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Dog Magic Of Yoruba Hunters: An article by Ulli Be...

Dog Magic Of Yoruba Hunters: An article by Ulli Beier:

Yoruba dogs are relatively short-legged (like their goats), but attractive and intelligent. When living in Osogbo we bred several generations of them. They tended to be excessively affectionate and attached – as if generations of ‘formal’ relationship with man made them absurdly susceptible to our (European) kind of dog fondling and sentimentality. Yet I began to learn soon that compared to Yoruba hunters I understood very little about the mind of dogs.

The purpose of this article is to relate two incidents that happened with my dogs, which appear to demonstrate the extraordinary power of hunters over dogs. I should like to make clear that I have no explanation to offer for either of the two events, and I merely want to record faithfully what I saw and experienced. Both incidents happened in Osogbo in the early 1960s.

Tantolorun was probably the most beautiful and sensitive dog we ever had living in our house. She was a very sensitive and very gentle dog. She had never shown the slightest aggressiveness, not even when she had pups. But there was one person at whom she growled threateningly every time he entered the house. He was an elderly priest of Oya, who seemed to have lost his following, and at whose shrine little or no activity went on. He was, however, a very knowledgeable man and we enjoyed talking to him. He passed our house often and usually dropped in for a few minutes to sit down on our veranda to relax. Tantolorun grew more aggressive towards him as time went on. She not only growled, but barked wildly at him and had to be shut up in a room while the man was around. Her behaviour was inexplicable, but it began to irritate the man more and more, and he threatened not to visit us any more unless we could manage to control the dog.

Some of our friends offered an explanation: they said that the priest liked to eat dog meat, and that because of this he often performed the annual sacrifice for a group of Ogun worshippers in Osogbo. They suggested that the dog sensed his perverse attitude to dogs and that her uncontrollable anger stemmed from that. Whatever the real cause, we could not control her and our friend became more and more annoyed. He finally declared he was not going to enter our house again. [] Much though we regretted the situation, there was nothing we could do about it.

Unfortunately, however, the incident was not closed. Tantolorun seemed to hate the old man so much, that even when he was passing our house on the street, she would rush out and bark at him, pursuing him a few yards down the street. One day she even started to tug at his long flowing agbada with her teeth. Infuriated, the priest shouted that if the dog did it again, he would have to ‘put medicine’ on her. The very next day the dog rushed out again and this time the priest turned round, speaking incantations at her. The effect was curious. The dog cringed and withdrew. She tried to bark, but could not. She appeared to have lost her voice. He followed her back to the house and said: “This is nothing. It is just to show you that I am serious. If she does it again tomorrow, I will really have to use some strong words.” He left angrily.

Unfortunately, the dog did not understand the warning. She had recovered from her strange state soon after the old man left. The very next day she rushed out again barking and tried to grab the priest’s agbada. Angrily, the priest turned and spoke his incantations. The dog fled back into the house. But this time she did not recover. Instead she behaved in the most frightening manner. She rolled her eyes, snarled at everybody and foam appeared in her mouth. We could not be sure that she had not developed rabies. Even if it weren’t so, it was obvious that in her present mood she would sooner or later attack people. She did not appear to recognize any of us. We quickly evacuated all the people from the house. There were usually a dozen children playing on the ground floor. Then we locked her into the house, and I went to my old friend, the Oluode, the head of the hunters, to ask for help.

I thought we would have to shoot the dog. She may have rabies, I said, and we cannot afford this kind of risk. But the Oluode first wanted to know how it had happened. When he heard the name of the man who had cursed the dog, he simply laughed: “What, him? He doesn’t know anything! He is a mere child in these matters. Don’t worry. I’ll know what to do. Come, let’s go to your house.”

When we reached the house, he took the key, asked me to remain outside, and entered. There was not a sound coming from within. After about ten minutes, the Oluode came out of the house, laughing. The dog followed him, wagging her tail as if nothing had happened.

Tantolorun had no recurrence of her strange behaviour. For a couple of weeks the old priest avoided our house, but when he passed by again, Tantolorun had lost interest in him. I have no explanation. The Oluode said he did not give the dog anything to eat, that all he used was incantations. “

Excerpted from “ The Hunter Thinks the Monkey is Not Wise – the Monkey is Wise, But He has His Own Logic” Essays by Ulli Beier edited by Wole Ogundele (Bayreuth African Studies 59, 2001)

Horst Ulrich Beier, known as Ulli Beier (30 July 1922 – 3 April 2011), was a German Jewish editor, writer and scholar, who had a pioneering role in developing literature, drama and poetry in Nigeria, as well as literature, drama and poetry in Papua New Guinea. (Wikipedia).

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