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.
As you know from the previous post, the BBC were recently in Harar filming the hyenas for the One Planet series. In addition to the three way clan war and the goings on at the Sofi feeding place (which is now halfway to the garbage dump), the producer noticed some interesting things at the main market. One was this old clapped out female who went nightly to the main market looking for food. Apparently all the Aboker hyenas deferred to her as if she was the queen of the hyenas but she was never once at the Aboker feeding place. I doubt she was foregoing the feeding place in favour of the market because the feeding kicks off at 6pm while the hyenas don’t normally hit the market until about 10pm due to the crowds. So I wish I could find out more about this hyena-queen. The other bit of information, and this is even more fascinating, is that the producer thinks that a hyena had some cubs in a niche inside the Old Town. He saw the female entering the niche and on passing by, he heard what he thought was cubs, but didn’t stop to look because he didn’t want to draw attention to the place – for obvious reasons. This is really interesting because crowds of people pass by that spot daily, and some throw rubbish into the niche, so it would take a lot of nerve for a hyena and her cubs to stay there. I’m guessing/hoping that by now that they’ve moved house and established a den outside the town where the other Abokers have theirs. Otherwise you can add to the permanent population of Harar, one female hyena and her cubs living in a magical hole where food flies in through the entrance daily.
An ideal place to raise hyenas
Don’t even think about it
For all of us hyena apprecionados, there’s a new book available in the Reaktion Animal Series about our otherwise maligned friends. Mikita Brottman wrote this one and included all four species of the hyena family (spotted, striped, brown, and aardwolf). After an account of the evolution and biology of hyenas, the really meaty part of the book is an unnatural history. We begin with prehistory, and the 32,000 year old painting of a spotted hyena in Chauvet cave in France. From there we skip to classical times (they were notoriously poor record keepers in the Neolithic period) and accounts from Greek and Roman geographers and natural historians. Hyenas make appearances in all manner of medieval bestiaries, Victorian zoos, sideshows and pop culture. And then there is all the mythology and folklore of hyenas in Africa. Really you could write volumes on this subject but given such limited space, Mikita does really well. Throughout, she askes the question of why it is that hyenas are so feared, loathed and despised by so many, even people with little experience of these animals? I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in hyenas and their cultural representations (and not just because I was given a free copy!). And it must have cost a bundle to get permissions for all the great images. My favourite is a copperplate engraving from 1775 of a spotted hyena (page 60), supposedly looking dastardly and voracious, but to me looking like he just ate a lemon.