Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Creature in the Black Ravine

Deep in the West African savanna of Burkina Faso near the small mud brick and sheet metal village of Koro there is a mystery.

The place is called Dafara. It is an anomaly in the flat landscape that stretches for miles in all directions. It is as if the earth collapsed here, like God punched a hole in the ground and the darkness came flooding in. The local missionaries call it “The Rocks” because the hundred meter diameter hole in the earth is edged by sharp shale cliffs. There is a single trail that leads through the dense foliage to the bottom of the ravine that gently angles down into a scene that is both other worldly and frightening.

The first thing you notice is the stench. It is a dank putrid odor of blood, bile and rotting gore that permeates the entire valley, the odor of death. The second thing you notice is the blood. At first glance it looks as if the entire floor of the ravine is covered in dark thick blood. Every rock has been used to carve the animals brought down the path for sacrifice, and it is not only covered in the thick ink of life but indistinguishable pieces of flesh and bone lay scattered about as evidence of the hecatomb butchery that befalls the victims of the sacred god. A god that dwells in the dark recesses of the watery abyss that dominates the center of the chasm.

The murky pond is roughly kidney shaped and covers an area just slightly smaller than that of an Olympic sized pool. How deep it is, no one can know since the fertility god that abides here is no idol made out of wood or stone. No, the fertility god that demands the sacrifice of highly prized livestock is a living creature. An flesh eating aquatic creature of shocking proportions living in a small lake far from any other source of fresh flowing water.

The dark creature is rumored to have grown to such enormous size not only because of its taste for raw flesh but also because of the occult forces which it allegedly wields. The villagers of Koro and the surrounding area flock here so that their infertile women may bear healthy offspring. Famine has decimated the area population and the infant mortality rate is close to 10%.

The nationals struggle to eager out the most meager of existence. Yet they offer up what sometimes is their only source of protein in order to procure the healthy birth of a child. If they do not sacrifice they risk not only the loss of their children that are still in utero, but they flirt with the chance that they themselves might become sterile and hope for any offspring will be denied them forever. They live in darkness and fear, enslaved to the power of the behemoth beneath the water of Dafara.

It is a fear that also lives in legend. You cannot go in the water of Dafara. The god will eat you alive. Such was the fate of the first Western explorer who happened upon the site in the middle of the 19th Century. It is rumored that he scoffed at the natives superstitions and dove off the cliffs into the milky water of the pool.

He never surfaced.

Days later they found his bones along the shore.

I witnessed the creature at Dafara in the summer of 1986. I was on a missionary tour in the city of Bobo Dioulasso and some of the long term missionaries wanted me to take a look at the site. As the Africans approached the waters edge they offered pieces of flesh by throwing them into the cloudy water. Silently a large hump broke the surface. It’s skin was smooth and black without any noticeable dorsal fin. The creature’s back rose out of the water until the enormity of its size could be revealed. At the time I estimated it to be the size of a large couch that was in the lobby of the missionary station where we were currently residing. It was about 7 feet long. I saw no other feature on the animal, neither eyes nor mouth- just the large hump and the splashing about of something a few inches away from it where the meat had been thrown. After it had finished a small chicken, the ebony mass submerged and we did not see it again. On the way up the path to our Rover I asked our host what exactly it was that we had just seen lurking in that murky water. He said he had no idea, he had been stationed there for almost 10 years and he had never had the opportunity to actually see anything more than what we had just beheld ourselves. “It’s some kind of fish I think. But I have never seen one that large.” If it was a fish, I asked him how in the world if got there. The nearest river, the Upper Volta was over 50 miles away. He gave me an odd look that told me he thought it was beyond any rational explanation.

What was that enormous creature in the ravines lake? Some supernatural being that offered fertility as a reward for being well fed? Or a local creature that for some reason had become trapped in this remote location and spawned a population that had grown to enormous size?

Quite honestly the only aquatic creature that can grow to even close that size is the African Catfish, Heterobrachus bidorsalis.

They are common in the areas of the Upper Volta and they do grow to a great size. Here is a picture sent to me by a Missionary friend stationed in Burkina Faso showing his kids feeding some African Catfish at a pond by the Volta:

The only problem is that the African Catfish only grows to 1.5 meters. The ones pictures above are about 4 feet long, falling in line with the average length. What I saw was enormous. The fish in the picture above pale in comparison.

Could in the distant past a group of Heterobrachus bidorsalis have found its way to the ravine through a long dried up tributary of the Upper Volta? Did the constant attention from the local cultists cause them to grow to such enormous size? Or is there more sinister forces at work deep below the surface of the lake at Dafara?

The Missionaries and locals have no idea. They just make sure to never go for a dip in the pond.

Till next time,

Pastor Swope


Harpo said...

I've really enjoyed your new blog. One question though - 15 centimeters? Did you mean possibly1.5 meters? That's a little closer to 4 feet. Anyway, keep up the great job!

Pastor Swope said...

Yep. Sorry. It is 4.9 feet as the extreme length of the African Catfish. Hey, I am not only the master of the run on sentence, I have to constantly check myself. It's why my first book has taken so long to go to print.Lord help me on my second one, it will not be suitable for release till the end of the world in 2012! ;)

Rob said...

Ok, this freaked me out more than most of the other stuff I've been reading here.

cryptidsrus said...

I agree with Rob. This is so freaky.

Good post, Swope---

Do you think it is some sort of aquatic dinosaur?

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting blog. I have had a few very strange experiences in my life -- things that cannot be explained. This, I believe, exceeds them, and it seems to be true. I've met someone who is married to a man from Burkina Faso and I will definitely ask about this place.

Naveed said...

I'd venture to say that it's either A: The catfish theory, or B: perhaps an isolated group of surviving prehistoric fish of some kind. Btw great blog.

Pastor Swope said...


I rather think it was a catfish. A HUGE catfish. If it was, it had to be I don't know...maybe 8-9 feet long? The body top was about 7 feet. One thing I know is that it was well fed, whatever it was...

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Jeff said...

When I was about 10 (~1976), my family used to go camping on the weekends at various Corps of Engineer flood control lakes in Mississippi near where we lived. The one we visited most often was Arkabutla, but one time we spent a weekend at Sardis Lake.

The Little Talahatchie River was dammed in 1940 to form Sardis Lake, so when I first visited, the lake was about 36 years old, but there were already photos in the bait shops of the huge catfish reported to live at the bottom of the dam, and stories about even bigger catfish bigger than a man and weighing several hundred pounds. I personally saw several 40 and 50 pound catfish caught from Sardis and Arkabutla.

So this could have been a catfish grown to enormous proportions by the constant supply of fresh meat.

However, I also saw something in Sardis Lake that wasn't a catfish. It was on a first visit, and I had walked about a half mile away from our campsite to do some fishing. I was standing next to a tree getting ready to cast when I saw something break the surface of the water about 30 yards from shore. I can only describe it as serpentine - having three distinct loops (not humps) rising out of the water. Each was about the size of a tractor tire. I remember seeing a pattern of scales that moved, and a ridge of spines along the back. It scared me so badly that I ran all the way back to the campsite, only to discover that somewhere along the way I had thrown away my fishing pole. Of course, no one believed me.

What sort of prehistoric creature could be living in a modern lake? I have no idea. But my interest in cryptozoology dates from that moment.