Large carnivores in wild places are usually studied by biologists inside vehicles using telemetry and noninvasive methods. So what happens when an anthropologist studies a clan of spotted hyenas, Africa's second-largest carnivores, up close, and in a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants? In Among the Bone Eaters Marcus Baynes-Rock takes us to the ancient city of Harar in Ethiopia, where the gey waraba (hyenas of the city) are welcome in the streets, and appreciated among the locals for the protection they provide from harmful spirits and dangerous 'mountain' hyenas. They've even become a local tourist attraction.
In addition to the difficult conditions, stone-throwing children, and intransigent bureaucracy, Baynes-Rock had to contend with a clan of hyena subjects intent on avoiding people. After months of frustration, three young hyenas drew him into the hidden world of the Sofi clan. He learned the elements that make up a hyena's life, from the delectability of dead livestock and the nuisance of dogs to the unbounded thrill of hyena chase-play under the light of a full moon. Baynes-Rock's personal relations with the hyenas from the Sofi clan expand the bounds of how human-animal relations are conceived.
Among the Bone Eaters is multispecies ethnography taken to its logical realization, revealing its messy, intersubjective, dangerously transformative potential, dissolving distinctions between human and animal so all that matters is subjects and how they affect each other.
Foreword by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
1 Past Finding Around Harar
2 Lines of Reason for Hyenas
3 Between Different Relations
4 You Hyenas
5 The Legend of Ashura
6 On the Tail of a Hyena
7 Encounters with the Unseen
8 Reflections from a Hyena Playground
9 Death, Death, and Rhetoric
10 Blood of the Hyena
11 Across a Human/Hyena Boundary
12 A Host of Other Ideas
13 Returning to Other Hyenas
14 Talking Up Hyena Realities
15 Looking Through a Hyena Hole
Marcus Baynes-Rock is a research associate with the University of Notre Dame.
One of the most widely read American anthropologists, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has observed dogs, cats, and elephants during her half-century-long career. In the 1980s Thomas studied elephants alongside Katy Payne the scientist who discovered elephants' communication via infrasound. In 1993 Thomas wrote The Hidden Life of Dogs, a groundbreaking work of animal psychology that spent nearly a year on the New York Times bestseller list. Her book on cats, Tribe of Tiger, was also an international bestseller. She lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, on her family's former farm, where she observes deer, bobcats, bear, and many other species of wildlife.
"[This] book is nothing short of amazing."
– William Hageman, Chicago Tribune
"I shouldn't say that I envy Marcus for his intimacy with hyenas, because intimacy is the world's best way of gaining knowledge of an animal, and there's no such thing as too much knowledge about hyenas. Instead, I should acknowledge the deep gratitude I feel, and that all of us should feel, about this work that he's done and the possibilities it offers. If we knew all animals as he knows hyenas, we'd save the world."
– Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
"Among the Bone Eaters is a fascinating read. Most readers will be surprised to learn about the very close, reciprocal, and mutually beneficial relationships that have evolved between resident carnivorous spotted hyenas and people in Harar – and how overcoming fear led to enduring friendships. This book touches on a very timely topic, namely, human-animal relationships (anthrozoology) in a human-dominated world in which these sorts of encounters are not only inevitable but also essential to understanding."
– Marc Bekoff, author of Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence
"This is a compelling account of the intersecting worlds of humans and hyenas in a shared architectural landscape. Baynes-Rock shares with us his intimate experiences developing social relations with hyenas as well as humans, thereby confounding distinctions between ethology and ethnography. By extending anthropology's intersubjective approach to nonhumans, he explores the overlapping dynamics of hyena and human lifeworlds, producing a work that will undoubtedly make a significant contribution to the emerging field of multispecies ethnography."
– Piers Locke, University of Centerbury
"Through a rich narrative, filled with the people, events, sights, and sounds of the distant city of Harar, we are invited to share space, place, and time with the least likely compatriot for humans: the spotted hyena. Marcus Baynes-Rock guides us into a world that is simultaneously strange and familiar, and we leave transformed. This book is great anthropology, a great story, and most importantly – it will change the way you think about being human with other animals."
– Agustin Fuentes, University of Notre Dame
"Among the Bone Eaters isn't precisely a natural history of the spotted hyena, nor is it precisely an ethnography of the Harari. Instead, it's an utterly remarkable combination of the two, a portrait of a human community forging a working relationship with Africa's second-largest carnivore."
– Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly
"Among the Bone Eaters is a probing look at the complex relationship between humans and wild animals [...] Baynes-Rock's immersive account is told with sharp-eyed, self-effacing prose, and he leaves nothing out – Ethiopia's sluggish bureaucracy, the town's maze-like geography, and even the Oromo woman he meets and eventually marries. It's as much a travelogue as it is a research study."
– Chelsea Leu, Sierra
"The important thing to remember is that this is not a book just about hyenas or just about Hararis; it's about both, all held together with its greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts third element of the curious and fascinating societal adaptations made by both parties that has enabled the humans and hyenas of Harar to live in balance together. Truly, it is a book quite unlike any other you've likely ever read."
– John E. Riutta, The Well-Read Naturalist
"Among the Bone Eaters will appeal to a general audience interested in learning more about hyenas and the subtle aspects of their interactions with humans as well as to professional anthropologists and ethnographers."
"Remarkable [...] This is a delightful book, full of fascinating portraits of humans and hyenas in a remote corner of the world where ancient lines of animosity are blurred."
– Milbry C. Polk, The Explorers Journal