Th-th-th-thats all folks
Looking at the various witness statements it seems clear that in the Gambia the name 'Ninki-Nanka' doesn't apply to an animal of any one particular appearance; some say it has legs, others that it has wings, or even that it's some sort of serpent of monstrous proportions. There are a few things that have been consistent in nearly all of the sightings reported though, particularly the crest on its head, a large body size and scales. What is ever present though and remarkably consistent is the folklore surrounding the Ninki-Nanka; the creature is said to bring death and is much feared in the Gambia and if you don't die immediately upon sighting it you can be brought down by a mysterious illness, the only protection from which is said to be spiritual, usually from an imam. Where traditions of the old animalist religions of Gambia have been absorbed into Islam, like at the sacred crocodile pool of Folonko, the Ninki-Nanka is sung about when a newly circumcised person takes their first ritual bath in the river about 2 weeks after being cut at the crocodile pool in order to ward off the Ninki-Nanka. Practices like this suggest that perhaps the Ninki-Nanka has been blamed for sudden deaths of people in the Gambia going back as far as when animalist religions were widely practiced in the area and could even have been the origin of the folklore in the first instance. More research would need to be undertaken to prove or disprove this theory of course. On balance I think that the Ninki-Nanka is a mix between vibrant and compelling folklore and sightings of unfamiliar animals in an area.
Gambo, the mystery creature of Bungalow beach, is likely just a large dolphin that was in a fairly bad way when it was washed up on the beach. Although the bones are almost certainly gone for good, rotted away in wet sand if not removed during the construction of Destiny’s nightclub, we did manage to locate a new eye witness who like everyone else bar Owen Burnam has identified it as a dolphin. I must admit I was a little sorry that it turned out that Gambo was nothing too unusual, but you have to base your conclusions on the available evidence.
All in all this expedition has been rather fruitful in my opinion as we have uncovered a lot of new information about the Ninki-Nanka and laid to rest the story of Gambo.
Perhaps, once, long ago, there was some kind of creature lurking in the swamps and forests of the Gambia but I think it is long gone. What remains is a distorted folk memory of something huge and awful. This something has become a convenient bogeyman onto which locals can blame accidents, bad luck and death. What the original Ninki-Nanka was is the $64,000 question. Maybe some kind of huge snake or a demonised python god from a pre-Islamic snake worship cult.
Ninki-Nanka is also a means by which locals can twist cash out of westerners. Shortly after the broadcast of my radio interview everyone became a Ninki-Nanka expert. People knew where to find the dragon, for insane fees of course. Others claimed they could photograph it, for money naturally. In a country so filled with scams finding the truth behind Ninki-Nanka, if there ever was any, would be a daunting task. We have however laid the groundwork for any glutton for punishment who wants to continue the quest beset by bums and scammers. Perhaps a country less open to tourism might yield better results.
The smart money is on Gambo being some kind of cetacean, possibly a bottle nosed dolphin or a young beaked whale.
As for me, I think the CFZ's limited resources would be better spent elsewhere.
This was my first jaunt abroad with the CFZ, and I have enjoyed being part of the team immensely, however at times I have become somewhat confused and at times disparaged with the descriptions and alleged sightings of Ninki-Nanka, even more so after the BBC broadcast, when everyone seemed to be aware of the whereabouts of what they perceived to be a Ninki-Nanka. However, they were only prepared to point us in the general direction of one (for a ridiculous fee, naturally) as the fear of seeing it, even in the 21st century, seems to evoke waves of fear within certain groups of local people. I think perhaps in a by-gone time there was once creature/s of immense size that commanded fear throughout the mangroves of Gambia, and these accounts have been passed via the traditions of the elders of villages. These oral traditions have then taken on a modern interpretation as they have been passed down to the present day. After being here and exploring and listening to the many accounts I feel that one of the strongest leads is the area of Guinea (as we had two separate accounts based in this area and the creature going by another name but having very similar descriptions) as this part of West Africa has next to no tourist trade and is very under explored and as a consequence very little is known of its fauna.
As for Gambo, only the sands on Bungalow beach have the answer to that question, and with so much development occurring in the last 23 years, the beach is almost completely different with the advancement of buildings etc. My money would be on the actual creature in all probability being a rare type of dolphin
I feel that we have achieved a lot on this expedition; with regards to Ninki Nanka, we have not only amassed a large amount of data in terms of stories that have been passed down within families and tribes for generations, we have also collected the first recorded eyewitness testimony and come away with a substantial amount of information on modern sightings, which were few and far between before this trip. We have also taken things as far as they can be taken with the mystery of Bungalow Beach; we are in a position to surmise that the carcass was most likely that of a dolphin missing its dorsal fin, and have confirmed that whatever was buried there has sadly been lost to both natural and manmade interference.
As seems to be often the case with such things, in finding answers to old questions we have come away with many new ones. We have some exciting leads on Ninki Nanka that we can follow up on our return to the UK, and most of us have developed our own avenues of thought as to what the creature could be. Personally, I believe it could be a case of occasional sightings of exceptionally large snakes, possibly with a deformity or other natural anomaly causing a crest-like formation on their heads, combining with local folklore of a dragon like being; although, in true Fortean style, I am open to speculation and certainly don’t see this as a given conclusion. One thing that is certain, however, is that in the minds of the Gambian people the Ninki Nanka is as real as anything else, and still, in the 21st century, a cause of great fear and suspicion.
In a way if we had found any definitive answers on our quests the trip would have been a failure. Really we have only raised more questions, by answering some of the original questions that we came to answer.
Ninki Nanka, well the story continues, but we have, at least, added some greater accuracy to earlier reports. It has though, as Richard has identified, now become another potential source of income for some of the local “tourist-exploiters”. It did, however, also bring out the best in some of the locals; at least one local policeman, and Maryam (at Abuko) put themselves out, without any expectation of reward, to help us. An animal may exist in the mangroves, which still, despite the Gambia’s high population density, can form a frighteningly large and lonely area. If it is does the individuals that get into Gambia are probably only stragglers from a much more remote area such as the Fouta Djallon in Guinea.
Gambo, by virtue of when and where it is buried is more open to investigation, both by questioning and excavating, although the construction of the night club on the site did not help us at all. Pilot holes did not reveal anything, but questioning of one of the older men in the market does suggest a cetacean with some minor changes. More of that when we go through our notes.
Armitage’s skink, we didn’t see one, but we know a man that did, and photographed it. We also have data that extends its range beyond that previously reported, so partial success there.
My ambition for the future: to take a landing craft up the Gambia River and investigate the Ninki Nanka story from the river.
It seems to be a property of the other creatures that the CFZ has looked for that the closer you get to the source of the stories the more consistent and rational the accounts become. The Mongolian Death Worm loses its electric powers, ceases to spit poison and dwindles to a featureless two-foot snake-like creature. Orang pendek walks through the jungle investigating fallen logs; it never yodels, does cartwheels or displays a tail. Ninki-Nanka, on the other hand, becomes more diverse as we investigate it. It sometimes has legs or even wings, sometimes has only a snake-like body. Its head is like a horse, or else is round; the head bears a crest which in turn has Islamic verses, which it is death to read. The length may be anything up to 150 feet. Unfortunately we were based in an urban area, where the people have no first-hand evidence of the creature: our only eye-witness account came when we drove 150 km into the countryside. Everything else is derived from an uncle or grandfather, now dead. The creature may have no objective basis at all: it is only two generations since Patrick Leigh Fermor was given detailed accounts by Greek peasants of the appearance and habits of a man-like creature with goat’s legs called the Kallikantzaros, a being quite certainly fictional and presumably based on the classical satyr. In the same way, the Ninki-Nanka may be no more than a folk-tale; if a large snake should appear the name Ninki-Nanka will be applied to it.
Certainly it is difficult to get reliable accounts. Now that our purpose has become common knowledge the professional friends who follow you on the street offering various services have become more ambitious: only an hour ago I was greeted as I stepped out of the hotel with the cry ‘Hello, you want to see dragon?’. In these circumstances all accounts become suspect. Perhaps the only real hope is a water-based expedition, entirely self-contained, which could investigate right up the River Gambia, putting into creeks to follow up any promising report.
The sun sets on another cfz expedition - but the mystery continues....