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I was flipping through Inu no Nihon shi : ningen to tomoni ayunda ichimannen no monogatari [犬 の 本 史 : 人間 と ともに 步んだ 一万年 の 物語] (Ed. Taniguchi Kengo 谷口 研語, Tokyo: PHP Kenkyūjo, 2000), a special volume on the working relationships between dogs and people, put out by the Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples. Contained within was relatively little on Japanese people and any of the Nihon ken. What was included, however, was a broad span of material on working and hunting relationships between humans and dogs from indigenous cultures of other continents.

This series of photos caught my eye.

Hunting dogs of the Mbuti

Hunting dogs of the Mbuti

Hunting dogs of the Aka

Hunting dogs of the Aka

Photographs 8 and 9 (from 1990) were contributed by ICHIKAWA Mitsuko 市川光雄, 11 and 12 by TERASHIMA Hideaki 寺島秀明 (from 1978), 13 and 14 (from 1983) by 丹野正 TADASHI Tanno. They are researchers whose work concentrates on the Mbuti (p. 28), the Aka (p. 29) and other hunter-gatherer cultures of the Congo Basin.

The dogs are not identified as “Basenji,” but as hunting dogs. Function, not breed, is the focus of this monograph. The diagram on page 29 depicts how Central African net hunters use their dogs and beaters (helpers who make loud noises, always women) to drive game into nets. And yes, the dogs wear absurdly large bells so that they can be heard (and not harmed!) in the thick of the action, since they don’t bark.

BasenjiP13

My favorite shot is P13, not for the naked natives but the plump, arch-necked basenji who can’t help but be included as an underfoot critter in this utterly domestic campsite scene. While the humans look self-consciously at the camera, the dog knows only to heed the shins of her people. Similarly, P14 is a nice shot, too. Perhaps the photographers had not intended to specifically capture the dogs in those photos — but they were there, a constant presence and ineradicable part of life.

BasenjiP9

P9 is a very close runner-up for favorite shot. Most powerful to me is the juxtaposition of the hunter’s muscular forearm, as well-toned as his dog’s. In this moment of sinew and flesh and the promise of meat, a snapshot conveys the very essence and history of action, with all its chronology and fluidity. And that is a dog whose alert posture, erect ears, and abundant figure commands a central place in the photographic composition. All this is counterbalanced by the child in the back right. The boy’s grip on his bow suggests that he’s no anomaly; he has full claim to this hunt, despite his youth. Yet, I suspect the dog has already seen more of the world than the boy has dared to dream…

Anyway, sorry for the low-quality scans… but not really. Alas, stuff has a tendency to circulate without credit on the internet. These photos should definitely be traced back to the source, so here’s hoping that my low resolution scans just might encourage someone to do so.

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