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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 18:42 GMT
Gambia's sacred crocodile pool
Tourists at the sacred pool
The sacred pool is a major tourist attraction
By Ebrima Sillah in Banjul

A sacred pool in Gambia's tourist town of Bakau has become a major attraction for foreign visitors to the west African country.

The pool, discovered hundreds of years ago by the natives of Bakau some 14km (8 miles) from the capital Banjul, is home to more than 100 crocodiles.


A large number of people and adventurous tourists from mainly the UK and Sweden who went through the ritual claim that it works

Every morning scores of foreign tourists visit the pool to play and have their photos taken with the reptiles who are so used to people they can be petted.

The pool, surrounded by a forest of beautiful tropical flowers and trees with different species of birds, is believed to have supernatural healing powers.

Hundreds of barren women travel from far and wide from both within and outside the Gambia to visit the site where they are washed with sacred water from the pool by specially trained women of the Bojang clan.

Friendly Charlie

Pool attendant, Dodou Bojang
Whenever 'Charlie' flees the pool, he has a message
The crocodiles in the pool have a strange taste for food. They prefer fish to fleshy meat.

The friendliest of the crocodiles, nicknamed Charlie, is so close to his masters that sometimes he leaves the pool to spend time in the ancestral home of the Bojang clan - the keepers of the pool.

According to the pool attendant, Dodou Bojang, whenever Charlie leaves it is normally a sign that he has a message for the people.

When rituals are performed at the pool, those washed in the sacred water are seriously warned to stick to their partners and avoid adultery.

Colanut

They are also given a bottle of the water from the pool that has to be applied to parts of the body before going to bed and early in the morning.

Crocodile at Gambia's Bakau sacred pool
The crocodiles in the pool prefer fish to fleshy meat
In return, people washed at the pool give small monetary donations, a piece of cloth and a colanut - half of which is shared among the elderly and the other half of which is thrown into the pool to appease the crocodiles.

Once the ritual is performed, one is not supposed to shake hands with anybody from Bakau.

Members of the Bojang clan are forbidden from exploiting the pool for financial gains lest it loses its sacredness.

Opposition victory

Interestingly, a large number of tourists - many from the UK and Sweden - who went through the ritual claim that it works.

Politicians also regularly visit the sacred pool.

Even the leader of the largest opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) Lawyer Ossainou Darboe and his national president Sam Sillah, visited the pool in November.

UDP's member for Bakau, Dembo 'By Force' Bojang who has served in parliament for the past 22 years is now confident that the opposition will win the coming elections.

Whether his prediction will come to pass, only time will tell.

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See also:

01 Sep 00 | Africa
Gambia gets first green light
09 Oct 00 | Africa
Gambia's police try pedal power
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