In the outskirts of the city of Abuja, the capital of Nigeria is a shantytown that cradles the controversial group of men in the country. No, they’re not gangsters. They are not criminals or rapists or terrorists.
Locally known as Gadawan Kura, which translates to hyena handlers or hyena guides, these men have been passing from generations to generations the practice of taking care of the hyenas. Something that has become a part of their tradition.
Tied and muzzled, the men care for the hyenas and other wild animals such as rock pythons and baboons. Most people for a very long time linked this kind of work to negative exercises like robbery, drug dealing. Others say the men work as body guards and debt collectors. But in reality, the wild animals they tame are sold to richer families “this is out work and we will continue doing it,” Baba Mohammed said. He is a head trainer in the area. “We use the money to survive,” he added.
These wild animals are kept in the shantytown as if they’re keeping dogs and cats. If not roaming around, they are tied in posts. Children become exposed to these creatures from the very start thus, passing the practice never become difficult.
Aisha Mohammed is Baba’s wife, and they have a young son who is being trained to be a handler. As early as infant years, kids start to interact with snakes, with the guidance of adults. Through time, they move from one animal to another, most end up caring and training hyenas.
The hyena men may be surrounded with myths, but they continue this tradition anyway. For them, and fr the may fascinated with it, it is something precious an sacred. With the help of the medicine they start to take during their childhood years, the animals do not harm them. These Nigerians believe this certain medicine that they share with the wild animals is the one that guides them to doing their jobs right. “We drink the medicine before we go, then we can go and catch them [animals]. We give the animals medicine to drink too,” said Baba.
He and his wife also started to give the medicine to their young child, knowing that sooner than later, he will inherit his father’s work. He may be a young child now, but in time, he will become head of the hyena trainers.