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Gambian Folktales: Ninki Nanka

My Magazine 2023/05
4 min
This month, My Gambia had the pleasure of indulging in a story-time session with Mr. Lamin Bojang, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Travel and Tourism. The topic was the Ninki Nanka, a creature of myth resembling a Gambian version of a dragon.

For hundreds of years, children have been warned not to play in swampy areas of the countryside for fear of an attack by a Ninki Nanka - a reptile-like creature with the body of an alligator and three horns on its head. Hidden in the caves of The Gambia, Ninki Nankas are said to have fire-spitting abilities. Traditionally, their scales are used to give individuals superpowers if consumed with water or used in an infusion to shower with. According to some versions of the legend, the Ninki Nanka can even hypnotize its prey with its eyes, rendering them unable to move or escape.

The Ninki Nanka is said to be a fearsome creature that preys on humans, particularly children who wander too far from their homes. It is also believed to be a shape-shifter, able to take on different forms to lure its victims closer.

Note that each of the eight ethnic tribes in The Gambia has slightly different versions of the Ninki Nanka. According to the Mandinka folklore, the safest way to kill the dangerous creature is to present it with a mirror: upon seeing its reflection, they are said to drop dead. This is why they are rarely seen in modern times; a cunning crow used mirrors to subdue and trap the dragons into their cave after they refused to submit to the Crow King.

For tourists visiting The Gambia, the legend of the Ninki Nanka is a fascinating insight into the country's cultural heritage. There are several ways to experience the legend for yourself, including visiting the swamps and forests where the creature is said to dwell. Our local guides are available to take visitors on tours of these areas, and many are skilled in telling the stories and legends of the Ninki Nanka.

For the more adventurous traveller, there are also opportunities to follow the Ninki Nanka Trail, an incredible experience including a boat trip along the River Gambia and through its swamps and forests where the Ninki Nanka is said to reside. Although sightings of the creature are rare, the experience of being immersed in the natural beauty and vibrant culture of The Gambia is sure to stay with visitors for a lifetime. And who knows – you might be lucky enough to see the legendary Ninki Nanka!

Enjoy some glimpses of the exciting experiences you can make on the beautiful Ninki Nanka Trail.

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