who is the hyena?




It’s funny how the way the world works makes us all into cynics. In Hyenas, when we are told a long-lost villager, ‘richer than the World Bank’ is returning to possibly share her millions with Colabane; my first thought was there had to be a catch. (This was of course coming so soon after I had seen Bamako and World Bank and Wolfshowitz sounded like the most sinister swear words possible)    The vultures flying overhead juxtaposed with the heady rush around her arrival seemed ominous. As her train rolled into the dusty landscape of a village she had left behind, Ramatou seemed to have little patience for the cheering crowds that celebrated her arrival. We find out of course, that it was crowds like these that jeered and sneered her when she was pregnant, forcing her out of their midst for the world has no place for the whores. (‘Life made me a whore, so I will make the world a brothel’) We find out too, that Dramen her ‘black panther’, a man whose love she has never forgotten betrayed her, and though she still loves him, she has not forgiven him. It was to lay to rest the demons that continued to haunt her years later, that she had now returned, with vengeance enough to punish not only Dramen but also all of Colabane for breaking her spirit. The punishment is unusual however: she seeks to buy her justice. Over time, the promise of wealth lures the community into a frenzy of commoditization, climaxing most dramatically into the import of a fairground, a crescendo of laughs, fireworks and a giddying good time. In a society already deeply divided between the few that have, and the many that don’t – the array of refrigerators, air-conditioners and other shiny gadgets pouring in, only raise the stakes for dispossession. Against a Sony sign, images of starvation are nestled in the shadows. However, people are quick to be lured, and tempted and greed is venomous: suddenly, the value of the life of their friend Dramen begins to dim, and her prophetic stance that ‘everything can be bought’ becomes true.

            The juxtaposition of image and word is sometimes deeply troubling in the film. As Ramatou speaks to the ‘truth’ of her child-hood that the mayor glossed over, we are provided no further details at that instance, but the scene switches to a dance performed against the desolate landscape. (tangential note: The woman’s fund she opens up, was symbolic in that it represented not only her desire to help others where she had been hurt, but it was an initiative that came from the inside) By the train-tracks, the dancer’s movements are jerkier than her earlier ones, and as she lies on the ground, legs flailing, fingers clawing through the sand, I imagine Ramatou’s condition, for I am not told it. I wonder then, amongst other things, of the scarred life Ramatou has lived, beginning perhaps from the rapes that marred her so early on for through the use of dance in films taboos such as sex are often implied. The use of a certain interpretive image versus word in this instance is significant for it clothes the ‘truth’, while the truth is spoken.

            There is humor in the small scale credit system in Draman’s store, with people buying chocolate spreads and Nescafe coffees and milk fueled by a ‘promise’, not liquidity of finances. So rampant is this credit-purchasing, especially by the bourgeois, it prompts Draman to declare his books are full. Such a system of spending on promises comes to mind when the mayor and teacher go to Ramatou to discuss the possibility of a loan despite their pride. It is not money they are quick to state, for the hope of untapped oil and gold – a hope that has sustained them for decades – serves as the promise of repayment. The conversation that follows is allegorical to the kind of promises made by developing countries, their spines broken time and time again by bending their backs to not ‘beg’ but ‘borrow’. A self-defeating reality many are aware of is that many of these loans won’t be paid off at all, for exorbitant interest rates and shoddy adjustment plans will make sure a cycle of dependency is sustained. (In Bamako this reality is stated most poignantly by the ‘peasant woman’ from Burkina Faso) Ramatou on the other hand represents those ‘new-age’ colonialists that have already rooted themselves in the resources, bought the lands and the rights to their exploitation thus dashing hopes of self-sufficiency.

A question I found myself asking at the end of the conversation, and the film is: who are the hyenas, or the vultures in this film? Who run off with a predator’s kill, carrying off carcasses and stripping clean seconds? Each protagonist has in some instance done injustice, and no ones hands are clean. Kindly Draman forced Ramatou into a life that killed her so deeply from the inside through his betrayal and reducing her physically into the carcass, a shadow of her former self.  The villagers so keen on keeping peace and justice, are the same people whose past is tainted with the kind of hatred which prompts one of their own out. Ramatou on the other hand is jaded by the realities she has endured but through her experiences, knows the weakness of her competition, and knows what to do to get what she wants out of them using money which makes even the most civilized into animals.  It is that morbidity which underscores the ‘court’ at the end which speaks the final verdict, with people who have loved and trusted Draman, their eyes glazed and glossy, now closing in around him, slowly all such ties forgotten in the face of opportunity.

Justice is ‘served’ in the death of Draman but it is a misplaced justice for it is neither the pain he caused her, nor the desire for retribution that prompts this justice but ‘virtue’ acquired through money. At the end, perhaps, then everyone in this film becomes a hyena, stealthily gliding in to scavenge what they can. Through his death, ironically, Draman becomes the carcass, and it seems as such as his ‘body’ lies folded up as the villagers disperse off into the dust. In his end, also, lies his salvation for the very woman who prompted this death in the name of justice, asks him to come find her.



One Response

  1. You raise dome interesting points. What I found surprising is how much everyone really behaves like a real hyena in the film. The first thing is that Colabane is located in a desert, and spotted hyenas are adapted sub desert regions. Notice also how the women (Ramatou and Draman’s wife for example) dominate the men in the film, just like how female hyenas dominate males. Hyenas also have cannibalistic tendencies, and this was evident at the end of the film: the residents of Colobane ‘ate’ Draman, their future mayor.

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