The wild west of Africa. Home to one of the world’s most extraordinary street gangs. A traveling circus that uses an intoxicating blend of voodoo and dangerous animals to make a living.
Not everyone can do this. It’s magic.
For the first time, this bizarre urban tribe has given access to film revealing a way of life that is both fascinating and shocking.
My specialty is baboons. I train them in such a way that when you look at them, you think they are humans.
We dig beneath the surface of this wild world that appears dangerous. There to control and explore the myths that surround these enigmatic people and their trip of baboons, snakes, and Hagens. Behind the spectacle, we discover a close-knit family that has a unique and controversial relationship with their animals. Steeped in magic and tradition. This is what we inherit from our forefathers. Our children here are going to inherit the same tradition. But who are these people and how do they live so close to such dangerous animals?
Even when the animals hold us or bite us, it doesn’t hurt.
Why are these shocking rituals allowed to continue? And what do they tell us about human-animal relations in the 21st century? Africa welcomes to the world of the Hyena men. Nigeria is a West African country tarnished with a violent history of military dictatorships, corruption, and fraud. It’s Africa’s most densely populated country and over half of its 140,000,000 people live in abject poverty. Our journey begins in the clogged heart of Lagos, Nigeria’s most infamous city. Traffic gridlocks the streets and two out of three people live in slums.
It’s in the thick of Lagos that we’re hoping to meet the Hyena men. The last thing we heard from our local contacts is that they are living at the back of this market. But we’ve been warned they’re constantly on the move and notoriously difficult to find. We arrived to find the gang have made a temporary home in the squalor of this rubbish dump. Living with the Hyena men are the animals they’ve caught from the wild and brought to the city to perform in their street circus. Along with hyenas tied to the ground with heavy chains, gang members charm Naxals of venomous and constricting snakes. We also discover a troop of a dozen or so baboons.
Conditions are bad for the animals, but they’re equally bad for the people that live here. Virtually no one has access to drinking water, electricity, and waste disposal. It’s why some people have called this place the Land of no tomorrow. The Hyena men are the house of Muslims from the rural farmlands in Northern Nigeria. They are said to practice voodoo and use ancient magic to bring wild animals under their control. It’s rumored they have supernatural powers and some people even believe they are part hyena. Alhaji is the boss of the Hyena man.
This thing we do, I have inherited from my forefathers. I catch these animals and play with them, entertain with them. We also sell them to zoos. I catch these animals myself. We go into the Bush to get these animals. And when we bring them out, People are astonished. These are not animals that live with humans. Naturally, when people see them, they are amazed. God has given us the powers to stop them from harming anybody. This is how we earn a living.
We learn the hyena men are preparing to take their show out onto the streets of a zone in Lagos called mile twelve. And have been told by the barrel, the senior hyena handler, to be wary of the area boys, notorious Lagos Street gangs who protect their turf, acting as vigilantes and using violence to extort money.
That’s why we go around in groups. If they harass us, we are ready for them. Even if they bring knives, we chase them with our animals until they drop their knives.
Some African newspapers have made allegations that these men are bank robbers, debt collectors, and drug dealers. But in truth, no one knows one thing certain. No one messes with a man with a hyena. The savagery of the performance makes uncomfortable viewing. Although this form of entertainment is fully legal in Nigeria, the apparent brutality of this unique Street Act challenges Western taboos. Many outsiders say this urban circus should be outlawed for cruelty to animals. Head baboon keeper Abdullahi has trained his performers to act out behaviors that run against every instinct. He’s even taught baboons to handle the most feared enemy in the wild. Venomous snakes.
My specialty is baboons. When you look at them, you think they are humans.
This practice has been going on for generations. And for veterans like Barao, It’s the only life he’s ever known.
I’ve been doing this for 50 years. I was nine years old when I started. We use plants that we drink to give us power. And even when I must hold us or bite us, It doesn’t hurt. We’ve also got magic potions that would take to give us power. I can even put my head in their mouth. Whatever play I want to do with these animals.
I can do many locals are spellbound by the performance believing the hyena men possess supernatural powers.
Because of the wild animals that we use. Like the snakes and everything else we touch, people can’t see that they don’t hurt us. It gives them the belief that truthfully, we are traditional medicine practitioners. And if anyone comes to us with a problem, we give them medicine. By the Grace of God, the medicine will work for them just as they want.
People on the street pay the hyena men generously for traditional.