Rubí Donkey writes her Rubí Tuesday blog.
Did you ever wonder why donkeys bray? I certainly did. Whenever I looked at Matilde, Morris and Aitana braying, it seemed to me quite a ridiculous noise, unlike my purposeful aggressive snort which serves to protect the herd from any wild boar, squirrels or possibly lions. I have not yet seen any lions. I put this down to my effective regular aggressive snorting in the direction of the forest in the valley. This clearly deters all lions from coming up the hill and anywhere near us. That is why we have never seen a single lion up here.
But I digress. Why do donkeys bray? When I asked Morris, his answer was at the same time quite practical and characteristically stupid: “We bray so the Peasant brings our food,” he said.
I explained to Morris that this did not philosophically or scientifically prove a causal connection: in fact he brays because he knows it is food time. By definition food time is when food comes, delivered by the Peasant. That doesn’t demonstrate that braying makes food come.
Morris sulkily responded, “I suppose you want me to do some research about braying then?” I nodded and went back to staring intently down into the pine trees in the valley, keeping a lookout for lions.
Half a day later, Morris returned with the answer, “This is why donkeys bray, mother…” and he launched into reading his research.
“Although the process of vocalization in the donkey makes an interesting study, a practical concern with the anatomy of the larynx is for naso-gastric tube placement. The particular structure unique to the donkey, the pharyngeal recess or diverticulum, is located caudo-medially to the guttural pouches (see Fig. 6). This pharyngeal recess in the donkey has a slightly constricted opening, is about 2–3 cm in diameter and stretches to 6–7 cm in length.2,4 Its central location in the pharynx puts it in a direct line to entrap the nasogastric tube, preventing it from passing through to the esophagus. Another unique feature of the donkey is the angle of the opening of the airway from the pharynx to the larynx, which tilts on average 5.5° caudally. This differs from the horse, where the aditus angles rostrally 2.5° from the perpendicular…”
I bit Morris on the back of the leg and he squealed, which is another unique feature of the Morris. “I don’t want to hear any more of that fruminous nonsense! In any case, that’s HOW donkeys bray, but I want to know WHY we bray?”
“I told you, mother: we bray so the Peasant brings our food and…”
“Oh shut up, Morris. You’re more irritating than the chickens at times. Sometimes your research is just a pile of poo. I will work out the answer myself. ”
Morris did a half-hearted limp kick in my direction and he ran off to bite Aitana to get his revenge for being bitten by me. We still have not really solved the problem, have we? Aesop’s story about the Lion and the Ass is perhaps the earliest classical comment on donkey braying:
The Lion once took a fancy to Hunting in company with an Ass. He sent the Ass into the forest, and told him to bray there as hard as he could. “By that means,” said he, “you will rouse all the beasts in the forest. I shall stand here, and catch all that fly this way.” The Ass brayed in his most hideous manner; and when the Lion was tired of slaughter, he called to him to come out of the wood. “Did I not do my part well?” asked the conceited beast. “Excellently well,” replied the Lion. “Had I not known that you were nothing-more than an Ass, I should have been frightened myself.”
Another version of the Aesop tale places the Ass in a cave full of goats. An unlikely setting. You’d never catch me in a cave full of goats. Anyway, it seems we shall not solve the problem today and I will return to the general braying issue later. This summer I will be ten years old, but I spent the first nine of my donkey’s years in complete silence. I heard the others doing it all the time, but what on earth was that braying all about? I simply couldn’t be assed.
What I did notice, however, was the effectiveness of barking. Back at the livestock farm where Matilde and I were born, Francisco Campo Gandara – who owned the farm and La Piscina restaurant nextdoor – used to come into the stables with his big German shepherd dog. The dog would start barking loudly, as if to say, “Stand to attention everybody! The boss is here!”
All the donkeys and ponies would cower in the corner of the big stable. The wise old jack donkey who was Morris and Aitana’s father used to say, “His bark is worse than my bite.”
I used to think, even then, barking was much better than braying. Shortly after my ninth birthday in the summer last year, some hunting dogs came into our field through a gap in the fence at El Parral, from somewhere up behind the Peasant’s stable-house. He was not around to chase the dogs away. Matilde, Morris and Aitans just stood there watching the dogs running towards us. There was only one course of action for me: I jumped in front of the three donkeys and faced the dogs. And I barked!
Apart from snorting at lions I had never made any other sort of noise before. It just came quite naturally at that moment, a sort of bray-bark. Or bark-bray, if you like. The hunting dogs whelped in confusion and ran back the way they had come.
Matilde, Morris and Aitana stood there looking at me.
“What was that?” asked Matilde.
Aitana said, “It wasn’t a nice noise at all.”
“And since when were you a good judge of nice noises?” I said to Aitana. “You silly horse!”
“You’re barking!” said Morris.
I bit Morris and he squealed. Everyone finally shut up about it. But I have been doing regular bray-barking ever since. Betty and Rowland came over to see us on Sunday. The Peasant explained about my bray-barking. He called me, “Mrs Barker-Bray.” I think that sounds rather distinguished, and almost aristocratic…
The Barker-Brays of El Parral. Our ancestors are depicted in local cave art, you know.