Hunting snakes

from Press News, posted 02/15/2013 - 10:40

(Here is one last nod to Chinese New Year and the new Year of the Snake.)

Of course, the immense snake mentioned by Xavier Romero-Frias (in his retelling of the legend about the origin of the Maldivian ruling dynasty - see our last news item) was a mythical creature. Pythons are (often unpleasantly) real, as are those other snakes encountered in the uplands of Laos. Even so, real though they may be, these serpents can present an other-worldly danger to the unwary hunter and his family.

As elsewhere in his fascinating study, Kàm Ràw (Damrong Tayanin) draws on memory and shamanic learning from his youth to offer detailed information on how pythons and other snakes once were handled by Kammu hunters (and perhaps they still are).

Hunting Certain Animals

(Kàm Ràw begins by discussing the hunting of elephants, horses, gaur and the rhinoceros. He then moves on to “big felines” and remembers a scary encounter with a leopard. Finally, he tells how pythons present a bit of a problem.)

Also the killing of a python requires special caution in a similar manner, since the python is closely connected with the dragon, pryɔ̀ɔŋ. The dragon may transform itself into a man, a python, a water-buffalo or a small grasshopper called hɔ́ɔs pryɔ̀ɔŋ which literally means “dragon grasshopper”. Should anyone accidentally kill a dragon in any of these shapes, the revenge may take the form of floods and landslides.

Yet pythons are killed for food, and some men eat python meat, but women never do. The dragon is particularly dangerous for women, and it is said that dragons rob women in order to marry them. Women must therefore always take care not to touch or have anything to do with things belonging to the dragon.

Even the killing of an ordinary python may arouse the wrath of the dragon, for the dragon is the owner-spirit also of pythons that are real snakes.

In order to find out whether a python is a snake or a spirit in snake form, a chopping block is placed beside the snake’s head, when a python is caught alive. The animal is carefully instructed: “Well, if you have an owner or if you are a spirit, then go away. If you do not have an owner and are not a spirit, then put your head on the block.”

Although the snake thus takes the decision itself, as it were, further precautions still have to be taken. A dead-fall trap is made [see below], and the severed snake head is put into it in order to make the owner-spirit believe that the python was caught by the trap and not by a human being.

The killing of other kinds of snakes is not problematic in the same way, but still most people resent eating snake meat. It is also considered unlucky to shoot a snake with a new weapon, because a gun used in this manner will probably never kill again. In the same way it is believed that a trap that catches a snake as its first animal will never catch any other prey.

Snakes are thus creatures of bad luck, and therefore the laying down of a snake is not celebrated with a feast.

A fuller extract from Hunting and Fishing in a Kammu Village can be found here (click on the Extract tab to download the PDF file).

And that’s enough about snakes for now.


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