Thursday, 3 February 2011

Holy Catfish

I think ‘Holy Catfish’ is destined to become my exclamation of choice henceforward. Expressive, suitably obscure, and unlikely to cause offence in English.

On Sunday I went to visit the Poissons Sacrés de Dafra. This is one of the top local tourist treats, and it has taken me a while to get round to it. First it was too hot, then it was too wet, then I was saving it up as a treat for my visitors, and then as it turned out my visitors had too many other treats… Anyway, I decided to fit it in before it gets hot again (well almost before), and before I run out of time (that’s a bit the way I am thinking now) – and easily found some companions for the outing.

You need to know where you are going – it is down a dusty track off an unmade road – not that far from Bobo but taking some 30-40 minutes because of the road conditions. No sign posts, of course – and one could lose heart along the way if not in the company of the knowledgeable. Fortunately, in our taxi, we had 2 well-informed locals (including the driver), as well as 3 adult and 3 child Toubabous ~ so not a whole lot of spare space, even by local standards. Taking care not to wear anything red (which would upset the fish), and carrying plenty of water for the walk, we set off.

The experience was impressive in more ways than one. For a start there’s the dramatic landscape of the canyon, so close to Bobo - where the landscape is, fortunately for cyclists, anything but dramatic. And then it is clearly an active and busy sacrificial site, where those making sacrifices or giving thanks way outnumber the tourists. Sacrifice involves at a minimum a chicken, for major requests or successes a goat, sheep or even ‘boeuf’. The heart of the sacrifice site, where one does not take photos, is covered in feathers. We saw some people drinking the water, and others stripping off and washing in it (neither, on health grounds, to be recommended, in my opinion). Then the fish themselves – some find them ugly, others beautiful, judge for yourself. They are undeniably big, and they are impressive, jostling against each other and against the rocks to secure pole position, and opening wide their substantial jaws for receipt of tasty titbits. They are also not easy to photograph, but I had a go, and hope you can at least partly 'get the picture'.

What did we wish for? Ah, Holy Catfish, that would be telling!


  1. Did you yell Dafra! Dafra! as you were descending down towards the river ;) thanks for reminding me :) i loved that place

  2. so what is their claim to sacredness? are they rare? rare in that place? what powers can they have? is it a natural spring? how did they get inland? are they managed?
    sorry, dont really need all the answers to this... but you know, a kind of museum-nerd question reflex... I'm glad you just went along for the ride and to enjoy the show!