Babale: the Sea Serpent of much of my Life

In the blog post: ‘Romanticizing Village Life’, published on 08.10.16, I had reminisced about the bounty of the sea and reflected on the annual visitations of shoals of small fishes: daniva and sara. I also commented on how village culture was necessarily adapting itself to welcoming and accommodating these annual visitations, specifically on how to manage and preserve the glut of harvests that resulted from the daniva and sara when they crash-landed on the beach being chased by the larger fish, like saqa, travelly.

These annual visitations were not limited only to daniva and sara.  Another annual visitor that only provided playful antics for the enthralled villagers were the babale.  On these visits, the babale became the gymnasts of the sea playing to a villageful of captivated audience. The babale would simultaneously leap into the air arching their bodies, one behind the other, and proceeding to move in a south to north direction toward the Vanuakula Passage, for a good length of time. When viewed from the beach, the babale looked like an elongated multi-humped sea snake – the gaps between each babale were hardly visible.

For an impressionable lad amongst the crowd that used to gather on the beach, I was seeing a gigantic sea snake – a sea creature unlike those I had been exposed to at the time. It was not the dadakulaci – the black and white sea snake that is plentiful in the lagoon. There was no doubt in my young mind. Babale was a sea snake of great proportion. Whether a sea snake could make those vertical humps when swimming in the sea, was furthest from my mind. The question of physics and mechanics didn’t occur to me and didn’t seem to matter. I only believed my eyesight and what my brain was telling me what that image represented.

Much, much later in my life, I got to learn about the babale being dolphins, and realized their anatomy and shape and that they can do fantastic things, like aerial gymnastics; and when photographed, they do look like my multi-humped snake that I had witnessed as a lad. Such clear evidence, to all intents and purposes, should really remove any false impression of my boyhood on the matter. It did not. That boyish impression is firmly fixed in my subconscious. Perhaps, it is cognitively linked to the part of my brain that is associated with interpretations of the idiosyncrasies of the mythology and legends of my origin story.

The persistence of that imagery and the interpretation that I had given it was obviously aided by the propagation of tales from many parts of the world of mythological sea serpents and/or sea dragons. Apart from myths, there is also cryptozoology, the active search for these creatures. Printed materials are full of them. My sea snake that I had witnessed as an impressionable lad on that beach on Dravuni has become the sea serpent of many tellers of tales. Thus, I am not alone in this matter; and that is comforting. The comfort offered by numbers of witnesses also acts as a plea and justification, notwithstanding the existence of sceptics, for the legitimacy of the supposition that one day we may witness one of these creatures from the deep.

When my family visited Scotland in 1988, Loch Ness was an unmissable stop-over in our itinerary. What drove me there particularly was that, despite the elusive nature of the Loch Ness Monster over generations, I was hoping against hope that I would be the first ever Fijian to sight this mythological creature.

Image credit: Spinner dolphins, Kadavu, courtesy of Matava Resort Fiji, an award-winning eco resort on the Kadavu mainland, check it out here.

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