’s a happy day for me today as my book on Harar’s hyenas is finally out. Penn State University Press were originally going to publish a revised version of my dissertation – all academic reading, and dry enough to kill mould – but then they had a meeting. They decided that the subject deserved a more accessible book for a general audience and asked me if I could come up with an entirely new manuscript. Two years and many long days/nights of writing later and Among the Bone Eaters is out. I’m very excited about this book and not just because I put so much work into it. It also gave me a chance to revisit my time in Harar and foreground the human and hyena characters, much as I’ve done here. I was also fortunate that Elizabeth Marshall Thomas agreed to write a foreword which for me is an honour beyond measure. And Suzanne Wolk, Nigel Rothfels, and Kendra Boileau provided the best guidance imaginable for which I’m forever grateful.
If you’re familiar with this blog and come to read my book I should explain some inconsistencies with hyenas’ named used. The hyena known here as Jalla is named in the book as Kamareya. The reason for this difference is that Yusuf the hyena man and his son Abbas often gave the same hyenas different names. Abbas called this hyena Jalla while Yusuf called him Kamareeya. I prefer the latter because, as I found out, it means ‘Like the Moon.’ I’ve also spelled Bebe in the book as Baby because this is closer to the correct pronunciation. Deraltu is named in the book as Koti and the young hyena named here as Burisee retains her original name, Fintamurey. This hyena was also called Rimbaud (after French poet Arthur Rimbaud) but that’s a whole other story. Apart from that pretty much everything is as accurate as is my memory. Ahem.
There’s an idiom in Harar which is waraba nasib (hyenas’ luck) and there’s a bit of that flying around this blog at the moment. That’s because right now you can get 30 percent off on a copy of Among the Bone Eaters if you use this order form. I hope you find the inclination to get a copy of this book, whether directly or through your library, and if you enjoy it or not please let me know.
After a conspicuous absence, Koti is back! The dominant female of the Sofi clan has been missing each time that the Aboker hyenas have raided the Sofi feeding place. It’s almost like she feels she doesn’t have enough support from the troops to be able face up to the invaders (and no apologies for using warfare terminology here). This is unsurprising considering the way that those eight Sofi hyenas turned and ran at the appearance of two Aboker hyenas. If Koti was there she would have either had to face up to the Aboker hyenas alone or run off with the others. Or maybe if Koti was there, her underlings would have felt a bit more obligation to stand and fight.
Regardless, she caused a bit of a stir when she showed up at the feeding place the other night. The night began quietly. Jaagi was the only hyena present and the tourists looking on were a bit disappointed. Jaagi was nervous and too afraid to come and take food so Yusuf simply threw the odd scrap in her direction. Then from the direction of the cemetery, an Aboker hyena arrived. Jaagi went across to this individual, sniffed his muzzle and then bolted towards the forest leaving the Aboker hyena to himself. He was king of the feeding place but not for long. Three hyenas arrived, including Willi II and Gurba and the Aboker hyena went into submissive mode. He held back while the other three gave the tourists some excitement; jumping up to take the food Yusuf was holding aloft.
That was when Koti arrived with her entourage. Willi II and Gurba made way for the big female who was really worked up. But she wasn’t so much interested in feeding as she was in rousing the other hyenas. Growling and groaning and with her tail up, she marched around the place with a gaggle of followers all getting very excited. Meanwhile the Aboker hyena had absented himself and I saw him heading up the road towards Aboker territory. I really did think that Koti was going to enlist a bunch of hyenas and take them up the road to the Aboker territory for a settling of scores with the Aboker hyenas. But then, Harar is a funny place and there’s always an extra ingredient thrown into the mix:
While I was on the road watching the Aboker hyena leaving, an Oromo woman came walking down the road and into the Sofi feeding place, muttering to herself. Once at the feeding place, she began shouting at the Sofi hyenas in Oromo. While Koti and her entourage swarmed over to the grassy hill, very much absorbed in their own excitement, The Oromo woman followed after them shouting as she went. She was calling out that she’d done something bad – she’d been unfaithful – but that she wasn’t ashamed. Still, she expected that people would judge and insult her for what she’d done so she had come to the hyenas for help. She yelled out, ‘Hyenas! I want you to attack the people who judge and insult me. Attack them and their children!’ Meanwhile Koti and her followers looked for all the world like they were ready to. The hyenas were heading up the hill behind the feeding place in single file and the woman called after them, ‘Go, you soldiers. Go and attack my enemies’, and before long the hyenas had gone. The night had transmogrified from interesting to bizarre.