Employing a theoretical framework developed by ecologist Paul Shepard, I explore here the ways in which Harari people's representations of spotted hyenas develop in tandem with their ontogenesis. The Harari word for hyena, waraba, takes on different meanings depending on the socialization of Harari individuals and the particular life stages of these persons. In early childhood, waraba is a terrifying beast of the imagination. As children mature, their initial conceptions are overturned as they learn that local hyenas are in fact peaceful; it is the hyenas from beyond Harar's borders whom they learn to fear. Throughout and beyond middle childhood, representations of hyenas are employed in folktales, songs, chants and idioms to represent other humans while at the same time reflecting an engagement with the local hyenas. The representations culminate in the conception of Derma Sheikh: the reliable, protective, religious hyena who shares the same interest in peace and security as the Hararis. In Harar, representations of hyenas reflect an attention to what hyenas do ‘out there’ in the streets and in the surrounding farmland. They speak of a level of engagement with hyenas as persons: one that is atypical of an ‘urbanized, industrialized’ society.