“Every donkey loves to hear himself bray” – English proverb.
Yesterday I watched on my smartphone the video of “Bedstead Donkey” (see earlier post) braying plaintively and I decided to play it to my donkeys and see if they would respond. The reaction was spectacular: Morris immediately went into a wild braying response and then Matilde and Aitana joined in at full volume. I don’t think there was any reaction from Rubí – who I have never heard braying – but any noise she might have made, even if just grunting sounds, would have been drowned out by the chorus from the other three. The concert trio made such an unusual sound that my neighbour came up to his fence and shouted to ask if everything was wrong!
I have meant for some time to write a blog post exploring the subject of donkey braying, so this is it. I first became interested in how and why donkeys bray when I observed young Morris making his first bray in January 2012 when he was just three months old. He was with his mother Rubí grazing outside my house and suddenly Matilde started braying from the field, probably because she wanted to join Rubí grazing! Rubí doesn’t bray, so she could’t teach her foal how to do it. However, Morris suddenly tried to respond to Matilde and made his first squeaky little braying sounds. Luckily I had my phone handy and recorded his attempt.
In August 2012 when Morris was still only ten months old, he recorded his first proper braying video to violin accompaniment. Having seen a donkey braying to a violin on YouTube in February 2012, I asked local primary schoolteacher Andrea to play for Morris. The result was quite entertaining, particularly when Aitana took a close interest in the violin. Andrea and I made a hundred dollars from the video when the animal novelty video website Cheezburger bought the rights to our video. Morris had become a professional bray artist.
So, returning to the present, I decided to repeat the donkey braying YouTube exercise, using my laptop to play the braying video while recording my donkeys reaction with the smartphone. I first did a search on the internet and discovered that the Morning Bray Farm blog did the same experiment three years ago, with interesting observations on the different individual donkeys’ reactions. My donkeys had responded with far more vigorous and sustained braying in response to the phone yesterday, so I hoped to get a repeat performance that could be compared with the Morning Bray Farm video.
I wanted to see whether Rubí ever does bray. I have never seen her or heard her bray. This could be the real test of whether she can. The video produced an instant reaction – maybe not quite as loud as yesterday because they were not taken by surprise and probably knew what was coming when they saw me setting up the computer (?) Rubí definitely doesn’t bray. She’s on the left in the red headcollar. Morris at the other end of the line in the blue and white headcollar is the most vocal, then Matilde in the pink headcollar. Aitana in the green headcollar didn’t seem to react today; yesterday she was in full voice.
So, that’s enough of Spanish donkey braying for the moment. Now how about Chinese donkey braying? In an academic article by Jack W. Chen there is a lovely story about mourners at a funeral braying like donkeys because the deceased used to love the sound of donkeys braying! The article contains more than this anecdote: it is a sustained exploration of the theme of donkey braying in ancient Confucian and Taoist literature. The full article is available here on a PDF file: On_Hearing_the_Donkey_s_Bray_Friendship (from www.academia.edu)
The etymology of bray is from Middle French braire, from Vulgar Latin bragire, from Gaulish *bragu . Compare Middle Irish braigid (“it crashes, explodes”), Breton breugiñ (“to bray”); akin to English break, Latin fragor (“crash”), frangere (“to break”). [Read more at http://www.yourdictionary.com/bray#ko4DoqWOZDt2DbSU.99 ]
There is a good range of braying here showing graphically the different sound frequencies: http://www.soundsnap.com/tags/braying
The following YouTube video is described as “Poncho the angry donkey braying” although I don’t think he is “angry”, but just enthusiastically greeting the person videoing him! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtQLIU4ze0g
If you really want to annoy your neighbours, turn up the volume and play all these again…