By the time I got to Burkina Faso I was beginning to get disappointed by the lack of sacrificial poultry action, so was delighted to discover the Sacred Fish Pond just outside of Bobo Dioulasso. Philipe, a French man I had met kindly let me tag along with his guide and 4×4 for a couple of days.
After a short hike over wind eroded rocks, carved into a myriad of interesting shapes, we descended a narrow fissure in the rocks which became overgrown with vegetation, the local man ahead of us banging his machete on the trees to warn the spirits of our arrival. At the bottom awaited a leafy canyon with two ponds connected by a stream which then continued out into the unknown. We chip in for a sacrificial chicken and take off our shoes, as respect demanded and all the better to appreciate the wade through the mounds of chicken feathers and blood spattered rocks, past a dismembered sheep’s carcass, one black eye staring woefully at us. Beside a blissfully still pool a natural rock altar is stained jet black after centuries of use. Business is sufficiently brisk to mean that two chickens are dispatched at a time, permitting whatever blessing is required, be it for a marriage or birth for example. The desperate, dying flaps threw up clouds of feathers from former poultry offerings. You may well wonder what I wished for, well, just keep your eyes open for the Lonely Planet guide to travelling with phat booty ho’s.
Once sacrificed the chickens are not wasted. Men crouch over a fire charring the carcassess to aid plucking, adding to the ever increasing heaps, above them on branches hang dozens of sheep and goat pelts, left as thankyous to the spirits from previous sacrifices. A handful of entrails are then taken to feed the fish at the other pond. For some reason I had expected a modest piscine encounter with lots of little fish nibbling at the meat and not the huge catfish, some nearly a metre long, greedily launching themselves out of the murky water to snap at the juicy entrails. The fish are entirely reliant on the offerings and have done so for centuries and there seemed little likelihood of the food source drying up given the regular flow of fervent locals which covered a broad social strata. Traditional beliefs are clearly on display in villages but until you come to places such as this you don’t realise that the gradual movement to the cities has not killed them off.