“Hyena’s Horns” shared with us by Marcus R. Baynes-Rock

Adapted from: Werner 1968 Myths and Legends of the Bantu

Hyena was wandering around the forest, looking for bits of food to eat when he noticed Kudu walking along. Hyena ran up alongside Kudu and asked where she was going.
Kudu replied, ‘Haven’t you heard? There’s a big party, today, at the other side of the forest. Drumming, dancing, and all the food you can eat.’
‘Oh boy! Oh boy!’ said Hyena, ‘Can I come? Can I? Can I?’
‘Sorry’, replied Kudu, ‘This party is only for horned animals like me. Maybe next time.’
And Kudu went on her way leaving Hyena feeling dejected.

Hyena resumed his search for food, finding nothing but a few grubs, when he noticed Eland walking along.
‘Where are you going?’ asked Hyena.
‘There’s a big party today at the other side of the forest,’ replied Eland, ‘Dancing, beer and all you can eat.’ and after seeing the plea in Hyena’s eyes, continued, ‘Sorry chum. Horned animals only.’ And went on his way.

Hyena was feeling more dejected than ever when he tripped and stumbled on a lump in the grass. He turned to curse the lump but realised it was a pair of old gazelle horns half buried in the ground and, seeing these, Hyena had a moment of inspiration. He found some beeswax and softened it and then used it to stick the horns to the top of his head. Then feeling quite confident and handsome, he set off for the party at the other side of the forest.
When Hyena arrived at the party, he found Buffalo was at the entrance and approached very nervously. But Buffalo never even gave him a second glance and, before he knew it, Hyena was in amongst the horned animals having the time of his life. He scoffed as much food as he could and swilled beer to his stomach’s content. He danced and played drums and entertained everyone there with his antics.

But as the day wore on and the sun rose higher in the sky, the wax that was holding the horns on Hyena’s head began to melt. Hyena felt the horns slipping and grabbed at them calling out to all the other animals, ‘Hey guys, guys! Hold on to your horns or they’ll fall off in the heat of the sun!’

The music stopped and the horned animals all turned to look at Hyena desperately trying to keep the horns from falling off his head. Then as one they charged the hapless hyena and chased him out of the party and into the forest where he spent the rest of the day alone, licking termites from the top of a termite mound. Poor Hyena.


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, my favourite Hyena story, is so very typical of Hyena in African folktales: the trickster, who by his own stupidity ends up in the soup. Hyena is the tricked trickster, sometimes acting alone and getting himself in trouble or at other times, in the company of a clever trickster such as Rabbit or Tortoise or Spider, either of which profits at Hyena’s expense. But the above story appeals to me because it reminds me of the real life hyena (specifically Tukwondilli if truth be told) and you can see where the story tellers get their inspiration. Hyenas are goofballs. So many times in Harar I’ve watched hyenas stumble and trip and bump into things and in the rainy season when the flagstones of the streets are wet, it’s like watching slapstick. And even when hyenas aren’t tripping, the way their heads bob from side to side when they walk is comical. So when you see one of these goofballs, ambling along with his nose to the ground, whooping and looking for food its easy to come up with a story like the above.

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