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Sunday, July 1, 2018

friendly crocodiles of “Ouagadougou” Burkina Faso

A lakeside baptism service in Ethiopia was struck by tragedy after a crocodile attacked and killed the vicar.  It is reported that an  80-strong congregation looked on in horror as the reptile struck at  a protestant clergyman in the town of Arba Minch, while he conducted a mass baptism in the shallows of Lake Abaya on Sunday.  Reports state that - “All of a sudden, a crocodile jumped out of the lake and grabbed the pastor, pushing aside the person he was baptising.”

Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772 – 1844) was a French naturalist who established the principle of "unity of composition". He was a colleague of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and expanded and defended Lamarck's evolutionary theories.

You may not easily spell or pronounce “Ouagadougou” – the name of capital of Burkina Faso and the administrative, communications, cultural and economic centre of the nation.  The city's name is often shortened to Ouaga. The name Ouagadougou dates back to the 15th century when the Ninsi tribes inhabited the area. They were in constant conflict until 1441 when Wubri, a Yonyonse hero and an important figure in Burkina Faso's history, led his tribe to victory. He then renamed the area from "Kumbee-Tenga", as the Ninsi had called it, to "Wage sabre soba koumbem tenga", meaning "head war chief's village".   The city became the capital of the Mossi Empire in 1441.

To the clergyman in Nigeria and elsewhere, Crocodiles may be one of the deadliest hunters in the animal kingdom, but in a small village in Burkina Faso it is not unusual to see someone sitting atop one of the fearsome reptiles. People in Bazoule, around 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the capital Ouagadougou, share their pond with more than 100 of the razor-toothed creatures.  Villagers in west Africa have been photographed in a series of stunning images that show a startlingly close relationship between crocodiles and humans.  In one of such images,  a large crocodile is seen leaping clear of the ground in an attempt to snatch a chicken offered to it by a resident, in a pose which brings to mind a cat jumping for a toy.

Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in West Africa around 274,200 square kilometres (105,900 sq mi) in size. It is surrounded by six countries: Mali,  Niger, Benin, Togo,  Ghana and Ivory Coast.   Formerly called the Republic of Upper Volta, the country was renamed "Burkina Faso" on 4th  August 1984 by the then-President Thomas Sankara, using a word from each of the country's two major native languages, Mòoré and Dioula. Figuratively, Burkina, from Mòoré, may be translated as "men of integrity", while Faso means "fatherland" in Dioula. "Burkina Faso" is understood as "Land of upright people" or "Land of honest people”.  French is an official language of government and business in the country.

The West African crocodile  or desert crocodile (Crocodylussuchus) is a species of crocodile related to – and often confused with – the larger and more aggressive Nile crocodile (C. niloticus). The species was named by Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in 1807, who discovered differences between the skulls of a mummified crocodile and those of Nile crocodile (C. niloticus). This new species was, however, for a long time afterwards regarded as a synonym of the Nile crocodile.  Compared to the Nile crocodile, the West African crocodile is smaller: Traditional peoples who live in close proximity to West African crocodiles revere them and protect them from harm. This is due to their belief that, just as water is essential to crocodiles, so crocodiles are essential to the water, which would permanently disappear if they were not there to inhabit it. Here the crocodiles live in harmony with the humans, and never attack swimmers !

The residents of Bazoule, a community outside Burkina Faso's capital Ouagodougou, began to hold the reptiles sacred around 600 years ago and offer them chickens as a sacrifice. The tradition has continued to this day and visitors regularly go to the village to watch the ritual. The deadly reptiles and villagers appear to live happily side-by-side with children apparently happy to play and do chores just yards from them.  "It shows that crocodiles are not just ferocious and dangerous animals and that they deserve to be protected. Crocodiles are today completely integrated in the life of the population.

"It's not rare to see some children playing just metres away from them - it is quite a magical place."  The practice reportedly  started in the 14th  century when a local chief called KoudNaba ruled the area. During this period the inhabitants started believing the Nile crocodiles brought the seasonal rains, the absence of which can cause drought and starvation across the Sahel. Now there are more than 100 of the creatures, which might not bring in the rains but certainly bring in the tourists.

According to local legend, the startling relationship with the predators dates back to at least the 15th century. The village was in the grip of an agonising drought until the crocodiles led women to a hidden pond where the population could slake their thirst. "The villagers organised a party to celebrate and thank the reptiles,"  ~ a celebration known as Koom Lakre is still held every year during which villagers make sacrifices and ask the animals to grant their wishes of health, prosperity and a good harvest.

Far from being considered a threat, the crocodiles are deemed to have a mystical connection with Bazoule.  Global warming is also believed to be having an impact. Rainfall levels are down each year, and the famous pond that is the crocodiles' home is shrinking. When it disappears, man’s hope could still be – whether  the reptiles once more guide their human friends to a new watery home ?

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
21st June 2018.

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