By the oral legend, Ninki Nanka is a mythical dragon said to reside in the creeks of the River Gambia. It is said that whoever saw this mythical creature got seriously ill and died after some days. The only thing that can kill it is its own reflection in the mirror, so to protect oneself while exploring deep river creeks of the River Gambia, one should always carry a mirror with. People say Ninki Nanka has the head of the giraffe; others mention crocodile. The body should be one of a dragon, and some say hippo.
James R Patterson wrote an amazing article about Ninki Nanka trail.
“Abyssinian roller!” cries Francis Mendy, pointing to the blue-breasted bird and, in his excitement, rocking our small fishing boat. A committed birdwatcher, often prone to avian-related outbursts, Francis is my guide on this week-long journey along the River Gambia that takes us east from the capital, Banjul, to the fresh waters of Janjanbureh, then back along the north bank to the river’s salty Atlantic ingress.
For most of its length, the Gambia River’s banks are crowded with mangroves, the air thick and honied. Through that tangle comes a cornucopia of native fowl and fauna. Around our small boat, piscivorous African darters plummet into the water as the air fills with congregations of egrets, batteries of herons and cliques of pied kingfishers. The muddy bank moves in a kaleidoscopic wobble, the result of hundreds of sidestepping fiddler crabs. There are crocodiles too, but we’re looking for signs of a rarer beast — Ninki Nanka, Gambia’s folkloric leviathan, is said to haunt the mangrove forests along this river, too.
Ninki Nanka’s appearance is hard to corroborate, with descriptions varying from tribe to tribe. For some, it combines the head of a crocodile with the body of a donkey; for others, it’s a blend of hippopotamus and giraffe. To others still, it’s simply a large snake. Not that seeing it is desirable — its one consistent trait is its fatal stare. Francis’ eyes comb the nearshore. “It’s believed that if you see the Ninki Nanka — purple glossy starling! — you’ll die.” The fishermen helming our boat aren’t worried; they all carry mirrors to deflect the death-inducing gaze of the beast. Like Medusa, the Ninki Nanka’s gaze is said to be fatal unto itself.
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