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THE ONTOGENY OF HYENA REPRESENTATIONS AMONG THE HARARI PEOPLE OF ETHIOPIA

  • Marcus Baynes-Rock
Abstract

Employing a theoretical framework developed by ecologist Paul Shepard, I explore here the ways in which Harari people's representations of spotted hyenas develop in tandem with their ontogenesis. The Harari word for hyena, waraba, takes on different meanings depending on the socialization of Harari individuals and the particular life stages of these persons. In early childhood, waraba is a terrifying beast of the imagination. As children mature, their initial conceptions are overturned as they learn that local hyenas are in fact peaceful; it is the hyenas from beyond Harar's borders whom they learn to fear. Throughout and beyond middle childhood, representations of hyenas are employed in folktales, songs, chants and idioms to represent other humans while at the same time reflecting an engagement with the local hyenas. The representations culminate in the conception of Derma Sheikh: the reliable, protective, religious hyena who shares the same interest in peace and security as the Hararis. In Harar, representations of hyenas reflect an attention to what hyenas do ‘out there’ in the streets and in the surrounding farmland. They speak of a level of engagement with hyenas as persons: one that is atypical of an ‘urbanized, industrialized’ society.

S’appuyant sur un cadre théorique développé par l’écologiste Paul Shepard, l’auteur explore le parallélisme des modes de développement des représentations de la hyène tachetée chez les Harari et leur ontogénèse. Le mot harari pour hyène, waraba, prend des sens différents selon la socialisation des individus harari et le stade de vie de ces personnes. Dans la petite enfance, waraba est une bête terrifiante sortie de l’imagination. Lorsque les enfants grandissent, ils reviennent sur leur conception initiale en apprenant que les hyènes locales sont en fait paisibles ; ils apprennent alors à craindre les hyènes qui se trouvent à l’extérieur d’Harar. Tout au long de la moyenne enfance et au-delà, des représentations de la hyène servent dans les contes populaires, les chansons, les chants et les idiomes à représenter d’autres humains tout en reflétant une interaction avec les hyènes locales. Ces représentations sont à leur paroxysme dans la conception de Derma Sheikh : la hyène religieuse protectrice et fiable qui partage le même intérêt pour la paix et la sécurité que les Harari. À Harar, les représentations de la hyène reflètent un intérêt pour ce que font les hyènes « là-dehors » dans les rues et sur les terres cultivées environnantes. Elles parlent d’un niveau d’interaction avec les hyènes en tant que personnes, un niveau atypique d’une société « urbanisée et industrialisée ».

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Africa
  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
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