They are a family of travelling entertainers who make their livelihood performing for tourists...
...with their hyenas. Unfortunately there isn't much written about this family beyond this article, written by the photographer. I'll avoid summarising here, because the entire thing is chock full of information and is definitely worth a read.
This unique spectacle was created because of one family's reaction to the growing tourist industry; they in essence adapted to their market, and created this extraordinary lifestyle because of it.
Allow me to speculate on their clothing for just a moment. The function-based aesthetic of what these men wear and what they make has created some truly individual garments. Obviously the fringed leather skirt and additional padding serves to protect the handler's legs from the hazards associated with his chosen employment. I assume these are hand-made. The green, fringed piece seems to have influence, or is maybe remade from some sort of imported garment.
The ankle cuffs with keys and bolts attached could serve some purpose in the training of the hyena or are possibly part of the entertainment routine associated with their performances for tourists. The combination of these unique pieces with Western-style garments is hardly unique as I'm sure that part is based on clothing accessibility, however it does provide a contrast which is visually interesting. Colour is difficult to distinguish exactly due to the desaturated tone of these photographs.
It seems that the equipment for training and restraint of the hyena has also been hand-manufactured, particularly the work on the hyena's muzzle.
These garments and equipment are highly indicative of these men's life. It's similar to identifying a gardener by his grubby fingernails, but in a much broader, heightened sense of that understanding.
This group's unique style provides ample opportunity for conjecture. It's something I'm pursuing at the moment as I put together research for my next project. What can these garments tell us about their owner's response to cultural change? I suppose, in a way, it's the reverse of design - instead of taking what I know about a person and hypothesising what they would wear, I'm gaining knowledge in clothing practice in order to learn more about the craftsperson and their association to a changing world.
Click the link to see more images of The Hyena Handlers of Nigeria as photographed by Pieter Hugo.
My online brainstorm and sketchbook. Here's what I'm working on and what I'm inspired by.