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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER RICHARD FREEMAN - Crocodile Cults Part Two - ASIA

Guest Blogger time for Richard Freeman again. As you are probably beginning to guess, the boy Freeman has crocodiles on the brain. He is travelling up to the north of England this week to give a talk at a newly opened spooky bar in South Shields. However he has left us with a treat - a three part article about crocodile cults around the world.

A veneration of crocodiles, similar to that of ancient Egypt, once existed in India. The Victorian traveler Andrew Leith Adams wrote of it after a visit in the 1860s. The “Mugger-Peer” lived in a sacred crocodile pond in Karachi, which in those days was part of India. The pond contained many crocodiles but the “Mugger Peer” was pre-eminent among them. A huge specimen, he was reputedly 200 years old and had his head painted red. He was attended by priests who fed him and his kin. Travellers were expedited to make donations to both the priests and the crocodiles. Adams and co had a goat sacrificed to them and watched as the dismembered beast was fed to the holy crocodiles.

The mugger pool still exists today, together with its population of holy reptiles. It is a Sufi shrine. This liberal strand of Islam has no problem with the veneration of the muggers. It is known as the Mango Pir shrine and lies around 15 miles southwest of the city centre. The 700-year-old shrine is said to be the resting place of a Hindu bandit who tried to rob the caravan of Baba Farid Shakar Ganj, the 13th century Sufi saint. The bandit saw the error of his way and was converted to Islam. The saint blessed him, and his lice grew into crocodiles.

The surrounding area is very dry and it is somewhat of a mystery how the 150 crocodiles got to the shrine. Some believe they are a relic of when the area was more lush. Pilgrims travel from all over Pakistan and India to feed the crocodiles on beef, chicken, and mutton in the hope that they will grant their wishes. The King of the shrine’s crocodiles is a huge male known as More Sawab, who despite his size, is reputed to be very placid. If he accepts an offering then the wish is granted. Ten years ago a child fell into the pool and More Sawab pushed him to the bank with his snout.

Lepers and those with skin afflictions bathe in the waters that run outside the shrine in the belief it can cure them.

On the Philippine island of Luzon a particularly large crocodile haunted the mouth of the Cagayan River. It was believed to contain the soul of a dead chief. This man was apparently the leader of a fierce mountain tribe. Ergo the croc was left well alone.

In Indonesia, crocodile folklore is rampant. On many islands in this vast chain, it was thought that women could mate with crocodiles. The product of this union was a human baby and a crocodile. The little reptile was released into the river whilst the human child was taken home. The mother left food for her scaly child by the waterside. Its human brother / sister would carry this on as they grew up. In return, the crocodile would protect the family. On certain feast days, they would throw special foods to the crocodiles.

On the island of Buru if a crocodile was terrorising a community it was believed that the offending creature had become infatuated with a local girl. Some poor woman was chosen (by what means it is unclear, but it was probably akin to European witch-hunts) and dressed in a bridal costume and given to the crocodile. There are no prizes for guessing what the wedding feast consisted of!

On the Moluccas crocodiles played a part in puberty rites. Youths would be taken from their mothers and passed through the jaws of a replica crocodile. Then the priests would take them away and teach them tribal secrets. After several days, they were passed out through the crocodile’s jaws again and rejoined the tribe to great rejoicing.

The influence of Islam in turning the crocodile from a subject of veneration to one of fear is illustrated by the Malay legend of Putri Padang Gerinsing. This woman took care of Siti Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Mohammed. Putri created the crocodile out of clay, betel nut sheaths, saffron, stones, and sugar cane. The crocodile was supposed to guard Fatima but at length became treacherous and savage. Fatima cursed it, driving it into the sea and giving it nails for teeth.

Of all places in Asia, the island of Borneo has the most folklore concerning crocodiles.
Many of the legends tell of marriage to crocodiles or crocodiles protecting certain tribes or peoples.

One such story relates how Sarani, princess from the Iban tribe, fell in love with a handsome prince. After a brief courtship, they were married and the prince took Sarani away to his kingdom. They paddled away in a canoe for several miles. The prince told Sarani to close her eyes. When she opened them she was in a wondrous underwater kingdom surrounded by fish.

After several months, Sarani told the prince that she missed her family and wanted to return. The prince said that if she left she would never be able to return. After some thought she said that she wished to be with her family again. The prince then revealed that he was the prince of the crocodiles. He gave her a parting gift, a magic jar that would bring prosperity to whoever owned it. If the jar was filled with water and sprinkled on the paddy fields it would ensure a good harvest. Also Sarani and all her descedents would be protected from crocodile attack.

The jar is now said to be in the possession of Jimmy Donald in Sarawak, Borneo.

Not all such relations were so friendly. One legend from central Borneo describes how a Dyak hero called Bantangorang tricked his way into a crocodile’s lair to steal its treasures. He disguised himself in bird feathers and animal skins and told the crocodile that he was its son sent to see his father by his mother who lived far away. The crocodile thought Bantangorang smelled suspiciously human so he decided to test him. The crocodile grabbed a man from the riverbank and cut him up. The unfortunate man was turned into a stew and offered to Bantangorang. The man (who was a cannibal anyway) had no trouble eating the stew. Convinced, the crocodile led the man to his lair under the riverbank. After a time Banatangorang made as if to leave then quickly turned and speared his host in the belly. He was then free to steal all the gold and jewels.

Another story has a Dyak man meeting a crocodile whilst out on a walk. The two struck up a conversation and became friends. The man invited the crocodile back to his longhouse were it entertained the whole family with fascinating stories and anecdotes. The family realised that it might do them good to have such a mighty beast in the family and offered their daughter to the crocodile in marriage.

As it turned out the crocodile was a very bad son in law. He did no work and ate all the family’s stores of corn and rice. He then began to threaten neighbours and eat their food stocks, much to the family’s shame. Finally, they ambushed the crocodile and hacked it to bits. Other crocodiles are so ashamed of their colleague’s behaviour that they do not eat Dyaks to this day.



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