Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pieter Hugo: Hyena Men

Photograph © Pieter Hugo-All Rights Reserved

Here's an unusual subject matter through the lenses of photographer Pieter Hugo, who documented Nigerian men who stroll the streets of Lagos with hyenas and other wild animals. Nigerian newspapers usually claim that these men are bank robbers, bodyguards, drug dealers, and debt collectors.

He eventually traveled to Benin City in Nigeria, and met with the Gadawan Kura as they are known in Hausa (a rough translation: 'hyena handlers/guides'). After a while, he discovered that these people were essentially itinerant minstrels, performers who used the animals to entertain crowds and sell traditional medicines. They also hold permits from the Nigerian government to keep these animals.

Pieter writes this in his interesting background essay: "Europeans invariably only ask about the welfare of the animals but this question misses the point. Instead, perhaps, we could ask why these performers need to catch wild animals to make a living. Or why they are economically marginalized. Or why Nigeria, the world's sixth largest exporter of oil, is in such a state of disarray.

Pieter Hugo

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