Well this is awkward, as they say in modern internet parlance. In among all the weeping and wailing about the regrettable death of Cecil the Lion, and the demands for the idiot dentist hunter to be hung (to show how caring we are in the West), and the demonstrations outside the demon dentist’s surgery, with adults dressed as lions, or Simba from the Lion King, and the cries of “Justice for Cecil” and “I am Cecil”, and the social media hype and excitable colonialist commentary from journalists, in among all that, no-one seems to have thought to ask the Zimbabweans what they thought of Cecil and his fellow lions.
I don’t mean the ghastly Zimbabwean government, which has been asked. It obviously sees an opportunity to get a wealthy American extradited, which would make the whole affair even more like a novel by Tom Wolfe, the Bonfire of the Vanities set on a safari that goes wrong. Mugabe’s ministers seem to be loving every minute of the attention and international drama.
But no-one asked Zimbabwean citizens, until now. The New York Times has provided a useful public service by running a piece from a Zimbabwean doctoral student studying in the US. Goodwell Nzou reveals that his countrymen do not much like lions, although they do respect them. It seems that lions eat people and terrorise those living in rural Zimbabwe. Cecil was not beloved, he claims, and anyone suggesting otherwise has fallen for western “media hype”.
“In my village in Zimbabwe, surrounded by wildlife conservation areas, no lion has ever been beloved, or granted an affectionate nickname. They are objects of terror.”
He recounts stories of villagers living in fear. In a nearby village, a 14 year-old boy guarding crops was killed by a lion recently.
“Don’t misunderstand me: For Zimbabweans, wild animals have near-mystical significance. We belong to clans, and each clan claims an animal totem as its mythological ancestor. Mine is Nzou, elephant, and by tradition, I can’t eat elephant meat; it would be akin to eating a relative’s flesh. But our respect for these animals has never kept us from hunting them or allowing them to be hunted.”
Zimbabweans, he says, are left wondering why Americans care more about African lions than they care about African people.
It is a superb piece of counter-intuitive commentary that makes relatively wealthy westerners look ridiculous. You can read the whole thing here.