Belly of the beast: a hollow revenge for the Ugandan fisherman whose wife was eaten by a crocodile

The programme reminded us what "monstrous" means.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

BBC World Service

A long-distance telephone interview with the eastern Ugandan fisherman who the previous week killed the crocodile that ate his pregnant wife (4 February, 11.05pm) was brief but unforgettable. Mubarak Batambuze, 50, speaking through a translator, described how a gigantic beast in Lake Kyoga took his wife five months ago as she stood on the shore of the lake with a group of other women. “It was the end of my world,” Mubarak grieved. “I was completely lost.”

As time went by, the crocodile would occasionally return to the scene of the crime. There was something in Mubarak’s tone that implied he believed the creature was not simply a species enemy but something darker, psychopathic even. At the very least, reprehensibly insolent.

“One day in January I found the beast at the lakeside,” he related, “and we tried fighting him with stones and sticks but there was nothing we could do.”

So, he commissioned a local blacksmith to craft a cunning spear with hooks on it. It was impossible at this point not to think of Perseus with his mirrored shield, or Bard’s special Black Arrow – spear and harpoon combined – destined to take out Smaug. Mubarak’s story sounded no less mythic, and his language was of saga or legend. “This beast,” he carried on, “well, I can’t describe it to any human. All I can say is that is was wide and very, very old.”

Monsters, of course, are by definition far older than us and can never be killed by bullets (with perhaps the exception of King Kong. But then Kong wasn’t a monster, he was a lover).

“It took an hour and a half of fighting the beast and it was exhausting. I kept on fighting and he kept on fighting but this wasn’t an ordinary crocodile . . .”

Eventually the creature lay dead and the villagers gathered around in awe. “‘Thank you for killing the beast,’ they cried. ‘How did you do it?’ And yet in my heart I was and I am a very depressed man.”

Wearily, Mubarak made a request: “For the authorities to cut the crocodile open to see if there was any piece of my wife inside.”

But there was nothing. Merely an empty underworld. The Hades of the crocodile’s stomach offered no answers. Poor Batambuze. Poor wife. Poor monster.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 13 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Assad vs Isis

Free trial CSS