Donkeys are intelligent, playful, patient animals and have a remarkable ability to carry heavy loads.
There are two donkey species in Cyprus: a large dark type with a pale belly, probably of European origin, and a small grey African type. It has a short but strong body of up to 1.30 m high. Its feet are small and they touch the ground evenly, allowing it to walk steadily even on very rough terrain and steep slopes. It adapts well in dry environments, and it is not demanding in terms of dietary requirements. Its average lifespan is 30 years.
Donkeys have had an important role in Cyprus rural daily life. Due to their placid nature, donkeys had the most varied roles. They were mainly used as pack animals in transport or agriculture. Their tasks ranged from threshing, water drawing from wells with alakatin (a water raising machine powered by animals), to milling and other work. Though donkeys aren’t used in daily life anymore, in many heartland villages in Troodos mountain range people still rely on their donkeys. Nevertheless, the number of donkeys has begun to decline in recent years; hence donkeys have been listed as protected species since 2008. Donkey sanctuaries and farms have been established to ensure the survival and wellbeing of these cute animals.
The importance of donkeys in Cyprus culture is reflected on the abundance of proverbs and idioms in our dialect featuring this animal: “Does the donkey fly?”; “Two donkeys were quarreling in a foreign barn”; “He can’t beat the donkey so he beats the saddle”; “The donkey said that the rooster has a big head” are among the most common proverbs used in our daily life.
Donkey milk has seen a high appreciation recently. It can be used as a primary ingredient of cosmetics, having beneficial properties in dermatology. It has been efficiently used to ease whooping cough and psoriasis. Moreover, it is often consumed by people with intolerance to cow’s milk, while it is also considered as the best substitute of breastfeeding milk.
A story - The donkey and the cow
A donkey and a cow had the same master who treated both nicely, giving them plenty of food, water and a clean stable.
In October, following the first rain, the farmer wanted to plow his fields. He rode his donkey and he went to the fields along with the cow. Once they arrived, the farmer put a yoke under the cow and left the donkey in the fields. The farmer with the cow plowed the field all day, while the donkey was walking around, grazing and sleeping.
One evening when they returned from the fields, the cow said to the donkey: “Why does the boss overwork me and lets you laze around all day? It’s not fair”.
The donkey, then, told the cow: “Why don’t you pretend that you are sick so that he lets you rest? Do not eat your food tonight. When the boss comes to pick us up tomorrow and sees you lying with your food untouched, he’ll know you’re sick and won’t take you to work.”
The cow took the donkey’s advice and the next morning pretended to be sick. So the farmer let her in the stable. Instead, he put the donkey under the yoke and began to plow. By sunset, the donkey was exhausted.
When the donkey returned to the stable, the cow asked him how it went, and he said: “I heard the boss saying that if the cow continues to be sick, he will slaughter her and sell her meat.”
The cow was shocked. She immediately ate her food, drank all the water and stood on her feet. The following morning the farmer was happy to find her alive and kicking. They all went to the fields again, the cow under the yoke and the donkey grazing on the fields. The donkey was so happy that he said: “If you don’t hit the lintel, you can’t see the threshold”, meaning that you learn something after your own bad experience!”