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Kachikally Crocodile Pool, Gambia
   
 
INTRODUCTION:
The Kachikally Crocodile Pool (also known as Katchikally or Katchikali) is in a 9 acre site in the southern section of Bakau Old Town, Kombo St. Mary District of The Gambia, and is 12 km to the west of the Banjul capital. The complex also has a museum of ethnography, a mini-forest nature trail, a souvenir shop and a refreshments bar. There is also car parking space just outside the front.

THE POOL:
The Kachikally Sacred Crocodile Pool is known by local Gambians for its healing powers and as a place where people come to pray for blessings. It is sometimes seen as a place of last resort for infertile women who wish to conceive; being washed by specially trained women of the Bojang clan, after which they are told not to shake hands with anyone in Bakau. Many others with long-term ailments or misfortune also come to the pool to bestow them luck and offer kola nuts, cloth and other offerings to the Bojang family and the crocs in return. Sacred rituals are still occasionally held here; often accompanied by dancing and drumming, most of the time, however, the only visitors are tourists.

The site entrance wall is colourfully painted with wildlife scenes. Once you get through the entrance, you make your way down a path bordered by large trees frequented by monkeys, insects and birds. When you reach the pool it is usually overgrown with pakanju-water lettuce - arum, so you won't see much of the fresh water itself. There are about 80 odd crocodiles in and around the pool  and you should be able to spot over a dozen dozing on the banks, and maybe a few cattle egrets on a circle of water lettuce. The creatures are not particularly large, most measure less than two metres long, the non-nesting crocs are known to be very docile and you will often see some visitors stroking or touching them. They are exclusively fed fish twice a week, which consists mostly of bonga shad brought in from the Bakau fish jetty. You may often hear about 'Charlie', however this is a generic name for quite a few of the crocodilians, which are known as 'bambo' in the Mandinka language.

Bakau Kachikally Crocodile PoolDespite being near to the salt wetlands of Cape Creek and the coast, the spring water in the pool remains fresh, with the occasional visit from herons and Nile monitors feeding on its healthy population of frogs. When the water level is too low for the crocodiles to submerge, the women to bathe ritually or the Bojangs to make naso-potions, there is no lack of helpers to dig deeper.

The semi-aquatic reptiles were once thought to be Nile Crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus), however research suggests they are a different species, called the Desert or West African Crocodile (Crocodylus suchus).

LEGEND / ORAL HISTORY:
Kachikally's sacred pool shrine was revealed to the Mandinka Bojang family, over 520 years ago, by a ruler's sister named Katchikali. She first tested the worthiness of a Nkooping Bojang - the founder of Bakau Village - and his sons Tambasi and Jaali Kumba, by pleading with them to help rescue her child, supposedly fallen into a well. On approaching the pool a child's cries was heard. Tambasi entered the well and found the child sitting on a rock surrounded by spring of water. For showing willing, they were rewarded with the custodianship of the well itself, where 'any woman washed will, providing she sleeps with no other.......before the same time next year bear a child'. Tambasi and Jaali in return gave Katchikali (a spirit from the forest) the first thing they caught in their fishing nets at a swamp called 'Tambe-Koba': two crocodiles, which their mother placed into the well. Many generations of Bojangs ago, these reptiles were the prelude to the present-day site.

Another variation of the story is that during the 15th/16th centuries the well at the pool used to provide the only source of drinking water for the people of Bakau. One day when two brothers, Tambasi and Jaali, were busy palm wine tapping, a female Jinn (supernatural entity) came to the well with her child tied to her back, carrying a bucket. As the Jinn was pulling water from the well her child fell inside; the woman shouted for help. Once alerted, the two brothers dashed to see what the problem was. As they reached the well, they saw the woman in tears and shouting  'Kachikally', which means in Mandinka 'pick it up and put it down'. Tambasi and Jaali helped by taking the child out of the well. The woman thanked the two brothers and gave a prayer for them. The woman told the brothers that in future the well would become a sacred shrine for prayers and supplication.
"I have tested you to prove whether your family deserves custodianship over the pool and its healing powers, and you have passed the test, so your family will forever be responsible for the care of this sacred area."
(Source: Dodou Bojang)
The other two sacred crocodile pools in Gambia are located in Folonko in Kartong, and Berending. There is a relatively new, natural pool with small crocodiles, in Cape Point beach, which can be accessed via the right side road, next to the Ocean Bay Hotel. It is about 150 metres to your right.

MUSEUM:

The Kachikally Museum is a community run ethnographic museum and is within the Kachikally complex layout. The museum was open to the public in 2004, and has on display a collection of about 1,000 historic artifacts kept in four African round huts, which details the history of the Bakau area and displays cultural objects from many of the ethnic groups of The Gambia. The exhibits are divided into various sections: local crafts, music, agriculture, initiation rites and traditional medicine. The museum has a staff of around a dozen, which is headed by the chief custodian, and the exhibits are also under the trusteeship of the Bojang Family of Bakau.

       




NATURE TRAIL:
The Kachikally Nature Trail winds through a small tropical forest in the southern half of urban Bakau Old Town and is bordered to the east by rice fields and scrub. The crocodile pool and museum are enclosed within 6 acres of local tropical forest which has remained relatively untouched for over 400 years. The foot paths that meander through the forest are almost the only part of the ground that is easily visible.

Dozens of plants and animal species can be found in the unspoilt mini-forest, many of them are said to be 'unique' to the forest and cannot be found in any other area of The Gambia. There are indigenous silk cotton trees, flowering plants, baobab trees, shrubs, palm trees, climbing plants, figs and other vegetation. For birdwatching, the forest is rich in bird species, where you might see the blue-breasted kingfisher, hamerkop, Barbary shrike, red-bellied paradise flycatcher and other avians.  There are also mammals such as green vervet monkeys as well as reptiles such as monitor lizards, agama lizards and various species of snakes (most are non-poisonous) and other wildlife.

SOUVENIR SHOP & REFRESHMENTS BAR:
To complete the visitor experience, the museum has a well stocked souvenir shop where holidaymakers can buy traditional musical instruments, local handicrafts, postcards, wood carvings such as masks, T-shirts, traditional clothes, tie & dye, and local book publications authored by people in the Bakau community. There is also a refreshments bar selling soft-drinks which is located within a bamboo structure with seating in the garden area. There are also clean toilet facilities are on the site.

DIRECTIONS:
The most direct route is the foot path leading through Sanchaba, almost directly to it from the junction of Atlantic Road and Old Cape Road, near the craft market. The other rout is to take the road almost opposite the mosque on Sait Matty Road, then turn right after about 300 metres into the old town. Opening hours are from 9am to sunset.  The entrance fee is about 2 per visitor.

CONTACT ADDRESS DETAILS:
Mr. Dodou Bojang
Kachikally Sacred Crocodile Pool & Museum
C/O Bakau Post Office
The Gambia, West Africa
Tel no: +220 7782479 or 4497802
Email: kachikally@qanet.gm

PARTNERS:
Local
 National Centre for Arts & Culture [NCAC]
 Gambia Tourism Board [GTB]

International
 Africom [International Council of African Museums]
 Centre for Heritage Development in Africa [CHDA]
 ICCROM
 West African Museums Programme [WAMP]
 UNESCO


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[Geographical co-ordinates 13.4767 N, 16.6725 W / Kombo Saint Mary District (Ksmd)

















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