Tuesday, 6 September 2016

BURKINA FASSO: Bazoule Sacred Crocodiles

Riding on the back of one of the Bazoule sacred crocodiles in Burkina Faso

Crocodiles are incredibly strong, agile and aggressive. They are merciless killers and it’s their nature to be brutal. They are estimated to kill up to 200 people per year in Africa and they can eat up to half their body weight in one meal. In Burkina Faso, the lake side Bazoule village is world famous for its unique tradition.

For many generations the villagers have lived harmoniously with about 200 wild crocodiles. Crocodiles have remained the same for over 200 million years. They are feared and avoided by humans and animals alike. But the people of Bazoule revere the sacred crocodiles in the lake.

This unique tradition started many generations ago at a time when the people of Bazoule were facing a great drought and there was no water. Women used to walk 40KMs searching for water. The crocodiles lived apart and hence there was no co-habitation between the crocodiles and the people of Bazoule.

Legend says that one day the women were passing close to the crocodiles and one woman attempted to collect water in the lake and the crocodile let her fetch water without attacking her. From then onwards all the women in Bazoule village could fetch water from the lake. The villagers named the ferocious animals the sacred crocodiles for they had saved them and they could not only fetch drinking water but also water their plants and they survived the famine.

“The crocodiles of Bazoule are sacred because they are the totems of the village. They’re the ancestors of the village because they saved the villagers and that is why they are called sacred,” says Prosper Kabore, Head Crocodile guide.

Prosper was born into this tradition. His job is to safeguard the unique relationship between the people and the sacred crocodiles. Every child in Bazoule is taught to be kind and respectful. They are constantly reminded that the life they enjoy today is as a result of the kindness and compassion shown to their ancestors. Kindness and help provided to them by the most unlikely animals, the crocodile.

At one point in time the crocodiles cried for one month. Everybody wondered what was wrong. When Prosper told the local chief who is entirely in charge of the conservation of the sacred crocodiles, he prohibited children from picking grass at the lake. Then one night a child went into the water and did not return. The crocodiles cried a lot. The day that followed people saw somebody drowned in the water.

“We tried to retrieve the body but we couldn’t. Then we saw the crocodile bringing the body. He pushed it out of the water and we took the body and buried,” recalls Kabore.

Hence this unique co-existence is what draws people from all over and they are shocked to see this phenomenon that has been in this village for many generations. They get a chance to ride on the backs of the sacred crocodiles, feed them with chicken. The chicken fed to the crocodiles come from Bazoule village, any chicken outside the village is not fed to the crocodiles. This is meant to appease the ancestors.

The sacred crocodiles and Bazoule people have a great interdependency. The crocodiles allow the villagers to use the water and the villagers allow the crocodiles to feed on their plants and the cycle of life goes on harmoniously. The money attained from tourists goes directly to help the needy children in Bazoule. Hence not only does the community help in conserving the crocodiles and the old tradition but it also uplifts the lives of its community members.