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Hyena stories from Al Bassa
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Posted by Eid Haddad on July 27, 2004
1. TRADITIONAL HUNTING OF THE HYENA

The Bassawis had a nickname for the hyena. They called it Abu Sirhan (father of Sirhan). Hunting the hyena in Al Bassa was not something done by every bassawi. Those bassawis who hunted the hyenas did it to avenge the loss of their herds. It was known that the hyenas of Al Bassa rarely attacked people. They usually used to attack either the herd, or the chicken, or any other type of domestic animals to feed on. The most common domestic animals which the bassawis had were sheep, goats, rabbits, horses and donkeys. Some had either dogs or cats.


The traditional bassawi way of hunting the hyenas was done by a special or rather a strange way. They used to say that only the brave ones with a heart as strong as a rock could do it. That way of hunting used to be started by tracing the hyena, and trapping it in its cave by throwing stones at it to prevent it from coming out or running away. The next thing which a bassawi hyena hunter used to do was stripping totally naked. Then the hunter used to crawl backwards on all four, through the tunnel leading to the inside of the cave, while saying : "Abu Sirhan hon? La´, mish hon" (Is the father of Sirhan her? No, it is not her). They believed that it frightened and confused the hyena. Of course the hyena would not se a face or a usual sight; it would only hear a sound coming out of an unusual-looking creature with no head crawling towards it. They used to say that the hyena used to get so frightened, that it used to gather itself and stick to the back wall of the cave almost totally paralysed. Then the hunter used to put the lijam (mouth cover) on the hyena and bind it. When that was done, the hunter used to drag it out of the cave and kill it.

2. EATING HYENAS´ MEAT!

No one in Al Bassa used to eat the meat of the hyena except for two persons, a man and a woman. The man was known with the name Abu Dbaa´ (father of hyenas). No one I knew could recall that man´s real name. The things which every one in Al Bassa knew about him was that he was a Yemeni Jew, who immigrated from Yemen to Palestine after the end of The First World War, and he settled in Al Bassa. He used to be the only shoemaker in the village. My parents told me that he used to borrow one of my grandmother´s dists occasionally (dist is a traditional palestinian cooking pot made of copper). My grand mother never knew before that Abu Dbaa´ used to borrow a dist to cook the hyenas´ meat. When she knew that, she stopped lending him, and she got all her dists polished by a mobayed (mobayed means a polisher/a person who polishes metal pots and things and covers the inner side with a thin lay of aluminium).

The woman who used to eat hyenas meat, Saydeh, was a dressmaker. When I was a boy, I knew her personally. I heard her lots of times telling the women visiting her, that the only thing of a hyena, which she ate was its heart. She believed that the hyena´s heart had medical benefits to the body especially the heart, and she believed also that it prolonged life. She used to say that she would give anything to get e heart of a hyena to eat it. Saydeh died as an old woman of heart problems in the refugee camp Dbayeh in Lebanon. As I recall she was over 80 years when she died.

3. KILLED BY THE HYENA

I was told many times, that a hungry hyena attacked once a young woman on the path, leading from Alma Al-Sha´ab to Al Bassa (Alma Al-Sha´ab is a village in nowadays Lebanon near the Palestinian-Lebanese border). The incident happened around the year 1914, which used to be known as the year of starvation, and that period was better known as Suffer Barlik. That woman was in her late teens, according to my grandfather Eid Elias (Besharah/Bechara) Haddad (known too as Abu Elias)and his cousin Bechara/Bisharah El-Dawood (Haddad). The hyena had already attacked her, and it was eating parts of her body, when they arrived there. The reason, that my grandfather and his cousin were there at that time, was because they were out with their herd incidentally in that area. My grandfather shot and killed that hyena, and then they buried that young woman in that spot as no one knew who she was.

4. SURPRISED BY THE HYENA

Faris Suleiman Eid told me, that he was a teenager, when he was surprised and almost killed by a hyena. He told me, that he was once out with his father´s goats near a valley (wadi) called Wadi Qot´ay (others call it Wadi Qot´ayn), which was to the north-east of Al Bassa near the Palestinian -Lebanese border. Faris told me, that he sat on a huge rock watching the goats eating grass, while he polished his dabaseh with a piece of glass (dabaseh is a traditional palestinian shepherds stick with a bulged top). Faris sat on that rock without noticing, that there was a little cave underneath the rock. Suddenly while he swung his legs, a hyena came out of the cave. As Faris saw it, he got frightened and wanted to run away. He acted spotaneously by leaning on his stick to jump to the other rock, but instead of landing on the other rock, he fell down and landed on top of the hyena. Faris and the hyena rolled down the valley. When Faris could stand on his feet, he started throwing stones at the hyena. Finally the hyena ran away in the direction of Hanuta (Hanita), which was the first jewish settlement established after The first World War east of Al Bassa and its mokhtar (official advisor and representative) was called Yona. Anyway Faris got injured and his head bled. Later he was found and was helped to walk by his friend Rashid. Faris still has the scars on his head until today.

5. ACT OF MANHOOD?

My parents told me, that my grandfather wanted one day to teach my uncle Yousef the art of hunting hyenas. At that time my uncle was a young boy. Hunting the hyena was considered as an act of courage and manhood. My grandfather trapped a hyena in its cave and ordered my uncle to crawl inside as mentioned before. My uncle got frightened, and he refused to do that. Finally my grandfather had to do it on his own. After my grandfather put the lijam on the hyena´s mouth, he called on my uncle to pull the rope, which was tied around the neck of the hyena. After draging the hyena out of the cave, my grandfather killed it. Later my grandfather skinned the hyena and took its skin to Al Bassa, where he showed it to the bassawis with pride.

6. DIED OF A CHOCK

My grandparents had a shepherds dog called Flora. One day Flora gave birth to a number of puppies. The puppies died except for one. That puppy which survived was called Kharoof (lamb), because it grew to be a very elegant dog with long and white hair resembling a lamb. The young dog Kharoof was not used to see hyenas yet. One day some hungry hyenas attacked the goats in my grandparents´ hadira (place for animals). As Kharoof saw them, it died of chock. The hyenas were chased away by Kharoof´s mother Flora.


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