Getting to know the neighbours
Working toward a stress-free co-existence with snakes
I’m so glad that I’ve finally hit the writer’s jackpot – I’ve come up with something to write about, that falls (somewhat tenuously) within the editor’s subject mandate for this edition, ‘Off the beaten track’.
I’ve become busier over the last few weeks as the seasons have turned, chasing snake stories like a dog chases its tail, and because of what I do, I’m privileged to get to travel widely, often well off the beaten track – no, not down-town Durban – but further, and I get to meet people from other cultures who will understandably never totally abandon their historically held cultural beliefs as might have their urbanised cousins, and I try to unpack those that are snake-specific.
I won’t repeat the well-worn platteland beliefs that black mambas bite onto their tails to form a wheel that chases you through the bush, or that cobras drink milk from cattle, nor am I going to tell you about the Skaapsteker, that gets its name from its alleged predisposition to kill sheep. This time I’ll raise a few of the beliefs that come from some of the deeper rural areas, and that live on within the surrounding communities as fact. In many of these beliefs, the python is the main actor. For example; What my family has always referred to as a ‘whirlwind’, is in fact, an angry python wreaking havoc over the area, emerging from the water – normally a nearby dam – and uplifting rooves, cattle, vehicles etc. in its vengeful wake. Suitable retribution exacted, it then returns to the water as rapidly as it emerged. This same snake is blamed for the drowning of many locals in rivers and dams, and perpetuation of the legend has proven helpful in keeping the kids and others less buoyant, away from the water. Any bloated corpse that emerges from the depths some days after the event is attributed to a python attack, the white mucal matter that oozes from the body orifices is understood to be the remaining dregs of brain matter left behind by the python which is believed to suck the brains out of its human prey. My questioning as to why no puncture marks (from very sharp and recurved python teeth) are ever visible on the body, is met with silence. Seems like an easy way to remove pesky opponents without arousing suspicion. A new (to me) belief that I’ve been hearing recently, is that python have ‘torches’ in their mouths, enabling them to see their prey at night. I believe that this could be a misinterpretation of the fact that they have heat-sensitive pits in the upper lips, making them capable of detecting a heat source, and my badgering revealed a link to the tendency of some to use social media to distort then disseminate large amounts of this plausible ‘information’ far and wide.
Take a bow NatGeo, Facebook and Twitter.
© pat mckrill. 2015