The Basenji Club of America African Stock Project

Project Library


by M. E. MacDonald, Saint John, N.B., Canada

      This summer a 22-year old engineering  student,   Mr. Saihou Omar Summarreh, from  Bathurst,  
Gambia, West Africa, is working at Saint John. I asked him about barkless dogs in Gambia
and showed him a picture of my tri-colour MERLIE. I thought perhaps you might be interested in
what he had to say, hence the following:
All dogs have one common name in the languages of Gambia. The "Wollof" people call the dog
family "Hatch." The "Mandingoes" call it "Wulo." This is true whatever the breed or origin of the dog.
I recognize the picture of your dog, it is very familiar. I know the type well. We do have these dogs.
This type of dog has a curled tail with a white tip and the bottom end of all four legs are white. It is
mostly a brownish or tan colour with yellowish spots on he top of both eyes. Some are black instead
of brown. These dogs have upright ears. They look very alert and appear aggressive at all times.
They do bark, but usually are very silent and it is only on most exceptional occasions that one hears
them bark. They whine, snarl, croak, and bay with a sort of "hoo-hoo-hoo-ooo-oo! "
One might call them pets, but not in the same sense as you understand a pet in Canada. I was
most surprised to see that people in Canada let dogs sleep on their sofas and chairs. A dog is just a
dog in Africa and most of them have to find their own keep. They live mostly on bones and the thin
flesh of meat left over after humans have eaten, or they search the country-side for their own food.
Owners mostly living in the country, use them for hunting and for company when driving cattle to
This type of dog is used for hunting large edible rats in the "Kombos. " They are also used for
hunting large squirrels, called "hahaat." Further east, the "Masai" use them for hunting lions in the
forests of the Kenya. The "Masai" hunters use the fast, silent dogs as bait to taunt the lions out of
their dens. The hunters go out in groups of ten, accompanied by four dogs which lead the hunt.
These men are armed with spears and wooden shields. They are very good and do not make mis-
takes. They know how to kill the lion without bullets.
When hunting lions, the "Masai" send the dogs ahead to look out for the game. The hunters
form a human horseshoe, and squat low in the grass next to the bush where the lion's lair is located.
The lion, unsuspicious of the trap, is teased by the dogs and is drawn in anger from his protective
cover to pursue the dogs. The dogs, in turn, lead the lion into the human horseshoe. Then the
"Masai" stand up, yelling, shouting, and making a terrific to-do so as to confuse the lion. The circle
is then closed and each man drives his spear into the lion by throwing it from a distance.
The skin of the lion makes a prized leather. It is valuable and makes a good trade. Some of
the hunters never see or know what money is. They barter the fruit of their hunting skill with other
people to obtain food, clothing, and utensils. It is a way of life with them and they make a living
hunting the wild animals.
The big edible rat that is hunted in Gambia is larger than a domesticated Canadian cat. It
weighs around twelve to fifteen pounds and is a vegetarian. It feeds on roots, peanuts, a potato
oryam type vegetable with a very creamy, white sweet body that the farmers grow and other native
vegetables. It is a land rat and it burrows and tunnels. The hunters use leaves to trap the rats. They
stuff the leaves into a rat hole, burn them and make a strong smoke. The smoke is then driven into
the tunnel, thus driving the rat out another exit, and up pops the rat and the dogs take off after it. The
rat is driven to bay and the hunters come up and kill it with sticks and clubs.
Gambian silent type dogs are about one and a half feet tall on the top of the back and are
about as long as they are high. Dogs are so underfed in Africa, except for the lucky few owned by
Europeans, that their weight would be quite varied. Dogs in Gambia are not as well fed as the dogs
in Canada. I do not think any of these dogs weigh more than 20 pounds.
Dogs carry little or no importance in discussions at the "Bantaba" or discussion place. If there
is a legend about them in Gambia, those who know simply do not care to say.
When hunting around in game areas with tall grass, the dogs will jump up in the air to look for
game. This is really true. We do not call them the "jumping up and down dog, " but they may in
other parts of Africa, as Africa is a very large continent and has many, many peoples.
Most dogs in West Africa run wild although they have owners. They sleep out and run about in
search of food. Nobody except people like Europeans, would tolerate a dog in his house, and if a
dog is injured, no matter how badly, it would just have to depend on Providence to heal it. There is
no Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and anyone can hit an animal and laugh about it.
A Basenji-like dog will normally have a family of an average size of six babies. Only about half
survive the dreadful conditions under which they are born. There is no real partnership between the
male and female. They mate anywhere - in the streets, in compounds, anywhere. The mother has to
take on all the responsibilities of looking after and feeding her young until they are able to forage for
This type of dog crouches when in open areas to urinate, always on the alert and ready to take
off at full speed at the first sign of game or of danger. When in the streets, or in familiar places, he
will use a tree, post, or the side of the nearest wall, the same as any other type dog. They are not
trained. The female does not crouch down, but keeps moving along all the time she is relieving her-
No bells are used in our country to keep contact with the dogs. The dogs usually just follow
along with the hunters until game is sighted, and then he follows or takes up position. The dogs have
to live in and around residential areas because they have no choice. The forests nearby are deadly
with wild animals and the dogs keep away from them.
The natural homelands of the Basenji-like dogs are the "Tropical" and "Savanna" areas, al-
though some are also found in North Africa.
We also have a cat-dog animal that looks somewhat like a tiger stripe. It is called "Safando,"
It is a separate wild animal of its own kind. When young, it can be domesticated and can be mixed
bred with dogs. As a separate animal, it is so ferocious and strong, it can kill a hyena. When catch-
ing the young, we wait until night for the adult animals to go hunting, then we can take the cubs. They
can be trained and make a good pet. We don't like them too much, but the Europeans like to have
them for pets. There are so many free dogs about in Gambia we do not think so much of them as
you do in Canada.


Reprinted from
The Basenji
Volume IV Number 9 September 1967 pp. 3 & 10
Copyright © 1967 The Basenji, All Rights Reserved
Used with permission.