Monday, 14 May 2012

The Totem Python

There is no end to the things I have still to learn about the culture, customs and traditions of the people of Ghana.
This week I heard from a friend about an alarming incident that happened to her and her neighbour the previous evening. The young mother lifted her small boy who was wrapped in a cloth, sleeping, on a nearby bed. Something fell out of the cloth in the dark. On inspection they discovered a snake, at least the thickness of 2 fingers.

Snakes are feared here as most carry venom and medical help is minimal and can be some distance away. Immediately, in the interests of everyone’s safety, my friend found a stick and bravely hit it a few times until it was clearly dead. Then they called another neighbour who arrived quickly. His reaction was not what the women had expected. He burst into tears and sobbed that they had killed his tribe’s totem, a python!

Later, when emotions were somewhat restored. It was explained that the python was adopted a long time ago as a “totem”, after a huge one had stretched across a river and allowed the ancestors to cross it safely, as a bridge, to escape their advancing enemies. Totems are usually animals, regarded as sacred and are revered by their tribe. What these women should have done, apparently, was to tell the python, quietly, that it was in danger of harm as it was frightening people nearby. It would then have slithered away and caused no problem!

The dead python was removed and “buried” (a pile of leaves was placed over its corpse). Everyone is trying to forget the incident but it is clearly not easy and the snake still lies in its leafy grave.

Evidently, the python is known as the “King of Snakes”. I am told it shows its power in a subtle way. If you are bitten by one there is no reaction nor need for medical attention. However, if you are ever bitten again by any snake, and take anti-venom, the dormant python venom will kill you!

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