In cultures all across the globe, animals are revered, and even worshipped. In Hinduism, for example, cows are valued for their gentle nature. But not every sacred animal is quite so harmless; crocodiles were worshipped in Ancient Egypt, as they were believed to be living representations of the god Sobek. You may be surprised to learn that the deification of crocodiles is far from ancient history.
In Burkina Faso, just 30 kilometers away from the capital of Ouagadougou, there is a small village of Bazoule, where its people — descendents of Mossis warriors — have chosen the Crocodylus suchus as its totem. Although Bazoule is located in a landlocked country, it does have its own pond, where 150 of these unusually docile creatures reside. Despite the fearsome reputation of crocodiles, the villagers have no problem living alongside them. In fact, the Mossi boldly approach the crocodiles to play; they even sit on and lie next to them.
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How did this come about? Local legends from the 15th century credit these reptiles with the village’s salvation. While in the throes of a serious drought, the Mossi were led to an undiscovered pond by the crocodiles. This not only allowed the Mossi to survive, but also led to the founding of Bazoule.
Because the villagers were so grateful towards the crocodiles, they now care for and live side by side with them, having funerals and burying them after death, as they do for their human companions. The Mossi also throw a celebratory festival every year in their honor—Koom Lakre. Not only are the crocodiles regarded as protectors of Bazoule, but they are also seen as soothsayers that grant wishes, especially during Koom Lakre.
It seems as though the veneration of the crocodiles has paid off; in over 70 years, there hasn’t been a death from a crocodile attack, not even one. It’s normal for women to wash their clothes in the water and gather plants nearby, as is it a normal sight for children to play around the water as well. Any bites that occur are seen as punishments from their ancestors, not as a sign of aggression from the honored reptiles.
Naturally, this strange relationship has attracted a lot of attention. Over the years, tourists have flocked to the village, looking to catch a glimpse of this unlikely bond between human and reptile. Visitors have the opportunity to purchase a chicken, which a guide will use to lure the crocodiles out of the water. You can pose for pictures, and if you feel brave enough, you can imitate the local children by sitting on a crocodile’s back.
The village thrives on tourism, but unfortunately, in recent years, a Jihadist insurgency in the area has driven a lot of potential visitors away. And this is not the only problem Bazoule faces; the village also finds itself threatened by global warming. Lower annual rainfall means that the pond—which the sacred crocodiles call their home—is at risk of simply evaporating. Perhaps the legends are true, and when this happens, maybe the crocodiles will lead the Mossi to a new water source?
In philosophy, it has been suggested that there is no such thing as objective and definitive truth, and that what we consider the “truth” is simply a matter of perspective. While we may consider crocodiles to be fearsome killing machines that should be avoided at all costs, the Mossi have formed a genuine bond with these reptiles, going so far as giving them proper funerals when they die. This strange relationship highlights how our interactions with the world are a result of cultural upbringing and circumstance—one man’s monster is another man’s salvation.