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  • The Were-Hyenas of Ethiopia June 26, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    In the winter of last year Beachcombing had the werewolf mania bad and before he got bored with the hairy-handed ones he started to make notes on the Buda of Abyssinia, a winsome African lycanthrope. The following text was published in the second quarter of the nineteenth century and was written by a one-time European resident in that country. Those who work in silver and gold, in brass, or at the carpenters’ trade, are esteemed as persons of high rank; but those who work in iron or pottery are not allowed the privilege even of being in common society, nor are they permitted to receive the sacrament as Christians. They are reckoned even by their nearest neighbours to have the supernatural power of changing themselves into hyaenas or other beasts, and upon that account everybody dreads them. All convulsions or hysteric disorders, which are as common in Abyssinia as in other parts of the world, are here attributed to the evil eye of these people. They are called by the Amhara ‘Buda’, and by the Tigré ‘Tebbib’. Many marvellous deeds done by them have been related to me by persons of superior intelligence of both sexes, which, however ridiculous, may serve to illustrate the superstitious character of people in this part of the world. Although the Buda are obliged to put up with reproaches and all manner of scorn from other Christians, and even their nearest neighbours, yet they are partial to that religion, and, though not allowed the sacrament, keep the whole of the fasts as strictly as any Christians in the country. There are, indeed, Mahometan and Jew Budas, and, as I have before all that work in iron and pottery are deemed such. What this whimsical notion sprang from I never could learn. Gojam is the province supposed to contain most of them. Note how curious it is that blacksmiths – in many parts of the world viewed as individuals with anti-magical properties – are here the friends of tropical fairy. Besides the power which it is supposed these Budas possess of transforming themselves, at will, into hyaenas and some other animals, though the former seems to be their favourite shape, many strange stories are told of the diseases they are able to inflict on their enemies through their evil eye; and so fully convinced are the Abyssinians, that these unfortunate blacksmiths are in the habit of defrauding the grave of its dues, in their midnight masquerades, that no one will venture to eat what is called quanter, or dried meat, in their houses: though they have not the smallest repugnance to sit down with them to a repast of raw meat, where the killing of the animal before their eyes dissipates at once their former horrible illusion. Our author continues, relating the experiences of William Coffin in Gondar about twenty years before (1814), a man whom the author knew well. These Budas, or workers in iron and pottery, are distinguished, it appears from other classes, by a peculiar gold ear-ring, which is worn by the whole race, and which kind of ring, Mr Coffin declares, he has frequently seen in the ears of hyaenas that have been shot in traps or speared by himself and others: but in what manner these ornaments come to be placed in so singular a situation, Mr Coffin, who has taken considerable pains to investigate the subject, has never been able to obtain the slightest clue to discover. Our author has perhaps got the Budas’ number. From the latter circumstances [a tale about transformation], I should be inclined to imagine that the belief in the above superstitious notions is, from some motive or other, purposely fostered by the Budas themselves. The trades they follow are some of the most lucrative in the country, and, as they are both exclusively in the hands of particular families, in whom the right of exercising them descends from father to son, it appears probable that , in order to render themselves more secure from all chance of competition, they may wish to envelope themselves in darkness and mystery, and even place the ornaments above-mentioned in the ears either of the young hyaenas they may take, or the old ones they can entrap and then dismiss them to the wilderness, with their newly acquired embellishments. I mentioned this idea to Mr Coffin, who seemed to think the conjecture more than probable, and promised on his return to the country to do every thing in his power to ascertain the fact. It is, however, but fair to own, that he says that he never saw a very young hyaena with the ornaments in question. The author has several stories about Buda transformation that Beachcombing offers here starting with the least dramatic and going gradually up the voodoo scale. 1) I shall here add one story respecting these Budas, related to me by Mr Coffin, to the circumstances of which he may be said to have been nearly an eye-witness. It happened that among his servants he had hired one of these Budas, who, one evening, but when it was perfect day-light, came to request his master to give him leave of absence till the morning. This request was immediately granted, and the young man took his leave; but scarcely was Mr Coffin’s head turned to his other servants, when some of them called out, pointing in the direction the Buda had taken, ‘Look, look, he is turning himself into a hyaena!’ Mr Coffin, instantly looked round, but though he certainly did not witness the transformation, yet the young man had vanished, and he saw a large hyaena running off at about a hundred paces distance. This happened in an open plain, without tree or bush to intercept the view. The young man returned in the morning, and was attacked by his companions on the subject of his change, which he rather affected to countenance than deny, according to the usual practice of his brethren. 2) The following story was declared to be true by more than fifty persons of Adowa. An hyena was shot in the leg near the river Assem, and in endeavouring to get off made towards the church Kudus Michael. Several hyaenas were seen in its company when shot, and the people, running after it with spears, came up with five Budas, carrying a lame person. Some of the followers were afraid, but among them there were some gunners who insisted upon seeing the person, and ascertaining whether they might not have killed him. As it was dark, they took them to the first house, and, by candle-light found a fresh wound in the man’s leg, and the blood then running: the Budas were all naked, but no one dared to interfere in the matter, through superstition. The Budas are now said to be living in Adowa, and they have been pointed out to me; one is a clever smith of the name of Tuckeu Tubbib; he makes good bridle-bits and knives, and has done many jobs for me. I have frequently asked him if such a report be true, to which he has answered, ‘It is true they say so, and they are not in the wrong for believing it.’ When he said this he laughed heartily. 3) ‘While I lived in Adowa a curious circumstance happened. A Mussulman weaver, rather advanced in years, when sleeping at his door in the sun, with his hand at the back of his head, was seized by an hyaena, by the hand, and dragged to a considerable distance before he cried out anything else but ‘Alla arle’ [God is,] till the pain he felt, from his hand being between the jaws of the hyaena, caused him to alter his tone, and he gave three or four loud shouts, which are customary, and known by their wild shrill sound, which brought out the neighbours, who delivered him from the animal, but not before the bones of his hand were crushed. A few days after, while I was sitting with Blitingatore Woldi Gorgis, the governor of the town, this Mussulman came to lay the case before the governor. He said, ‘Sir, about a fortnight ago, Tuckeu Tubbib made a knife for me, for which I paid him, but he was not content, and wanted a sheep that was tied up in my house, which had been given to me by Ozoro Altash. This sheep I meant to keep till the feast of the Ramadan, and therefore refused it him. He went away in a passion, and that day week he came in the shape of an hyaena, and out of spite caught me by my right hand, which he has ruined for ever, so that I cannot work at my trade; I therefore beg you, guity, [master] in the name of God, to see me righted.’ The governor, as well as those in company, laughed, and asked one another what they thought of the matter. Some said, these things often happen, but what can be done? When one is killed, his brothers are left to take revenge.’ The governor said: ‘He has taken hold of your hand out of spite, you say; and if he knows you are seeking revenge or recompense, he will catch hold of your throat next time; so you had better say no more about it.’ The old man went away, and when he had gone, they asked me if such supernatural beings existed in my country? I said there were none, and that my countrymen were not so weak-minded as to believe such nonsense. ‘No,’  said they; ‘it is not nonsense, but real fact; there are thousands of them in our country,’ and they began to tell a number of similar stories. 4) The following story was told by a learned priest of Gojam, and he declared it to be true: ‘As I was going to Gondar, to buy an ox for ploughing, I was overtaken by an acquaintance, who was a Buda, and lived near my house. As he passed me he said, ‘Memerhe [Teacher], what are you going to market for’ ‘To buy a Bulla, or brown ox,’ said I, ‘to pair with one I have, the companion of which is dead; and I wish to get a good one of the same colour.’ He wished, he said, I might be successful, and went on fast before me. When I arrived at the market, I met with the same Buda’s brother, who asked me the same question as he had done; I answered as before that I was desirous of a Bulla ox. He said that he had seen but a single good one of that colour in the market. I asked him to show it me, which he did, at the same time pretending he did not know the owner. On seeing the ox I was delighted, he being exactly like the one I had, and appearing quite steady, though there was no mark of his having ever before had the yoke upon his neck. I bought him for fifty pieces of salt; on my road home towards evening, when among a number of people returning from market with their cattle, my ox ran into the wood, among the bushes, where I soon lost sight of him; however I followed close after, and, searching well, found a naked man, who proved to be my neighbour, the Buda. I said to him, blowing and panting with running and fear, ‘Were you not my ox?’ ‘Your ox ?’ said he. ‘Were not you my goat ? The goat I bought in the market ran out of the road, and I have lost my cloth in pursuing him.’ Knowing that I had been tricked, continued the priest, I said nothing, for fear he might change me into some other form, and I went quietly home, never daring to mention the circumstance in the neighbourhood.’ Any other Buda stories? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com