When Pieter Hugo received a picture from a friend of men walking around with Hyenas attached to chains, he was mortified. How could someone do this to an animal he thought? The paper who published the photo he was sent claimed the pictures were taken in the streets of Lagos. It also accused the men of being bank robbers, body guards, drug dealers, and debt collectors. Hugo was speechless. How could these people be allowed to commit such heinous animal abuse crimes right out in public? He decided to travel to Lagos and see what was going on for himself. After getting there however, he realized that not everything was as it appeared. The story behind the photo was far more interesting, and more human than he ever thought possible.
This is the photo that started Hugo’s incredible journey across the world. He wanted to investigate the men who walked around the streets of Lagos with Hyenas and other animals on chains. When the photos was first sent to him, it was stated that the men who do this were violent criminals.
Hugo was then educated as to what these men actually were. They are known as Gadawan Kura, which roughly translated means “Hyena handlers/trainers.” When he met them, they were living in a shantytown on the outskirts of a village.
The living situation was quite unique. There was a group of men, a little girl, three hyenas, four monkeys and a few rock pythons all living together.
Hugo decided to accompany the group on their travels for the next 8 days. In that time he learned that they weren’t in fact the violent criminals they were made out to be. They were actually just simple traveling entertainers who would wow crowds with their animal performances. They also sell traditional medicine.
He also learned that this is how generations of their people before them have made a living. They were simply practicing a cultural tradition.
Hugo said that they caused a huge scene when they would walk down the street. The atmosphere would instantly change when they made their presence known.
Most people (me included) when they see these photos, they automatically jump to the well-being of the animal. Hugo is quick to point out though that these people have permits from the Nigerian government to have these animals as pets. Nigerian citizens aren’t quite as concerned with the well-being of the animals, as they are the survival of the humans.
“Europeans invariably only ask about the welfare of the animals but this question misses the point,” says Hugo. “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.”
His hard-hitting questions, along with the provocative photography has gotten people talking about the real issues facing this country.
Hugo’s photographs are sure to keep turning heads, as are these men as long as they are around.
More info: Pieter Hugo
This is definitely a very unique practice. I have some reservations about the use of animals like this. I personally don’t think that any wild animal should be kept as a pet. Especially big cats and dogs. These animals are designed to exist in the wild, not to be controlled by human hands. I’m all for keeping your culture alive, but there are some things that need to be cast aside in the world we live in now. On the other hand however, this is probably the only way these people have to make a living, and survival is always the ultimate goal. No matter what side you are on, these pictures are incredibly thought-provoking and they seem to be starting a conversation that is desperately needed.