Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Sacred Crocodile of Timor-Leste

The map of Timor-Leste looks something like a crocodile -- the small lake near the eastern tip serves as the crocodile's eye.

My Timorese colleagues tell the story of how, many, many years ago, a small crocodile lived in a swamp in a far away place. He dreamed of becoming a big crocodile, but since food was scarce, he left to find the sea. However, the weather became increasing hot and still far from the sea -- the little crocodile began to dry out and lay down to die.

Along comes a little boy who takes pity on the little crocodile and carries him to the sea. The crocodile, forever grateful, tells the little boy "you saved my life, if I can ever help you in any way, I will be at your command."

A few years later, the boy goes to the sea and calls on the crocodile, who is now big and strong. The boy tells the crocodile that he has a dream. "I want to see the world," he says.

The crocodile says "climb on my back" and then asks "which way do you want to go?"

"Follow the sun" says the boy.

So they set off for the east and they travel the ocean for years and years, until one day the crocodile turns to the boy and says "we've been traveling a long time, but now it has come time for me to die. In memory of your kindness, I will turn myself into a beautiful island, where you and your children can live."

As the crocodile began to die, he grew and grew and the ridges on his back became the mountains and his scales the hills of Timor.

Today, when Timorese people swim in the sea, when they enter the water they say "Don't eat me crocodile, I am your relative."

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