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Nangaban and the Marvelous Crocodiles


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(Habbe/Mali)

Nangaban was a mythic hunter. The Habbe were originally a forest people, defeated and driven out of their country in the ancient wars by the invading conqueror Samori.

With their women and children, they wandered until they came to the banks of the Niger River, where a band of crocodiles came out of the water miraculously and transported them to the other side on their backs. Resuming their wanderings, guided and forced to go on by their priests, saved from their pursuers, but soon in a barren land where they underwent terrible hardships of hunger and thirst, they arrived at last at the foot of these cliffs and mountains. They camped on the slope, while Nangaban, the great hunter, with his two dogs, went ahead. He and his dogs wandered among the rocks, were lost for days and were on the point of dying from thirst when they reached a great pool from which a spring gushed, the pool swarming with crocodiles. Despite the fact that the crocodiles of the Niger had saved the Habbe, Nangaban was on the point of doing battle with these in order that he and his dogs might drink and afterward have meat for the community. But the dogs rushed into the water and began lapping it, and Nangaban withheld his spear when he saw that the crocodiles did not harm the dogs, but let them drink peacefully. He also drank, and presently bustards and baboons came to drink. These he killed, returned to the people, recounting the miracle, and led them up into the mountain, for the Habbe had reached the end of their wanderings and had come to their promised land.

Establishing themselves there and beginning to explore the neighboring cliffs, they had found them inhabited by friendly cave-dwellers, a people of superhuman origin whose ancestors had had wings, and whose religion was a phallic cult with great priapic altars. The Habbe settled and remarried among them, adopted the new religion while retaining their own beliefs, built houses on the cliff tops and ledges, joined the cave-dwellers in their struggle against invading Peul, and became one people.

Subjects: Religion.


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