The ‘alligator men’, a useful myth to commit the most heinous crimes in a remote African river

Decapitated bodies, with mutilated genitalia or torn tongue emerge from Ubangui, the largest river in the Central African Republic. Who killed them?

A nauseating stench had long hung on the Corniche, a well-traveled Bangui route that runs along the Ubangui, the largest river in Central African Republic. It was in the undergrowth in the murky waters of the river that the fishermen they found the bodies.

Three corpses were removed from the river in just one week, in October. They were beheaded, handcuffed and wrapped in bags, according to sources from the humanitarian sector, who asked to remain anonymous. Some macabre finds that made headlines in the local press, fueling the fear of the population and giving rise to all kinds of rumors, from ritual crimes to reckoning.

However, as soon as a body emerges from the water, the talimbis they are the first suspects. These “alligator-men” They have been terrorizing Central Africans for decades.

For some, it is about men metamorphosing into reptiles. For others, simple sorcerers who use their power and who never leave the banks of the rivers. In any case, the procedure does not change: lure the victim to the water to kill her, thus punishing her for an alleged offense.

Very often, whenever someone finds a mutilated corpse in the river, it is the talimbis those who end up in the spotlight. “The tongue that is torn off is to punish those who speak too much,” explains a fisherman from Bangui, who does not want to be identified. “The sectioned sex is an adultery. The ears, those who do not listen,” he adds.

In general, these “alligator-men” get their bodies through a rival or disgruntled relative. The myth of the talimbis it functions “as a regulator of the norms of good manners and morality”, according to a study by researcher Alexandra Cimpric.

While institutional justice suffers from serious deficiencies In a country ravaged by poverty, corruption and civil wars, the talimbis they have their own “court”: according to the myth, it is impossible to hand them over to an innocent victim under false accusations. “What does the talimbi it will be to verify that what you say is true “, affirms Jean-Claude Beta, president of the association of healers of the Central African Republic.

To do this, a stick or a plant is thrown into the water. If the stick floats, the accusation is false. But if it sinks, a sentence is passed and the victim is “called” to the river. “When they call you, you will be drawn towards the water. Even if you are a hundred kilometers away. It is something that has no remedy, you will die“explains Beta.

Fear of talimbis runs deep in Bangui, even among educated people. It is not uncommon to hear “alligator-man” stories so accurate that they would cause chills in the most Cartesians. But those who benefit from these beliefs are, above all, the criminals, in a city marked by violence.

“Just throw the corpse into the river and this story of the talimbi protect the murderers, investigations are not carried out with the aim of discovering the truth, “says Joseph Bindoumi, president of the Central African League for Human Rights and a former prosecutor.

The third victim found in October on the Corniche was a young woman, whose body nobody claimed. She was buried right there by the youth of the neighborhood before a crowd of onlookers. A little mound of earth crowned by a wooden cross, somewhat crooked, at the edge of the road. Y business closed.

The police only recognize the discovery of a body in October, theirs, and assure that the young woman did not show signs of violence.

“The body was in advanced decomposition”, assures commissioner Mathurin Koh, of the criminal squad, who could not clarify the precise causes of death as no autopsy had been carried out. “We we limit ourselves to verifying“the death defends itself.

Commissioner Koh, author of a study on magical “metamorphoses”, knows the phenomenon well talimbi. But the “practices of witchcraft and witchcraft,” severely punished by law, partly exceed their competition, he regrets.

Families prefer to turn to a healer to find those who “delivered” their relative to the talimbis. As for eventual witnesses, they expose themselves to reprisals from the dreaded sorcerers.

The “alligator-men” phenomenon exists throughout central Africa, but it found a particular echo in this country, devastated by three civil wars -of which the last one still lasts-, which greatly affected both the educational system and the institutions.

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