The Hyena Men of Nigeria

Pieter Hugo made headlines years ago with his compelling images of Hyena Men, a group of traveling performers from Lagos, Nigeria, who use wild animals as a part of their act. The performers are made up of a group of men and a little girl who are all related to each other and who use use three hyenas, four monkeys, and a few rock pythons as a part of their show to sell traditional medicines. The South African photographer traveled with the group for 2 years to capture images of the animal handlers and the intriguing love-hate relationship between them and the wild animals. There are times when the men are affectionate to the wild animals while cruel and abusive at other times. When Hugo asked locals what they thought of the men using animals in their act, no one even batted an eye. Instead, they took that time to bring up the issue of being able to survive in their bleak economy. “Europeans invariably only ask about the welfare of the animals but this question misses the point,” Hugo says. “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.”

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Mallam Mantari Lamal with Mainasara,Nigeria 2005. (Photo by Pieter Hugo)

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