In the Central African Republic, there are men called the “talimbi”. The word translates to crocodile men in English. it is also believed that the men have fearful powers where they can change into crocodiles by will.
In the reeds growing on the bank of the Ubangui River, it is normal for fishermen to find grossly mutilated corpses wrapped in sackcloth. In just a week, three bodies were found in the banks last month. They were all handcuffed and beheaded. Humanitarian sources also said that others have had organs sliced out.
Whenever corpses are fished out of the murky Ubangui, the “talimbi”, crocodile men, are often the prime suspects. They also use the same tactics to kill their victims: they lure them below the surface of the river and kill them in punishment for some perceived transgression.
Some say the talimbi are humans who body-shift into reptiles. Others believe they are witchcraft practitioners. They are said to have the ability to wield powers without ever leaving the river bank.
Residents believe that the mutilations found on recovered bodies are clues to the purported offence.
“A tongue is torn out to punish those who talk too much,” says a Bangui fisherman. “If the penis is cut off, the man was an adulterer. The ears are for those who didn’t listen.”
However, not everybody in the country believes in the myth. Others say the judicial system in the CAR is woefully deficient in a nation long dogged by poverty and corruption.
Aleksandra Cimpric is an Anthropologist specializing in modern African witchcraft. The expert says that superstition is meant to dissuade unacceptable conduct.
“Superstition acts like a regulator of the norms of good behavior and morality,” the expert said.
The residents also believe that the talimbi have their own tribunals in which people cannot be falsely accused.
“It’s enough to throw a corpse into the river and the story about the talimbi shields those responsible,” says Joseph Bindoumi, chairman of the Centrafrican League of Human Rights and a former public prosecutor.
“Investigations are not carried out with a desire to uncover the truth,” he further added.
Nevertheless, instead of going to the police, the families of victims prefer to seek out a traditional healer for help in finding out who solicited the talimbi’s dreaded power.
“When ignorance is spread, it becomes a rule. Those who are against this rule are practically rejected by society,” says Joseph Bindoumi, a former prosecutor.
Belief in crocodile men persists across the CAR. The country has seen three civil wars that devastated the public education system and undermined traditional authority structures.