Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Hyena & Other Men by Pieter Hugo

'The Hyena & the Other Men' series by South African photographer, Pieter Hugo depicts Nigeria's controversial hyena handlers in a remarkable way.

After a friend emailed Hugo a photograph of the handlers taken with a camera phone and similar images in a South African newspaper, he became determined to find out more about them. With the help of a Nigerian reporter, Adetokunbo Ademola, the handlers were tracked down in a shanty town in the outskirts of Abuja.

For eight days, Hugo travelled with these extraordinary handlers, to understand their lifestyle and find truth to the numerous myths surrounding their existence.
Popularly known across Nigeria as the 'Gadawan Kura' (hyena handlers), this unique group have been ostracized from society for many generations. The general belief in the Northern part of Nigeria is that they are armed robbers, debt collectors and drug dealers who use traditional medicine.
In reality, the Gadawan Kura people are similar to members of a Circus, travelling around the country, performing various acts. The difference being, the star elephants, horses and lions are hyenas, bamboos and monkeys. There is no big show with bright lights and fancy dressed circus girls, but bewildered and excited crowds in little market places and villages.

With much amazement, Hugo describes the relationship between the handlers and the animals as 'paradoxical'. Sometimes the handlers are 'doting and affectionate' with the animals. While other times, they are 'brutal and cruel' says Hugo in his personal account of his experiences.

I've been an avid fan of Hugo's work since his Nollywood series. I admire his innovation and daring creativity. My favourite photograph from the series is the third photograph of the little girl lying on top of the hyena. The beautiful juxtaposition of her peaceful face and the hyena's frightening growl is utterly remarkable.
For more of Pieter Hugo's work, click here.