Apr 30, 2012
In 2005, photojournalist Pieter Hugo saw a cellphone pic of a group of men in Lagos, Nigeria walking down the street with chained hyenas. The picture intrigued him enough to track them down and eventually go visit them…
In Abuja we found them living on the periphery of the city in a shantytown – a group of men, a little girl, three hyenas, four monkeys and a few rock pythons. It turned out that they were a group of itinerant minstrels, performers who used the animals to entertain crowds and sell traditional medicines. The animal handlers were all related to each other and were practising a tradition passed down from generation to generation. I spent eight days travelling with them.
Hugo says reactions to his work have ranged from the same curiosity he originally felt to outright revulsion — must often revulsion at the treatment of the animals. But…
When I asked Nigerians, “How do you feel about the way they treat animals”, the question confused people. Their responses always involved issues of economic survival. Seldom did anyone express strong concern for the well-being of the creatures.
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 marginalised. Or why Nigeria, the world’s sixth largest exporter of oil, is in such a state of disarray.
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