Variations: Tòmpondràno, Tompon-drano, Tompoudrano
Tompondrano, “lord of the water” or “master of the water”, applies to multiple concepts within the folklore of Madagascar. For our purposes, it refers to at least two types of water snake – one which was commonly encountered in day-to-day life, and an undefined marine monster. Whales, sharks, and crocodiles are also known as tompondrano; the Sakalava proverb “the amby never leaves the master of the water” apparently refers to the pilotfish. The alternative spelling of tompoudrano is phonetically identical to tompondrano in French.
The tompondrano is a water-snake blessed by the Vazimba, a mythical ancient race that lived in the center of Madagascar. For this reason it is respected as a sacred animal. It should not be killed, and dead tompondranos are wrapped in red silk in the same way as human corpses. Tompondranos are good swimmers, often seen crossing ponds and rivers in the forest, but they are not notably large (the largest snake in Madagascar, the akoma or Madagascar ground boa, is some 2.7 meters long).
A very different tompondrano was seen by G. Petit in 1926, on the night a cyclone was announced. He describes seeing bright and fleeting lights produced intermittently every few seconds, something like a much weaker signal beacon of a ship. They were emitted by a large aquatic body rolling on its axis and leaving an indefinitely long phosphorescent trail behind it. Petit was later told by Vezo informants that he had seen a tompondrano a creature 20 to 25 meters long, large and flattened, with hard plates on its body and a tail like that of a shrimp. It is the tompondrano’s head that is luminous. Its mouth is ventrally located, and the creature turns itself upside down to attack targets on the surface. There is a retractable fleshy hood that protects the eyes. It is either legless or has appendages like those of whales. To ward off its unwelcome attentions, an axe and a silver ring are suspended at the bows of boats.
Birkeli, E. (1924) Folklore Sakalava. Bulletin de l’Academie Malgache, IV, pp. 185-417.
Jourdran, E. (1903) Les Ophidiens de Madagascar. A. Michalon, Paris.
Romanovsky, V.; Francis-Boeuf, C.; and Bourcart, J. (1953) La Mer. Larousse, Paris.
Sibree, J. (1896) Madagascar Before the Conquest. Macmillan, New York.