“Hyena Tales” shared with us by Marcus R. Baynes-Rock

Three boys were walking together in the forest when they met with Hyena. They were very frightened and Hyena asked them, “Whose protection are you under?”

The first boy answered, “I am under the protection of God”
The second boy answered, “I am under the protection of the Earth”
And the third boy answered, “I am under your protection”

Hyena looked at the boys and said, “If I eat you who is protected by God, wherever I go I may not escape Him. So you I shall not kill. If I eat you who is protected by the Earth, then where on Earth will I find a place to hide? So I shall not eat you. And you who has put yourself under my protection. If I eat you, you will be protected inside my belly. Come!” And Hyena killed and ate the third boy.


This story was collected and shared with us by Marcus R. Baynes-Rock. Marcus is an Australian anthropologist and a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Anthropology. His academic interests lie in the relationships between humans and large carnivores, including these relationships throughout evolutionary history. Marcus’ research has led him to Ethiopia where he studied the unusual relationship between people and spotted hyenas in the ancient city of Harar, which is the subject of his recent book, Among the Bone Eaters (Penn State University Press, 2015).

Notes on the story from Hyenas in Harar: This is one kind of portrayal of Hyena in Harar. Simply a dangerous animal who eats little boys. But what’s really interesting (for an anthropologist) is that Hyena outwits the boy and ends up getting a meal. This Hyena is nothing like Daffy Duck; she thinks things through and using her wits. Another portrayal is in a story of Donkey and Hyena where Donkey happens upon a funeral, where Hyena is grieving for her dead son. Donkey is full of fatuous condolences and Hyena ends up using them against Donkey and eating him. I only have six Harari folktales that include Hyena but its interesting here that Hyena is rarely portrayed as stupid. More often Hyena is a thief or is dangerous or, most interesting of all, is simply a member of Harari society. Like I always say, Harar is different.

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Adapted from: Werner 1968 Myths and Legends of the Bantu…
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