In Egypt’s Nubian villages, extending along the Nile river, many indigenous inhabitants keep crocodiles in their homes as cherished pets. As descendants of one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, the indigenous population have faced considerable threats to their survival and these reptiles, in addition to attracting some needed tourist dollars, help preserve some of their traditions.
Gharb Soheil, is one of the remaining Nubian towns on the banks of the Nile river, where crocodiles still represent an important physical totem of blessings. In the past they were worshipped and mummified, today the traditions are partially modernized, with inhabitants raising crocodiles at home in hopes of supplementing their incomes and promoting their heritage.
As descendants of one of the earliest African civilizations as old as Egypt itself, the Nubians historical homeland stretched along the Nile river in present-day southern Egypt, extending all the way into the north of Sudan.
Today, after devastating floods caused by decades of dam constructions, their ancestral lands are largely submerged. With nearly 90% of their land flooded, many Nubians have had to leave the fertile banks of the Nile for the arid countryside of the South, the big cities of Egypt or the Gulf.
Caught between two worlds
Nubians still living in the banks of the Nile are caught between their desire to stay true to their heritage and the necessity to keep up with the changing times. Tourism allows the two diverging ideas to meet in the middle. Visitors from around the world are making the trip to the waterfront village of Gharb Soheil to observe the tamed reptiles, a rare opportunity to hold them instead of running away from them, immersed in fear.
To domesticate these emblematic animals, the breeders follow the females south of the Aswan Dam or the banks of Lake Nasser and collect their eggs. Often raising them from their birth, their aggressive tendencies are consequently tamed.
Nubians have preserved traditional crocodile taxidermy, remaining faithful to the century old techniques, stuffing them with straw and keeping their mouths kept wide-open. One on hand, the aim is to protect against the evil eye, as their ancestors claimed, and on the other, it now serves as an indicator of which households have living crocodiles for wandering tourists.