Hyenas. Mixed media on canvas, 200 x 200 cm

Excerpt from Island of the dead by Jean Frémon, 1994

Is the moon full tonight? The hyenas cried all night long in the voices of women. According to the ancients, they know how to imitate the human voice. They roam around flocks of sheep and wait until they hear one shepherd call another by name. Then they slink off into the bushes, from where they call to the shepherd in a plaintive voice, imitating a woman or child calling for help. Pliny claimed that the laughing hyena was the only animal capable of robbing tombs to get at the cadavers for food. He goes on to say that they are so gluttonous after a meal the skin over their stomachs is tight as a drum, that they search out a place between two tombs in order to expel the residue of the meal from both ends at once. Crying hyena; laughing hyena. They say the hyena is a hybrid, the monstrous fruit of the union of a dog and a cat. Aristotle, always a stickler for the truth, claimed that this necrophagous animal was not, however hermaphroditic. Popular imagination (a charming concept that could prove useful) fitted this animal out with both male and female organs, seeing in this doubled sexuality a confirmation of the beast’s demonic nature. Incarnation of Mammon, making off with the corpses of those souls they’d ravaged. The fact is that the male and the female of the species look so much alike that they are often indistinguishable. The clitoris has the same size and shape as the penis. Hans Krunk sees this as an example of the female mimicking the male, which comes into play in their ritualistic behaviour. When two animals of the same clan meet, the less dominant one lifts a back leg, exposing the genitals to the fangs of the dominant one. Thus, outside the mating period, the sex organs function as an identifying sign of the species. Within a given population, the females are on average, larger than the males, and even when the same size, the female is dominant.