The crocodiles, along with their cousins the alligators, the caimans, and the gharials, constitute the Order Crocodilia. Although the crocodilians have always been grouped in the Class Reptilia, they are in fact closer related to birds than to any other living group of reptiles. The first stem-group crocodiles appear in the fossil record some 200 million years ago. These were fully terrestrial animals, about the size of a house cat.
Hesperosuchus, early stem-group crocodile
By 95 million years ago, semi-aquatic forms looking more or less like the ones swimming around today appeared. One species, Deinosuchus, was larger than the largest flesh-eating dinosaurs and no doubt itself preyed upon dinosaurs.
Crocodiles have been the object of veneration at least as far back as the third millennium BCE.
Representation of Sobek, the Egyptian Crocodile God, from the 12th Dynasty
Accompanied by my wife Yaa, I traveled to the village of Egyambra, where the crocodile is still venerated. We arrived early in the morning and met with the village chief, who invited us into his home. After conversing with him for a bit, he poured out some libations for the Crocodile God. Then, accompanied by the village priest and a couple of his assistants, we walked down to where the Nana Lezrue River empties into the mouth of the Gulf of Guinea. The priest repaired to the shrine of the Crocodile God to pray, and then he emerged and walked to the water’s edge and began calling out in some ancient tongue.
After several minutes, three crocodiles approached. One crawled out of the water and stood patiently as the priest poured some libations from a bottle of Pepsi-Cola on his snout.
Then the priest’s assistant handed him a live chicken and he tossed it to the crocodile, who caught it adroitly. The animal clambered back into the water and swam away with his prize in his jaws.
The chicken, for his part, seemed remarkably nonchalant about the whole procedure, looking around calmly and blinking his eyes, as if testing this novel sensation of being devoured alive.
After that we were invited to immerse ourselves in the Nana Lezrue River.
Then the priest of the Crocodile God gave me his blessing.
Afterwards I was mobbed by a gang of young hooligans who demanded to have their picture taken with the big hairy obruni.
Hesperosuchus illustration and Sobek photo via Wikimedia Commons
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