| Issue 367
and Regional Affairs
We travel into the
very heart of rural, and extremely traditional, Somalia to meet a man
who lives with crocodiles, in the Shabelle River AND in his house.
Written By Abdinasir Mohamed Guled
Jowhar, Somalia, February 5, 2009 – Have you ever heard of the ‘human
I was always a skeptic, assuming that the stories about the crocodile
leaders were childish fables circulated by imaginative and superstitious
people. But despite my doubts, and at same time intrigued by the
stories, I decided to set off to the areas where the crocodiles live.
My search brought me to Jowhar, a town that lies 55 miles along a major
road north of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. There is an airport in the
north of the town.
It is early morning and I have just arrived in the village of Kulundi,
about four miles north-west of Jowhar, where I meet with a man sitting
near the Shabelle river and holding a small fish in one of his hands.
After salutations are exchanged, I ask him about his career. Laughing,
he explains that he is a crocodile leader.
Joking with me briefly and detailing how he survives life as a kind of
Somali Steve Irwin, giving the crocodiles various instructions like a
boss might give his co-workers, he suddenly asks me to allow him to show
me a crocodile that will come to him if he calls it by name.
Astonished, and more than a little anxious, I allow him to do so. He
calls out a name. Suddenly, a small crocodile crawls up and sits down
next to us. Worried the crocodile might attack, I ask him if I should
move away from it crocodile. Reassuring me, he tells me to keep calm.
Then, placing the small crocodile on his right shoulder, he fearlessly
stands up and motions me to come along with him to his home. Arriving at
his house, I notice a crocodile guarding the entrance.
Thirty-year-old Hassey Muse (not his real name) acts as the manager (Bahar)
of the crocodiles that sit on the ground near his hut.
As one of them starts to move toward me aggressively, Hassey quietly
talks to it with outlandish words meant to tell it to stay where it is.
“He sees you as strange person and wanted to attack you, but he can’t
move anywhere without an order,” he says reassuringly.
“This is part of our family’s lot, because the crocodiles live among
us,” Hassey tells The Media Line (TML).
He says the crocodile and its parents are part of Hassey’s human family.
“My family is proud of the crocodiles; the crocodiles won’t attack
anyone unless I give the order to attack,” he says.
When I ask him about unexpected attacks that might occur from the
reptiles on the river’s banks, he says that is his main concern, but
that he would be grief-stricken if it happened.
Walking to the river to find out how his orders are put into action, we
come to lowland close to Jowhar’s riverbank. Hassey tells me not to be
afraid when the crocodiles approach, intones words instructing the
crocodiles to come to him, and suddenly three large, long, elderly crocs
shuffle towards him.
Hassey is a traditional elder in Kulundi village. Holding a small
crocodile on his right shoulder like a child, Hassey says, “Baharism is
a legacy from our ancestors.”
Life moves slowly here; his children don’t go to schools or learn the
holy Qur’an. They stay home where they are taught how to swim, fish and
hunt by their Bahar father.
“Hopefully, in the near future, my young boys will be big huntsmen and
will be like me, a well respected Bahar,” Hassey says, twisting rope for
Hassey doesn’t rule out rare, violent acts from crocodiles in general.
“Last month my wife lost four toes when a small crocodile bit her right
leg,” Hassey tells TML.
Asked about the possibility of more attacks from dangerous reptiles,
including the crocodiles, he says his crocodiles are well trained and
don’t commit such attacks.
Somalis, in general, know little about the Baharis.
In Jowhar, I also meet with Fatima Du’ale, a 31-year-old mother, and ask
her if she knows about Baharis.
Laughing, she tells me, “I used to hear that word from my late
grandmother when I was young.”
My journalist friend Shador Haji Shador, who accompanied me on my
travels, told me that the population of the region was ignorant when it
comes to Baharism.
Crocodile attacks are relatively common in the middle Shabelle region,
and several children and old people have been wounded or killed in such
The lethal assaults by the preying reptiles and consequent retaliatory
attacks by humans have become a permanent feature in this area. The
continuing mayhem claims about a dozen human and animal lives each year.
This year, so far, crocs have eaten one person, according to Nor Buqari,
a well-known journalist in the region.
“As it is breeding season for crocs, the species has turned restive and
violent,” Buqari tells TML in the village of Haji ‘Ali, nine miles north
of Jowhar town.
Residents also attack the preying crocodiles.
While the violent behavioral instincts of crocodiles are not under
observation by wildlife experts, some believe the massive upswing in the
number of crocodiles has upset their food chain, following a palpable
reduction in aquatic lives. The species, hit by hunger, then feast on
humans, they say.
Farmers express additional fears regarding the presence of crocodiles in
the farms close to the river.
“Some crocodiles run away when they see you on the farm, but there are
aggressive ones that sometimes come to the small huts we use to shelter
from the sun, and can kill you,” says farmer Ya’qoub Hussein.
The residents of the district are very scared of the crocodiles when
there is heavy rain because the crocodiles hide in the streaming waters
to attack people.
The two villages worst affected by crocodile attacks are Bulo Haji and
Mustaqbal. When Bulo Haji was flooded last year, it was reported that
three people, two of them children, were eaten by reptiles.
Some of the area’s residents tell TML that there are children who have
been missing for more than a year and it is suspected they were taken by
crocodiles when they went swimming in the river.
Source: The Media Line