The Crocodile – a reccuring image

The crocodile is a recurring image in traditional Gambian iconography. A single grinning crocodile features on the one-dalasi coin: the watermark on all Gambian banknotes is a crocodile’s head, and stylized crocodiles are worked into the designs if textiles and jewellery. Believed by some to have supernatural powers, crocodiles appear in many Gambian folk tales, including Mandinka stories of teh crocodile in the moon – the Gambian counterpart to the Western man in the moon.
Gambian tradition reveres the crocodile as an intermediary between the living and the dead, communicating with human ancestral spirits; for example, the Bojang family of Katchikally claim that whenever Charlie the crocodile leaves the Katchikally pool and makes his way to their family compound, he has a message from their forbears.
Crocodiles are particularly associated with fertility, and the sacred crocodile pools at Kachikally, Berending and Follonko are places of pilgrimage and prayer for childless women from The Gambia and Senegal. The pilgrims bring offerings of kola nuts, cloth and cash; half the kola nuts are thrown into the pool as a ritual sacrifice to the crocodiles, and everything else is shared among the elders of the families that guard the pools. Pilgrims undergo a ritual bathing in sacred water brought to them by women of the pool-keepers’ clan. They are then counselled in piety and fidelity by the elders, and given more water to take away and apply to their bodies morning and night. Fertility rituals are open to foreign visitors with a genuine with to take part. The crocodile pools are also visited by those with other special requests, such as wrestlers hoping to win a championship, or businessmen trying to secure a new contract, and even leading Gambian politicians during election times.
Charlie and his co-residents at Kachikally are Nile crocodiles, The Gambia’s commonest crocodile species. preferring fresh water to salt, these reptiles are fairly widespread along the River Gambia and in freshwater pools, where they breed. They are also sometimes found in the saltwater bolons and on the coast. Nile crocodiles have been known to live for over a century,and can in theory grow to a length of 7m, but in practice Gambian crocodiles have little chance of making it to such a grand size. Although they’re protected under international law, they can be culled if they appear to pose a threat to human life, and it’s rare to encounter one more than 2m long.

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